How Many is Too Much?

This is a loaded question. Ask someone how much money is enough money, and they will probably say, “one million.” But ask a millionaire that and they will probably say “two million.” But as you know I am a woodworker, and that is not the topic in this article. So surely I must be referring to, how many tools are enough? That seems like the correct topic, but no that’s not it. And let’s be honest here, it is impossible to have too many tools. I am actually talking about how many projects in progress, are too many projects?

I find this is a problem that not only I struggle with but other woodworkers too.  We all know that feeling of wanting to create something new in the shop. Some of us might be watching a woodworking video and think that it is the perfect project for our home. Others might find inspiration in books and magazines. As for myself, whenever I travel I see new furniture ideas in the different places I go. No matter where our inspiration comes from, we all have that desire to create something new. But what about the projects that we started but haven’t yet finished?

As a professional full-time furniture maker, I always have three jobs going at once in the shop. That might seem difficult to manage. There is a lot to keep track of when doing three jobs at once. There are separate cut sheets. Different stacks of lumber to keep separated. Hardware must be organized. All that takes a lot of staging and mental preparation. Not to mention, it takes up a lot of space. Why not just finish one job at a time, get paid, and move on to the next one? Well, there is a reason for this.

Many of the jobs go on hold for one reason or another. Usually the hold up is the customer can’t make a decision on the size or the color. Many times a design change will happen. Probably because of a problem with there it is to be placed in a room. Maybe an outlet is in the way. Maybe it’s the staircase is too narrow for the furniture to get down. Or sometimes the customer saw something online and wants it incorporated into his furniture piece. Whatever it is, the project goes on hold.

Other times I have to wait on hardware that I’ve ordered. Or a specialty tool that is needed. And even on a big job, I’m waiting for the deposit money from my customer. Having three jobs at once in the shop allows me to make progress on each job to keep the income of money flowing.

But doing woodworking as a hobby is different. There isn’t a reason to have three projects at once. Too many times I have started a project and then lose interest. I push my project to a corner and tell myself, “I’ll get to it later.” And later can sometimes mean years. I call that corner, my project graveyard because my projects seem to die and are waiting to be resurrected again.

This a bad habit in life to develop. It starts with an unfinished project, but can easily turn us into an unreliable person who doesn’t keep his word or promise. We spend a lifetime developing our reputation, why develop a habit that could tarnish that? 

Besides it being an unfinished project, it also is disrespectful to the tree. When we consider that a tree gives life to us in the air that we breathe. It can give us shelter from the weather. It can be fuel to warm us on cold nights. It is such a valuable resource.  But it now gathers dust in my corner graveyard.

However, the opposite is true when we complete a project. When we finish a project, even if we lost interest in it, we are cultivating skills that make us more focused and allows us to follow through. Plus we are repurposing that wood into a functional piece of furniture that can be used for a lifetime.

So by now, you are thinking that the answer to the question of, “How many projects are too many?’ would be one. Well…. Not exactly.  My answer, one and a half.

What I mean by the half is; Every project should be pushing our skills somewhat. The only way to get better is to practice. Maybe it’s a mortise and tenon we need practice with. Perhaps it’s that dovetail drawer we always wanted. Or maybe it’s trying a new stain recipe to experiment with. No matter what it is, we all need to practice. So besides our project, we are making we should also be on the side doing some practice. Our skills will get rusty unless we stay on top of it.

If you are looking for some encouragement to finish a project, there is a private group page on Facebook, (click here)

This group page titled, “What are you doing?” was made to inspire others and to have a place where questions can be asked and no one is being critical of others. So if you haven’t joined us already, I’d encourage you to do so. This way we all can help prevent pieces from going to the project graveyard.

Chad Stanton- Owner of Stanton Fine Furniture