I took some display pieces down to San Diego the other day, where their other design parent lives and works. She is going to see if she can place them in a showroom in her market area. This was the first time she had seen these particular pieces, if you don’t count photographs, and she approved. So far, so good. However, there was one thing she didn’t love: there were slight gaps and a small bit of tearout in the finger-jointed poplar drawer box in one side table.
I have spent several years learning how to make drawers by this method, and I am proud of them, or was up till now. Now it turns out my wife is not wild about them either.
I decided to look into dovetailed factory drawers as an alternative. Although I felt like my offspring had been rejected for some important event, I wanted to get over being sentimental about my personal experience at drawer making, stop insisting that it be enshrined in the piece. Not every experience and insight needs to be part of what I sell to somebody, I realized. In fact, precision of workmanship for its own sake is not that interesting. That’s what machines are for, so why not see what the woodworking industry can do and concentrate my attention on other, more unique elements of my furniture?
Now, several days later, I am sitting at the computer because I have reluctantly given up on getting into the shop today. It’s Monday and the shop is where I want to be, especially since I’ve spent the last several days tending an old sick dog. However, I managed to injure my knee yesterday, and I’m staying off my feet until the knee declares itself more plainly.
I looked into one of the companies that specialize in drawers, but the more I thought about it the more it seemed like the wrong course, a business solution to an artisan’s problem. So I’m back in drawer purgatory. Every once in a while I decide to take a fresh look at how I make the pesky things, and then I get stuck in purgatory again for a while. There was a time, I guess, when drawers were a welcome challenge, but that time seems long past. When I’m in drawer purgatory, the potential satisfaction of making an efficient and beautiful drawer pales beside the potential for unruly behavior. Drawers, like children in an earlier era, are not supposed to call attention to themselves, but mine sometimes do.
When this last happened to me, I made a serious jig for cutting drawer joints on the table saw. At about the same time I started using the same jig to make finger joints on benches and tables, too, including ones with skewed angles, all of which made for a satisfying experience of renewal. I might have been satisfied with that for a long time.
Nothing I make is ever perfect in the sense of having no irregularities at all. If you look at any smooth surface with enough magnification, you will find it pretty bumpy. The test is the unity of the visual and tactile experience, I guess: whether the irregularities resolve themselves smoothly into the whole.
I don’t know that the goalposts get moved, exactly, but sometimes you raise your eyes and discover that they’re farther away than you thought.