Roads and Fences: How Adventurous Are You?

In a recent issue of our eZine, a reader wrote in to get some advice about building a chair. His question was rather specific, regarding the correct splay of the legs to maximize stability and strength. Tim Inman, an expert woodworker and finisher (and a wealth of helpful information!) and yours truly tried to offer this fellow some advice. Our answers took decidedly different approaches to a larger and broader topic of building chairs.

I hope he’ll forgive me for paraphrasing, but Tim’s response was something along these lines: Dive in there and build a chair! Whip out a prototype from some inexpensive lumber, experiment with the proportions and shape and see what you can learn from the experience. Then make a second chair really well and and burn the first one. Get over that fear of flying, and just do it.

My reply to the inquiry was more constrained: Find a good set of plans for a classic chair that you like, and learn from a proven design as you build it. Since chairs are a blending of ergonomics, engineering and style, the experience of other chair builders could be really beneficial.

After writing that reply and seeing it “out there,” it left me a bit unsettled with my approach. Tim was intending to inspire results, while I was trying to insure them.

In the time since, I’ve gone back to James Krenov’s The Impractical Cabinetmaker to find a quote that seems especially fitting in this context:

There are basically two different types of craftsman: the one who wants to be sure and for whom work is method and efficiency and predictable results; and the one who is the outsider, the person for whom there must always be an element of adventure, which is closely connected with uncertainty. For this craftsman, the most-used road leads to a fence.

I’m not sure that I entirely agree with Mr. Krenov’s distinction here. I believe there are shades of gray between the two approaches to woodworking he describes: I think sometimes we are more adventurous in certain projects and calculated in others, depending on all sorts of factors — costs involved, time, intended purposes, safety, expectations of recipients, etc. But, his description does make me think about my own woodworking motivations. How often do I take the “most-used” road in order to get where I’m going with a project? What opportunities for adventure and learning could present themselves if I cut my own trail more often?

Food for thought…

Catch you in the shop,

Chris Marshall, Field Editor



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About Chris Marshall

Chris Marshall has been writing for Woodworker's Journal as a contributing editor and field editor since 2001. Prior to that, he spent five years developing home improvement and woodworking books. He's written five of them and has served as a contributing writer on many more. A wood and tool junkie since childhood, Chris thoroughly enjoys building projects and reviewing woodworking tools for the Journal. When he's not assembling new machinery, sawing parts, taking photos or crunching text for an upcoming story, he enjoys spending time with his family and a houseful of pets at their home in rural Ohio.

One thought on “Roads and Fences: How Adventurous Are You?

  1. My own personal projects are always an adventure. When I’m building a project for a customer, I can’t afford to be too adventurous!

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