Ignoring the Rules

As a teenager, I didn’t like following the rules. It didn’t matter what the rule was, I didn’t like it.  I felt restricted by following them.  I used to think, “Rules were meant to be broken.” However, now as an adult, I can see the value and wisdom in following some rules. I realize the rules are there to protect us and our well-being. Still, as a creative person, I feel maybe I can “bend” the rules. However, in woodworking, I learned there are three rules to follow if you definitely want success with your project. And if these rules are broken, they can have devastating consequences. 

The rules I try to follow are from a man named Franklin H. Gottshall. He was a fantastic woodworker, author, and educator that in my opinion has produced some of the finest books on period furniture out there. He was born in 1902 and passed away in 1992 in his hometown of Boyertown, PA. He wrote 16 books, 150 articles on woodworking and taught for 35 years on college levels. He had an associate’s degree from Rochester Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree from Stout State University of Wisconsin. He also was named “Who’s Who” in the East in the year 1963  and also appeared in “Men of Achievement” in 1974. So it’s fair to say, his advice is worth considering.

Gottshall has many rules when it comes to making and designing furniture. But there are three rules I always try to follow. Those rules are;

  1. A piece of furniture should serve a purpose.

I know this seems like an obvious statement but it is important. For example, if you are building a cabinet, first make sure you know what will go inside the cabinet to make sure it will fit.

  1. It should be built with good construction.

Simply put, no matter what you are making it should be made to last. Don’t take a shortcut on joinery.

  1. It should look nice.

This is where you get to put your personality into the piece. Make it a unique style that you enjoy. This also includes selecting the right color and the topcoat.

So those were his first three rules. But I added a fourth rule.

  1. Rule 3 should never come before rule 1 or 2.

I see this so many times when people are creating their own pieces of furniture. People try to focus on making a piece of furniture look nice or unique and they ignore the first two rules. The whole piece will suffer if rules one and two are disregarded. In my opinion, if someone puts the focus on how it looks more than the purpose or construction, then they are making art and not furniture.

So now that I am standing tall on my soapbox preaching my thoughts and strong opinions to all, I do have to make a confession. I have broken those rules myself. And I’m not talking about long ago when I first started out. No, I am referring to just recently.

Round tabletop. Elm in the middle. Oak on the edge. And black epoxy in the middle

A few months ago I made a little round coffee table. I wanted the top to be over 20” in diameter, but I only had a piece about 17” So I decided to add extra pieces around the outside making it meet my dimensions. I joined the wood with some biscuits and figured I’d lock it all together with some good old epoxy! Now in doing so, I knew I was ignoring the rule of good construction, which incorporates allowing for wood movement. I just somehow thought I could ignore it. Why did I do this? Mostly because I thought it would look good. I also thought I’ve seen other pictures on the internet where it was clear the woodworker ignored wood movement and he didn’t have any trouble. I can do it too. And that prideful thinking was about to be my downfall.

As soon as I finished the tale I had several customers online ask to buy it. That made me excited. As a furniture maker, I want to sell and turn over products for a couple of reasons. One, to get a paycheck. And two, to make room for another design and build. But my instincts told me to wait. Even though I was so excited when I was building it, I think deep down inside I knew I had trouble brewing. And so I’m glad I waited. 

Within 3 months the wood shrunk and it cracked. At first, it wasn’t even noticeable. But when light is cast under the table, it’s clear what happened. The wood shrunk and the epoxy that filled the two halves cracked. 

Cracked but unseen
Crack noticable with light

On a side note, three years ago I did a video about how to stop boards from splitting. If you didn’t see the video, here it is. Click here   Several people told me to use epoxy to stop the crack or split from getting bigger. I would reply and tell them that epoxy is great for filling voids. It’s also good if it needs to be drilled or screwed into, but it will not stop wood from moving. Case in point is my round tabletop. Hopefully, this will help put an end to the discussion. (probably not. Hahahaha)

This table I was so excited about in the beginning, has now left me with a host of conflicting feelings. I am disappointed in the wood shrinking. I am more disappointed with myself because I knew better. I am embarrassed to admit the table cracked after showing and promoting it on social media. I am stuck with it because I can’t sell it. And I can’t fill the crack because in the summer it will expand and it might break the outer ring of wood pieces. So what do I do with it? I keep it. Why? For a few reasons. There are lessons to be learned here.

The table will remind me to follow the rules and not compromise good construction over visual appearance. The table also made me think about how to have the same effect/look but work with wood movement. A plywood center is probably the answer. Lastly, it’s a reminder to me to stay humble and admit when I make a mistake. 

If anyone is interested, about a year ago I wrote a short 15-page ebook titled, “6 Rules for Better Furniture Design.” If you are interested in it you can click here. Come to think of it, I should probably read it again myself. 🙂

Chad Stanton- Owner of Stanton Fine Furniture- 2/23/2022