constructive criticism OR pandora's box

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Forum topic by leonmcd posted 02-10-2008 06:01 PM 3644 views 0 times favorited 104 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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204 posts in 4484 days

02-10-2008 06:01 PM

Topic tags/keywords: constructive criticism criticism critique opinion pandora

I’ve been a LumberJocks member for 212 days and I saw something for the first time yesterday.

I saw Lumberjocks offering constructive criticism of another Lumberjock’s project. This was NOT a case where the project owner asked for advice. The project was “dovetailed walnut jewelry box” and I thought the comments were offered with sensitivity and intended as a “helping hand” to a fellow Lumberjock.

I found this quite refreshing and would like to see more of this. All the attaboys and pats on the back are good for the ego, but we could all learn from some constructive criticism.

Obviously, this is a sensitive subject and I don’t want to rock the boat of the great community we have here but I think that done correctly, this could provide a great value to all of us.

Probably need some guidelines or rules. I offer the following for discussion.

1) Be honest, don’t be mean in giving you opinions.
2) Don’t take offense at the comments you get. Take them as something only a true friend would tell you. Also, remember these are just opinions. You and others may not agree.
3) Everyone may not enjoy this level of open communication. You should probably indicate when you post a project if you are willing to accept constructive criticism. Might also make it part of your profile so your decision applies to all the projects you post.
4) Probably need a logo on the projects display page that indicates the owner would like your constructive criticism. We should NOT post constructive comments where they are not requested.
5) Seems that we might limit our comments to design elements. Don’t know if telling someone their execution is bad is helpful unless we offer an improved technique. ie ( “To avoid glue lines around joints try tape before you glue up” would be better than “You have glue lines all over your project”)
6) Seeing honest opinions on projects might scare off potential new members. Probably need to communicate the value and that accepting constructive comments is optional. Might consider a honeymoon period for new members.

As a practice run, I offer all my projects for constructive criticism. Please go back to my projects and offer your suggestions, opinions, and constructive criticism. Might be a case of be careful what you wish for but it should be interesting.

Can we safely do this or is this a Pandora’s box?

-- Leon -- Houston, TX - " I create all my own designs and it looks like it "

104 replies so far

View Bob #2's profile

Bob #2

3810 posts in 4534 days

#1 posted 02-10-2008 06:57 PM

I’m inclined to agree with you Leon.
We are either TFC (Trolling For Complements) or genuinely trying to instruct or learn at these forums.
I often see posters who only post in order to blow their horns and never post a compliment or criticism in the interim.
Perhaps the simple phrase ”comments welcomed” at the end of a project would ease the transition.

p.s. it would also be nice if whem you do ask a question that the poster takes the time to answer you.


-- A mind, like a home, is furnished by its owner

View Blake's profile


3443 posts in 4386 days

#2 posted 02-10-2008 07:06 PM

Right on.

-- Happy woodworking!

View Moron's profile


5032 posts in 4406 days

#3 posted 02-10-2008 07:16 PM

thats a slippery slope.

I decline to offer advice as feathers get bent out of shape.


-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 4500 days

#4 posted 02-10-2008 07:26 PM

You have a good point, but I have a personal rule that I won’t offer advice unless I’m asked.

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View swied's profile


74 posts in 4274 days

#5 posted 02-10-2008 08:09 PM

I offer an example of a thread from another forum that has a different focus, but is similar in many ways. This post is one of my all time favorites. Those folks who do wood bending and use epoxy will find it interesting.

Hi! Wood_Ogre here

It was posted by a guy with decades of experience. The responders gave him compliments, but also offered criticism and advise. I think the discussions that resulted really helped my understanding of the topic.

I would like to see more of this type of discussion here on this site. I have been a LumberJocks member for only three days, and my initial observations match those stated by Leon above.

-- Scott, San Diego

View FrankA's profile


139 posts in 4291 days

#6 posted 02-10-2008 08:16 PM

Personally I would be grateful for a gentle nudge in the right direction. Once my shop thaws out and I start to make and post some projects I will ask for truthful critiques. My goal is to become a better woodworker and any help is to my benefit. I unfortunately have no woodworking clubs or affordable classes near me so it is my hope that I can pick up some skills from this forum.

-- Frank Auge---Nichols NY----"My opinion is neither copyrighted nor trademarked, but it is price competitive."

View MinnesotaMick's profile


15 posts in 4272 days

#7 posted 02-10-2008 08:26 PM

I’m new here, and hesitant to comment..But of course I will anyway…it is a slippery slope..Don’t like it : SAY NOTHING..that’s what my mom told me…hmmm…and who are we to “constructively critcize?” angles can affect the balance of a piece…style and design are in the eye of the beholder…I do not like Queen Anne..I love’s a preference issue…so …I think it’s a pandora’s box

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 4334 days

#8 posted 02-10-2008 09:01 PM

I agree with your post Leon. But unless I see something that I feel really needs correcting I am hesitant to offer advice. If there is an obvious safety and health concern, for example, that I see in the post I feel that a comment should be suggested. But whether the project should be dovetailed or have box joints in place of the butt joints that is the poster’s choice and I really shouldn’t be commenting on it unless requested.

I am generally open and have a personal rule that if you don’t want me to tell you my opinion do ask. (I had to check to see if you had a question about this in your entry- so I am safe in giving you my opinion).

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View gizmodyne's profile


1780 posts in 4602 days

#9 posted 02-10-2008 09:31 PM

I think the progress blogs are the best place for open critique or suggestions. Once it is on the project page it is usually a done deal. Critique then could be requested.

-- -John "Do I have to keep typing a smiley? Just assume it's a joke."

View rikkor's profile


11295 posts in 4387 days

#10 posted 02-10-2008 09:50 PM

I’d like to add this. If I post a project and I mention that the dovetails aren’t real crisp (for example), or the finish didn’t come out as well as I had hoped for, then I don’t need a half a dozen guys piling on. If I don’t mention an obvious flaw then perhaps I do need a nudge.

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 4827 days

#11 posted 02-11-2008 12:27 AM

I had to go check out the box in question. I liked the observations or critiques, but I liked the non-matching dovetail even more. Taste is a funny thing. We tend to discount stuff just based on taste or what is fashionable. Rustic or modern they both have very high quality pieces and others that are cheap junk. What I like are when you give me alternatives. Our “critique” here usually comes in the form of a question. “Why did you stagger your dovetails?” I have seen a lot of questions asked here that I’ve been able to learn from.

View Ethan Sincox's profile

Ethan Sincox

767 posts in 4686 days

#12 posted 02-11-2008 01:02 AM

I try to include a bit of constructive help when it looks warranted, but I feel I have to be very subtle about it – like walking on egg shells – because of the prominent disdain for anything “negative” that might come out of CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM.

To be honest with you, I hate walking on egg shells.

It is so much easier to be open and forthcoming and sincere and to tell someone, “Hey, you’re doing really good on this part of your project but on your next project you might want to consider focusing a little more on this other part of it.” I think it impedes the learning aspect of posting projects to your peers. I liken it to having kids play non-competitive sports. It doesn’t teach them a whole lot about the really real world (i.e. LIFE) unless they’re going to get into some field where it doesn’t matter how good you are; where everyone gets paid the same and has the same benefits no matter how high or low your skill level and knowledge. I don’t really think those jobs exist. And if they did, I certainly wouldn’t want one of them.

Who are we to criticize?

Maybe we are a woodworker who has made the same mistake before and can offer some advice on how to correct it or avoid it in the future.

Maybe we are someone who specializes in carving and can offer advice on how to get a crisper line or how to make an object look more life-like.

Maybe we have been cutting mortise and tenon joinery for 25 years and can tell you what you need to do to make the joint come together a little more snug or fit a little better to create a stronger joint.

Maybe we have a degree in art and can give you information on how to improve the aesthetics of your project from a designer’s point of view. Sometimes it doesn’t take but a little tweak to get your project from OK to GREAT!

Maybe we do woodworking for a living and can explain from our business experiences what sells and what doesn’t.

Maybe we restore antiques for a living and can help you improve upon your finish by telling you where you’re doing it wrong and how to do it right.

Is any one person all of these things? Probably not. But I guarantee you with over 3000 members on this site, there is at least one person who is. Why not be willing to learn from them? They don’t even have to be an expert for you to learn from them! You just need to be willing to learn!

(Conversely, just because someone has been doing something for 25 years doesn’t mean they are the person to listen to. Maybe they’ve been doing it wrong for 25 years because nobody ever bothered to tell them otherwise! How would you feel if you’d been doing something the same way for years and years because nobody ever told you it was the wrong way or an inefficient way or that there was a better way?)

It doesn’t take a list of rules to follow – it just takes some common sense. Don’t be hateful; offer helpful advise. That’s it. We’re all adults here (I’d even include the Teenage Woodworker in that category) – we should be able to figure out if the advice we’re going to offer is constructive or not. If it isn’t, keep it to yourself. If it is, then what’s the harm in saying it?

I’ll concede the point that there might be some woodworkers out there who are simply posting projects to brag about what they’ve done – and that’s perfectly fine if they want to do that. However, I refuse to believe that is why EVERYONE posts projects. I think there are people out there who want to LEARN and GROW as woodworkers through peer review and evaluation. You can’t do that if all anyone tells you is how great a job you’re doing and nobody ever points out an aspect of your project that could use some improvement.

It seems like a lot of trouble to edit my own profile and say I want constructive advise and then to include that comment at the end of every project or else to indicate I DON’T want any criticism on each project and then make sure I check someone else’s profile before I make a comment on it to be sure I don’t ruffle any feathers or step on some sensitive toes.

Maybe we could clear it up with two areas of the website for posting projects – call one the “Brag Board” and the other the “Learning Board”. If you just want to show pictures of your work, then post it on the Brag Board. If you want to show pictures of your work and get friendly advice or criticism from other woodworkers as to what you can do on future projects to improve, then post it on the Learning Board.

I’ve often felt that whole aspect of woodworking is left out of this site, much to the detriment of the majority of the members here. It was one of the first things I wrote about as a new Lumberjock over a year ago (Blog #63). I still feel the same way, but… I quickly realized it was a lost cause trying to get everyone to open up to the idea of learning through peer evaluation. Honestly, that makes me sad. Why would you not want to learn from others?

Personally, I want to grow as a woodworker. I want to improve my skills and knowledge base and I want to know when I’m doing something wrong or when I need to work on my design or technique. I post a project here and there when I feel like it (and remembered to take pictures), but more often than not I show my projects to friends of mine who are woodworkers and artists and have degrees in art and art history. I can get honest and helpful advice from them as to where I need to focus on improving my woodworking skills. And because I expect them to be critical of my piece, their praise on the parts I’ve done well carries a lot more weight, too.

-- Ethan,

View ChicoWoodnut's profile


904 posts in 4328 days

#13 posted 02-11-2008 01:13 AM

Bravo Ethan!

I am new here. My profile says “I would like to get feedback about the designs and chronicle the building of the projects.”

I meant it when I joined.

I don’t have a text library of cut and paste praises.

When I was in college, we used to help each other study. If one of us didn’t get it there was always someone who did. We looked at each others projects and picked the best parts for our own learning experience. that’s what I want from a forum.

Websers definition of Forum → “a medium (as a newspaper or online service) of open discussion or expression of ideas”

That’s what it’s all about.

-- Scott - Chico California

View juniorjock's profile


1930 posts in 4278 days

#14 posted 02-11-2008 01:56 AM

That was a mouth-full Ethan….... and I agree with every word of it. When I discovered this site I knew that if I began posting projects there were going to be comments and not all would be good. I’ve only been woodworking a couple years. I’m a retired newspaper man… so you can imagine that I didn’t get many good comments during those years. My grandfather told me a long time ago….. “if no one is complaining….... no one is reading the paper”. Maybe that applies here too. I welcome comments…... but I think we all can do it in a way that helps, instead of hurts.

View Dadoo's profile


1789 posts in 4503 days

#15 posted 02-11-2008 02:02 AM

I really consider each and every one of you as a friend and I always try and welcome any critique as a learning experience. We learn something new everyday guys! But we all have to remember that there is “destructive critism” as well as “constructive critism”. So we need to think about what we say before we hit the “Post this reply” button.

-- Bob Vila would be so proud of you!

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