A Woodworker's Guilt (Subtitle: What's in a name?)

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Blog entry by Ethan Sincox posted 01-26-2007 04:07 AM 1317 reads 0 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch

The opening article of the most recent issue of Woodworking Magazine is by Chris Schwarz. In it, he talks about buying furniture vs. making it and some of the thoughts going through his head regarding that forbidden subject amongst woodworkers.

Funny how life is full of little coincidences, isn’t it? I must admit, I have a brand new dining room table and four chairs being delivered to my house a week from this Saturday. I sort of feel guilty about it.

Then again, I don’t feel THAT guilty. I certainly don’t feel guilty enough to cancel the order and have them sent back!

It is a good set – Ethan Allen Furniture, Arts and Crafts style, solid cherry, SUPER comfortable chairs, and I was even able to get the seats in an awesome camel houndstooth patterned fabric. We’re getting it a darker finish which should go well with the rest of the furniture in our house.

I must admit – I’m slightly partial to Ethan Allen furniture because of the name. (You think?) After all, the very first time I heard MY name in association with anything other than me was when my mom talked about our Ethan Allen Furniture. (Most often it was something along the lines of, “Don’t you DARE lean back on those chair legs, mister!”... but I digress.)

We had several pieces in our house when I was growing up – a dining room table (round, maple) and four chairs (windsor-style) and a pine dry sink with a dark stain and white porcelain knobs. In fact, my parents still have every single one of those pieces and they are all in excellent condition. The dining set is used every day in the hobby room (isn’t it funny how every room in the house has its own name?), which is just off the kitchen. It also doubles as an informal eating area for when the main dining room table is unavailable (i.e. piled up with bookkeeping or whatever hobby is the flavor of the month at the parents’ house). So not only do they still have the pieces, but they still use them every single day.

The dry sink is currently in the basement. I’d take it, but I have no room. Plus, it has a bit of damage to its doors – the result of leaving my younger brother alone in close proximity of a hatchet for too long at the age of five. (We still talk about that to this day…)

Anyway, back to my guilt.

When I started getting into woodworking, I quickly found out I would mostly be a “small piece woodworker”. I certainly don’t think there is anything wrong with that; it is just the size of projects I most often turn to, I guess. A friend of mine, Kenny, had a fireplace mantle built for him a few years ago. He’d never had it installed because the guy who made it flat-out refuses to apply finish to his pieces. He’ll make you a built-in or a mantle or a dresser, but he won’t finish it. So, by way of paying Ken back for some flooring he put in my condo a while ago, I offered to finish it for him. I must say, I think I did a great job. But I also learned that I don’t like finishing big pieces! Maybe that’s part of it.

It also has to do a lot with my attention to detail and the preciseness in which I work. I find it harder to be as “particular” as I like to be the larger the piece I’m making. Maybe others can do it, but I can’t.

Bottom line – I don’t know if I’ll ever make a piece much larger than, say, an end table. I REALLY don’t think I’ll ever make a chair – I had a hard enough time finding chairs I thought were comfortable; I can’t imagine the anger I’d have with myself if I made an uncomfortable chair… To think that I’d make a full-sized dining room table AND a full set of chairs is quite silly.

So a purchase it is. And a brand new purchase, at that! It seems odd that we would turn to a new furniture store when the rest of our house is full of antiques. Indeed, the desk this very computer is sitting on is a very old quarter-sawn oak library desk I’ve had since I was a small child. That is about the only piece of oak furniture we have, actually. Most of our pieces tend to be walnut, and either Eastlake or Empire style… that’s probably a topic for a different blog entry, though. We found several tables that fit our needs; most of them were walnut and were extendable, even if they didn’t always have the leaves to them. But finding antique chairs that felt sturdy and were comfortable was a completely different story.

So why do I feel slightly guilty? I guess because I call myself a woodworker and one would think a woodworker makes his own table and chairs.

And why don’t I really feel THAT guilty? Because, in all honesty, the other Ethan is going to have built a MUCH better quality dining table and infinitely more comfotable chairs than this Ethan probably ever could. Well, I won’t say EVER… at least than I could build right now – don’t want to sell myself short!

I was able to use my woodworking experiences and knowledge to help select the best quality furniture we could afford (and my wife’s Christmas bonus ensured we could afford Ethan Allen – but I’m not jealous she makes more than me. No, really, I’m not… and it’s not like her bonus was good enough that we could get the table and four side chairs AND two arm chairs… we had to leave the arm chairs for a different time. Maybe next Christmas. Ok, I’m jealous.).

And if it follows a similar track record of the table and chairs my mom has, I know it is something we’ll enjoy for 30 years or more.

Oh, and my middle name is Andrew, not Allen… in case anyone was wondering. Come on… I know you were.

-- Ethan,

9 comments so far

View Obi's profile


2213 posts in 4232 days

#1 posted 01-26-2007 04:32 AM

Blasphemy. Stone him!! hahaha. No, really Ethan Andrew has a nice ring to it.

I don’t think I could live with the guilt. I had to build an ugly woodworkers tool chest instead of buying one, because of the peer pressure. My friends said that it was just wrong for a woodworker to buy something like that. And since I want to hone all of my woodworking skills, I started on my very first chair today. A Sam Maloof Style Heirloom Rocker that I got the instructions from Bill Kappel (Our very own Rocking Chair Guy). I want to build stuff that makes the Woodehisperer say, “Hey, that’s really nice.” and mean it.

I also have started designing plans for a Contemporary Recliner. Some modern twisted freak of a chair. I enjoy the handling of the wood and the creation aspect too much to buy anything made of wood.

I hope you feel guilty every time you sit down to eat. HAHAHA !!! But even more so, I hope it inspires you to let your Creative Genius out. I know there’s one inside of you, I’ve seen some of your work.

P.S. Being a wood turner is good enough excuse to buy A nice Table and chairs

View scottb's profile


3648 posts in 4322 days

#2 posted 01-26-2007 05:14 AM

Nothing wrong with a woodworker buying quality furniture I say…. (just none of that laminated chipboard crap from walmart) and don’t worry about it not being an antique, it will be someday. I hear you about making chairs. They sure take (and need to take) a lot of abuse. Just consider that you didn’t buy a table so much as time… But, now you have to put the hours you would have spent making the table and chairs into making something you really wanted to make!

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

View Obi's profile


2213 posts in 4232 days

#3 posted 01-26-2007 05:21 AM

Hey, I was just kidding. There probably arent a lot of people out there that want to make anything and everything at least once. Ordering nice furniture works for me. And if I was to put a price tag on the things I make I usually dont get minimum wage. It would take me months to make a table and chairs, and each chair would probably be different.

View Don's profile


2603 posts in 4172 days

#4 posted 01-26-2007 05:24 AM

Well, Ethan, I don’t expect ever to test the “guilty” trip. We’ve been married for over 40 years and have every piece of furniture we will ever need. In fact, the real challenge for us is getting rid of excess furniture. All of our stuff was purchased pre-woodworking days. Sure, some of it isn’t the best quality, but we’ve had it for so many years it doesn’t matter.

Now I do plan to make a few bedside tables this year, maybe four pieces. Of course I wouldn’t purchase these.

Here’s something for you. (Oh, no copyright violation here as this is linked to the site where I found it.

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

View Ethan Sincox's profile

Ethan Sincox

767 posts in 4169 days

#5 posted 01-26-2007 03:39 PM

Scott, you’re right! I never really thought of it that way. I think you’re also right in saying Ethan Allen furniture will some day be considered good quality antiques. So really, this is just an early investment for future generations to come.

Having previously had my copyrights violated for personal gain on some digital photographs I took when I was in Ireland, I tend to take copyright violations pretty seriously.

-- Ethan,

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 4401 days

#6 posted 01-26-2007 04:19 PM

Your woodworking background gives you the ability to see quality and comfort in factory built pieces. This is something that non-woodworkers have a harder time doing. Also, you can always sell the factory table to someone else if you decide to build your own someday.

There is nothing wrong with building small pieces. I find that the small pieces are sometimes more difficult. The big pieces take heavy lifting, big tools, lots of room to work on it, and a trailer to deliver it. I would have loved to be able to put all of my exhibits in the trunk of my car to go to Cody, WY for the show in September. If I could make a living doing only small things, I would do it. There is no shame in building small things.

Do you feel better for “talking” about it? See, it helps.

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View Ethan Sincox's profile

Ethan Sincox

767 posts in 4169 days

#7 posted 01-26-2007 04:55 PM

I do, Mark! Really, that is my main goal when writing in my blog – to simply get things I’ve been rolling around in my mind OUT of my mind and onto something tangible (can we call the Internet “tangible”?).

I try to keep a distinction between my blog entries and starting up a new Forum topic. If I’m just writing for me, I’ll kick it into a blog and write away with little regard to spelling or punctuation. (Ok, that was a lie – I’ve never been able to write with little regard to those things…) If I actually have a question or topic I’d like to discuss with others, that’s when I create a new forum topic.

-- Ethan,

View smartlikestick's profile


54 posts in 3573 days

#8 posted 06-04-2009 03:25 AM

Funny – my youngest son shares your name. Ethan Andrew.

-- -- Mike Beauvais

View a1Jim's profile


117090 posts in 3572 days

#9 posted 06-04-2009 04:17 AM

Hey folks
Please don’t throw things at me but I’m underwhelmed with Ethan Allen. In the last 10 years I have repaired possibly 15 -20 pieces of E A furniture many because of poor joinery like dowels in tables and chairs and dressed up low quality woods like pine and poplar. Sure they looked pretty but the quality is not always there.
Like many of the folks here E A has done a good sales job of talking quality to the public but many of the pieces don’t make the grade. My customers all think E A is top quality too. I don’t like being someone who is putting down someones new purchase., But the truth is the truth.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

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