FIt as you go
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 rechecked my cut list. 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. The irony was that the cost of his wood was more than the modest honorarium I received for doing the article.
The tenor of this man’s rage piqued me somewhat. He was furious in the mode of those professional complainers whose intent is to ply freebies from the corporations who do not want the headache of dealing with them. 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.
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.
Enthusiasm that exceeds your skill level can be a dangerous thing. 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 the hit for this man’s impatience.
The elephant in the room of course, is 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 responsibility of someone building, is due diligence and often times you learn your biggest lessons from making mistakes. This was his “fit as you go” lesson. A more graceful person would take note for future reference and move on.
And so… due diligence means to take things slowly. Going slower, you end up going faster because you have less re-do’s. The carpentry version everyone is familiar with, is “Measure twice, cut once”. Note the word “measure” precedes the word “cut” which should always be left to the end after checking the fit against the real thing. It’s good advice that should be heeded before you exercise the urge to complain.
Hi Trevor. I have an old issue of Cottage Life Magazine kept aside to one day make the Muskoka chairs that came in 3 sizes. It says in the article to go to cottagelife.com/threechairs for the full size templates to print and that site no longer exists. Would you be able to provide a link to print these off.
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