Looking Past the Obvious

Fairly recently I finished a dining room table for a client. I was really pleased with it and I did what most of us do, I posted pictures on social media. I received a handful of likes and comments such as, “Nice Job”, and “Looks great!”.

I am thankful people take a little bit of time to notice what I did and send me a comment. But it was just a few people and I was REALLY pleased with this piece. I just thought more people would have commented. 

I wasn’t sure why, but it surprised me that I didn’t get more “likes” or “thumbs-ups”. It’s not as if I was under some delusional expectation that people would instantly think it was the greatest thing in the world.  I’ve been professionally building furniture for 23 years. During that time I’ve made many pieces. I’ve replicated antique carvings that looked like the originals. I’ve made a dining room table that was 12’ long. I made a fireplace mantel that was 14′ high. But to me, nothing compared to this mid-century dining room table that I just completed. I was wondering why others didn’t think the same? 

I told my wife that this table was the most complex piece I ever designed and built. Her reply was, “Really? It’s beautiful but it doesn’t look complicated.” When I delivered it, I told the client it was the most rewarding and satisfying project I have made to date. They said they loved it but they also were surprised to hear I felt that way. 

I began thinking to myself, “Wow, am I getting an inflated ego?” Am I putting too much emphasis on myself? Maybe this table is truly just a simple piece of furniture and I am just expecting too much from others.

Just before delivering it to the client, my friend Dennis Laney came over. Dennis began a close examination of it. The first thing he noticed was it was made out of birch. This was a common wood used on mid-century style furniture. Mid-century furniture has a strong connection with Danish Denmark. But it was first conceived at the Bauhaus. Birch was a common tree in that region so it was a nice way to make this authentic to that style.

He noticed the breadboards and quizzed me on the size of the mortise and tenons. He also asked about the amount factored in for seasonal wood movement and the method for attaching them. 

He liked the slight chamfer on the bottom edge of the tabletop. It gave it a slightly thinner appearance when standing close and yet allowed it to look thicker when standing farther away. 

Being an excellent turner, the legs were by no means anything difficult in his opinion. But he knew that the angles of the stretcher and aprons going into tapered legs,( with 6 degrees splay and rake,) is something that can trip up a lot of woodworkers.

 “Of course you used mortise and tenons here.”  Not quite sure if it was a question or stating it as a fact, but I answered, “Yes.”

He walked around it and stood back looking at it from all angles. After a minute, which felt like an eternity, he concurred the table overall had good use of size and proportions. 

Dennis knew it took me longer to build this table than I originally expected. But he was pleased I didn’t compromise on quality for the sake of making up time. So in the end Dennis said,  “Good job. That’s something to be proud of.”

I guess I passed his test.

Not many people would have noticed all of those things unless I told them and pointed it out. But then again, not many people have 60 years of experience building high-quality furniture.

I felt truly proud. I not only got his compliment, I got his approval! 

Dennis’s visit was short. He was just passing by and wanted to stop in and see the table I had been talking about for the past month. He was making his way out of my shop and then at the last second, he paused at the door and turned around.  He said he had one more thing to give me before leaving. He gave me some wisdom. 

“It’s better to be complimented by a colleague than praised by the public.”

As the door closed behind him, I stood alone in my shop. I was humbled by Dennis’s advice. Reflecting on his words I came to this conclusion. Comments from others are appreciated. But they only make us feel better for the moment. The true focus should not be on fame but the meaning of this work. I realized this craft would not survive without the dedication of people like us. The knowledge we learn. The skills we practice. The continual striving for quality.  Our own satisfaction of a job well done. These are the good feelings that last much longer. This is the history and the future of our craft!

Chad Stanton- 2-27-2021