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This article is from Issue 94 of Woodcraft Magazine.

A home for the devil and a reflection of the gods

Details matter. Just think about the time you were inconvenienced because someone mistyped an address, sending you miles astray. Or maybe some factory employee forgot to include a crucial part in a “needs some assembly” toy that your daughter was so looking forward to playing with on Christmas morning. Or perhaps someone sleepily forwarded your off-color joke to your church group. Ouch.

On the other hand, it’s sweet when something’s neat. Who doesn’t love concise, accurate directions? Or thoughtful packaging. (Extra screws! Alright!) Or a well-crafted private joke circumspectly e-mailed as NSFW.

Same thing with woodworking. It’s the little things that count, and that add up to a remarkable piece. I had an epiphany early in my woodworking career when making a small utilitarian cabinet that wasn’t intended to be anything special. But I was between commissions and decided, just for grins, to take the time to make it well. I cut my case miters with precision, selected nice straight-grained stock for the door stiles and rails, and composed the door panel to yield uplifting cathedral grain. Because I had the time, I added a simple shop-made pull before judiciously sanding everything, taking care to maintain crisp, consistent arrises. After applying finish, I was mildly stunned at how this basic little cabinet seemed to glow with beauty and character. 

It’s important to remember that every little aspect of a piece carries some level of importance, from its overall proportions, profile, and type of wood to its smoothness, moldings, and quality of hardware. Altogether, a piece either takes your eyes for a pleasure cruise or leads them clumsily down a briar path.

It’s often said that the devil is in the details, and it’s true that when trying to solve a problem or perhaps design a multi-purpose piece of furniture, it’s the minutiae that can bog you down. And all it takes is one poorly conceived aspect of something to render it burn pile fodder. On the other hand, when you get everything worked out just so, the gods smile, and all is right for once.

It’s okay that most people probably can’t appreciate your detailing in depth. Just as you don’t realize that it’s the bass line descending to a minor 3rd chord that chokes you up every time you listen to your favorite song, people might not discern that it’s the finely orchestrated grain composition of your piece that delights their eyes. No matter; it does the trick, and it’s the trick that matters. 

So take Mr. Franklin’s comment to heart, though he was not, in fact, a woodworker. If you scrutinize our painting here, you’ll realize that it’s been cleverly composited. Just check out the details!


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