Vince Lombardi quote

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Forum topic by richgreer posted 12-13-2011 04:16 PM 2024 views 1 time favorited 20 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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4541 posts in 3041 days

12-13-2011 04:16 PM

One of the many Vince Lombardi quotes is, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”

I’ve been thinking about this in the context of woodworking. Do I strive for perfection? On some projects, the answer is definitely “yes”. At the same time, I know I will never achieve perfection. In woodworking, we always have the start over option (if we have the material). Thinking about this quote sort of transitions into questions about what degree of imperfection we tolerate.

Some practical applications of this thought process – -

In my opinion, a perfect piece would never require wood filler. Yet, I will use some wood filler to hide a less-then-perfect fit. For me, I can accept using wood filler if it is inconspicuous and I will start over if the wood filler will be noticeable. Of course, my standard here varies with the importance of the piece.

In my opinion, a perfect piece would have very little glue squeeze out that was allowed to set on dry, unfinished wood. We can wipe away most (but not all) of the glue when it is still wet and we can (sometimes) sand away most, but not all, of the remaining glue after the glue has dried. Still, a residual of glue will remain that may (or may not) affect the stain or finish.

In my opinion, you should be able to glide your fingers over a joint and not feel where the joint line is, except in some situations you may be able to feel a change in grain direction.

In my opinion, in a perfect piece, the backside and underside will be finished as nicely as the more visible portions of the work. I almost always come up short on this. Where the top and front may get 5 coats of finish, the less noticeable portions may only get 3.

I think this one is more of my personal preference but, in my opinion, a perfect piece will contain no (or very little) hardware.

Do you find yourself striving for perfection and, to what degree, do you accept compromise?

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

20 replies so far

View Bluepine38's profile


3379 posts in 3051 days

#1 posted 12-13-2011 04:28 PM

I tend to strive for perfection, but also tend to know my limitations, and am forced to accept, well it will
work; as in my two Thien separators. Then on my rocking chairs for my great grandchildren-who want
them painted their favorite color, I will strive for a very smooth surface and even color, but on hardwood
bowls where the contrasting wood and joints easily show mistakes it takes a longer time before I will admit,
“It is as good as I can make it.” Mostly I just try to stay happy and out of trouble and use my woodwork
as an enjoyable hobby. Guess I will just stay the optimistic apprentice.

-- As ever, Gus-the 79 yr young apprentice carpenter

View HorizontalMike's profile


7749 posts in 2880 days

#2 posted 12-13-2011 04:29 PM

Rich, I like what you are saying here and agree wholeheartedly.

I also wonder just how we should treat our shop-made jigs and fixtures,...

Perfection in mechanical design and use?
Perfection in joinery and finish?
Both? One could argue that finishing jigs is good practice for our other projects (assuming we are NEVER rushed). ;-)

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

View TheDane's profile (online now)


5401 posts in 3629 days

#3 posted 12-13-2011 04:44 PM

Rich—One of my favorite Vince Lombardi quotes: “Dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. Hard work is the price we must pay for success. I think you can accomplish anything if you’re willing to pay the price.”

Personally, I subscribe to Gustav Stickley’s Craftsman motto (“Als ik Kan”), which he translated from Flemish, “to the best of my ability”.

I’m not sure I would describe my work as a pursuit of perfection, but I do my level best on every project I undertake. There are times when I have to recognize the limits of my expertise, which is why relatives and friends are sometimes disappointed when I decline to take on a project. I do this because I want to … not because I have to.

Every so often, I take on a project solely as a learning exercise. For example, I have been scared to death of the skew so this past weekend I decided to turn a bunch of Christmas ornaments using only the skew. I have about a dozen of them done and am pleased with the progress I have made. The first one or two were pretty rough, but they show steady improvement, and are ornaments I will be proud to have adorn my daughter’s and sister’s Christmas trees.


-- Gerry -- "I don't plan to ever really grow up ... I'm just going to learn how to act in public!"

View ellen35's profile


2734 posts in 3398 days

#4 posted 12-13-2011 04:45 PM

I think perfection in anything is over rated. If you look at the true heirloom pieces of furniture, they have their warts. This is what makes them so valuable. So, I look to make something that has character and maybe a little ‘oops’ in it. It makes it mine. I think the character of a piece is more important than the production. On the other hand… I like perfection in my tools – table saw blade must be a perfect 90 degrees, my planer must produce a perfect piece of wood… all so I can put my “mark” on it later!
Interesting question!
Also… people who are “perfect” tend to be boring… and pretty stuck on themselves.

-- "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." Voltaire

View Woodwrecker's profile


4137 posts in 3542 days

#5 posted 12-13-2011 04:46 PM

Your post pretty much mirrors my take on my work.
It’s amazing how much we think alike.
I do the best I can, but know the things I make aren’t perfect.
Seeing a little glitch here or there that I will be the only one to notice is part of the fun secret.
I try and remember that the main reason I’m out there is to have fun.
Good topic Rich.

-- Eric, central Florida / Utor praemia operibus duris

View BigTiny's profile


1676 posts in 2854 days

#6 posted 12-13-2011 05:06 PM

Hi Rich.

For glue squeeze out, dry fit your joint, run blue painters tape over the joint, cut the tape at the joint line, take apart, apply glue and assemble. Once the glue sets up a bit, pull off the tape which now has all the squeeze out on it instead of on the wood.


-- The nicer the nice, the higher the price!

View Cozmo35's profile


2200 posts in 3002 days

#7 posted 12-13-2011 07:40 PM

Hello Rich,

I believe the definition of perfection lies within the woodworker. Some have lower standards than others and therefore accept more imperfections than others. By definition “perfection” is an unattainable goal. There are so many variables to consider in striving for perfection which are beyond our control regardless of the effort expended. Nature dictates our options in the wood in the grain path and idiosyncrasies it contains. The manufacture has short comings regarding the glue, hardware, equipment and tools we buy. Even with all of this taken into consideration and a contingency plan put into place, we can never anticipate all aspects. It is an individual choice made from project to project and to a lower level piece by piece as to what is acceptable. For these reasons, I really don’t see a defined way for me to answer these question to any degree of certainty.

-- If you don't work, you don't eat!.....Garland, TX

View Jim Finn's profile

Jim Finn

2647 posts in 2888 days

#8 posted 12-14-2011 01:26 AM

When I worked in construction a lot of guys moved around a lot form job to job and the thing they had to determine with each Foreman they worked for was, “What degree of perfection do you want me to meet ?” Every foreman is slightly different as are folks buying your product. I am very particular (in my opinion) on some parts of my projects and not as much on others.

-- Website is

View Toddmc's profile


30 posts in 3335 days

#9 posted 12-14-2011 03:40 AM

This a great topic, I have been thinking about this for a long time. I would describe my work as perfectly imperefect. Think about it…. if I wanted something with no blemishes and no seems I would have made it out of plastic. I love the charicter thaT small imperfewctions present. I tell everyone that orders from me that I do not build with the best grade lumber because I like the knots, small pits, and even the parts where the knot has fallen out and I have placed wood filler in it. I have NEVER had anyone that ordered from me say that they wanted clear lumber with zero knots. As far as joinery I do not ever get tore up over small gaps, it looks more shop/hand made like that. I know a lot of people may disagree wiith me but that’s the I like it and have not received any complaints.

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3041 days

#10 posted 12-14-2011 04:08 AM

Toddmc – I really appreciate your attitude. i share your preference for imperfect lumber (within reason). We are working with an imperfect material and the knots and imperfections in the lumber add character and even beauty. As my signature line indicates, I see my role as bringing out the beauty that is already present in the wood.

We probably differ slightly in that I really strive for joints that are as good as possible. From my perspective, a flaw in the joint can distract from the beauty in the wood.

Recently (working on Christmas presents) I’ve struggled with an issue on double dovetails. I have an Incra Jig and a double dovetail is not that hard to do. Yet, that is taking attention from the wood itself and shifting it to the joinery. Despite my ability to do them, I think I will stick with simpler joints because I want the focus on the wood itself. The joints I make (for a jewelry box) may be simpler, but I still want them well done.

Thanks to all for your participation.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 2656 days

#11 posted 12-14-2011 04:56 AM

Another great topic Rich. When I was building bits and spurs an older bitmaker once told me you are never finished. At some point you have to say that’s finished enough and quit. I think this holds true for woodworking as well. ie: will sanding to 2000 grit really be perceptively more ‘perfect’ than sanding to 220?

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3041 days

#12 posted 12-14-2011 05:05 AM

gfadvm – Early in my career, before I became an actuary, I was a computer programer. I wrote lots of code (primarily in COBAL). At that time, and even today, I will tell you that I didn’t write a single meaningful block of code that I could not write better if I were to do it over again. Eventually, you just have to say, “it’s good enough”.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View SnowyRiver's profile


51457 posts in 3446 days

#13 posted 12-14-2011 05:38 AM

Like some have said, the imperfections are what makes the piece hand made. None of us are machines. Although if I have to use filler, then I want perfection on the spot that was filled :-)

-- Wayne - Plymouth MN

View anobium's profile


64 posts in 2311 days

#14 posted 12-28-2011 08:42 PM

Good writing is never finished.
I guess everybody agrees that on every project you do is something you think could have been done better but again you are probably the only one who’ll ever know. It bugs me everytime i look at it and tend to start over again. thankfully I haven’t worked with expensive wood or limited material yet.
I guess as my skills improve I’ll look diferent on older projects but so far I can say I did the best I can to reach prefection and made quite a way.

-- Whoever finds mistakes can keep them. English is a foreign language to me.

View ETwoodworks's profile


92 posts in 2659 days

#15 posted 12-28-2011 09:21 PM

When I think back or look back on my older priojects the flaws make me smile. Not because I like them but because It shows me clearly how much better I am today. As long as you “chase perfection” every project should come out better than the last. To me that is what is important.

-- Building quality in a throw away world.

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