Workmanship of Screwing up (2)

When building furniture it’s pretty common to have a series of operations that together will make the final component part.  As an example, the legs for the table I’m building involved first prepping the rough sawn stock, then making the stepped mortises, adding in the square holes for the ebony plugs, cutting the indents in the bottom of the legs, shaping the tips of the legs and finally doing the inlay and finish sanding.

Rough Stock

Rough Stock

Mortises all cut

Mortises all cut

Leg indents & shaping of the bottom

Leg indents & shaping of the bottom



At any step in the process it is possible to make a mistake, and some of these mistakes are difficult to recover from.  Careful work and some specific techniques can help prevent mistakes.  Skill and experience help, and techniques like carrying an extra part along in the process can help.  In making the legs I had enough stock for two extra legs, so I was able to quickly recover when I put the mortises in the wrong place on one leg by making another replacement leg from the extras.

Sometimes mistakes still happen, even with skill, experience and careful work.  When cutting the slots on the inside of the skirts for the top attachment buttons I had a serious problem.  The spiral up-cut bit I was using was (apparently) not tight enough in the router.  On one of the skirts it pulled loose and climbed through the skirt effectively ruining the skirt.  I could try and fix it, or make another skirt.  I chose to repair it by drilling a shallow hole with a Forstner bit and putting in a face grain plug.

Here is the problem, the router bit climbed out of the tool and broke through on the front of the part.  I've already drilled one hole for a face grain plug, after it's installed I'll drill an overlapping hole to cover the rest of the slot.

Here is the problem, the router bit climbed out of the tool and broke through on the front of the part. I’ve already drilled one hole for a face grain plug, after it’s installed I’ll drill an overlapping hole to cover the rest of the slot.

Completed repair

Completed repair.  You can just barely see this when you look closely.  I think once the table is finished and assembled it will be invisible.

I don’t know what the moral of the story is, other than stuff happens when I’m in the shop.  And I’m probably not the only person that has things go wrong.  It’s what happens after that matters, both in repairing the mistake and learning from the mistake.



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7 thoughts on “Workmanship of Screwing up (2)

  1. Good repair. I did not see it at first.

    • Thanks Jeff. I think it will always bug me that it’s there – just my over-focus on some idealized perfectionism. I read an article by Bob Lang on a desk made at the Byrdcliff community that had several construction problems. One was a design issue that didn’t allow for wood movement, and another was a patch that over time had become visible. At the same time, it was still a beautiful piece.

  2. Its nice to see the mistakes, gives us ideas on how to recover when we inevitably run into them. That is a great repair!

    • I wish things like this didn’t happen, but if they do I’m always glad when I can move past/through the problem and keep my momentum. Sometimes it really is a mental blocker for me and I have to walk away.

  3. hey that’s a great repair. it seems so well done, It will be unnoticed and it saved your work. cumulative risk on one of those parts necessitates great skill to save them, too. I can barely see the plug from here, but if i did notice it in the final piece, I think that would only compel me to adore it more as a product of honest hands.

    btw: david Pye’s book is wonderful and worth every minute. I have it out on my desk right now as it’s worth a re-read now and then.

    siempre, amigo

    Adam of Oakland,CA

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