Measuring “success”

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Blog entry by KnickKnack posted 12-14-2008 09:45 PM 1003 reads 0 times favorited 2 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Daylight hours are short at this time of year, so I do as much thinking as sanding.

I know most people’s blogs are useful, instructional and informative.

Mine aren’t :-)
All I can do is let you peek into the scariness that’s in my head.

I recently posted a project entitled “Another stool (failure)”. I think I got more feedback on that than on all my other projects put together. This, I’m fairly sure, was because of the word “failure” in the title.
Which lead me to thinking about what constituted “success” and “failure” in my woodworking. I’m talking hobby wordworking here – as a professional anything that sells is, in some sense, a “success”.

I’m new to this, so my standards are pretty low – that’s not to say I don’t aim to produce the most perfect joint anyone has ever seen, it’s just that I don’t expect to achieve it.
When I started, I was supposed to build a new kitchen – I read a lot – didn’t seem that hard. Thankfully I tried some other things first – a settee and a chair. Woodworking is hard! The kitchen will have to wait.

1 Solidity
My first metric of success is whether the thing is solid. I don’t build boxes, or turn pens. If I build a chair or a stool you have to be able to sit on it without it falling apart. As well as the obvious reason of the fact that it’s in our lounge and used daily, wood is expensive, we have no wood burning fire, and, well, I wouldn’t burn it anyway.
This is the main reason what I build is “chunky”. I met someone at the supermarket cafe last week and she said “You’re the guy who builds the big furniture, right?”!. Not to say I don’t like the look of “chunky”, but I see all those chairs with thin legs and it scares me – I know they work, but I don’t yet have the nerve to build that way. Things I make are getting thiner, but it’s a slow process.

2 Fitness for purpose

This should really be number 1, but a chair that’s comfortable and pretty is no good if it wobbles and falls apart. Luckily, or due to a lot of research, my furniture has “worked” – I looked at a lot of stuff in people’s houses, and shops, and drove the wife mad pausing the TV every time there was an interesting piece of furniture. The joy here is that, building a second stool, for example, I know the right height, size etc, with a chair I know the angles and depths.

I guess everyone would probably agree with those 2 so beyond that we’re into more subjective, personal things.

3 Design
Personally, my main interest is in the aesthetic, in the design – and this causes me a lot of problems, since my skill set is so low. I try to draw a design that is “right”, but I’m also something of a minimalist, with a significant dash of weirdnessist. I have a constant battle between coming up with designs that have no joints, since I’m not very good at joints, and the other half of me that says “you gotta try some joints sometime”. I have some lovely drawings, but I know I can’t make them. Yet!
A few words, if I may, on “right”.
There’s a school of thought that there is no “right”, but I disagree.
I remember reading an article about Mondrian (paintings of coloured rectangles). They got a computer programme to generate “random” Mondrian paintings with approximately the same colour densities etc, and then they surveyed a bunch of people to see which they preferred. The original Mondrians won hands down.
When you hang a mirror or a painting there’s a “right” height for it. There is, I believe, a natural order of “balance” in the universe.
And that’s what’s wrong, imho, with “Another stool (failure)” – it simply isn’t “right”.

4 Implementation
Beyond that is how well I’ve done it – the implementation, and here I fight with the fact that I’m very much a sagittarian rat mathematician – knowing how to solve the problem is all that’s important, the actual solving of it isn’t – I usually make mistakes there.
I look at some of the things I’ve made and I know that they’d look better if I’d spent that extra hour sanding, but the design wouldn’t look any better, they wouldn’t be any more solid, or any more comfortable. This is a cross I have to bear.

5 Wood
I love beautiful wood, as, presumably, we all do, but this is at the bottom of my list. Perhaps it’s because I can’t get the exotic woods, the purple hearts, the ebony beading, the crotch this, burl that wood. Perhaps it’s because it actually detracts from the thing itself, from the design, and the implementation.
I look at every project that’s posted – all amazing and beautiful. The first thing I do is to try and imagine them in plain wood, to try and not be distracted by the grain, to see the design. Perhaps this is why I don’t make boxes – not until I’ve thought up a new take on the concept (that’s the “weirdnessist” side). Maybe that’s sacrilege, but it’s true.

I look through the projects I’ve posted, and I’m happiest with…
“Small Oak Table” – it’s offensive, it’s twisted, it’s upside down, it’s “wrong”, but it grows on you
“Adironveld Chair” – solid, comfortable, clean, angular
“Bench” – simple, solid, elegant, balanced, minimalist

I’m unhappiest with…
“Another stool (failure)” – obviously – just isn’t right
“Boxlette” – just a nice piece of wood

Here endeth thoughts for the day.

-- "Do not speak – unless it improves on silence." --- "Following the rules and protecting the regulations is binding oneself without rope."

2 comments so far

View Russel's profile


2199 posts in 3940 days

#1 posted 12-14-2008 10:19 PM

Very interesting thoughts, particularly on design. Very Platonic.

-- Working at Woodworking

View miles125's profile


2180 posts in 4006 days

#2 posted 12-15-2008 02:06 PM

Take an artist who creates a beautiful piece of music. You can look back at his previous work and see how he was “progressing” toward such a thing. All us humans are works in progress. The spoils go to the ones who accept failures as a legitimate step in the process.

-- "The way to make a small fortune in woodworking- start with a large one"

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