Mistakes: One of the Best Tools You Have
Early in my woodworking hobby, I set about building a cabinet for stereo equipment and a music collection. I needed to rout dadoes in the cabinet sides for the shelves. On one pass, I noticed the router motor slowing down. It didn't take long for me to realize that the 1⁄4 "-deep dado I was routing was now ramped deeper across the cabinet side. It eventually routed through the 3⁄4 " plywood and into my workbench about halfway across the cabinet side—in what would be a prominent spot on the finished piece. The router bit had slipped in the collet during the cut. My project was ruined. I turned out the lights and went to bed.
Lying in bed that night I began to wonder—could I make a patch to hide my mistake? The next night, I spent hours fussing over the fit and grain pattern to create a patch that fit perfectly. I learned a lot. To this day, you need to look closely to find the fix.
I still make mistakes on projects. We all do. Some are minor and easy to fix. Others require cutting another part. And, at times, it means scrapping the project and starting over. When this happens, it's normal to get angry at ourselves (or others), perhaps say a few choice words, or stomp out of the shop (or all the above).
It's hard to swallow our pride and admit that an idea won't work. I recently worked for a few hours trying to fit a curved panel to a curved rail and realized my approach wasn't working. I put it aside and, with a fresh perspective the next day, cut a combined rail and panel from a single board. I was much happier with the results.
What can we learn from these experiences? Sometimes failures and mistakes can be costly. Perhaps not in financial terms, but in lost time and resources. However, mistakes can make you take another look at what you were doing and rethink the problem. Often, you come up with a better plan than the original.
Yes, there are still times when a cut or a glue-up goes wrong and I simply turn out the lights in the shop and calmly call it a day. Tomorrow brings a fresh start. In the meantime, I think about what happened and why. And then I start thinking of ways to avoid that mistake in the future. Often, the ultimate solution is miles ahead of where I would have been otherwise.
Yes, mistakes can cost us dearly. But they can also be the best teacher.