Woodworking Projects

‘Work slower; it’s faster’


For every hour you save rushing a project, you'll probably spend four hours redoing the parts you're ashamed of.

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Paint does not hide the shame of machine marks not removed. In fact, it makes them stand out.

Early on in my woodworking, I learned the aphorism “work slower; it’s faster.”* I don’t remember who said it to me or who they were quoting, but they were right. Every time I rush, that phrase pops into my head. And every time I have to fix mistakes or oversights – or in this case, conscious decisions – because I rushed, I regret that I didn’t adhere to that very good advice.

Right now, I’m basically stripping the paint from two sides of a tool chest because I didn’t have time to properly prep them before applying paint. Video cameras were running and time was almost up. So I made the front and right side look good for the cameras, then painted the other side and back without planing or sanding off the machine marks. Quelle horreur. No choice, really, but I knew it would cost me time and angst later.

I try to avoid sanding whenever possible, simply because – and I know this sounds weird coming from a woodworker – I hate the feel of sawdust on my hands. Wood dust is, I’m convinced, more hygroscopic than the solid wood, and my skin is already far too dry. So typically I handplane all my parts before assembly, then again after assembly as necessary. But needs must. During my rush to get the job finished (well enough), I resigned myself to lots of sanding later. I dislike gumming up my planes with paint more than I dislike having to stop to moisturize my hands every five minutes.

And it’s not just the surface prep on two sides that needs addressing; I also rushed through installing the hinges on the lid. They were close enough to perfect that I asked the question: “Do I really need to fix these?” But of course whenever you ask the question, you know the answer. So I plugged the holes in the lid’s hinge mortises (an excellent use for barbecue skewers), then made the mortises somewhere between 1/32 in. and 1/ 16 in. deeper. The back of the lid is now perfectly coplanar to the back of the chest. My anal-retentive brain is happy. Best of all, I can now sell this chest without feelings of shame accompanying it to its new home.

A sander makes planer ripples on pine very apparent. Sanding through the paint brings the still-evident planer ripples into sharp relief.

But thanks to my hurrying, it cost me four more hours of work to get to the point where I was proud of the work. So slow down; you’ll get done not only faster, but better.

* The former English teacher in me demands that I point out the faulty syntax. It ought to be “work slowly; it’s faster” – but that doesn’t fall as trippingly off the tongue.

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