Redemption song

The best part about coming back to the workshop after a major failure is this: the worst is already over.

Yes, time was spent. Yes, some investment was probably lost, but there’s a certain freedom in the debris that can bring on a surge of creativity. Something was lost, but there is also something to be gained.

After my mishap with the chair I walked away for a few hours, but when I came back to survey the damage I realized that all was not lost. The overall chair was toast, sure, but the legs were still good so I split them out of the chair seat and cleaned them up. I sat those aside for a while and considered what I had learned.

I learned that the 2″ x 6″ pine that I had used to try to make the seat was not going to work (I tried twice). I bought it on a whim to see if I could make a decent seat out of it. I could not. It was not up to the task structurally. Even if I had finished the chair, I have my doubts it would have stood the test of time. Lesson learned; price $6. It was also a great way to practice carving, shaping and cleaning up a seat and an economical avenue to get my head around the geometry of chair making. If it had not split, the chair would have been very nice indeed, and I’m happy to have had the opportunity to mock-up future designs for less than the price of dinner at Sonic.

When you amortize failure that way it starts to sound like a decent investment. At the very least, I learned what the wood sounds like just one hammer blow away from CRRRRRAAACK!

After looking at the salvaged chair legs for about a week I grabbed a rough slab of SYP that has been flying around my shop for a few years and planed some of the roughest texture off, leaving just a hint of the circular saw marks from the mill. In under an hour I marked, drilled, reamed, knocked together and glued a serviceable bench. That afternoon, my two oldest daughters helped me paint the legs. I added some tung oil to the top and voila: redemption!


Now, they don’t all turn out like this, but sometimes they do and it’s nice to tell a resurrection story now and again.




6 Comments Add yours

  1. Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, my friend.


    1. Only yourself can free your mind!


  2. Jeff says:

    Love this and the last post…helped me reframe some recent setbacks while making my first shooting board and miter box. Had to scrap the miter box after some warping (also tried to use dimensional pine) and went with oak on a bench hook instead. Please keep sharing!


  3. jonfiant says:

    Keep going James, great job. I am the younger brother of a Windsor chairmaker. He was at it full time for about 25-30 years, before 2008 took its toll, now just makes them part time. I started doing odd jobs for him when I was about 10 or 12, and learned quite a bit, enough to lure me into a woodworking career. One of the more poignant memories I have is him storming out of the shop, and throwing the base assembly of a Philadelphia comb back across the driveway because the seat blew apart on him. He had accidentally kerfed his leg tenons with the grain, so that when he drove home the wedges, the 2″ thick poplar seat he made just blew apart! Not a fond memory, but that lesson always stuck with me for some reason, even though I have yet to make my first chair.
    All the best,
    Jon Fiant


  4. anfaith says:

    Since we’re all the heros of our own story, I don’t see things as a,disaster, but instead I just look up,and shout, “Plot twist!”

    Good job with the bench.


  5. Yeah, there’s nothing like that auditory feedback to let you know you messed up. I find that no matter how many books and magazine articles I read I don’t really understand what I’m doing (and why I’m doing it) until I foul it up really good. It’s the mistake that tells me where the limits are and therefore what I can actually get away with.

    Nice bench, by the way. The circular-saw marks are interesting. I’ve seen a lot of people advocating leaving smooth-plane hollows and dovetail overcuts as evidence of how a piece was made; was that your thinking, extending that to machine milling? Or was it “just for pretty”? At first glance I thought of figured maple, actually!


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