The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry… according to Scottish poet and sage Robbie Burns. That also applies to woodworking.
Years back I used to submit articles for a woodworking magazine. Along with the how-to you had to submit a detailed cut list for parts. One article was for a triad of Muskoka chairs I had made for my variously-sized girls.
A little after publication, I got a panicked email from the editor. Could I please check the cut list? She passed on a quite irate email from a reader. The man in question had purchased wood for the chairs, and cut them out out exactly to the size in the cut list, and found at the end some things did not fit. He was furious and wanted restitution.
I went over my list. It was not good news. One of the measurements was 1/4 inch off. In the name of doing the right thing, I owned up to the error and told the man to email me his receipt for the wood. I sent him a cheque in the mail. I might add that apart from the trouble, writing such articles is not a moneymaker. You get a modest honorarium, but nobody ever got rich from it. So the irony was that after all the effort involved, I ended up in the hole. The cost of his wood was more than I got paid in dollars for doing the article.
I did not say anything except to acknowledge my error, but the tenor of his rage piqued me somewhat. What I did not say, (and perhaps should have) was that in all such instances, a wise man leaves a little extra and builds to fit as he goes. Only a complete and utter novice would cut all the parts to exact size and just expect everything to fit. Experience teaches you to best cut parts a little oversized to allow a little extra for trimming and fitting. I wonder if the man ever got that his error was at least in part due to his own imprudence? Perhaps I should have told him for future reference.
It’s not just a woodworking thing. It’s good advice in general. You don’t have to live long before you discover that things rarely work out exactly as premised. You always have to make some adjustments to surprises or course-corrects along the way. That applies to relationships, sometimes to marriages, to work and vocation, and a long list of more pedestrian things that come along the way. Life changes. We change. History has many deviations and you will no doubt find yourself somewhere along the way, caught up in someone else’s revolution. Just ask any person who had to relocate their life due to war or economic catastrophe.
The elephant in the room of course, is shared blame. Fault is rarely one-sided and even courts of law recognize this, apportioning responsibility for the problem based on complicity. If you are doing it, you cannot “not” know. Taking up a hammer in hand makes you responsible The complicity of someone building, is due dilligence and it is something that you learn after making mistakes - and owning up to them. A person who points the finger in one direction only never learns the lesson the mistake laid bare in the first place. And so… a wise man learns to go slow. Going slower, you end up going faster because you have less re-do’s. The carpentry version that everyone is familiar with, is “Measure twice, cut once”.
And so maybe I should just say out loud what I have been thinking in the back of my head for all these years after taking full brunt for this man’s error.
Buddy, I have some straight up man advice for you. Life can be a hard teacher. If you are wise, you will learn to leave a little extra room to fit as you go. You got your freebie on me. Take my advice and run with it.
If you ever make the same mistake a second time however, you are simply an idiot.