Beat the Clock

No one likes to be under time pressure. It’s kind of cool and exhilarating when you rush to the phone to call your favorite radio station to see if you could win one of their contests. But, if you are at work, and three ASAP-high-priority-hot-button projects that were due last week land on your desk at the same time, your day is pretty much ruined.

The same thing comes into play with woodworking.

Honest answers, please. Raise your hand if you have ever opened your big mouth and offered to build something for a special occasion – even before you considered how long it would take.

One, two, three, four… OK, there are a lot of you. I’ve done it. A lot.

When a friend or relative announces they are expecting a bundle of joy, I always seem to volunteer to build a cradle. When a happy couple decides to make their relationship a permanent one, my mouth is no longer under my conscious control, and I blurt out that I’d be more than happy to build a suitable present. When a respected co-worker announces his or her retirement, my machismo rises to the surface and I offer to build a shadow box for them to frame their work mementos.

Yes, I am as guilty as they come. Time and again, I never seem to learn from previous experience and think before I offer.

Many’s the weekend I’d be in the shop, deadline fast approaching as I race from operation to operation trying to assemble that gift I promised. Cut the side of a cradle too short? That’s OK, just go back to the saw and trim a little off the other one to match. No time to machine a new one. Joint a little gappy? Some wood filler would do nicely. No time to go back and fix the problem. What about those dovetails I wanted to cut to really make the piece look special? Fagetaboutit! Just glue, screw and plug. NEXT!

Yeah, when you put yourself with your back to the wall, you can really find yourself taking some shortcuts. Fortunately, I haven’t gotten hurt racing to the deadline, but I have got to really start focusing on allowing more time for projects.

For many of these projects, it’s OK to not have them on hand for the big day. If you are building a barrister’s bookcase for a niece who graduated law school, it’s OK to hold off with it until she actually starts with a law firm.

Unfortunately, just as many of these projects do have hard and fast deadlines. If your plan is to build a cradle for your new grandchild, you have to remember that babies sleep in cradles for a very short time. You may find yourself changing that gift from a cradle to a changing table to a toy box to a student’s desk to the aforementioned barrister’s book case as time passes!

Why bring this up now? I’ve done it again! I’ve promised my wife a new dinner table for Thanksgiving, and I’m wondering if the finish will be dry enough to keep the turkey platter from sticking. When I went to my Weiss Hardwoods in Largo, my hardwood supplier, and told Earl in the mill shop what I was doing, he laughed. “Yeah,” he said, “This is the time of the year when we see lots of folks come in with the wild-eyed look.” He stopped for a second, glanced at me sideways, and asked, “You didn’t promise it, did you?”

Uhh… That guy Earl can read minds!The clock is ticking yet again, and word is already out in the family that they’ll be dining from the latest Tom creation. Bad enough I have to cook the dinner, I also have to have the table it will be served on ready to roll. No pressure, right?I know that many of you might be considering building Christmas presents. I’m sure each of you has allowed plenty of time to design, build, finish, wrap and ship those beauties, haven’t you?

If you need some motivation, here’s a countdown clock you just might want to check from time to time. You know, just to be sure you have enough time available to make it happen.

Lots of luck getting those projects done, and be safe!

5 thoughts on “Beat the Clock”

  1. Good luck Tom!
    Hope that you didn’t promise an expandable butterfly top! So are you going to be taking any extra time off between now and Thanksgiving? 😉
    BTW, nice work. I especially like the boxes.

  2. John –

    Even worse – I’m building a draw-leaf table. Talk about some fancy engineering!

    This weekend coming up I have Monday off for Veteran’s Day. I’m sure I can get some – if not most – of the work done during those three days, and hopefully I’ll just have to work on the finish until Turkey Day.

  3. I never seem to be in that trap. I always have some other project going that I want get done. Although I have built quite a few projects for other people I mostly do it on a surprise basis. That way there is no deadline and people are just surprised. Claude Stewart

  4. Great article Tom. I’ve done this once trying get a hand carved name plate done for my brother for his birthday. Birthday: February. Finished & Delivered: July. Then, I wanted to make something for my mother’s 75th birthday last July. Three months beforehand I knew there was no way to make something special. I didn’t have the inspriation for anything original and summertime in Phoenix is not exactly the proper conditions for working in the garage. So one of her “presents” was a promise to make the present. I got started in August and am almost complete in November.

    First, estimate how long you think it’ll take. Second, double that estimate. Third, double it again. That’ll get you close to the actual time but you’ll still probably not get it done before then.

  5. Jordan –

    You’d be amazed how close I am cutting this one…

    I have this feeling I’m going to be putting the final coat of finish on it Wednesday nite…

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