Another of my horrible woodworking creations has cycled into daily use, and as always, the process has sent me into a period of actively pondering the question, “Am I the world’s worst woodworker?”
This recent project was a mineral feeder for my alpacas. Basically, it’s a wooden double-dish where their vitamins and salt are served. Here it is:
It sports one of my clever mounting mechanisms.
Yes, I could have bought something plastic and practical to do this, probably for under $20 or so. But I wasn’t easily putting my hand on the right thing, and there was nothing in stock at my favorite farm supply stores. And I hate buying anything plastic. So, I made this homely thing. At least it’s not as ugly as the wine racks I made a couple years ago, where I basically kept changing my mind about the design every twenty minutes or so. Don’t worry, it stays in a deep, dark corner of the basement, unseen by anyone except me and the mice.
That one was so grotesque and inefficient that it inspired this next one, which is a bit more practical. One good thing about this is that the measurements are so inconsistent that various sized bottles fit in different slots. Uh… I meant to do it that way….
I watch myself make these things and shake my head. Would it kill me to actually buy some nice wood for a project, rather than just using scraps left behind by real carpenters who’ve done work on my house? And these are their junky pine scraps used to build staging, not even decent scraps intended for actual final products. Some, they tried to throw away even for that purpose. But dumpster diving has never been beneath me.
In my problematic woodshop, functionally identical pieces might be made with different types of wood, painted or not, of any vintage. I might have a nail on one joint and a screw on another. God forbid I drill a pilot hole. The wood split? Eh, whatever, it will probably still hold. Measure twice? I barely measure once. Rather than mark wood precisely with an actual measuring device, I often just guide one piece off another. A “smidgeon” is a common measurement for me. Or, I’ll make something as wide as my hand.
My resulting creations wind up being functionally about what I need, but butt ugly. Not really ugly enough to be interesting. Plumbers are notoriously horrendous carpenters, and I’ve seen some of their woodworking solutions that more closely resemble something gnawed by a rodent, rather than crafted by a woodworker. I think mine come across more as what you might expect to find under a bridge, surrounded by trash.
I’ll say just a couple things in my defense. First off, I am very safety conscious, because people as incompetent as me are likely to hurt themselves, around these sharp machines. One professional woodworker I know read somewhere that most table saw accidents happen after 5:00, so he never uses a tablesaw after 5:00. He doesn’t really have the time to figure out if it’s true or based on logic or not, but it’s an easy life change, so he just does it. And he still has all his fingers. So, I follow suit.
Second, I no longer reuse screws that show any sign of wear. I even throw them out, when I find them. That’s a big step for me, but I’m spending less time with my vice grips since I’ve adopted this habit. Wisdom from experience, my friends, wisdom from experience.
Third, I try to buy and use pretty good tools. They are way easier to get adequate results from than lousy tools. Of course, I have varying grades of tools, but I’m trying to wean myself off the bad ones.
I have great respect for proper craftsmanship. When the occasion calls for competent work (rather than functional stuff for the barn or basement), I hire the best people I can find, rather than do it myself. So, the best thing I can say about my woodworking is that my awful creations certainly aren’t for sale, and they aren’t inflicted on anyone but myself. Even my wife hasn’t seen most of these things.
What bugs me is that I’ve seen a lot of horrendous craftsmanship by people who charge for their services. That drives me crazy. Even if they occasionally measure or buy their wood, rather than recycling odd scraps, they are worse woodworkers than I am, because they pretend to be more than they are, and they leave swaths of mediocrity and destruction and misery in their paths.
Often, craftsmen are awful because their big picture vision of what the project demands is off. I often see people using overly aggressive contemporary methods for dealing with historic objects. Rather than repair a door, they will throw it away and replace it, and the result is that the overall look and affect of the place is diminished. They will sand down antique pine flooring when the result would be too thin too easily damaged. They will grit-blast and powdercoat objects that can’t handle that kind of aggressive treatment. They will use rotary sanders to remove paint off of wood clapboards, and leave little curved marks everywhere. They will use inappropriate finishes or products that conspicuously change the look of something metal or wood to plastic, like replacement windows or vinyl siding. And they present themselves as experts. I would posit that they are all worse craftsmen than me, and my inconsistent screws, even if their corners are squarer. There is Evil in what they do, and that makes them worse.
I do like building things out of wood, despite my limitations. It would be better if I wasn’t such a cheapskate and packrat, and if I spent twice as much time and ten times as much money on these projects as I do. On certain tasks, I occasionally up my game, though never yet to the point of “good” craftsmanship. But for barnyard creature furniture, I follow the whim, and don’t work from plans. It’s a nice change from the more critical work I do day-to-day, editing books, where I agonize over every last little detail.
My chickens don’t much care whether or not the i’s are dotted or the t’s crossed on their handmade nest boxes, and neither do I. My alpacas have yet to complain that their hay feeder isn’t perfectly symmetrical. In its making, I was pleased to serve the dual purpose of simultaneously clearing a few scraps of wood from my basement. Munch, munch, munch.