Friday, October 25, 2013

Stepping Back to Move Forward

I woke up at 4 am this morning out of a deep sleep, wide awake with an idea about how I could solve the latest problem with the cabinet I’m building.
The waking-up thing has happened a few times this week, but usually it’s been accompanied by an anxious ‘what am I going to do’ kind of feeling – and without the answers.
The week has been stressful, as I’ve spent almost all of it trying to chase out a gap where the doors will meet the cabinet sides. It feels silly to write and it probably feels that way to read as well. It was just a small gap – in a place that will have a gap anyway when the doors and hinges are actually installed.
But I want everything to be as close to perfect as possible in this piece, and a weird mystery gap just isn’t acceptable.
Photo shows the gap between the door and the cabinet side.
In a perfect world, the sides of the cabinet would be flat and square, and the doors would be flat and square, and everything would come together tight and gap-free. But that wasn’t happening for me.
I spent four straight days scraping a little here, sanding a little there, planning over here, and by the end of day Thursday the thing looked worse than it did on Monday morning. I was trying to sculpt two imperfect pieces of wood together and it just wasn’t working.
My epiphany at 4 am was this: Take a step back. Flatten the doors and the cabinet sides, essentially taking them back to where the started, and see what happens.
Funnily enough, my bench mate Jim had the same idea this morning, and so did Laura, my instructor.
So I did it. Four days of work down the drain, but when I reset all those edges, and made one additional adjustment, they came together as tight and perfect as I could have hoped.
No more gap!

And I was happy, and could go to Elephants (Friday night beers around the woodshop bonfire) with a clear conscience and an accomplishment to actually celebrate.
It’s strange, this type of work. Small, seemingly insignificant challenges can occupy days of work and can cause all kinds of stress. But when you get there, when you finally figure it out and are able to move on, it’s incredibly rewarding – and you learn so much in the process.
I may have only got one thing done this week, but I know I learned lessons that will stay with me for years to come. And I’m one step closer to a finished cabinet.

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