perfection vs realistic.... the constant struggle in woodworking for me

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Blog entry by Dusty posted 01-30-2007 04:39 AM 1018 reads 0 times favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch

When I first started woodworking –It was very hard for me to finish any projects because I was such a perfectionist. Nothing was ever good enough. This lead too many hours of frustration and self doubts. I had to find a balance between being fussy or putting out a quality project and accepting that enough was enough. One of the hardest lessons I am still learning is “leave well enough alone” That, knows when to stop- so I don’t go over board and ruin something. When I took on my remodeling projects and set a time frame to build all the furniture in my house I knew that the time table was going to be tight. I only had so much time to do this work before I had to move out of my home into the one I was remodeling. Besides there was a limit to how long I could make extensive investments and two mortgage payments. I wasn’t willing to sacrifice quality but soon realized I couldn’t be perfect. It simply wasn’t practical. There lies the challenge and dilemma that I still fight to this day. It’s still hard to know when enough is enough and when to move on.

Things like knots or imperfect grains used to matter a lot to me. I have learned now to embrace these natural things. I find rather than distracting from the project they can really add to the overall beauty and character.

I know that I am my own worst critic and very hard on my self and have high expectations. I never have had a project that I couldn’t find something wrong with or if I was to build it again………

I being self taught have always felt like I couldn’t build anything that anyone would find pleasing and I constantly fought with my self confidence.

Over time this has improved somewhat-but I still fight with this. I am very humbled when others find my work pleasing.

I can readily point out my mistakes.

Some times I just need to be silent and take the compliments as hard as it is to do. .I just Say thank you, and not show them all the flaws I see in the projects.

That is what keeps me going- trying to improve.

I’m trying.

In my next blog I will share some of the things that has helped me over come this problem.

I often wonder if I am the only one who experiences this.

-- Dusty

10 comments so far

View Obi's profile


2213 posts in 4237 days

#1 posted 01-30-2007 04:49 AM

Well in a post I wrote a few days ago I expressed a simular delima. I was hurrying through projects just to get them finished when I knew I could do better. The perfectionist in me was losing out to the woodworker that would just settle on “O.K.” just to hurry and get it done. I’m getting better, but still have a long way to go.

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 4314 days

#2 posted 01-30-2007 06:08 AM

Why a perfectionist would get involved in a material as imperfect, unpredictable, and inconsistent as wood I’ll never know. Throw in the zillion things that can go wrong with a finish it is just insane. Like hurding cats. I walk away from a finished project and I know all the glitches and coverups. From where the glued up boards where not 100% straight. The chip that came out and had to be filled in. The part of the finish thats still a little rough. If you just hold it up in the light like this you can see…If we are this anal why not work in MDF or anything a little more dimensionaly sound. First step in the new 12 step staining process: I’m powerless over this wood stuff and hope the stain works the same this time as it did last time.

View Don's profile


2603 posts in 4177 days

#3 posted 01-30-2007 08:45 AM

I used to tell my staff, ”The pursuit of excellence is expected; the pursuit of perfection is a waste of time!”

-- CanuckDon "I just love small wooden boxes!"

View Philip Edwards's profile

Philip Edwards

245 posts in 4439 days

#4 posted 01-30-2007 09:06 AM

I think most woodworkers go through the same thing. At some point you’ve just got to move on. And we do get better with each completed project!
Best regards

View frank's profile


1492 posts in 4206 days

#5 posted 01-30-2007 03:37 PM

Hi Dusty;
—-how i have struggled with this one!

The ‘blessing’ of the perectionist is to not hear the ‘curse’ of more-more and to know when enough…’just is enough’.

-- --frank, NH,

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 4299 days

#6 posted 01-30-2007 04:27 PM

When there’s a flaw, or imperfection in a project, I have a hard time keeping it to myself even if nobody else can see it, but like Dennis said, ”Wood is unpredictable.”

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

View Obi's profile


2213 posts in 4237 days

#7 posted 01-30-2007 04:37 PM

And then you get the customer that has spent so much time at the Particle Wood Barn and has all the “Perfectly Finished Particle Board Collection” and wonders why you cant do the same with real wood. The magazine table I just completed was for a friend who had purchased another one that wasn’t as nice (and since I made them both I know which one had the fewer amount of flaws). Her first remark was “The other one was shinier… I wanted them to match.” So I asked her if she wanted me to take it back to the shop and hit it with a pipe so the top would match, or dirll 4 or 5 holes in it and fill them with putty, or… she said “No, it’s beautiful.”

What is it about human nature that wants to pick the thing apart before they say it’s nice? And all these people from the Particle Board Barn Buyer’s Club (say that real fast 10 times) as they’re picking it apart are to afraid to jump in and try it themselves, but they sure know how to criticize your work. It’s no wonder I keep a box of “STRIKE ANYWHERE” wooden matches in the shop. I’m afraid one day i’m just going to snap and burn the place to the ground.


View Dusty's profile


785 posts in 4156 days

#8 posted 01-30-2007 06:20 PM


I so can relate.


-- Dusty

View Dusty's profile


785 posts in 4156 days

#9 posted 01-30-2007 06:21 PM

I love your saying i will have to remember that.


-- Dusty

View Ethan Sincox's profile

Ethan Sincox

767 posts in 4174 days

#10 posted 01-30-2007 07:35 PM


In college, one of my favorite professors had a great philosophy. He absolutely never gave a perfect score on any written assignments. There is always something he could do, even if it was the smallest change to the smallest sentence, to better the paper. Thus, there is no such thing as a “perfect” paper. While some of the “top of the class” types tried to argue with him on this point year after year, I just sat back in class and enjoyed watching a college student try to argue with a 30 year tenured Art History professor, content with my 95%.

In my own workshop, I quickly learned that I should set realistic goals, and attempt to achieve the highest quality piece I had the skill-set to create! As you produce more and more woodworking pieces, your quality goals should slowly raise, as well.

This mindset has really helped me to be satisfied with my pieces while still yearn to increase my skill level and quality of work.

I don’t remember if it was a lumberjock posting or if it was in a recent article I read, but someone mentioned that one goal behind each project was to learn something new; a different technique or a new skill, for example. That sounds like a pretty good way to combine learning into your routine.

-- Ethan,

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