Woodworking Project Problems: Misery Loves Company

In the last eZine, Rob mentioned that he’d been having some problems lately with things going wrong with a woodworking project. He wondered if his misery had any company? Turns out, the answer is yes. – Editor

“We’ve been working on getting a house, built in 1909, ready to move into: new plumbing, new electrical, a new detached three-car garage, etc. I was installing a zero clearance fireplace and was going to build a mantle and surround for it. I needed to match the existing woodwork in the area, so I made a story pole so I could get the rails and stiles in the proper position. I cut the stock to size and made all the mortises and tenons and cut the panels to size and started to do some assembly. The first two parts came together just fine. While making the next panel, things went wrong when I grabbed a wrong rail during partial assembly. When I went back to it the next day, after the glue had cured, I found that I had a rail that was shorter than the other two! The wind left my sails! I started to remake the parts that were wasted in the last attempt only to find that I didn’t have the correct wood for it, so I’ve set it aside until I can get back to it. That was 18 months ago, and every time I look at the parts I’ve already built and the stack of parts yet to be assembled, I get the sinking feeling that it’ll just go bad again, so I move on to the next Item on the to-do list. Hope that when I get back to it I’ll pay closer attention to the part placement. Next time I’ll test assemble each panel before applying any glue.” – J. Eric Pennestri

“When my wife got pregnant with our son in March of 2009, I decided I was going to build a three-in-one crib/toddler bed/bed. I bought all the lumber and started milling pieces and building the various parts, but other projects like converting an office to a nursery took precedence, plus limited time, and it dragged on. I finally finished the building phase in February of 2011 and moved on to finishing. I had seen videos about using dye and shellac to really pop the figure of curly maple and decided to try that. I had never used either dye or shellac before. I mixed up a small test batch, and it seemed OK, so I moved on to a full-sized one. Here’s where it all went wrong. I didn’t test my full-sized batch on scrap to see if it still looked the way I wanted, and I did a really crappy job of applying the shellac, with drips and runs. But the worst part was the color. Instead of popping the grain, the whole thing was the color of the “pumpkin pine” flooring in my house. I was so depressed at how badly I screwed it up, I didn’t touch it for six months. I tried stripping and sanding, but it just wasn’t coming out, and with the slats and all (I had started with the footboard piece), it would have taken forever. I finally recovered enough to put a simple polyurethane finish on the rest of the pieces, and assembled it in toddler bed mode, skipping the crib entirely. He got his new bed in September of 2012. I eventually sent out the footboard to a local furniture stripping place. They did a great job of stripping it, and it has sat in my workshop since, waiting for me to sand it and put the finish on.” – Drew Marold

“I started routing a sign for the church hall using plastic templates. On the second letter, I cut into the plastic template with my heavy, unwieldy router and ruined it. There is only one ‘R’ template in the set. Now I will have to wait for the next free shipping offer to buy a new set of templates. Fortunately, I’m not working to a tight deadline.” – Phil Gunyon

Some had advice for “those days.” – Editor

“Usually am not on a tight schedule, but when I am, that is when s__ happens. Some things pop up and you have no control over them, but tight schedules and me don’t get along. If I am rushed, that’s when mistakes happen or a minor little details gets missed and messes up the finished project. With that said,I have a fix for that. If I get more than a couple of those things happen in any given day, I put the tools down and it becomes beer-thirty. Better to walk away than proceed.
P.S. Moderation is a wonderful thing, because tomorrow might be a bad day, too.” – Terry Allen

“I have come to expect that there will  be days when  the wood gods will conspire against me. It is just the way it is. We screw up, get upset, rush to make it right and, in the process, make another mistake and then everything goes to pot.  Been there, got the T-shirt. The first part of it is Murphy’s Law.  The first screw-up just comes at the worst possible  time or on a really  nice piece  of wood, or that  time issue. Whatever the reason, it takes us out of ‘The Zone.’  We are no longer living in the present.  Our mind is either dwelling on the past mistakes that got us here or worrying about the future that is now a mess because of those mistakes.  Better to learn from the Zen master and stay in the moment.  And if you can’t, walk away. Find something else to do. Even if it’s just to make a pot of tea, walk the dog, whatever.  Get back in the moment.” – Lee Ohmart

And some just felt reassured by Rob’s woodworking difficulties. – Editor

“I figured that, by the time you’d woodworked for a long time, like you have, you’d pretty much have eliminated the times you figured wrong or cut the prime piece too short. Nothing you can do about wood in the middle that you do not see or stresses that unexpectedly show themselves, but the goofball errors….you still make?I feel a lot better now! Thanks for sharing!” – Tim Harrelson

“I read with anticipation to discover what went wrong with your project. Alas, nothing unusual appeared. It seemed like a perfectly normal project to me.” – Ernie Hatfield

Posted in: