Tuesday, June 28, 2005

How Perfect Does It Need To Be?

I’m not a perfectionist, I know it. I like things to be done well, and there are something’s that bother me more than others. I like tight joints in finish woodwork. Gaps in joints really bother me. Other things I can let slide. I know my limitations when it comes to working on the house, and for the most part I except them, and I try to live with them. I'll admit that it's not always easy. I am my own worst critic. I have a bad habit of first pointing out my mistakes to people and then showing them the things I'm proud of. Some things seem to bother me a lot more at 12:00 at night when I’m laying in bed then they do at 12:00 in the afternoon when I’m working on a project.

Someone made a comment on another one of my blog entries about some vintage millwork in a house. After paying close attention to some milling while trying to duplicate it, this person noticed that it wasn’t really that accurate. It is not something you would notice if you were just sitting in the room absorbing the ambiance. If you really start to look, though, you can find mistakes in a lot of things. So maybe I shouldn’t be beating myself up so much for my minor mistakes. Maybe partial ignorance can bring enough bliss to satisfy me.

I’ve been working on the kitchen since the late 50s now and I did a lot of paint stripping. I had to go over everything 5 times. First the heat gun, chemical stripper, sanding, primer, and finally paint. I had my face inches from every inch of woodwork in that room for weeks on end. If there were any flaws I noticed them. I noticed nicks and scratches, and some loose joints, but nothing to major. I except those kinds of things on 110 year old woodwork. It is what we call “character”.

Then today I noticed something about one of the corner blocks that I didn’t notice before. I don’t see how I missed it. If I had milled this piece of wood with this flaw it would have gnawed at me and I probably would have considered it a failure and tossed in the waste bucket. I walked by this corner block every day for three years and did all the work of stripping a repainting it. I’m amazed I never saw it.

The picture below shows the block with some “character” but if you’ll notice the center bulls eye is not centered. It is 3/8 of an inch off. Three-eights of an inch doesn’t sound like much, but for finish woodwork, it’s too much. This is probably not going to help me sleep better at night, and I will probably still obsess over my own mistakes, but it is nice to know that even the professional “master craftsman” of 100 years ago made mistakes.


Trissa said...

Sleep well tonight. When I first started reading the post, I skimmed down and looked at the picture trying to figure out what was wrong. I couldn't see what was wrong. My eye went to the top. I look at that and wonder how in the world they made it. It's good to be a bit of a perfectionist, but try not to let it keep you up at night!

Nick said...

Greg - what do you mean "I've been working on the kitchen since the late 50's now and I did a lot of paint stripping." I read this twice and dont get it.

Greg said...


Sorry, that's what I call a little humor. In this case, very little.

Jocelyn said...

Steve has a tendency to point out all out shortcomings to visitors as well- it drives me cuckcoo. They are so minor- no one would notice them.

I am pretty sure the work you are doing tops quite a bit of the millwork being done in the new condos around here.

And I am with Trissa, the circle being off center 3/8 doesn't show much in the photo. Someone would have to look right at it hard and most of the time people (including yourself) don't do that.

I also agree with the "character" statement. Old woodwork and floors and furniture have dings- that is part of their charm frankly. People pay good money to buy fabricated shabby chic pieces nowadays.

I have also seen original mouldings with "flaws". We have a few things in our kitchen that Steve is planning to adjust/correct. The nice thing about moulding is you can pop it off and adjust it or replace it without too much trouble. They are on "the list" and in the meantime, they are just fine where they are.

You need your sleep my friend so I hope you won't pick on yourself too much! :)

Nola said...

Maybe it was the original builder's signature - putting one piece just a tiny bit off as if to say "I was here!" I'd leave it as character.

Scott in Washington said...

Some things bother me to no end. This morning I noticed, with a lack of satisfaction, a little mistake I made last weekend on a project. Seeing as this was the second morning in a row to have looked out the window and notices this little dissatisfaction I guess I'll be tearing it out and fixing it this coming weekend.

As for the circle being a little left of center on your moulding, I think that is so far into the character category that you should sleep well with it. You might even point it out to guests as you finish a nice meal together. Not only is it a very small thing, but it was somebody else's mistake and made a really long time ago. While it was originally a mistake, 110 years gives it plenty of time to grandfather into the character category (sort of like a house imperfection mafia) - your molding has street cred. that my mistakes can only dream about.


mindy said...

Teague is a perfectionist - me, not so much. He berates himself over little details that no one but him will EVER notice.

Yesterday, he was frustrated because the siding he's putting on was not lining up exactly with the existing siding at the corner of the house. It was, at most, 1/8" off. There will be two 4" thick pieces of trim seperating the two, so I highly doubt anyone will ever notice. And I was quick to point out that the original siding on the other corner was about 1/2" off.

Point being, these houses were never perfect. They were built by human beings with limited time, patience, and money, just like the human beings fixing them up now!

lynette said...

Years ago I visited a roman villa on the Isle of Wight which had a mosaic tiled floor they were excavating. In one corner was a central mosaic of Cleopatra's head that was put in noticeably out of alignment. So even centuries ago there was "character"!