Contributing Craftsman Jim Heavey offers some words of tough love
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We teach our kids that saying "shut up" is inappropriate. But, for woodworkers, that phrase is an important admonishment to yourself. The next time you hand a woodworking gift to someone and they offer sincere thanks, I suggest saying, "You're welcome." And then shut up.

Admit it: Most of the time this is when you offer disclaimers such as, "No big deal." Or "Not bad for the first time I tried cutting dovetails." Or "The finish would have looked a little deeper had I used oil."

Maybe the recipient said that this masterpiece must have taken you forever. And you counter with: "No, it was actually really easy. I had some scrap that I wanted to use up, and this seemed like a good project for it."

Shut up!


Friends and family know how much you must care about them to have handcrafted a gift. Don't tarnish that sentiment by denigrating your work. You are a lot better than you give yourself credit for, and those who know you hold your sincerity and craftsmanship in high regard. You might just as well have said: "This is nothing special. When I make something that's really not that good, I think of you."

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On gifts, finish flaws sometimes escape notice until it's too late. To the non-woodworker recipient, they'll escape detection forever as long as you don't point them out.

Shut up!


Accepting compliments makes many woodworkers uncomfortable, especially when they are given in person. So we deflect those kind words by minimizing our accomplishments. Or maybe we are so insecure about our skill that we immediately point out our flaws, figuring that someone is going to see them anyway.

Listen: Anyone who looks for imperfections in another's work only reflects back their own character flaws, not your woodworking mistakes. (At any rate, if that's the type of people you're making things for, consider a nice gift card instead.)

At a woodworking show awhile back, an attendee wanted to show me his submission for the weekly contest. As he opened the cardboard package and unwrapped his entry, he told me that he had a bit of trouble working with that particular species of wood. He explained that the finish was affected by the natural oils in the stock. He apologized for not backing up the material when he cut the dovetails.

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Bet you didn't notice that the feet of this recently published humidor project were a mismatched size due to a routing mistake. We didn't use Photoshop to fix it. We just shut up about it.

Before I had even seen his jewelry box, he had told me all the reasons that I probably wouldn't like it.

It was actually very well done, and I told him so. Truth be told, had I entered that particular contest, I would have taken my project out of the running after seeing his. He won handily that weekend, and he deserved to.

The long-term effects of being so self-critical and self-effacing get in the way of the joy that comes with woodworking. Aside from the occasional screaming and swearing, woodworking is supposed to be fun. What should give you pleasure is seeing the appreciative look that you get from those you have chosen to make something for. Every time they look at that clock, nightstand, or cutting board, they will think of you. While you may question your ability, they are in awe.

Try this the next time you present someone with a handcrafted item. After the effusive and well-deserved compliments, say, "You're welcome" or "You're too kind."

Then take a deep breath.
Feel the love.
And shut up!
Trust me, you'll thank me for it. Now I'll shut up.