Saturday, 21 April 2012

When is "good enough" not good enough?

A couple of posts ago I was lamenting the shortcomings of my vintage Stanley #60 spokeshave and I wrote "I guess building a spokeshave is in my future."  To be honest, I've had a spokeshave kit for almost a year now and I had just misplaced it for a while.  What was lost, however, is found again and I have started to build it.

My original intention was to post about the process (I have lots of pictures) and thrill you with the story of how I recovered from my massive screw up, but something else happened that I felt I needed to talk about.  If you really feel you need to know how to build a spokeshave you can read about it here.

At one point in the instructions, very near the end, it says "Lay a piece of 120x sandpaper on a flat surface.  Sand the sole of the spokeshave until the brass parts are flush with the surounding wood."  The brass parts refered to are the brass strip in front of the blade and the two screws used to hold it in place.  I clamped one end of a role of 120 grit sandpaper to my jointer and carefully began to sand.

After about a hundred strokes I was almost done.  The screws were nicely flush with the brass strip and the strip was about 90% sanded.  Just a the two front  corners that were a little high.  Good enough for a first try at a spokeshave...

"You can do better."

Besides, my sharpening experience has taught me that when it looks like you are 90% done you still have 90% of the work left to go...

"You can do better."

I had already spent a lot more time on this than I planned due to a careless mistake that I had made.  Leaving these corners would help me make up for lost time...

"You can do better."


In the end, it only took me another 130 strokes to finish it off.

You may notice that I even 'clocked' the screws.  Thank you Chris Schwarz for that little obsession.  The instructions that came with the kit don't say anything about making the brass any smoother than this, but there's no way I can leave it at that. I want that brass polished so I can see my reflection when I'm done.

So why is "good enough" not good enough?

I've stared at this question for three nights in a row now and I'm still not sure I've got it.  Pride, of course, is the simple answer, but it goes beyond that.  If you read my blog regularly you know that I make a lot of mistakes and I'm not too proud to share them.  Somewhere deep down I need to get this right.

Actually, my mistakes have been on my mind a lot while I stared at that question.  I'm not afraid of mistakes and I'm sure I will make more as I go.  At some point though, I want to be able to pick up my tools and know, whether I'm doing it for the first time or the hundredth time, that I can get it right.  I want to know that the result will be useful and beautiful and lasting.

I guess that by obsessing over this one little detail and getting it right I am reassuring myself that that day will come.  One detail at a time I am building the skills to make it happen.  As I create these tools they become an extension of myself and part of me will flow through them into everything I make.

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