The idea that perfection is attainable is more the myth and mystery than the reality. Because there is no way to actually measure perfection in some finite way, we must then establish how we ourselves feel about the thing we made first. Is it indeed the final outcome of that made thing or is the whole process equally important in the evaluation. Indeed, is the design itself, in its drawing stage, the thought stage or the made state capable of being perfect or do we evaluate these as stages reaching toward a future condition of the whole?

I rode my bike and designed this lamp. From the start to the finish of the concept in my head I had designed all of the important elements going from the three-point contact with the floor all the way through to inventing a joint that would support all the connectivity of 16 joints and 15 components. Though I had never made this joint in my life until this, nor had I made the piece as a floor lamp, I knew in the whole of it that it would work. With this level of confidence, the design was already perfect and so too the concept. Whereas you might spin a piece around on a device to conceptualise every angle. That’s nothing compared to the 3D full-colour image my brain gives me with simple shift I think into being.

The process of making the lamp was already crystal clear in my mind. Each stem and step I made came together like clockwork, with almost no changes made along the route I took. Though unmeasured and unmeasurable, the concept itself was, at least in my mind, perfect and perfected. You see it was the wrestling I went through with my thoughts that conceived something as yet unmade and undesigned. If you like, concept parallels conceiving or conception, the genesis of an idea that leads to something ultimately gestating to the point of being born into our reality. This thought process always prefaces every design unless serendipitously we adapt or adopt something intended for something else and make it into an alternative reality. My floor lamp may be perfect as a freestanding lamp but would work equally well as a coat and hat stand. When thoughts occur we begin to transition along a path of creativity into a realm of sketching and writing to ourselves. We are not concerned about a perfect drawing or perfect writing. Both are indeed free-drawings and free-writings. Grammar in both is out the window. Looking back on my drawings they leave much to be desired but they did indeed capture my original thought. This genesis-keeping is critical to me and for me. It’s perfect and I say to myself either out loud or in my head, “Perfect!” How can something as yet unmade be perfect? Well, it’s the concept itself that’s perfect. The idea, if you will.

It’s important if not essential that we capture our original thoughts before we lose them. Of course, no one can measure perfection because perfection is only determined by how we perceive the outcome of what we have accomplished. Perfection and our declaring of it is not a finite definition. Mostly we consider these phased outcomes according to how we feel about the stages we have reached. Our human nature is subject to great fallibility. Often, we face difficult stages in work and when we overcome the impossible we might say ‘Perfect!’ when what we really mean is ‘Eureka!’ Why? Well, eureka comes for our ancient Greek past where ‘heúrēka‘ meant “I have found (it).” or ‘heurískō‘ “I find“. This passage of discovery is indeed intrinsic to us all and we experience such discoveries every day. Hence, “Eurika!” and the modern-day American equivalents of, “Wow!”, “Cool!” or then too “Got it!” and many others. This light-going-on moment, anvil-dropping-out-of-the-sky revelation, is what happens and it happens to us all the time and mostly when we least expect it.

Arresting phases in design is important in perfecting our concept. I say ‘perfect’ all the time even when the wood is rough or wet or the joint is initially poorly made. I don’t care about other’s concepts of perfection, I care about the new joint that stems off the leg to give me exactly what I need. I care about the triple-leg element that means that project will never rock. I care that a table can sit squarely to the main body of the piece and still look like it’s actually detached and floating, and care that I designed the whole thing whilst enjoying a bike ride I cannot even remember much about but that the sun was shining, it was early morning and I desperately wanted a design that truly meant something.

This chair came together over a decade or so ago. It was mine. I designed every element of it so it is uncopied and it has been made in many different woods through the years. I named it because it is my design. It’s called The Brazos Rocking Chair because I loved messing around on the Brazos River in Texas whether that was floating in a well-patched truck tube or fishing with my boys from the banks. This, my best of friends, sums up why I say the word Perfect!

15 Comments

  1. Tad Englund on 14 September 2020 at 9:56 pm

    Paul, this post has been most helpful. There have been a few times watching your videos, that you have said ‘perfect” when something comes together and because of the quality of the videography, I have been able to see a what I perceived as a very slight “imperfection” in a saw cut or joint, etc. and paused for a millisecond in thought. Sometimes asking myself: “was that really perfect”
    These last two posts have been very helpful for me, as I tend to stress over things that don’t affect the “perfection” of a project.

  2. Samuel on 15 September 2020 at 12:44 am

    Perfection is when there is a problem and you get the simplest and most elegant solution. You can make errors in its execution, as long as they’re not the same dumb ones u keep making…

  3. Ajens on 16 September 2020 at 10:03 am

    I very much agree with your thoughts about “perfect”, There’s really not much to add. I think it all starts and ends with ourselves. If we did what we could, then why not just be happy with that? If we find that we could have done better, then we know what and how to do the next time. Because we’re so lucky to be equipped with the ability to learn and improve througout our whole life. Let’s remember to enjoy those millions of moments when we feel satisfaction, happiness or even perfection. And let’s strive for even more of that. And let’s not forget to appreciate other’s results, we might learn a little somthing from them.

  4. Thomas Redfern on 16 September 2020 at 12:43 pm

    Something is perfect to me when it fulfils the image in my head.

    • Thomas Redfern on 16 September 2020 at 12:44 pm

      As opposed to somebody else’s head.

  5. Jon Place on 17 September 2020 at 4:40 pm

    Paul, I’ve been watching your videos for several years now and whenever I’ve heard you say “Perfect” to yourself, I’ve always taken it as much a statement of future intent for the project (the way a runner will visualise crossing the finishing line) as it is a comment on the work you’ve just done.

  6. Mark Ellam on 21 September 2020 at 10:08 pm

    An interesting subject to consider: Perfection. I think we can make the error of seeing perfection as “absolute” and so it becomes unatainable, something to always frustrate and elude us. Rather I see perfection as relative (as some of the comments already suggest). For instance, you make something and it meets your expectations and it’s intended purpose – so it’s perfect! There may be the odd thing we could improve and refine, but it’s still “perfect” because it meets YOUR relative criteria.
    I love your posts and videos Paul because they really do help us make things that little bit more “perfect”!

  7. Patrick Bell on 21 September 2020 at 11:36 pm

    The chair, as you are certainly aware, is an unreplaceable heirloom for the many generations that will follow you. I frequently smile at your comments; recently about the sandbox and the grand-daughter that enjoys it daily… perhaps, almost, as much as her grand-dad does, knowing her delight.

    You often touch gently on those values that we hope to leave behind; those that will guide our children and grandchildren through their lives as well. And if we’ve been successful, those values will continue to make the important journey through the succeeding generations to come.

    One question to you, the master; will you make the rocker chair plans available, for those of us that would be honored to make one for our grandchildren’s grandchildren?

    • Vidar Fagerjord Harboe on 28 September 2020 at 8:35 am

      Patrick, forgive me for asking – but _why_ do you need plans? Can’t you cobble up a chair for yourself? I mean absolutely no disrespect, but I find the craving for plans puzzling at times. If you have endulged in a bit of woodworking, you know most of what you need to know.
      One of the pioneers of woodworking podcasts, Mr. Marc Spagnuolo (The Wood Whisperer) introduced to me the concept “relative dimensioning”. To me, this concept is really liberating as a woodworker.

      Say you’re making a dresser. Is the intended placement relevant for your dimensions? Does it need to fit within a certain space? In that case, you make the carcass first, observing your size limitations. Then you make the drawers to fit.
      If the space has no limits, does the drawers need to meet some dimensional requirements? Then you might make the drawers first, then build the carcass around them.

      Of course, in any case you will need to plan ahead and have a general idea on the final product. But you really do not need to make up plans with dimensions to make the dresser. Instead, you can be more free with your design. Let the wood dictate a bit. In stead of making all parts to a certain specification, you make your parts to fit the other parts. One part to fit another part, then another part to fit the one you just made – and suddenly the piece is done.

      As for a rocking chair: All you need to do is to measure any chair that you find comfortable to sit in. The width of the seat, the depth. The angle of the backrest. How high the legs needs to be. Then make parts to fit those criterias.

      I made a couple of benches to go with my fire pan. I have problems with one knee, so often I find it uncomfortable and even painful to get up from a low seat. Thus, I made the legs a bit longer than usual. Those benches are just perfect for me, and nobody has ever complained that they are too high. I saw a commecially made bench, but I made my own. The one I could buy costs a tad over NOK 1300,- a piece. The planks (construction grade planks meant for concrete form making, so dirt cheap and rough wood), screws and oil/varnish set me back about NOK 400. For both! And my design is far more elegant and lighter. Saved me NOK 2200,-!

      Plans can be a good thing, but for the most part I think people need to just go ahead and create.
      I found a wall shelf on Pinterest I really liked. Based on one single picture, I made my own. Dovetails hold the frame together, dadoes holds each shelf within the frame. Most measurements dictated by the oak plank I took from the wood stack.

      And it is perfect. 😉

      • Paul Sellers on 28 September 2020 at 12:30 pm

        I’m sorry, Vidar, but his question is meant for me to answer and I thoroughly understand when someone asks questions like this. Without trying to be disagreeable, if someone likes another’s design then it is only for him to ask and the receiver of the question can surely decide whether the answer to his problem is for him to be a solution for or indeed not. Did you not think that he might not want the weeks and months it took me to design this specific chair and that I might short circuit the process by emailing him my plans or that he may well just not have the skills or the ability to do as you ask? This assumption that everyone can do whatever they want is simply not the reality for all — perhaps a mere 5% might be nearer the truth. We have no knowledge of his skill sets. Even the fact that he is asking is highly respectful. Did you think that that specific design is actually mine and owned as a copyright design by me? A design I developed and own all of the intellectual property for? Just some other things to think about. I would never ever copy another man’s work without asking if I could! All the more the internet seems to be a place for raid, pillage and piracy all of which are all the more rampant as people lose their moral compass which I learn to my own cost.
        I might add that chairs need to be safe and especially rocking chairs that can be challenging and the main reason most furniture makers do not make chairs altogether. It’s not simple as you say, “As for a rocking chair: All you need to do is to measure any chair that you find comfortable to sit in. The width of the seat, the depth. The angle of the backrest. How high the legs needs to be. Then make parts to fit those criteria.” I found designing this chair a real challenge!

        • Vidar Fagerjord Harboe on 29 September 2020 at 11:51 am

          As I wrote, I do not mean any disrespect. If what I wrote gave an impression of the opposite, I am very sorry.
          But in todays society, people very often think less of them selves. That they do not posess the abilities needed, so they are afraid to even try, thus asking for plans.
          I admit that my experience is limited, especially compared to yours, Paul – and the fact that you pointed out the flaws in my reasoning shows the true value of this public comment section.
          But I still think that people should be bolder and try. Of course, if one want to make a copy of other people’s design – or want to study a design in order to learn, plans are the way to go. No arguments there. But that was not my point.

          I do, however, still think that most people can do far more than they think they can. Yes, maybe 5% can do it with relative ease. The rest of us depends on research, trial and error. Then there are of course a very small percentage that will not be able to do it anyway, for different reasons.

          My point was to encourage Patrick. In doing so, I overstepped my boundary by answering a question that was not meant for me. For this, I am sorry. This is your arena, Paul, and I will try to show respect for that fact as best as I can. Thank you for correcting me.

          But 5%? I am content that we might not agree on that one. 😉

          Patrick and Paul, if I in any way offended you with my answer, I am sorry! My intentions was good.

          All the best! 🙂

  8. mark leatherland on 22 September 2020 at 12:54 am

    Thanks for the blogs Paul. I find this one helps me. I’ve had good success with my limited nuber of projects and although I haven’t achieved absolute perfection, I’ve not stressed over it, I think that i was cutting myself some slack as I’m a beginner but i actually think that the slight imperfections go to show that it was crafted with hand tools and is unique as opposed to being manufactured to perfection and I’ve achieved far better results than I thought i would so thats perfect for me! Thanks for all you do.

  9. Dave Wrigley on 22 September 2020 at 3:53 pm

    Hi Paul, I only recently found your blog and videos, this is because during lockdown I needed something to do. I am 80 years old and have cancer, my wife is in care and before lockdown used to visit most days but then came Covid. However I digress, I have a 10 x8 foot shed which I have turned into a small workshop. It was full of junk, this is what started me off into woodwork, needing space I launched into making a large chest , no plans just an idea and made up as I went along, however it came to fruition using hand and power tools and was soon filled giving me the needed space, I found your video on a ply bench but didn’t trust myself so bought one. My neighbour asked me to make a chest for him which worked out well. I have now found out how lovely it is just using hand tools, so relaxing. So far I have only made a box for my honing stone and a chisel rack, this has become my perfect pass time.
    Thank you for your great video’s which are very educational, please don’t stop.

    • Paul Sellers on 23 September 2020 at 8:42 am

      Such a kind letter, Dave. thankyou? Perfection exists only in the hearts of those who allow love to govern them and deliver that love to others.

  10. Tim Watson on 23 September 2020 at 5:03 pm

    Hi Paul – I think striving for perfection is what keeps us going, especially in these times. I’ve taken up chisel and saw again after many years and with the help of your brilliant YouTube videos and blogs am striving to perfect the major joints. I have only a garage to work in with limited room and a small, homemade workbench (and I mean small!) but the sheer pleasure I get out of trying to achieve a joint that looks craftsman-made is, to me, priceless. I use the same system as I did 55 years ago when learning to play drums: practise/fail; practise/fail; practise… and so on, ad infinitum, until one day what I’ve done is the best I can do. Perfect? Of course not, but better than it’s ever been, at least so far! In 1963 when I left school I wanted to be a carpenter, but my English master said it would be a waste of my ‘talent for words’ so I went down another path – my working life is too complicated to go into here – and this was one of the biggest mistakes I made, but who argues with the ‘experts’ when one’s 15…! However, I’m trying to remedy it now at the ripe old age of 72 – and much of this due to your inspiring and educational videos. Your gentle, quiet teaching style suits me down to the ground and I feel at times I’m back in the classroom being instructed by my two brilliant woodwork masters, Mr Pike and Mr Still. Thanks, Paul, for fighting in the corner of the hand woodworkers. OK, machines have their place, but not here, not now.

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