Monday, November 4, 2013

In Woodworking it all Hinges on the Little Things

It seems I’ve been spending all my time and energy dealing with little things recently -- seemingly insignificant, unimportant challenges or problems that end up taking days or even a week to solve.

I recently wrote about the troubles I had getting the ‘wind’ out of my cabinet doors and ensuring they fit snugly against the sides with no rattle or gaps.

Then I moved on to hinges, and spent another week struggling -- cutting small pieces of brass, drilling and counter-sinking, pressing steel pins into the hinge leafs and striving for a smooth swivel action on a perfect 90* axis.
Bet these hinges don't look like they took 4 days to make. Or that they're garbage, But they did, and they are.

Those hinges finally got the OK (after an embarrassing number of botched sets), and this morning I started the week with a new task – making a ‘map’ of my cabinet and the doors in order to figure out exactly where the hinges will go, to ensure the doors swing open smoothly and close tightly.

Such a simple-sounding task, yet so crucial and fraught with so many potential errors. To minimize the chance of mistakes, we create a full-scale paper plan of the cabinet, complete with swinging cardstock to represent the doors, to find out where the pivot points need to be.

Once that relationship is established, we make a spacer that ensures all four hinges are set at the same distance from the sides. And finally we mark and cut the mortises for the hinges. My classmate Henry cut 30 test mortises on scrap wood before he felt comfortable enough to cut into his cabinet – it’s that tricky.

I don’t want to lose you in the details (if I haven’t already) but the point is that these little details add up. The reason it takes hours, days, or sometimes a week to accomplish something so simple, is that it needs to be done just right or the cabinet won’t be right.

And so, if it takes a week to make four simple brass hinges (that are made properly and work the way they should), that’s ok.

I wrote that as if I believe it, but I’m not sure I do just yet.

I still have that git-er-done mentality that fools me constantly into thinking I’m a failure and woodworking isn’t for me because I’m so painfully slow, and my mistakes are so glaring (at least to me), and I can’t simply Git. ‘Er. Done as I can in other areas of my life.

But there’s a quote by Samuel Johnson on the wall at the front of our workshop that I find myself turning to more and more in those moments of self-doubt. It says: “What we hope ever to do with ease, we must first learn to do with diligence.”

I’ve been taking comfort in those words and the truth they represent. Difficult tasks eventually become easier, but only after a lot of effort, pain, and even failure.

I’ve been trying to remind myself of that when I struggle through a hard week of seemingly constant failures, what I’m actually doing is learning “to do with diligence” the things that will hopefully, possibly, some day come with ease.
Finally, hand-made hinges that will work the way they're meant to!

1 comment:

  1. Thoroughly enjoying your writing. Thank you. Please resist the temptation to write less as time goes on..