Why We Obsess
I recently had a brief, but very interesting discussion with a good friend and furniture maker Jeff Miller. We were talking about a question that came up recently by one of his students regarding why he had experienced a particular problem with a finished piece. What struck me was not the actual topic driving the student’s frustration, rather his desire to want to know why it happened and what he could do to control it.
The topic of glue creep is one that certainly has a good deal of knowledge of surrounding it, and has driven companies to spend money on research and development to solve. Woodworkers insist that it is a problem to be solved, a situation we must control. We obsess about things like how to control our tools, and the materials we mold with them. We debate the techniques in how we use our hands in order to shape the things we’ll likely use and hopefully be nice to look at as well. Our desire to create, to control, and to shape drives our obsession to be better at our craft – sharing what we learn and improving along the way.
Too often do we forget there are some things we can’t always control. The wood itself is an organic and once living thing. It behaves in relatively predictable manner. But not always. Grain direction, moisture, movement and surprise checks, knots and wormholes are the less predictable properties of wood that are akin to its own unique personality. Sure the DNA of a Black Walnut tree is all relatively the same from a biological perspective, but wood is more than just simple, predictable biology, right? Each tree’s wood gains its personality from the world around it. Over time it’s growth has been impacted by the environment.
As a woodworker, these are the characteristics we contend with on every piece we touch. But it doesn’t matter what tool we use, or how we glue it together, sometimes there are things we can’t always predict the wood is going to do. Sometimes we are reminded that the dominion of our tools and technique takes us only so far. So with a pop, check or split, the wood simply does what it wants to do. Because that is what wood does. It surprises us in good ways and in bad, despite our efforts. So we obsess. We obsess about how we can do it better, do it correctly, do it flawlessly. We obsess about why our table top did something it wasn’t supposed to do, rather than simply moving on and working with what we have in front of us.
I recently found myself starting to obsess over something I clearly had no ability to control at work. I stopped and reminded myself that somethings we can’t always predict. In life, sometimes you simply have to work with what is in front of you and move on. Sounds familiar to a thinly veiled metaphor, doesn’t it?