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"Perfection" in Woodworking and Construction

Posted on May 23, 2015 at 1:09 PM Comments comments (1)
Perfection. Just what is that? 

According to the dictionary it means, "lacking nothing essential to the whole; complete of its nature or kind; being without defect or blemish.” In my experience very few things in this world live up this high ideal and those that do are purely subjective judgments. Thankfully I learned about the illusive nature of perfection when I was young.
 
I was 21 when I started my apprenticeship as a cabinetmaker and of course I knew everything. I was assigned to the semi-retired owner (his son-in-law now ran the shop). On my second day he asked me to pull an oak board out of the lumber rack. I brought it to him and laid it on the bench. It was a rough sawn piece, was uneven in width and thickness, had a twist to it and a crack at the end.
 
With youthful confidence I said, “Boy, they sure don’t make lumber like they used to!”
 
Sam, turned his head to me and in gruff voice but with a chuckle replied, “Son, I’ve been doing this for over 40 years and they never made lumber like ‘they used to’”.
 
He then continued on and said, “All of the materials we use come to us in imperfect shape - always have and always will. And remember that people are imperfect and the whole world is imperfect. Perfection is a false concept. Your job is to take imperfect materials and make them appear perfect – note I said appear – not make them perfect. If you do that then you have taken the first step in being a good cabinet maker because your expectations will be realistic. Keep high standards but always be realistic.”
 
He then went on and said, “While I’m at it, there is no such thing as level, plumb, straight or square and ‘a joint is a joint is a joint’. Things just appear level, plumb, straight and square and joints are always visible. Now you have one day to whine about these things and then for the rest of your career you just need to deal with these imperfections and attempt to make things appear perfect.”
 
Of all the things I learned in my apprenticeship that was the most valuable one.
 
Every piece of wood I have worked with had some imperfection (although perfection is, in this case, subjective – beauty is in the eye of the beholder). Every house I have worked in, no matter how new or old, was out of square and level and the walls were out of plumb. (Your house is not unique in that regard! When you put 200,000 pounds on top of a foundation it is guaranteed to move no matter how level and plumb it was built.) I’ve also never seen a truly straight wall and seams seldom disappear no matter how much I try.
 
Appearing perfect is what I aim for. The best example is on several jobs through the years I have installed crown moldings out of level in order to make them appear perfect. In these cases the ceilings were not level and making the crown molding level would have accentuated the issue. It took some creative solutions (usually following a night’s sleep) but when it was done the crown and the ceiling appeared level.
 
Imperfect materials – imperfect people – imperfect world. That’s the reality. When we keep that in mind our expectations are then realistic and in the end we all will proclaim “Wow that appears perfect! I love it!”

Remodeling Your Kitchen? “Piece of Cake” NOT!!!

Posted on May 23, 2015 at 12:37 PM Comments comments (1)
If you’ve ever lived through a remodel in your home chances are you would agree with the above NOT!!! But whether or not you have remodeled before when you hear your contractor, friend or significant other use the following phrases while discussing your project please realize they are speaking Utopian and the translation in English is basically the opposite as shown below:
 
Utopian versus English
“Piece of cake” means “pain-in-the-butt
“No problem” means “no problems except the ten we didn’t mention”
“Done in no time” means it will take twice as long (or more) than expected
“Will easily cost less than $_____” means “double the estimate”
“We’ve anticipated all contingencies” means all contingencies except for the contingencies we forgot
“No sweat” means no sweat but lots of blood and tears
 
Now it might seem like I’m saying that all of these people are liars but the truth is that people who use these terms tend to be very optimistic and people-pleasers (those people who tell you what you want to hear, not what you need to hear). Somehow or other it seems that most contractors and tradesmen always sincerely anticipate that the next job will run almost perfectly. I have been guilty of this myself.
 
When you hear these optimistic phrases I recommend politely saying to them something like, “Would you like to think about what you just said and possibly amend or modify it? I’d rather have realistic expectations rather than expect you to live up to unrealistic promises.” Generally when you do this you’ll see their face relax a bit, a smile start to form and they will take you up on your offer and hedge their bet.
 
I have collaborated with a contractor for many years and often we meet with the client together and when the question of time comes up he always underestimates it. I then lean over and with a smile say to the client, “When he said four weeks he meant six.” Both the client and he always thank me.
 
The easiest way to get through a remodel is to lower your expectations (not your standards though) and have some reserve funds (15%) and it will be much easier. I apply this when I fly on airplanes. I expect that the plane will run late, be uncomfortable, I will have an unanticipated expense and that my luggage will be lost. Most of the time I am pleasantly surprised that everything goes fairly well. If I expect perfection I am guaranteed to be disappointed.
 
Keep your expectations realistic and you’ll make your remodel much easier to get through. Hopefully when asked how the remodel went you'll reply, "No sweat!"

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