A Note From George

When you have just made a window frame and the stile has eight mortises in it, it reflects much work. George and I had been making the frame together for a little over a week and when we were moving it off the bench it was too heavy for my skinny frame and I slipped and clipped off a corner. I grimaced, removing about five inches on a conspicuous corner seemed so reprehensible to me. George gave me one of his inimitable smiles, glanced over at the foreman, and put his finger to his lips to hush me and not speak. Quick as a flash he grabbed a bench plane, and planed away the corner with the damage–I am talking the whole corner down to a half-inch at around 45-degrees and tapering from zero to the half-inch wide and maybe a foot long.

He pulled a scrap of the same wood from the bin and without trimming or cutting ran a film of glue along the new bevel and slapped the offcut onto the glued surface. He then removed his leather belt, wrapped it serpent-like around the the stile, clamped each end of the belt with a ‘G’ clamp and then drove in some wedges into the loops to apply pressure. We set the frame aside for a while and worked on the next frame. After lunch, he removed the belt and planed off the protruding wood until flush with the two adjacent faces. I could not see a joint line.

Working on my shoji panel a corner off of the bevel had literally just popped out after I had completed the three twin tenoned joints to the stile. It happens.

I took my plane as I have done many times since that first time with George and planed off the corner at 45-degree in a long tapered bevel.

Then I ripped down a strip from an offcut of the same wood and used superglue and an accelerator to bond the strip to the bevel.

Once glued, I ripped the excess from the strip on the bandsaw …

…and planed it flush.

I did the same to the adjacent face and amazingly it seemed to just blend without trace.

This is the same section as at top but with the piece in place and the bevel on.

22 thoughts on “A Note From George”

  1. Thanks for sharing this, Paul!

    I posted somewhere else about how great it would be to get some tips on repairing mistakes. It would help beginners like myself gain confidence.

    When I fist started building balsa wood model airplanes my mentor told me not to worry about mistakes, because almost any mistake can be fixed. That simple statement gave me confidence to try more advanced projects and techniques.

  2. The little tricks of the trade and a George-story, all in one enjoyable post.

    A few weeks ago I was making a tote from reclaimed pine. Had worked out a nice, elegant design, but it involved making dovetails in cross grain. Had never seen that done before so had my doubts but decided to try it out anyway. Sure enough, as I was fitting the very first joint, a pin broke off. Quickly took stock of the situation and it turned out that with some changes in the design (and slightly different dimensions) I could make it with dovetails in normal grain instead of cross grain, but I’d have to think of a solution for the handle. It worked, the tote came out fine, though differently than designed but still elegant, and with a slightly larger width. A quick rescue that saved a lot of invested time and effort. And a lesson for the future not to make dovetails in cross grain again.

    1. Artur Darmofal

      I did the same trick with cross grain when doing clamps rack. Lesson learned quickly after hanging some…

  3. I was told during my apprenticeship “Anyone can make a mistake, but it takes a tradesman to fix it correctly.” After making more mistakes than I care to admit, I’m sure that’s because tradesmen make more mistakes than others. LoL
    I’ve used this very method to repair damaged timber from either mistakes, or old age many times.

  4. William Nenna

    One of the great attributes of working with wood!! Repairs are limited only by imagination! The test of our skills can be measured by the flawlessness of our repairs. I’ve learned so much and achieved some of my greatest satisfaction in many of the repairs I’ve made! In fact, it is many years of experience “repairing” that has brought me here to learn building from scratch. I will admit to having a very lopsided skill set!

  5. I saw you do something similar repairing the handle of a saw and have been able to use it a couple of times since. Thank you for a wonderful gift!

  6. Mark Gallicano

    Just wondering if you were going to do a window frame sometime in the future.

  7. James Hutchins

    What a blessing George was/is for you and us too.
    I have met a few real men like him and I sure do cherish the experience.

  8. Frank McInroy

    When I was a apprentice , I was told that if you never made a mistake you have never made anything and you only become a tradesman when you’ve learnt how to fix them !!!

    Regards Frank

  9. Many programmers describe that skill as “debugging a blank sheet of paper.” (Or an empty file, these days.)

    Being a craftsman is less about never making mistakes than about avoiding those you can, knowing how to recover from those you can’t, and knowing when to say “you know, I sorta like it that way; let’s clean it up and make the others agree with it.”

    1. Spot on, it may not be clever going one’s self in a hole but it’s damn clever getting out of it with a sense of satisfaction and knowing nothing has been compromised and that it’s still a fine piece.

  10. Alwyn Farmer

    I was told by my carpentry instructor ‘if you make a cock up young man then make a feature of it’ that bit of advice has lived with me until now and I still make features at 62 years old 😁

  11. I teach sailing and know that anyone can be taught to do things right. The hard thing is knowing what to do when things go wrong.

  12. Michael Miler

    Well thirty odd or so years ago we were installing bullet proof windows and doors at 11 Belgrave square London which was then the the prince of Kuwait Private London residence. This was due to the IRA bombing activity at the time and the Arab * celeb community was nervous. 35mm thick. When screwing the internal beads in place I slipped with the screwdriver and chipped the internal layer (this is the layer that powders on impact to stop personnel getting cut with flying fragments) That episode unfortunately was not easily remedied as we had to order and install a new piece (3m x 750) not cheap. That said I got another few days out of the job before we were paid off!

  13. I have an old farm that needs a couple dozen new windows. I hope this project will be presented soon.

  14. My father used to always say ” The man who hasn’t made a mistake has never made anything”. He was a shoe repairer in the days when customers expected miracles (and usually got them!).

  15. John Challis

    This is a reassuring anecdote. I’ve had to tap in and pull apart some mortice and tenon joints on a table’s aprons as I fine tuned the fit, and didn’t notice until after glue-up that one of the fit-and-remove efforts had pulled out a corner of wood. I have a match from a small piece of the same wood and will be gluing it in place — but with a good deal less anxiety and anger than I first felt. It has been a project with a lot of hard lessons learned, I’ll add.

  16. I remember working on a building site years ago. I overheard a conversation between a carpenter and another tradesman who had accidentally damaged some woodwork. The carpenter cheerfully said don’t worry mate, I’m a carpenter, I can fix anything. That’s when I decided I wanted to be a carpenter. Now thanks to Paul I have sort of realized my ambition and ditched all the power tools!

  17. Gary in Minnesota

    Wow Paul. I feel so much better now knowing I am not the only one having to make repairs to my mistakes. Thanks for sharing this story and the repair. I once made a 48 inch round walnut table for my daughter and decided to have the circle cut by a shop with a CNC machine. I received a call saying the job was done but the operator had mistakenly entered 42 inches. After some tense discussion the shop cut the table in half and added enough new walnut (at their expense) to cut a 48 inch table. So even high tech machines do not guarantee no mistakes

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