General musings #4: Zen and the art of woodworking

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Blog entry by BritBoxmaker posted 12-11-2011 01:40 PM 2828 reads 0 times favorited 30 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 3: My new Website - at last! Part 4 of General musings series Part 5: I'm still here. Just working on something. »

I re-discovered some of the reasons I don’t tend to make things for people, yesterday. I had been asked to make a Clipboard for someone’s husband, as a Christmas present from them. Hoorah. £30 (just under $50) for the honour of the work and hassle of producing something to a deadline.
Encapsulated in that sentence (pun intended) are a couple of my reasons.

1. Pressure. I don’t produce my best when I’m under someone else’s pressure. Strangely under my own, self induced pressure, like achieving something impossible and or making something for Sue’s birthday, I am fine.

2. People want the Moon on a stick and only want to pay for the stick. The common old gripe about craftsmanship being undervalued.

I’ve made things for friends and fellow LJ’s. I’ve made and given away things. I’ve put myself through what other people think is torture to make some or other box I’ve dreamt up (usually literally). None of this is in any way a problem. Doing this sort of work I accept failure as a learning experience. I feel stronger for it. Yet I make one small little f* up on a paid for job and I fall to pieces. There, a third reason I don’t do it.

It seems so simple to accept these jobs. Perhaps they should come as a recorded message ala Mission Impossible. I think I could watch the message self destruct and simply walk away from it without a care then!

Be seeing you.

-- Martyn -- Boxologist, Pattern Juggler and Candyman of the visually challenging.

30 comments so far

View ellen35's profile


2740 posts in 3793 days

#1 posted 12-11-2011 01:52 PM

Well said Martyn… especially the part about paying for the stick only.

-- "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." Voltaire

View michelletwo's profile


2781 posts in 3377 days

#2 posted 12-11-2011 02:09 PM

:-D the life of a craftsperson. it is a bear, no question.

View Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)'s profile

Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)

9238 posts in 3281 days

#3 posted 12-11-2011 02:25 PM

So many of us here understand exactly what you are saying. Although creating on demand is my “job” I still have the luxury of choosing what I will create. That alone alleviates much of the anxiety and pressure. If one isn’t to know the outcome, how can there be any expectations?

I don’t do ‘commission work.’ Somehow the vision I have of something never really matches with the vision of the requester. I learned this early on. On occasion, I sell what is already completed. I prefer to give things away though. Keith almost did a craft show this weekend and had he gone, my choice would have been to sit here at home and not participate. For a fleeting moment I flirted with the idea of bringing some things to sell, but I came to my senses. I would rather give them unexpectedly to friends than have the items put on the block and feel humiliated when others scoffed at my asking price. Nothing degrades a creative artist faster.

Keep creating for yourself, Martyn. You will find that filling your own soul will have the residual effect of filling ours. We all will be happier.

Take care, Sheila

-- Designer/Artist/Teacher. Owner of Sheila Landry Designs ( Scroll saw, wood working and painting patterns and surfaces. "Knowledge is Power"

View patron's profile


13648 posts in 3702 days

#4 posted 12-11-2011 02:36 PM

well said
master martyn

is just
a stick away

-- david - only thru kindness can this world be whole . If we don't succeed we run the risk of failure. Dan Quayle

View Sodabowski's profile


2388 posts in 3194 days

#5 posted 12-11-2011 03:54 PM

I strongly agree with you Martyn. I also hate to work under pressure, unless it’s my own.

And craftsmanship being undervalued is part of today’s market’s consequences, so many people are used to pay peanuts for something that is produced industrially, and think they pay a decent price when asking the same for a handcrafted item.

The best thing to do is to educate the customers first on what it takes in terms of time, craftsmanship, and materials, to build something (just like Jeff Graham does for custom cut high quality gemstones on his website). An educated customer will understand what it takes and how it must be paid for.

-- Thomas - there are no problems, there are only solutions.

View mauibob's profile


236 posts in 3428 days

#6 posted 12-11-2011 03:56 PM

You hit the nail on the head, Martyn. I much prefer giving away pieces to friends and family than agonizing over that tiny ding or finishing flaw in a commissioned piece. Most of us here are perfectionists in our own ways, and the added stress of completing a project to a schedule is like adding kerosene to a fire.

Well, like MI, when you do have that major f* up … “As always, should you or any of your I.M. Force be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.”

-- Bob, Potomac, MD

View shipwright's profile


8290 posts in 3159 days

#7 posted 12-11-2011 04:19 PM

Couldn’t agree more Martyn. I built to order for a living, I’m not about to do it for my retirement.
So much of what you wrote comes so close to home for me that at first I wondered if I had posted it in my sleep.
I think there are a lot of us here who might feel that way.
Well spoken for all of us Martyn.

-- Paul M ..............the early bird may get the worm but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese!

View RogerBean's profile


1605 posts in 3315 days

#8 posted 12-11-2011 04:27 PM

I think there’s little doubt that it is preferable to make things to your muse, and if someone wants to buy them, fine. The things I most like to build have a very limited market, admittedly one that I am not willing to invest the time and effort to try to reach. Thus, like Martyn, I prefer to keep myself free to make what I want.

I suspect that those who are the prime candidates for buying very expensive craftsmanship are seldom those who have a great appreciation for the craftsmanship, but rather have a low regard for the money involved. Bit of a conundrum, really. All too frequently, those who genuinely understand and appreciate the work, generally either can’t or won’t pay the price. And, those who can easily spend the money, often are not really doing it for the craftsmanship.

Much easier and more fun to make what you want, and if someone wanted to buy it, great. If not, then enjoy it yourself or give it to someone who will. Of course, this advice is useless to someone who has chosen to make a living in woodworking. Best advice I have though. (And my inventory is beginning to accumulate. :-))


-- "Everybody makes mistakes. A craftsman always fixes them." (Monty Kennedy, "The Checkering and Carving of Gunstocks", 1952)

View NoLongerHere's profile


893 posts in 3037 days

#9 posted 12-11-2011 05:32 PM

Hey Martyn, well said. Boy – can I relate to this.

I got a call from one of my best clients the other day telling me they ran in to another customer of mine at a Christmas party. They were both very happy with my cabinetry work (entertainment centers) but he brought up how it took an extra week to finish the job.
(Side note: they added several things to a very difficult job – as always, which I did for free.) I did this job 15 years ago and this is what they have been saying all along? I poured my heart and soul in to that job and it is posted here. It just drives me crazy.

I will work for free before I walk away from a cabinet that is not to my standards. And yet a few of these people still find fault. So hard not to take it real personal. I’m still fuming about it now that I wrote it down.

There would be no passion if we didn’t suffer for it. Kind of a yen and yang thing.

Now, quit cher bitchin and make the present for your friend!.... it’s Christmas! he he I mean, HO HO HO!

View vipond33's profile


1405 posts in 2859 days

#10 posted 12-11-2011 05:55 PM

I build things for a living and am under pressure for deadlines and perfection always. That’s OK, I thrive on that.
Costing, thankfully, is not involved for that’s my bosses problem. Our well off clients do pay for the moon and the stick though. Also, some of them love the work very much.

Having said that, I just finished abandoning a personal commission as the hours spiraled out of sight and the $1200 I was promised would have netted me $10 per hour in the end. Well, no, I’m simply not giving away my best work even though it would be truly appreciated by a craftsman from another field.

In addition to the time sinkhole, this project completely ruined my typical run up to Christmas. Nothing was made for family, friends or my daughter as it devoured all of my energy. Off to work now to see what I can salvage.

-- [email protected] : dovetail free since '53, critiques always welcome.

View amagineer's profile


1415 posts in 2958 days

#11 posted 12-11-2011 06:02 PM

You hit the nail on the head. You have to be upfront with the person who does the requesting; you are a master craftsman and you will create it to the best of your ability, in the shortest amount of time as to your satisfaction, and they can expect nothing less. They have to accept this if they want one of your creations.

-- Flaws are only in the eye of the artisan!

View MsDebbieP's profile


18619 posts in 4522 days

#12 posted 12-11-2011 06:16 PM

My Mom is a quilter, making extraordinary hand-made quilts. But she doesn’t do them on request and she doesn’t sell them. She enjoys making them and would rather give them away than experience the pressures of the “for sale” process or making them to fit someone else’s expectations.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

View Don Johnson's profile

Don Johnson

707 posts in 3142 days

#13 posted 12-11-2011 06:47 PM

Oh! How I understand your remarks about pressure! (see )

That was my first/only – sort of – bespoke piece (I don’t count things made for SWMBO !) as I am only a beginner at this game, but if this is what people like Boxologist Martyn go through, even with his expertise, there probably won’t be many more commission items from me! The thought of the recipient finding fault is just unbearable. At least if something already made is sold, the buyer has selected it ‘warts and all’!

-- Don, Somerset UK,

View BritBoxmaker's profile


4611 posts in 3397 days

#14 posted 12-11-2011 07:13 PM

Don, I really like the woven top on your project. I may attempt something like that myself one day.

Thanks all for the response. this experience and post has brought the whole thing into focus for me. I will stick to making and if someone wants to buy it then fine. I don’t need the hassle of commission work or the compromises it brings. Lucky me to be able to do this. Life ain’t so bad.

-- Martyn -- Boxologist, Pattern Juggler and Candyman of the visually challenging.

View longgone's profile


5688 posts in 3670 days

#15 posted 12-11-2011 07:20 PM

The pieces I have built as a commission were also more stressful than the pieces I created and sold on a ”What You See-Is What You Get” basis. when doing What You See-Is What You Get work there is never any conversation about it looking any different than someone thoought it would look.
I also do my woodworking for the passion involved and not for the money….but there are times when I get talked into building something for a client that has purchased some of my other work and I guess it is difficult to tell them NO when they have purchased some of my What You See-Is What You Get pieces…

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