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Technical - Workshop Notes
2023-12  December

2023-12  December

“How Woodies can cover their tracks"

by Gary Pope

This article was prompted by a Member mentioning a very interesting phenomena called CMI or Compulsive Mistake Identification.   We acknowledge the letter about this, submitted to the US Popular Woodworking Magazine.   Some members may feel the letter is talking about them - for which we fully understand - no problem. 


So, let us share this letter to set the scene about this phenomena, and then turn it all around to discuss some of the tricks we Woodies have up our sleeves to cover our tracks in woodworking mistakes, which we call 'features', if we can get away with it.


Letter to Editor of US Popular Woodworking magazing by Peter Franks.

Most of us share this pathological habit that’s hard to break.

I have a problem. A compulsion, really. It’s not as serious as, say, alcoholism, a food addiction, or an unhealthy fascination with Megan Fox. But it’s a problem.

Fortunately, most people are too polite to point it out. Or they don’t even notice. But I do. And it’s bad. If I were a professional woodworker, it’s the sort of thing that could lose me customers.

But here’s the thing: I’m betting you have the same problem.

What is it? I refer to it as Compulsive Mistake Identification, or CMI. Oh sure – it sounds innocuous. But trust me: it’s seriously pathological.

Here’s how it works. First, you build something. Something beautiful, something functional – a piece of furniture, a jewellery box, a cutting board. Then someone comes over and admires it. The first words out of your mouth? “Thanks. But if you look here, you can see where the router bit slipped when I was going around the corner.”

Why? Why did you say that? Your friend/relative/spouse didn’t need to know that you screwed up! They didn’t need to have the tiny blemish pointed out to them. Now they – like you – will see it every time they look at your piece! Why, oh why did you have to tell them?

Here are some CMI moments I’ve had. I know you’re already thinking of your own.

I spent months making a beautiful bed. The first time I showed it off, I had to point out that the headboard didn’t lie flat against its supports, because I hadn’t drilled the holes in the supports properly. Nobody – especially a non-woodworker – would ever notice. Now you will, every time you come to my house.

I made a table for some friends. As I was making a leg, a knot fell out. I filled the knot hole with wood filler and used Sharpie markers to make it look like wood grain. No one would ever notice. Right? Right. Not, at least, until I was compelled to point it out.

My beautiful, dovetailed shoe cabinet. It sits by our front door. If you’ve visited my house, then you already know how one of the sides was put in upside down.

How do you know this? Because I told you. It’s otherwise invisible, except for a tiny offset that only a seriously anal woodworker (such as myself) would ever notice. Heck, the dovetails are light-tight. Did you really need to know that one side was upside down? I. Just. Can’t. Help. Myself.

Why? Why did I tell you? What compelled me to overlook all the beauty of my creations, and show you that one little flaw?

And the worst thing you can do for woodworkers with CMI? Point out a flaw – real or perceived – that they hadn’t noticed. It’s like giving free access to online medical sites to a hypochondriac. Now they will obsess about new “mistakes.” See it every time they look at the piece. Stare at it surreptitiously, pretending not to notice. Oh, but they do … they do. It becomes an obsession.

No, I don’t think the legs on my beautiful cherry bar stools are too thin. Are they? Hmmm. Maybe they are. No – no they’re not! Are they? Well, maybe a little. I never would have noticed if So-and-so hadn’t pointed it out. The jerk.

Is there a cure for CMI? I don’t know. I’m working on it. I bite my tongue when I’m showing a piece to someone. I try to let the viewer enjoy its beauty without sullying the experience by pointing out the spot where I had to glue the chip back in.

But it’s hard. So hard! –Peter Franks

                                                                        o - o - o - o

This all makes me consider the Building Industry, with due respect to each of the trades involved.   But the stumps and bearers are hidden by the floor.  The frames and roofing are hidden by the plasterer.   The plasterer's work is hidden by the painter.  The floor is hidden by the carpet layer and tiler.  And finally the interior designer covers up most things with decorative items.    All the underlying mistakes are never seen.



What can Woodworkers learn from this?

Firstly, we're lucky. We work with wood that can be made smaller and fix a decorative error.   


Sure, wood can't be made bigger, unless you simply glue another piece on, that is.   Woodies have the luxury of strong, clear adhesives and all manner of tools for pegging, dowelling, jointing add-on pieces to effectively start again, over what was a chip, dig, or fallen knot.

What was honestly a bad cut, sand or drillout, can be retrofitted with a decorative plug, and made a feature - and presented as a feature.    No error there!

It comes back to the design of the piece, and allowing for access to retrofit a correction, and the preparedness to potentially end up with a variation of the original design, that is still a work of art, and up-sold as such!

Hide the negatives, focus on the positives, and tell nobody!

Head over to Dr Google and search for: "how woodworkers hide their mistakes" and you'll learn a lot of tricks, so that you are ready to use them when the need (might) arise.

This is one of the many good articles you'll find:

Happy Cover Ups!    

Gary Pope 0408 994 799                      

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