Reflecting on your journey establishing your own standards for your work

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Forum topic by Lee Barker posted 03-07-2013 05:20 PM 1251 views 0 times favorited 21 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Lee Barker

2170 posts in 2845 days

03-07-2013 05:20 PM

What kind of process has that been? Linear? Gradual? Like handsaw teeth?

Have you worked with (and or for) people who influenced you in obvious and direct ways? In subtle ways?

Do you have degrees of standards? Are they rigid, or a little squishy in a situational way?



-- " his brain, which is as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage, he hath strange places cramm'd with observation, the which he vents in mangled forms." --Shakespeare, "As You Like It"

21 replies so far

View Marcus's profile


1163 posts in 2014 days

#1 posted 03-07-2013 05:39 PM

I pretty much have 3 levels of quality standards. When I make something “for the shop”, I am pretty forgiving on gaps and what not. the next step up is what I make and give away/sell to other people there. I’ll leave mistakes in a finished project that the user would never see or see as a mistake. These are very minor issues as I’m pretty picky at this point. Finally, if I am making something nice for myself or family, I get get extremely picky. those issues that most people would not even realize are there will drive me nuts just knowing they’re there.

That’s pretty much been the status quo for me since I started swinging a hammer w/ my grandfather.

View CharlieM1958's profile


16274 posts in 4213 days

#2 posted 03-07-2013 05:52 PM

I find that my standards have risen pretty much in unison with my skill level.

In other words, I’m usually pretty satisfied when I finish a project. But if I go back and look at a couple of years later, and it involves some technique I’ve gotten better at over that time, I’ll think “Wow, this is really crappy.”

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

View foodog's profile


31 posts in 3421 days

#3 posted 03-07-2013 05:52 PM

I feel pretty much the same way as Marcus. Depending on what Im making and who it’s for decides how the finished quality will be….well at least I try to do it that way….sometime I might get a little carried away with “shop stuff” Years and years ago I got hooked when I made a very simple screw together shelf for my ma….since then it’s been a gradual climb, started with a hand saw and a drill and worked off the back porch, a few more tools and a basement to work in, now….an almost complete workshop in the garage…..took almost 30 years
(learning something new with every project) to get here but I’ve loved every minute of it. And I’ve learned a lot from you guys and gals on lummberjocks….thanks

-- Stan from St. Paul Mn

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Lee Barker

2170 posts in 2845 days

#4 posted 03-07-2013 05:53 PM

Thanks Marcus. Thoughtfully said.

I think we’ll find that a lot of what you have written will ring true to others.



-- " his brain, which is as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage, he hath strange places cramm'd with observation, the which he vents in mangled forms." --Shakespeare, "As You Like It"

View ShaneA's profile


6928 posts in 2593 days

#5 posted 03-07-2013 07:00 PM

It is an evolution for me. I feel almost exactly like Charlie. They usually meet my current standards/aporoval when I build them, but when I look back years later…I see firewood. I am usually overly critical of my work anyways, so it is always tough. I try to base success on the happiness/approval of the recipient, if possible.

View Jorge G.'s profile

Jorge G.

1537 posts in 2470 days

#6 posted 03-07-2013 07:19 PM

It is frequently quoted in this forum that a “good wood worker is not one who does not make mistakes but one who knows how to fix them so they won’t be noticed.” This makes me grind my teeth, if I make a mistake I make the piece over, while someone not familiar with wood working might not notice the mistake I know it is there and it drives me nuts. In addition I think fixes with time become apparent.

I have always had the high standards, but in some cases not the skill level. But that helped because it drove me to become better. I think it was Napoleon who said “Go slowly because I am in a hurry.” This, more than anything, applies to me. I have learnt that quickness (which is different from efficient) and a good job are inversely proportional. I think in a way this is why hand tools are seeing a resurgence, we are re-learning the old methods and in doing so learning to make better pieces.

I cannot speak for any one else, but in my case ironically as my skill increases my hand tools are becoming more relevant. For single pieces I have found that hand tools are usually faster, more accurate and precise than power tools.

I guess when it comes right down to it, my growth has been a gradual ever learning experience.

-- To surrender a dream leaves life as it is — and not as it could be.

View Jim Finn's profile

Jim Finn

2656 posts in 2916 days

#7 posted 03-07-2013 11:01 PM

I did construction work (Sheet metal) for my whole life and I remember thinking this when working for a new person: “To what degree of perfection do you want me to work?” Once I figure that out I can proceed and the new boss will be happy with my work. Now that I just do a hobby of woodworking I set my own standards and as my skill improves, my standards go up. I still have a long way to go though.

-- Website is No PHD just a DD214 and a GED

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

4928 posts in 3955 days

#8 posted 03-07-2013 11:08 PM

My big fault in early days was thinking that I could hammer out decent work in the least amount of time.
I have now learned that taking one’s time with set up and prep, will yield much better end results. Why did it take me soooo long to learn that?
I guess that my curve would qualify as “gradual”.


View joeyinsouthaustin's profile


1294 posts in 2067 days

#9 posted 03-07-2013 11:58 PM

I let the end user define the standard in a lot of cases, and explain to them the benefits and costs of each… think paint grade versus stain grade… etc… and I charge different for each, and the many other grades of work. However I always push the details, to a higher level. Each includes little hidden pieces of fine work well beyond the grade they have paid for. Grain matched panels, precision work, paint grade work that could be stained, from the perspective of craftsmanship (as opposed to the species) Edge banded rear nailers in paint grade drawer stacks, finishing details in places that will never be seen, and such. Shop, and personal is the same way. I like to gauge the importance of the piece for my self or shop first, and then work to that standard, and include those same extra pieces of work there as well.

My journey has taught me that many of these things will be appreciated but not noticed. “It just feels right” is the comment that comes to mind. But I have also learned where compromises can be made and not. I am of the school that fixing mistakes is ok for me personally, and ok in most of the grades of items I sell. However there is a “sculptural” grade that I sell, and at times set for myself, where all must be perfect, even if that means starting over. One place where there is not compromise in the standard is safety at the tool. This is where mentors shaped me a great deal, and taught me how to set the mind up, both with information and attitude, to walk up to a tool, and away from it in the same piece. And when not to walk up at all, in this area for me there can only be one standard… the highest possible.

-- Who is John Galt?

View nwbusa's profile


1021 posts in 2281 days

#10 posted 03-08-2013 12:09 AM

I am still very much a learning woodworker so my quality standards often exceed my abilities. When I do make things for others I am very picky and try to get as close as possible to perfect with the finished product. I am more forgiving with stuff I make for the shop or the house, as long as it’s a good learning experience. I’m sure as I continue the journey, my standards will still remain high, and hopefully my skills will grow to match.

-- John, BC, Canada

View Moron's profile


5032 posts in 3888 days

#11 posted 03-08-2013 12:23 PM

Thats a great question. When I look at the first duck I carved, the first butcher block, first coffee table…..I laugh nervously and quickly change the subject. The objects look horrid.

Having worked under or with several master craftsmen, master joiners from many different countries, they have taught me that the older I get, the more I realize I know very little. My standards albeit high, on occasion are still humbled by some which drives me to learn more.

I dont (sadly) make much anymore, as I now do general contracting and project management, fielding questions, finding solutions, mitigating difficult personalities. I often feel more like a counsellor then craftsman, more of an arbitrator then a woodworker. Now being in the position I am, I am no longer in charge of just my own destiny but the destiny of many others and am only as good as the summation of the trades who work for me and that is very challenging.

As I reach the end of this journey, I find words given to me by others to ring very true. Its not how fast you make something that makes you good, its how fast you can fix something that makes you good. Its not how much you can do, Its more what you shouldn’t do.

Experience is the toughest teacher out there. It always gives you the test first and the lesson later

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

View Mary Anne's profile

Mary Anne

1058 posts in 3203 days

#12 posted 03-08-2013 12:59 PM

As my experience and knowledge increases, so do my standards. I hope someday, my skill evolves to match my increasing quality standards.

View Lee Barker's profile

Lee Barker

2170 posts in 2845 days

#13 posted 03-08-2013 01:45 PM

How about examples? I recall 25 – 30 years ago, in a world of 30o bevel doors, all veneer plywood, with Amerock hinges ($.69 a pair as I recall, screws included). I visited a competitor—always tried to do that—and learned that he didn’t staple his face frames on. No fasteners showed.

Aha. So then I went to stapling just the bottom rail and clamping the rest. And then, eventually, no fasteners. It was definitely a stepwise journey to adopting that higher standard that wasn’t important until the visit.

Got one to share?



-- " his brain, which is as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage, he hath strange places cramm'd with observation, the which he vents in mangled forms." --Shakespeare, "As You Like It"

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 3153 days

#14 posted 03-08-2013 01:57 PM

The more you do stuff, the more you realize what something is supposed to look like afterwards. For example, when growing up, I would help my dad in the shop and I’d sand wood. Didn’t know where or when to stop because I had no perspective on what it should look like.

Same with finishing. Today, I know what it should look like, so I know how to work toward that goal.

Thus, as you understand the goal better in your work, you understand what standards are required to get there. That requires actually doing woodworking.

-- jay,

View Moron's profile


5032 posts in 3888 days

#15 posted 03-09-2013 04:21 AM

I remember plywood where edges for doors were mitred into the edge of door in all directions, where the “only” inexpensive hinge challenged the mind and only America sold them,

and the plywood didn’t suck

now the options are global

influenced by options that equate pay cheque to self worth

nothing really changes other then the amount of information you have to digest : ))

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

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