Extremely Average #13: Dumb Mistake

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Blog entry by Ecocandle posted 01-15-2010 05:11 AM 1941 reads 0 times favorited 17 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 12: It aint my Faulkner Part 13 of Extremely Average series Part 14: Gnashing Teeth »

It just makes me so darn angry. The life I have led has been one of logic. I am the son of a mathematician and much of my adult working years have been spent as an analyst. When I make a dumb mistake it grates on my nerves worse than finger nails on a chalk board. Now I don’t have delusions that I am going to progress in woodworking mistake free. Quite the contrary, I see my mistakes as an opportunity to learn. I have learned a lot.

The angst I am feeling come from not only making a mistake, but spending a inordinate amount of time baffled by what was going on. I stood in my little workshop, no doubt, with a quizzical look on my face and just kept looking at the 4 pieces of wood. I had the two bottom feet and the two legs in hand. I had been careful to label each piece along the way. I am making 2 saw horses. So I labeled the feet, right foot 1, left foot 1, right foot 2, left foot 2, and so on and so forth. Because I am not able to cut perfect mortises and tenons, I felt it was important to make sure that all the pieces fit together as they are labeled. The slight differences mean that the parts won’t work as well, if they are interchanged.

Seems reasonable doesn’t it. My task today was to cut the tenons on the stretchers. I had cut the through mortises in the legs yesterday. I cut the tenons and though they are not perfect, they are better than any that I have cut before. Additionally, the cutting was much easier using my two new Japanese hand saws. I have read that it takes a bit of practice to get good with them, and that does seem to be the case, but with each cut, I get a little bit more accurate. The stretcher needs a tenon cut on each end, so I labeled the sides, after I marked them, rl rs and rl ls. The moment that the second side was marked, an alarm should have gone off. It did not.

So I took my stretcher downstairs and cut it. After the cutting, I wanted to assemble the feet, legs and stretcher, so that I might photograph it and write my nightly musings. It was the point at which I began assembling, that my brain began to become befuddled. Try saying “Brian’s Brain Began to Become Befuddled” four times quickly. I digress.

I grabbed the feet and pounded the legs into them, using my old black rubber mallet, which chooses to leave marks on anything it touches, and I am quite sure, on some things it doesn’t. Obviously I need to make a mallet purchase in the near future, but that isn’t my point. I grabbed rl rs and pounded it into the right Leg. Then I grabbed rl ls and pounded it into the left leg. I don’t know if you see the problem yet. I certainly didn’t. The more I tried to make things fit right, the angrier I got. I was fairly disgusted by the time I caught the problem.

My labeling was Right Leg Right Side and Right Leg Left Side. I had used the right leg from both saw horses to mark my stretcher. This was the silliest mistake. A trained Angolan Wrestling Monkey wouldn’t have struggled as much as I did with this one stretcher. For the next few minutes I was a little bit fussy. I then swapped out the left foot for the right foot from the second horse, and everything went together.
By the time I had finished photographing, my fuming ceased. I looked over my progress and though I could detect a myriad of mistakes and numerous black marks, I still felt a little bit of happiness welling up from deep in my innards. I have aspirations to create masterworks one day and my first saw horses are not masterworks, but what they are, they are among my first creations. That makes them special. I hope that when I am putting together cabinets or building dining room sets, that I don’t forget these first little projects. That the tiny joys from doing something I love are never taken for granted. I pray that I always remember that, an hour in the workshop is to be treasured, even if it makes me a bit fussy.

The next step is to cut kerfs in the tenons, so that I can wedge a hunk of wood in there to make the fit tight. Tune in tomorrow, same bat time, same bat channel.

-- Brian Meeks,

17 comments so far

View Kacy's profile


101 posts in 3414 days

#1 posted 01-15-2010 06:25 AM

I always believe the things that I make from wood are special, even if I hate them by the time they are done and have to give them away as quick as possible so as not to be constantly reminded of the flaws and mistakes.

Maybe it is a god complex of some type—something that was alive, that subsequently died or was killed, comes alive again in a new form through the work of my hands! I just don’t get the same sort of charge from my paintings or other creations.

-- Kacy, Louisiana

View David Craig's profile

David Craig

2137 posts in 3437 days

#2 posted 01-15-2010 12:43 PM

As logical as you are Brian, you better get used to “stupid” blunders in this hobby :) The key is to try and not make the blunder twice in a row. Left, Right, Front, Back, Top, Bottom are probably the leading causes of most mistakes in the field. When you add compound miters, the router table (face goes down instead of up), and other tools to your workshop, it gets even worse. For what it is worth, I will share a tip with you I saw on a video that helps me (which is good because I need all the help I can get). I use blue painters tape, so as not to mark the boards too heaviliy with a pencil and, before I even start further cuts, I lay the boards down on the table and label them with front, back, left, right, etc. If I am working from a diagram, I will add the part number in the middle. It is easier to catch when the boards are laid out in front of you.

In regards to your saw work, great job! Mortise and tenon joinery are the most difficult and it looks like your mortises are really nicely cut. I know you have been spending alot of time getting familiar with your hand tools and it looks like that time is paying off for you. You have every right to feel good about what you are putting together.

And, just one more additional thought. When I finish a project, I think about the piece that I had dreamed and the piece that I had feared to create. If my results fall somewhere in between, then I am doing ok.

Congrats on your progress,


-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

View stefang's profile


16662 posts in 3663 days

#3 posted 01-15-2010 01:36 PM

Now you know Brian why even brain surgeons, rocket scientists and analysts like yourself are drawn to woodworking. It’s a bit of a challenge because there are so many small things that can go wrong. In lieu of school we have to learn by experience, and that means making mistakes. Those mistakes used to really get my goat, but now I’ve learned to avoid the worst ones and repair the others. I suggest you just revel in your misadventures and have a chuckle when you make the kind of mistakes shown here. Woodworking has a humbling effect on folks and that can be a positive thing. As David mentioned, marking to identify components mating joints, etc. is a very good habit. I find myself doing it more and more as my skill progresses. I think you will continue to make mistakes as long as you are trying new things, as we all do. We do it until we get it and then move on to the next set of challenges and errors. That’s why I love woodworking. I am constantly learning something new and improving my skills. In spite of the error on the piece shown, it looks to me like good work, and you were able to fix the little mix-up.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Andrew's profile


709 posts in 3527 days

#4 posted 01-15-2010 01:53 PM

Judging from your picture, you are human. Every project I do, I misuse , or mismark, or miscut something. It is usually immediately after a triumphant moment. We let our gaurd down and rejoice over our progress. “Oh look I have mastered a new technique, now let me screw up something else” It is these challenges and victories followed by still more challenges that keeps us coming back. It is the sill stuff that makes you want to throw stuff. The best course of action (IMO) is to step back, ascertain the problem, laugh at ourselves, ascertain the solution and carry on. The only way to be perfect, is to lock the “lawyer Murphy” in a cell with a dozen fecal matter tossing monkeys.
Congratulations on learning, and progressing.

-- Even a broken clock is right twice a day, unless, it moves at half speed like ....-As the Saw Turns

View MsDebbieP's profile


18619 posts in 4489 days

#5 posted 01-15-2010 02:41 PM

reminds me of when I cut something on the wrong end of a piece of wood. For the next piece I kept saying to myself, “Go slowly… measure twice… think.. go slowly…. ” I then slowly and carefully repeated the original error.


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

View LeChuck's profile


424 posts in 3391 days

#6 posted 01-15-2010 03:18 PM

I am of scientific/math background, and work as a developer, and I make silly mistakes all the time, for many things. Call it absent-mindedness I guess. I find that I have to make myself try to only think of the task at hand, or even the one single part of the task, or my brain starts wandering and thinking of many things at once. On the other hand, it’s moments where my mind is wandering where I get my best ideas.

-- David - Tucson, AZ

View sras's profile


5036 posts in 3458 days

#7 posted 01-15-2010 03:40 PM

The nice thing about a black rubber mallet is that when it leaves a mark, you know which piece you hit! On the other hand, if you wish to whack sans marks, you can always use a block of scrap wood between your mallet and the object you wish to strike.

-- Steve - Impatience is Expensive

View noknot's profile


548 posts in 3770 days

#8 posted 01-15-2010 03:54 PM

As you can see by the responses wood working is not a perfect science. Its not a perfect medium and the conditions where most of us work are not perfect. With all that said if the end result of your work isnt perfect then it fits perfectly in a world that isnt perfect. So make bookcases that lean every once in a while after you get done cussing call your friends over to laugh at you it feels great.


View David Craig's profile

David Craig

2137 posts in 3437 days

#9 posted 01-15-2010 04:02 PM

Speaking of friends, I have two that I utilize after a woodworking project. I am very close friends with a husband and wife couple. I approach the wife first, and she says “Oh that is beautiful, I can tell you put so much thought and work into this…” This helps my wounded ego even though I know she will say that to everything. Then I bite the bullet, seek for truth, and show it to her husband. “Were you drunk?!” The lie keeps me going, the truth helps me become a better woodworker. It isn’t always that cruel ;) But I know better than to show him something that he knows I could do better on.

I think everyone needs that type of input. First the cushion, then the blow :)


-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

View Eagle1's profile


2066 posts in 3393 days

#10 posted 01-15-2010 04:13 PM

I was told one time that people learn 2 ways, by being showed and by doing. I personally learn by doing. My bigest problem is my short term memory is hosed. ( that comes with the territory with my disability ). I have been learning to put stuff right back where it belongs after I use it. But back to learning, I am getting back into woodworking, because I like working with my hands. I have started with small things bandsaw boxes. And now i am trying to work my way up to other things. My shop is pretty much complete at least with the big items anyway. ( Until something else comes up that I think I need) LOL. Now just needing the small stuff clamps, clamps and more clamps you can never have enough. Kinda like screwdrivers. Anyway good luck on your learning. My messups go the the fireplace to stay warm. LOL

-- Tim, Missouri ....Inside every older person is a younger person wondering what the heck happened

View Don Butler's profile

Don Butler

1092 posts in 3724 days

#11 posted 01-15-2010 04:26 PM

I have adopted the practice of modeling in SketchUp everything I do, even the simplest things. To me its like building things twice, but the first time it didn’t waste any wood.


-- No trees were damaged in posting this message, but thousands of electrons were seriously inconvenienced.

View Ecocandle's profile


1013 posts in 3395 days

#12 posted 01-15-2010 04:38 PM

I see that I am not alone in my blunders. I appreciate all of you sharing your own thoughts on the subject of errors and anger. I really liked David’s 2nd comment. Brilliant!

I guess I just need to keep practicing…and to also find a married couple with a wife who has a propensitity to see only the beauty….wait a minutes…that is why I have Lumberjocks. I guess I am ok.

-- Brian Meeks,

View Don Butler's profile

Don Butler

1092 posts in 3724 days

#13 posted 01-15-2010 04:54 PM

I have adopted the practice of modeling in SketchUp everything I do, even the simplest things. To me its like building things twice, but the first time it didn’t waste any wood.


-- No trees were damaged in posting this message, but thousands of electrons were seriously inconvenienced.

View rtb's profile


1101 posts in 4042 days

#14 posted 01-15-2010 05:06 PM

Brian, the only people who don’t make mistakes are those who do nothing…why not make a wooden mallet or mallets. Its a great use for scrap hardwood and size etc are usually trial and error so you don’t have any reason to be frustrated.

-- RTB. stray animals are just looking for love

View Ecocandle's profile


1013 posts in 3395 days

#15 posted 01-15-2010 05:17 PM

Oh that is a good idea. Maybe I will make a wooden mallet. That might be fun.

-- Brian Meeks,

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