Posts tagged ‘carpentry’


A Lesson Remembered

It has been a busy summer. One of my major personal projects is a redo of the upstairs hall and main floor of my town house. At the start of the summer I had a contractor install wood floors and replace the stair railings. Since then I have been patching walls, painting and installing new trim. Part of that trim install is replacing the quarter round that went down the stairs with the baseboard being used in the hall and main floor. This is a feature in a friend’s century home and I like the look.

Because the stairs turn at the bottom without a landing the stringer, the piece of wood on the side that carries the treads, changes angles. I thought no problem as I have to cut the baseboard to fit against the half newel post that is against the wall, I will just use the same vertical cut at the transition and tie in. I have illustrated this with the red lines in Figure 1.

My initial cuts of the baseboard

Figure 1.

It wasn’t as easy as I thought. I ended up discarding two lengths of wood as I couldn’t get the angles to line up. You are probably wondering what is so hard about cutting a butt joint, but you don’t use a butt joint when joining two pieces of trim work. You cut them at 45 degrees so they overlap. When the wood shrinks, because the wood will shrink at some point, you aren’t faced with a big gap in your trim. Instead you have a shallow depression which you may not notice at all. The problem was cutting the 45 degree cut at an acute angle. No matter what I did, it just wouldn’t overlap cleanly. I was getting worried, as a 20 minute job had now taken me two hours and two pieces of not inexpensive trim were  now closet filler. For those that don’t do carpentry, closet filler is the short pieces that you can’t use in the main area because it would look terrible but nobody ever notices the patchwork in a closet.

So I did the best thing you can do when stuck on a problem. I stopped, I cleared my head of the ‘solution’ and looked at the problem fresh. Well not quite fresh because I knew what DIDN’T work. So I thought about the easiest solution, which is two 45 degree cuts at 90 degrees to the length of the board. That was when I realized I could to that, I just needed to change my orientation. I suddenly felt very Ender-ish (Read “Enders Game” by Orson Scott Card to understand that thought). I made the cut, shown by the red line in Figure 2, nipped off the bottom corner, on the angle shown by the black line, and finished in 20 minutes.

Cutting at from a different perspective

Figure 2.

The lesson I remembered was that sometimes you have to stop trying to make the ‘solution’ work and start all over with a fresh perspective. Sometimes you can reach this perspective on your own and sometimes you need help. The most important thing is to admit failure and use that failure as a learning point for finding the right solution.



Apparently I am not yet disciplined enough to write when the weather outside is sunny and hot. Which is odd because I have always considered myself more of a winter person. I must start thinking of my self as multi-seasonal for each season has its own pleasures.

I recently connected with author Scott Berkun on twitter (@berkun) and after checking me out Scott said he would be interested in reading a blog post comparing the crafts of carpentry and programming. Craft was Scott’s choice of wording not mine. I am still on the fence about software craftmanship due to the fact that I see software more like literature than like carpentry or other ‘crafts’. I have to agree that this is a worthy subject to explore though it might have extend to 2 or 3 posts as carpentry is only part of what I was when I started programming. Being an electrician taught me that you should know the rules, and not follow the rules at your own peril (I still own the side cutters with three deep notches). As an industrial mechanic I learned the importance of a clean workspace to keep the job going smoothly, and, as a chef, that every day is different and you need to allow for that.

So I hope to have something for you in the next few weeks. Keep checking that RSS feed.

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