Tuesday, April 1, 2008

But I thought you were a woodworker!

Eleven months ago, my wife and I bought our first house together. Right after closing, with the help of friends we pulled carpet, painted, moved walls, and relocated plumbing. Rooms took on new shapes and the floors were covered in wide plank hardwood. New ceiling fans quietly circulated fresh air in almost every room.

But the kitchen pretty much remained untouched. We knew our limitations, both in finances and in stamina, and didn't want to bite off more than we could chew. We decided to hold off on its renovation until a later date.

I guess we're at "a later date," because my wife is itching for a new kitchen. For the past few weeks, we've poured over catalogs and design books, trying to figure out what kind of look we want for the new heart of our house. We priced cabinets at several local stores. I called a friend of mine who does custom cabinet work and asked him to come over and give us a bid, as well.

And I always get the same look from people when I tell them that.

"You what? But I thought you were a woodworker!"

"Well... I am."

"Then why don't you make the cabinets yourself and save yourself a ton of money?"

The complete answer to that question is a bit complex, so I usually don't go into great detail. Instead, I smile and nod and mutter something about considering it.

But here is my answer in its entirety.

Woodworking is a hobby for me; I do it because I enjoy it. Wait, let me clarify... I enjoy the woodworking I do. There is a difference. I cherish the time I get to spend in my shop, waging the constant battle between my OCD and my art. I don't want to waste that time making things I don’t want to make!

I'm a small project kind of woodworker. I make presentation boxes and fuss over little things, like splined mitre joints and fitting compartment inserts. I worry about the Golden Ratio and grain selection and pairing up my woods for the right amount of contrast and compliment. Believe it or not, I even like sanding and finishing.

Making 25 large boxes out of plywood and screws is not my idea of fun. It seems more like work to me. I "work" at a normal job 40+ hours a week. Woodworking is my escape from the pressures of work.

Lawyers' specializations range from fixing traffic tickets to handling multi-million dollar big business litigation. There are different doctors for checking your eyes, operating on your spine, and delivering your babies. An artist can paint on a canvas or sculpt in bronze. So why should it be any different for a woodworker? Why is it so weird to think a woodworker might enjoy one aspect of the trade and not another?

Last year I attended a seminar taught by Frank Klausz, a Master Cabinetmaker from Hungary. One of the most important lessons I learned from that class runs through my mind every time I'm in my shop. He said, "Americans try too hard to be good at everything. You want to make cabinets, you want to build furniture, you want to turn bowls and do inlay. In trying to learn a little about everything, you become masters of nothing."

I tend to agree with him. I don't want to be OK at woodturning and get by with my cabinet making skills and not do a half bad job at inlay and then as a result only make mediocre boxes.

I want to make really good boxes. And, eventually, I want to make great boxes! I want people to wonder whether the best part of their gift is the object in the box or the box itself!

Some day, I’ll make a box for my wife. It will be made with great consideration and attention to detail. It might have dovetails or it might have splined mitres. The dividers will be fitted with precision and the woods will be selected with care. Hopefully every time she opens it she’ll be reminded of just how much I love her.

But it won’t hold pots and pans.


Kari Hultman said...

Well said!

Ethan said...

... the best compliment a writer can ever receive, VC!