Balancing time vs design (or buy junk vs make nice stuff)

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Blog entry by Woodcanuck posted 04-30-2010 05:44 PM 1365 reads 0 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I just got a call from my wife. “We’re overflowing with books in the office, can you make some bookshelves so that we can get them organized?” At this point, I’d like to be beaming with pride and start down the wonderful path of designing and planning out some fantastic bookshelves. Maybe they’ll be a very contemporary design with hidden support dowels embedded into the studs, or some nice quartersawn oak with through tenons and ebony pegs ‘a la’ Greene and Greene style.

In actuality, I’m thinking….wait for it…...wait for it…....

“If you can get stuff and put them up tonight I can have that room cleaned up before the weekend.”

....thud, the other shoe drops.

I find it hard to juggle the balance between getting things done quickly with getting things done right (right in my mind anyway). Sure I can stop at Ikea or Home Depot on the way home, grab some cheap melamine shelves that will go with the cheap melamine desks in the office, put them up and be done with it. After all, we’re going to redo the room in a few months anyway….uh oh, now I’m rationalizing it too.

But isn’t the point of being a woodworker (especially as a hobbyist) the ability to MAKE things like this? Of course, I recognize that budgeting time to do the work and having to wait for finishes to dry and glue to dry will mean that the project will take more than a couple of hours.

I blame our societal need to have things ‘now’ instead of having the patience to think the purchase through, wait for something better to be built by hand and cherish the result for years to come.

On that note, since I’ll be at Home Depot anyway maybe I’ll do some impulse shopping for a dovetail jig or maybe one of those newfangled router tables made from melamine.

-- Ian - Life's a game, if you don't play, you can't win.

7 comments so far

View MyFathersSon's profile


180 posts in 3309 days

#1 posted 04-30-2010 08:37 PM

I feel your pain :-)
Tim (the tool man, Taylor) Allen didnt do us any favors in that regard.
Although I DID love his show.
The DIY/hobbyist wood worker is seen by many as someone who over designs and overthinks something that they are just as happy having done “quick and dirty”.
The first thing I tell friends or family – or even outside customers———
IF you can find what you are wanting off the shelf somewhere—buy it.
If you need help assembling it—I can do that.
You will get it faster that way—and probably at less cost.
The reason you would want to talk to me about actually building you a piece—is if you want something that is one of a kind built to meet your specific needs and desires.
If you have a specific material or design or functionality that you want that isnt readily available in readymade or kit—- that’s what I bring to the table (or the book case or the cabinet)

-- Those who insist it can't be done - should politely refrain from interrupting those who are doing it.

View rhett's profile


742 posts in 3663 days

#2 posted 04-30-2010 10:17 PM

We live in a disposable society and it is all our own fault. People are lazy and overstimulated and believe that they should be able to have anything they want and they should have it yesterday.

If you have the skill set and tools to make something for yourself, do it. Trying to think of reasons why you shouldn’t is counterproductive. Time spent in the shop, making a tangible items with your own two hands is a gift unto itself.

-- Doubt kills more dreams than failure.

View HokieMojo's profile


2104 posts in 3724 days

#3 posted 04-30-2010 11:34 PM

I’m from the other camp. Sometimes it’s nice to build/have nice things. Sometimes you need a plank to support a stack of books. If we applied our woodworking approach to everything in life, we wouldn’t have time to live. From growing our own heirloom vegetables, to cooking 6 course meals every day, to stitching our own clothes made of fine fabrics. You’ve got to prioritize. If buying a simple bookshelf allows you to build something more meaningful (dining table, highboy, x-mas gifts, etc.) I don’t really see the big deal.

View japanesewoodworker's profile


68 posts in 3048 days

#4 posted 04-30-2010 11:44 PM

There is the “Yin / Yang” stuff that we are all familar with…
That is why my picture is only “black / white” . (avotar ?)
I just want to make sure that the is more WHITE than black. Is there more GOOD or evil in your shop ?
This is an “old” asian philosophy. There should more good in YOUR world, than Bad !

View Ger21's profile


1074 posts in 3127 days

#5 posted 05-01-2010 01:17 PM

With the cost of wood these days, you can easily spend 3-5 times what an Ikea bookshelf might cost.

I’ve been remodeling my house for the last 10 years. (completely gutted to start) If I built all the furniture as well, it’d be a 30 year project. So, I have a lot of Ikea furniture in the house, and a few custom made items. Over time, the Ikea stuff will eventually get replaced.

But when you can buy something that looks OK, serves the purpose, doesn’t take more than 2-3 hours of your time, and is much cheaper, you just go buy it and be done with it. You can always replace it later when you have the time. :-)

-- Gerry,

View MyFathersSon's profile


180 posts in 3309 days

#6 posted 05-01-2010 03:40 PM

One of my favorite lines in Fiddler on the Roof is when Tevye is caught between two friends holding opposite opinions:
“You are right. But you are also right. How can you both be right?”
Truth is—there are plenty of things in life where there is no one “right” answer.
On the one hand—
The first “bookcase” I ever “built” was some 1×6’s supported by some stacked bricks. All of which were scrap I had scrounged up. It was inexpensive, easy and quick to set up, easily taken down if I got ready to move or rearrange – and practically indestructible in the mean time. In short—the PERFECT bookcase to meet my needs at the time.
On the other hand -
The most recent one I built for a customer was a triple unit totalling 8’x6’x12” made of solid wood carefully stained to blend with their existing furniture, sliding dovetail joinery artfully routed trim and a beautiful (if I do say so myself) satin finish. A hand made one of a kind piece they felt proud to own. In short – the PERFECT bookcase to meet THEIR needs at this time.
On the THIRD hand—-
I totally agree with Rhett in bemoaning the lack of value so many people place today on craftsmanship.
Some people are lazy – and some just dont care. Others don’t see the difference. And these folks frustrate the heck out of me.

Fortunately there are enough folks out there who do value hand made individually done work – to help those of us who love doing it support our habit :-)

-- Those who insist it can't be done - should politely refrain from interrupting those who are doing it.

View Chipmonk's profile


6 posts in 3789 days

#7 posted 05-02-2010 09:13 PM

A few years ago my brother moved into a condo from his (our) parent’s house. I had moved out 20 odd years before and he had stayed unmarried with them until they moved on and up..or down! To make things comfortable for him I set up his living room just like the original (his) one back home. He decided he wanted bookcases for his ever growing book collection.
As he was a taciturn sort of individual, I suggested making an attractive set of matching book shelves and started preparing the first set. He came by to check them out and the first thing he said was that they were the wrong colour! I explained that it was in it’s raw stage, they were ready for assembly and I had yet to stain the shelves and what colour did he want them. We went down to his favourite watering hole for a brew and to talk over the stain and preferred finish, gloss, semi gloss etc. We were sipping away when he said to me that the colour of the tables in Maud Hunters’ were the very shade he wanted them to be. Yeh right, I said they are not the red mahogany you were waxing lyrica aboutl only last week but a multi hued yellow, brown and burnt umber and cigarette combo. Then he said he wanted them dinged and chipped to look like they had been around for a while just like himself.

So I got back to preparing them for stain with the new ‘set of clothes’ when he come by and said he has changed his mind and now wants doors with windows on the book shelves to help contain the dust and keep the sunlight from damaging the book ends. Oh, and now he wanted them deeper, so he could put his Waterford Glass collection in front of them with the books as a back drop. He could be very changeable like that and I should have just got a cheap set for him in the interim just to park the bl**dy things on until he finally made up his mind…

You just can’t please some people….

-- I need more tools...and a place to put them!

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