Canadian Woodworking

A finished project, happily ruined

Blog by Rob Brown
Ready for the World

I’m sure all of us take a lot of time, energy and attention to complete a project to the best of our abilities. Sure, some get more attention than others, but I find it hard to cut corners on even the simplest project.

I made a very simple set of two fairly rough outdoor stairs about a month ago and had trouble with a gap that was about 1/4″ too large, so I recut a few pieces, adjusted their positions and reattached them. That 1/4″ gap would have made absolutely no difference to the function of the stairs and would only have been noticeable by me, but I didn’t want to leave it looking like that. Now, every time I step onto them I do so with a bit more care than any other set of stairs in the world. I wouldn’t step on them with muddy shoes. I’d never bang a foreign object on them. Heck, I wouldn’t even step on them in some sort of hard or aggressive way, even though a heavyweight wrestler could likely jump up and down on them and not damage them.

The bottom line is that we treat our finished projects gently, because we know how much skill, time and effort went into making them. And on top of that, materials aren’t cheap today, and making a new one will cost a lot of money.

All of this is especially true during the first little while after a finished project is moved out of the security of the workshop and into the real world, where others might not understand the situation.

The first cut is the deepest

You know it will happen, but you also try to stop it from happening. The first scratch is always the hardest. What was, just a minute ago, a project as close to perfection as each maker could accomplish, now has its first sign of wear and tear. That first scratch also sticks out like a sore thumb, forcing you to focus on it, no matter how small it is.

I’m sure you all know the situation, as you’ve lived it many times. It’s easier to get over a bit of dirt on a set of exterior stairs than a scratch on a new black walnut sideboard, but you really don’t enjoy seeing either.

My latest project

My partner asked me if I would make her a cutting board the other day. Okay, two months ago, if we’re being honest. I told her that was easy and I’d get it right to her. Eight weeks later I delivered an old-growth Douglas fir cutting board that had some beautiful straight grain protected by a couple coats of OSMO TopOil.

I proudly placed this shiny new cutting board on the counter and smiled in her direction. Now, you and I both know it only took me about 10 minutes to cut this piece of wood to length, joint one face, dress it to thickness, rip it to width, ease the edges and apply the first coat of finish, while the second coat only took a few minutes the next day. I’m not quite sure why I was so proud. The fact that this would possibly become the most used project I’ve ever completed played into it, but it was still pretty simple to complete.

At that point I let my partner loose on her new cutting board. She likes to cook and hates dull knives. Although I wasn’t in the kitchen for the next eight hours or so, when I returned it looked like she had hung the cutting board on the wall and spent a few hours pitching axes at it while drinking with her friends.

Although I didn’t say anything to her, I looked at those knife marks and tried to remember the fresh new cutting board I had delivered earlier that day. In hindsight, they weren’t huge, they just looked that way to my eyes.

Life goes on and more knife marks are in this cutting board’s future. The first few were hard, but they’ll be easier to accept as time goes on. I have to keep reminding myself that this was an easy project to complete and I could make another one at the drop of a hat. And, above all, this project is meant to be used, and that includes collecting the necessary knife scars on the journey.

At least I get to eat a lot of good food as I watch this cutting board get sliced to bits.

Ready for the World

This was my freshly made cutting board, ready to take on the world. Notice the lack of scratches.

Ready for the World

Later the Same Day

This was later that day, after a lunch and dinner were prepared on it.

Later the Same Day

Deep Wounds

Maybe I’m being dramatic, but did she have to cut so deep into the edge of this board?

Deep Wounds
Published:
Last modified: July 29, 2023

Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement. Instagram at @RobBrownTeaches

7 Comments

  1. Hi Everyone,

    I did take the easy route and just used flat cut stock. Maybe I’ll make her another end grain board; she’d like that!

    Ian – you can email me a few photos at [email protected].

    Thanks!

  2. I make my cutting boards initially slightly thicker than needed so when they get worn I can refresh them with a block of wood wrapped in sandpaper.

  3. Almost 50 years ago a bowling alley with a pool hall in the basement was converted to a disco, which meant that the contents had to be sold. I made an offer on one of the tables (which I still have) and on the way out saw that the benches in the bowling alley had signs: “Free. Take all you want.” I pulled my pocket knife out and took off a chip of paint, and found they were maple. Over the next three days I took a dozen benches, each of which made six end grain cutting boards, which became presents for all my close friends over the next dozen years. They are all, as far as I know, still in use, and if they have been marked you can’t tell. I’ll send a pic if you tell me how.

  4. Ahh, Rob! I feel your pain…but…softwood is softwood…
    Im a huge fan of cutting boards…we have six that get very regular use. Two of them came as cutoffs from my shop. A lovely chunk of 1inch thick hard maple left over from a mantlepiece, and lovely piece of oak left over from a divider top. After at least a dozen years of daily use, the nicks and cuts are pretty hard to see. On the other hand, I do have two pine ones, which are getting nicely dished, but hey, that’s what they are for! And I love them!!

  5. I enjoyed this illustration of the mindset of a studio furniture maker. Contrast that to someone making an endgrain butcher block intended to be scarred. But most of us are attuned to flaws and damage to our work.

  6. That’s why we make end-grain cutting boards. They are a lot more work but don’t show the cuts. Therefore we cry less.

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