version two

Several weeks ago, my wife asked me to build her a small mail caddy. Something with two slots to hold bills that needed to be paid and help clean up the kitchen counter where those bills currently reside (and breed I think). It was a simple request and a small project. So small and simple, in fact, that it kept getting pushed down the line of projects on my to do list until it had nearly fallen off the bottom.

Until she reminded me last week.

So, after finishing my bench I started digging around in my off-cuts for inspiration. Sometimes that works, like this:


Sometimes it does not.

I also started out with sawdust instead of pencil lead which is always a risky move. All I had in mind was that I wanted this to be a quick project and that it had to be big enough to hold two sets of envelopes, so I grabbed some envelopes and started cutting, rabbeting, gluing and nailing. Soon enough I had this:


I took it in to show it to my wife. The look on her face foreshadowed all that she would then go on to critique:

“It’s so, clunky looking,” she said.

It’s rustic, I thought.

“Is it sturdy?”

Sturdy enough, I replied in my head.

“Well,” she finally declared, “it’s certainly not ‘Stickley inspired’.”

Ughh, she had me. It was a turd in the punch bowl of life.


Some people invoke a divine being to instill feelings of guilt and inspire repentance. My wife invokes Gustav Stickley.

What I had made wasn’t something I was happy with, it was just something I wanted to have finished and off of my list. But really, why do I have a list? Isn’t it because I love woodworking and I enjoy putting that skill to use in making the things around me? If I would have finished that mail holder I would have hated it every time I looked at it, which would have been every day. And really, that’s a lot of hate.

So I went back to my stock and found a couple of off-cuts of white oak that were left from some barn wood my father-in-law had given me. I worked that stock down to straight and square. It was absolutely stunning quartered white oak, and it inspired me to design something a bit more, “graceful.”


I got out my pencil this time, and I stopped to ask: How small can I make this so that it will still be functional? What if I lay the letters on their sides? What kind of joinery is required?  What about embellishment?


What I ended up with was this:



My wife loves it. A friend commented that it looks like it could hold hymnals on the back of a church pew. I didn’t think of that when I was working, but I can’t help but admit he’s right and wonder if it has anything to do with all the hymnals and church pews I stared at while growing up. Perhaps it was subconscious. Maybe when I was working on version two I went somewhere deeper than “let’s just get this done” and worked from a place of “let’s get this done beautifully.” In any account, I’m happy my wife wouldn’t let me settle with “the milk crate,” and I’m grateful that she held me accountable to my own stated values and goals to do good work that would stand the test of time.

Working on your own can lead to tunnel vision from time to time. Sometimes we need people to call us out on that and remind us to look harder and do better.



2 Comments Add yours

  1. momist says:

    Can the ‘milk crate’ not be pressed into service to store the off-cuts you will need for the next one or two like this?


    1. Yes, I think it will probably end up with some use around the shop when all is said and done. I’ll put it away for a while until I figure that out.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s