Because you know, we had all the time in the world.
“Bring it back when it is perfect” said the drill sergeant. He sat on a cannon and filed his nails, looking vaguely relaxed and happy. The next soldier got the same treatment. And the next.
Once was never enough. We were teen-age recruits in the local militia, which we had joined so that we could play army for real. It was nine in the evening, and we had arrived from a long day of exercises in Huntsville that began at dawn. We were tired, covered in mosquito bites, and hungry. We wanted to go home. The gun-cleaning charade however, had to play itself out. The sergeant had to first bust our balls, you know, all that character-building discipline that army training brings.
We had to take apart our World-War-Two issue FM rifles and clean them stem to stern with oil and steel wool until they shone, not a speck of gunpowder or rust to be found. The problem was, you could clean your gun two or three times over because the sergeant was not tired yet, apparently. “Look at that mark there” he would say emphatically. “Clean it again”. You would look. There was no mark in the place he had indicated even if you squinted your eyes. You would curse that son-of-a-bitch in your mind and then go back and clean your gun again.
And so it is with perfect. Easy for the one asking, and hard for the guy doing the actual work.
I always seem to get sucker punched by perfect. It starts something like this… a ‘little’ job that looks easy. My wife wanted to repurpose an Ikea wardrobe sitting in the garage from the last house. The problem was the only doors Ikea had for that configuration were ugly slab doors. Worse, the doors were not symmetric. One was wide, the other narrow. I offered to build some traditional raised panel doors for the wardrobe that would look a little nicer. A weekend in the shop. No problem.
Finishing is the thing that few woodworkers like. Building is generally the fun part. Finishing will make grown men cry, both from the tedium and from the chance you will ruin your work. Finishing is really what separates the boys from the men because you are on the road to PERFECT and your competition, is a machine made factory finish in a controlled perfect environment. Finishing usually takes at least twice as long as the actual building… if you are lucky.
Knowing my wife (perhaps related to the drill sergeant) would run her fingers on every edge trying to find a drip or a blemish, I put my best foot forward. Sanding through three various grits between coats of paint, I ended up wet-sanding with four hundred grit paper. The doors were polished perfection, smoother than a baby’s butt. My wife inspected them. “I don’t know” she said, I don’t like the sheen. I think they should be more shiny.”
In what I thought would be a quick fix, I got some water based spray polyurethane to give the doors a quick, shiny coat. No problem. Except that the finishes were incompatible and I had not done a test spritz on the back of a door first. The polyurethane bubbled up and sat in clumps on the doors, then dried that way. I had to scrape off those four doors, sand and start all over again. I had vague visions in my brain of the drill sergeant and the FM rifles. It was fun... the first time, at least.
My dad had a cousin Dale who was a fellow woodworker. I once asked him about his finishing regimen. He favoured wipe-on finishes for their ease in application. We discussed perfect. “Be careful about perfect” Dale winced. “Only God is perfect, and he doesn’t have a sense of humour”. Now that was the voice of experience talking.
After sanding through four coats of paint and dry cycles…. again - I had about enough painting to last me for a while. My wife, who had been waiting a month for the doors by this time, did not check as thoroughly this time. Even she wanted the doors up and the finishing to be done with.
Perfect can be an ugly task master. It is much easier to be the guy sitting on the fence tossing out opinions than the guy trying to get there.
But I disagree with Dale. God does seem to have a sense of humour, at least if you have all the time in the world to do everything twice or three times over. I think God can wait us out and I think he is laughing. The Greeks even had a name for this, they called it Hubris, when human beings attempt to accomplish something, and God just sits back eating popcorn and enjoying the show. Human beings are good for entertainment, especially when the word “PERFECT” comes into play.
Me, I don’t think I will roll those dice. I think I will settle for a bit ‘organic’ next time around. It has a nice ring to it. I might even go for the Ikea doors, and that is saying a lot.