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Blog entry by miles125 posted 02-03-2011 06:10 PM 4485 reads 0 times favorited 23 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This post is in response to richgreer’s great post on “Can you just slap something together” found here…

I’m thinking there’s a general misunderstanding about how adjusting the level of craftsmanship depending on circumstances is not a skill set in its own right. It is. And a very valuable one. Maybe what we’re seeing is simply the difference between how a hobbyist views woodworking and how those who do it for a living view it. I’ve done both, so i know all too well the difference.

In woodworking as a business, the world of woodwork is a different animal. You have to figure out how to make money with the employees you have and all their quirks and eccentricities. And none of us are immune to those quirks and eccentricities by the way. We’ve all got em. But Rich’s post has reminded me of one type of employee that stands out and has given me my share of headaches through the years is what i’ll call the “inflexible master craftsman” (IMC).

The IMC is the guy with much skill and knowledge and the ability to do the most beautiful woodwork you’ve ever seen. But he also is lacking in some things. Insight i guess is what i’d call it. Because he operates as though he has no concept that time equals money and everything worth doing does not have to be done perfectly. So you have to watch what you give the IMC to do. He’ll cost you a fortune if you don’t.

You can’t send the IMC to fix the door that fell off a customers $300.00 vanity for example. He’ll be there all day with no understanding that the extent of work he puts into replacing a split stile instead of patching what’s there is worth far more than the vanity itself! Oh but it will be beautiful. No doubt.

Maybe in another post i’ll feature the close relative of the IMC. The Jigaholic. That’s the guy who’ll spend 4 hours on making a jig that will save him 1 hour of labor and likely never get used again for 20 years. :)

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

23 comments so far

View Ken90712's profile


17563 posts in 3215 days

#1 posted 02-03-2011 06:24 PM

Interesting thought, Very valid! I liked it.

-- Ken, "Everyday above ground is a good day!"

View CharlieM1958's profile


16275 posts in 4244 days

#2 posted 02-03-2011 06:29 PM


You are absolutely right.

Actually, the IMC exists in all walks of life. I see it in business all the time with people who get so caught up in following a procedure to the letter that they lose sight of the big picture.

Here is an example: When I started working at my current job, there was a procedure in place that every single invoice and receipt that was physically going to be hand carried from our department to the purchasing department (and there were lots of them, every day) had to be typed onto a list, which the person on the other end would sign, stating they had received them. Typing this list probably took up an hour of someone’s time every single day. The sole purpose for said list is that the purchasing department was famous for losing documents, and with this signed list in hand we could shake our fingers and say “See… you signed for it!”

The big picture though, was that neither they nor anyone further up the chain of command cared in the least that we could shake our fingers and blame them for losing something, so the bottom line is that it was purely a waste of time.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View dbray45's profile


3320 posts in 2803 days

#3 posted 02-03-2011 06:40 PM

You are correct, the work must fit the project but that doesn’t absolve you from doing a good job.

This reminds me of when I replaced the interor doors in my house. The originals were of the cheapest the builder could buy and was overcharged at that. Getting the doors is a story in itself but this is about the installation.

Lets start with – I bought new doors without frames. None of the original doors closed and latched as they were supposed to and all of the new doors, I expected, would have to have their the top and sides cut, shaved, or otherwise adjusted. In measuring how much to cut the first door, I did the measuring and it seemed odd. I put the measurements into my Autocad (I love this software) and found that the measurements did not add up there. Out comes the carpenter’s square – the frame is not even close to square.

After I removed the moldings, squared the frames, none of the doors except one had to be altered. Saved a lot of time, money, and evervything works as it should.

-- David in Damascus, MD

View childress's profile


841 posts in 3568 days

#4 posted 02-03-2011 06:42 PM

I know what you’re talking about. In fact, I was/am an IMC. But only after I started working for myself did I realize it. So, now a question. Can you change the IMC’s pay scale to something that’s not hourly or salary? Almost like a salesman gets paid for selling stuff, if he doesn’t sell, no $$. Pay him per job, so to speak. The faster he works, the more he gets done, the more $$ he has the potential of making. I think it’s called piece work.

-- Childress Woodworks

View spunwood's profile


1202 posts in 2862 days

#5 posted 02-03-2011 06:54 PM

This is a helpful post. I am an IMC, but I am also learning to spend the right amount of time on a project. My last project, I accepted some faulty cuts and fits, imperfect finish and even didn’t fill the screw holes. But I let my wife make many of these decisions because it was for her and not simply for my pleasure. The IMC in me can potential life me toward excellence of one kind (precision and detail), but can also point me toward despair, frustration… The let’s slap it together part of me can help me feel a sense of accomplishment and completion, but also a sense of laziness and incompletion, or embarssment. It is a balance. As for the money making end of things, I would be broke…or more broke than I am if I was trying to earn a living at my current style of working. The distinction between hobbiest and businessman makes sense.


-- I came, I was conquered, I was born again. ἵνα ὦσιν ἓν

View GregD's profile


788 posts in 3162 days

#6 posted 02-03-2011 07:01 PM

Yup. Picking the right standard for the situation is definitely a skill. One reference point is the minimum standard required for the product to perform at all. Sometimes the “slap it together” will fall short of this. Above that is usually a spectrum of cost vs. quality alternatives. And the process of choosing which standard to go with is very different depending on whether your motivation is to have fun or to feed your family. And different still, I suspect, for the artists among us.

-- Greg D.

View longgone's profile


5688 posts in 3334 days

#7 posted 02-03-2011 07:11 PM

I believe it all depends on where a person sets their standards and what they desire their reputation as a craftsman to be seen as. There are many places in theis world for all levels of craftsmanship…both top notch and that of a lesser quality. Many people have lowered their standards and expectations while others continually strive to raise theirs.
I have seen some of the work slapped together by people such as Sam Maloof, Greene & Greene…just to mention a few. I have also seen work slapped together that would compliment any burn pile or dumpster. Some people slap much better than others.
When a person sets their standards high amd does whatever it takes to do a first class job, they shoud be a self-employed person who can set their own standards…and know when to turn down a job if it is not right. or they should become a salaried employee of some home improvement company or cabinet shop that dictates their standards for them. This is America where you can choose your own destiny.

View NoLongerHere's profile


893 posts in 2702 days

#8 posted 02-03-2011 07:50 PM

Jigaholic…..too funny.
I know a senior master carpenter door hardware specialist who is just like that.

Only, he loves to go home after work and make all the jigs in advance.
He’ll pull the perfect jig out of his bag of tricks right in front of us just to watch the expression on our faces.

Dude…when did you make that? Sweet.
He’s not fast but you will never have a call back from his work.

I always make my hourly rate, sometimes I just have to work a little for free to get the job done.

View Derek Lyons's profile

Derek Lyons

584 posts in 3594 days

#9 posted 02-03-2011 07:57 PM

I know a person who is both an IMC and a jigaholic… The result is that, other than projects he is forced to slap together, he hasn’t actually completed a project in the twenty five years I’ve known him.

-- Derek, Bremerton WA --

View FreddyS's profile


211 posts in 2800 days

#10 posted 02-03-2011 08:29 PM

lol, I’m guilty on both!
But in my day job as programmer I been doing enough “jigs” for the past 5 years that I can actually finish everything faster than everyone else here at the office ;)

Back to WW, some jigs so far helped to speed up the time to build more jigs hehee… but I have to put an end to the jig building stage and start building the things that brought me to woodworking in the first place.

-- Learning one thing at a time

View miles125's profile


2180 posts in 4031 days

#11 posted 02-03-2011 09:50 PM

Maybe i should have included that in Architectural Woodwork there are standards that actually address levels of crraftsmanship along with quality of materials expected. These are standards put out by the Architectural Woodwork Institute (AWI) that are usually included in the job specifications by the architect.

Basically you have 3 grades of work. Premium, custom and economy in a declining order of quality. They address a myriad of issues like how big a gap is allowed at the joint of a stile and rail on a door or how many blemishes or defects are allowed per square foot of material. It really goes into incredible detail in differentiating between the grades.

So you may do a job like a courthouse and you’ll be expected to do premium grade work in the courtrooms and judges offices. Then you’ll have custom grade work expected in breakrooms and bathrooms. With things like utility rooms and janitors closets in the even less stringent standards of economy grade.

So there are guidelines in the industry with an understanding that some things don’t deserve anywhere near the attention (or cost!) of other more important things.

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

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 3988 days

#12 posted 02-04-2011 05:24 AM

Sad to say, I’ve occasionally been both those guys. Straightening yourself out is usually done when you view your check book after doing the very best you can for $2.50 and hour. Sometimes it is necessary to fit the quality to the bid. Good post.

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View miles125's profile


2180 posts in 4031 days

#13 posted 02-04-2011 03:02 PM

””It does bring up a question about what it means when business demands lower standards and someone warns against perfectionism””

Skarp, I guess i’d have to say those demands in fact make for a wiser and far more superior craftsman. These demands promote skills a hobbyist with no time restraints or funding issues will ever aquire. Its really no different in concept than the marathon runner who chooses to add ankle weights or a backpack full of rocks in training for what he does. He knows without hardship and adversity, his potential will not be fully realized.

We can be ticked off at a world where money is an issue. But that’s sort of like being ticked off that people have an issue with their time. But in reality people do have an issue with their time and how much of it they are willing to trade for goods and services in the marketplace.

So show me the money and i’ll carve on a single drawer front for a week. Or i’ll carve on it for 2 hours. Ultimately it comes down to me and the customer negotiating how much time we’re willing to trade one another. As it should be.

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

View dbray45's profile


3320 posts in 2803 days

#14 posted 02-04-2011 03:03 PM

Well said and everyone here has made really good points for all sides of the coin(s). When people find out about my woodworking many have asked me what it would cost to “snap something together.” I listen to what they want and about 90% of the time I refer them to a carpenter – because that is level of quality that they are really asking for, 4% more are directed to that 4 letter word – but I will say it anyway IKEA. If I elect to make something for someone, it will be a nice piece of furniture. This is my choice. There have been a few times when someone will come to me and ask me how to fix something that one of these carpenters have done. I ask for pictures and if required, I have gone to their house to look at the problem. Sometimes the problem is that they got what they paid for. Sometimes they were ripped and every now and then there was just something that was not expected. There have been a few times that I sent a building inspector to look at the work – just to shutdown the contractor.

At times I have been all of the acronyms that you list and sometimes a PITA and SOB. In making a product, with your name and reputation on the line, what you make and more importantly, their perception of what you make is up for grabs. How you want to be perceived by future customers is determined by what you have done, are doing, and will do.
This perception is your quality of life. You can make the biggest piece of junk and if the customer thinks and feels that it is so outstanding, he or she will show it to everyone. Everyone that looks at it will determine for themselves what they think of it – doesn’t matter at that point what you and the customer discussed, negotiated, and what the price was.

If you are making a repair on a barn, you don’t have have a mirror polished finish – unless it is in the tack room. The goal here is to make the repair invisible to 98% of everybody that looks at it. In my opinion, if the repair blends in and no one can tell where the repair was made, even with 1” gaps, you have done well – unless it isn’t supposed to.

If you are building a highly detailed set of cabinets and they are to marry with an existing set of cabinetry, if there is no delineation between the two sets, you have done well, again – unless it isn’t supposed to.

The thing is, if your work really does blend into someone elses, your work will have to be better than the original so that future repairs are not required.

If you are making fresh everything, there is no comparison, your work will be evaluated accordingly. The choice is yours on what people will think and they evaluate in seconds, hours, days, and years. They will tell everyoone – especially the “not good”.

There are ways to provide the quality being requested and sometimes it is by not doing it.

-- David in Damascus, MD

View miles125's profile


2180 posts in 4031 days

#15 posted 02-04-2011 03:23 PM

Dbray45, absolutely. I don’t build dog houses. But i certainly could and would if i had to. I just know theres nowhere near the profit in it compared to what my skill set is capable of working on.

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

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