It’s as plain as the nose on your face

I love watching football. During the NFL season, I’ll wrap up work in the shop early on a Sunday afternoon, call the kids in from the backyard, pop some popcorn, heat up some hot wings and the three of us will sit and watch a solid ten hours of games. The live drama. The hard hits. The raw emotion and energy. We cheer our fool heads off and eat all the foods we know we can’t have during the week.

In football, as in all professional sports, you start to notice that there is a sort of unwritten rule that most players follow. For example, in an after game press conference, you might see one team’s star running back or linebacker who had a career day tell the reporters, “We played a hard game against a tough team. The win was great, but there are some things we have got to work on to improve our game.” It always amazes me that you’ll hear this coming from the mouths of players or coaches – even after an impressive win. Don’t they know they just crushed the opposing team? Why doesn’t anyone ever admit to playing a perfect game?

Many woodworkers do the same thing with their projects.

Under the magnifying glassI’ve done it. You’ve done it. We all have done it. Here’s an example that happens to me. After three or four months of planning, picking out lumber, cutting precision joints and buffing the final finish to a lustrous shine, my wife walks into the shop.

“Oh, my goodness!” she says. “That is one impressive piece!”

“Well, honey, let me point out all of the goof ups I made. Look at this miter that didn’t close all the way, and this rail that I misglued and had to live with and this glue smudge under the finish and…”

Soon, I find myself on my hands and knees pointing out a drop of dried glue under the bottom shelf that only the dust bunnies will ever see. That’s when my wife will say something like, “Well, I think this is a very nice piece,” turn around and go back into the house as I frantically search for more major snafus lurking in my work.

Why on Earth do we do this to ourselves? Do we gain some type of masochistic joy in beating ourselves up over the slightest goof?

If you worked in an office where your boss came in after every project – even projects that win universal acclaim – and verbally flogged you for the smallest mistake, like not formatting the page footer exactly as she would have, would you stay at that job? After a while, most folks would hit the bricks, and anyone who stayed would be hard pressed to find any joy in coming to work.

Then why would you do that to yourself? Remember, in this case, you have to live with your boss every stinkin’ day.

To help regain my sanity – if I had any to start with – I had to create a new process when it came time to show my work to someone. Even though I have a list of the boo boos in my head, I’ll invite my wife into the shop and have her take a look at the finished project. I have to FORCE myself to be quiet while she takes in the piece. When she gets close to where the foul up is, I have to fight the urge to blurt out what she should be looking for as she runs her hand over the finished wood. Sometimes, I have to grab the vise handle and squeeze it while she picks up the smaller pieces and gives them a thorough once over. I sweat as she opens the doors and drawers, wondering if they are going to fall off the hinges or runners.

“I like it. Good job” Then, she leaves the shop.

I exhale hard. The tension drains. Maybe my mistakes REALLY aren’t as bad as I thought they were at first. Maybe you really do need an electron microscope to see that not-too-gappy joint that looks as big as the Grand Canyon in my eyes.

That’s when I start doing my end zone touchdown dance!

2 thoughts on “It’s as plain as the nose on your face”

  1. Tom,

    I used to agonize about *small* mistakes. But no longer. If a mistake is big enough, I simply make a new whatever, to replace the old one.

    You are right on target – don’t sweat the small stuff. We are in the shop to have fun, and to ENJOY the process of making something, whether a small toy, of a large entertainment center.

    Thanks for reminding us all – it is critical we learn to enjoy the fruits of what we do in our shops. But always, ENJOY!

  2. Tom,
    Just like Al in the last comment, I use to twit about the small stuff. Self employed Hardwood Floorman since 81′ and not advertized since 86′ I guess I have learned to what degree one has to fuss about. I have always strived for perfection and whenever I point something out to my wife, she just says “No one is going to see that but you, and MAYBE another floorman”
    Semi-retired Nov. 12′. These MN Winters can be a killer for hauling equipment from the van thru the snow to the house. NOW I can enjoy working with all the woodworking tools/equipment I have acquired over these past 32 yrs. I LOVE it!! I am loving Tom’s Workbench too! Love to hear all the comments from all the other lover’s of wood working. Keeep it up.

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