Pissed Off

I love competition.  Playing a game or sport makes me feel alive.  I have always enjoyed competing and when I lose at something it just inspires me to try to get better.  Most games are simple, be it chess, or baseball or tennis.  If you study or practice you will improve.  If you study or practice more than your opponent you will eventually win.  I don’t mind losing, but the satisfaction from winning against a previously unbeatable foe is magnificent.

Growing up with my father as my baseball manager, I was taught me good sportsmanship.  It is alright to lose, as long as one tries their best.  Sometimes the other player is just better.  I don’t mind losing at all.  When I was a senior in high school, my buddy Rob Kahler and I were spending spring break in Florida.  I played tennis with a freshman girl one day.  She beat me 6-0, 6-0, and it wasn’t as close as it sounds.  It didn’t bother me at all, she was just really freaking good.  I would say I am tolerant of failure, well most of the time.

There are times though, when I feel such a sense of anger, that it is almost unbearable.  Those times are almost always when I am trying to master something and it is taking longer than my little gray cells tell me it should.  I can remember weeks of practicing pool, only to have a bad day, and being really angry at myself.  Or devoting hour after hour to the study of endgame theory, only to drop a silly pawn and lose.  I always congratulate my opponent, but then I sit and fume.

It is impossible to improve if one doesn’t have passion.  I believe this to be true.  I am not sure if it is necessary to beat myself up or not.  So today I finished the tails for the last piece of my box or drawer sides.  They are not very good at all.  I am really pissed off.  I can’t think of a good reason to be so angry, none what so ever.  My analytical brain tells me that I shouldn’t be good at them yet.  I have cut under 10 sets of dovetails, and if it were as easy, there wouldn’t be any satisfaction.

I imagine a young apprentice sitting in a shop, the old master talking to him as he makes his cuts, showing him how to hold the chisel as he pares off the little bits of excess.  I see the candle lit room, with the apprentice practicing again and again, until he gets it right.  There is the smell of fresh baked bread, from the masters wife, wafting in from the kitchen.  He keeps at it, because he knows that anything worth doing, is worth doing right.  Next to him are piles of attempts, and it is clear, that he worked very hard to get good at cutting his pins and tails.  I imagine all of this, to help me feel better.

It does not make me feel better, as I am imagining it while I am still fuming about the crappy tails and pins I have just cut.  Damn those tricky joints.  It has been said that patience is a virtue.  In fact, it has been said by my mother often, and I believe it to be true.  I am still angry and bitter, no matter what anyone says.

But here is the other side of the coin.  The fits of self loathing that fill me today, well they don’t last too long.  They will be replaced when the logical side of my brain finally beats the emotional side into submission.  When this happens, I will get some wood, mark some pins, and start a new.  I know I will.  And when the day arrives that I am typing up my blog, to show off some really nicely fitting dovetails, I will scarcely remember today, or the anger.  It will be completely worth it.

But for now, I am still pissed off.

12 comments
Brian Meeks
Brian Meeks

I think that Joey, Larry and Outputter are all right on the mark.

I have been focusing too much on each successive set, instead of just worrying about volume. In every other task, tennis, fencing, backgammon, or drawing, I have always improved through repetition.

I do feel much better today, after a good night's sleep.

Brian Meeks
Brian Meeks

I think that Joey, Larry and Outputter are all right on the mark.

I have been focusing too much on each successive set, instead of just worrying about volume. In every other task, tennis, fencing, backgammon, or drawing, I have always improved through repetition.

I do feel much better today, after a good night's sleep.

Joe ledington
Joe ledington

Hey Brian
I thought I would add my two cents here. My first thoughts is that you are over thinking the whole process. dovetails to me are a utilitarian joint and too many woodworker put to much value in it as a gage to a craftsman ability. I think that dovetails is a basic skill but to many woodworkers dread learning the skill because of all the hype. It's just a combination of all your basic skills, layout, sawing, and chiseling, no more than any other joint that you would make by hand so relax and stop being so hard on yourself. Now with that said I read about a guy who has a system that to me seems to be a great way to become accomplished at dovetails. he made enough 1x 3 x 4 inch stock so that he could cut a a set of dovetail everyday for a month, he would try pins first on some, and tails on others, he didn't worry about making every joint perfect he was trying to learn the mechanics and the muscle memory of the joint and to test what works best for him. He dated each joint so he had a gage of his progress at the end. This might a good exercise for you try. I wish you luck and just keep plugging a way ypou'll get to where you want to be
Joey

Joe ledington
Joe ledington

Hey Brian
I thought I would add my two cents here. My first thoughts is that you are over thinking the whole process. dovetails to me are a utilitarian joint and too many woodworker put to much value in it as a gage to a craftsman ability. I think that dovetails is a basic skill but to many woodworkers dread learning the skill because of all the hype. It's just a combination of all your basic skills, layout, sawing, and chiseling, no more than any other joint that you would make by hand so relax and stop being so hard on yourself. Now with that said I read about a guy who has a system that to me seems to be a great way to become accomplished at dovetails. he made enough 1x 3 x 4 inch stock so that he could cut a a set of dovetail everyday for a month, he would try pins first on some, and tails on others, he didn't worry about making every joint perfect he was trying to learn the mechanics and the muscle memory of the joint and to test what works best for him. He dated each joint so he had a gage of his progress at the end. This might a good exercise for you try. I wish you luck and just keep plugging a way ypou'll get to where you want to be
Joey

Larry Marshall
Larry Marshall

Great post, Brian. I disagree with rtb on all counts save one. He's right that you need to learn the basics of measuring and marking. You WILL learn them trying to cut dovetails by hand. You'll never learn them using a dovetail jig and router. Me thinks you're on exactly the right track and besides, it's YOUR track and that should count for everything.

Cheers --- Larry

Larry Marshall
Larry Marshall

Great post, Brian. I disagree with rtb on all counts save one. He's right that you need to learn the basics of measuring and marking. You WILL learn them trying to cut dovetails by hand. You'll never learn them using a dovetail jig and router. Me thinks you're on exactly the right track and besides, it's YOUR track and that should count for everything.

Cheers --- Larry

OutPutter
OutPutter

Hi Brian. I respect your quest for a decent dovetail. I think you're solution will be found in repetition and I think you know that. That apprentice you imagine, he wasn't laboring over just one dovetail late into the evening, he was doing dozens. As fast as he could. Because, if he couldn't do them fast, he might as well not do them at all. Just like hitting a bucket of balls. Don't labor over each and every one like if you don't hit a perfect 280 yard draw and take out the tractor driver with every ball you've failed. Just hit the balls and make mental adjustments in real time.
12

OutPutter
OutPutter

Hi Brian. I respect your quest for a decent dovetail. I think you're solution will be found in repetition and I think you know that. That apprentice you imagine, he wasn't laboring over just one dovetail late into the evening, he was doing dozens. As fast as he could. Because, if he couldn't do them fast, he might as well not do them at all. Just like hitting a bucket of balls. Don't labor over each and every one like if you don't hit a perfect 280 yard draw and take out the tractor driver with every ball you've failed. Just hit the balls and make mental adjustments in real time.
12

rtb
rtb

Personally I have never cut dove tails. Most who do so use a router and assorted jigs. Those who still cut them the old way usually work at them for years before they reach the level of quality that they desire and many do not attempt them until they are accomplished woodworkers. You persist in putting the cart way ahead of the horse, and then are disgusted when you can't master something that you shouldn't even be thinking about. Why not back up and and find a adult education class in woodworking or find a woodworker who is willing to give you lessons. In this age that probably means starting the basics and using and understanding power tools. You can forgo all of these modern things at a later date but first you must master the basics. Things like measuring, as in exact measurement, of working with angles to the exact degree all require practicing and mastering before you can even consider doing lay out. These are far more important than how you make the cut. I am sure that you did not learn golf by watching it on tv and heading for the golf course. you are trying to learn to cut dovetails, what other joints are you also trying to learn. dovetails are only a small part of joinery but you are focusing on that tiny area is stead of looking at the entire field, most of which you will use far more than the dovetail. Its a lot like going to school, if you goal is to graduate then you must learn all of the esoteric bs as well as the core material. Please don't think, that I am trying to be hurtful, but rather just trying to point out some things that you might have overlooked.I think that its time to sit down and have a frank discussion with yourself. By the way do the backs and edges of your chisels and your irons in your planes look like chrome or have you given up rather than master that skill ? Slow down, back up, and start from the beginning.

rtb
rtb

Personally I have never cut dove tails. Most who do so use a router and assorted jigs. Those who still cut them the old way usually work at them for years before they reach the level of quality that they desire and many do not attempt them until they are accomplished woodworkers. You persist in putting the cart way ahead of the horse, and then are disgusted when you can't master something that you shouldn't even be thinking about. Why not back up and and find a adult education class in woodworking or find a woodworker who is willing to give you lessons. In this age that probably means starting the basics and using and understanding power tools. You can forgo all of these modern things at a later date but first you must master the basics. Things like measuring, as in exact measurement, of working with angles to the exact degree all require practicing and mastering before you can even consider doing lay out. These are far more important than how you make the cut. I am sure that you did not learn golf by watching it on tv and heading for the golf course. you are trying to learn to cut dovetails, what other joints are you also trying to learn. dovetails are only a small part of joinery but you are focusing on that tiny area is stead of looking at the entire field, most of which you will use far more than the dovetail. Its a lot like going to school, if you goal is to graduate then you must learn all of the esoteric bs as well as the core material. Please don't think, that I am trying to be hurtful, but rather just trying to point out some things that you might have overlooked.I think that its time to sit down and have a frank discussion with yourself. By the way do the backs and edges of your chisels and your irons in your planes look like chrome or have you given up rather than master that skill ? Slow down, back up, and start from the beginning.