To paraphrase Janis Joplin…Failure is just another word for nothing left to learn. My primary project in my seasonal wood shop was to use the remaining 100-year-old beams removed from the original cottage & make an outdoor bench showcasing the beauty of recycled lumber. Making rustic furniture with recycled wood is much better than just adding to the landfills. It’s a small step but rewarding. I also like the idea of extending the history of what a tree created. The imperfections in the wood also provide a balance to my limited woodworking experience & skills.
My motivational inspiration came from a graphical representation of the mathematical symbol of Pi. The basic symbol is from the Greek alphabet but many artistic licenses have been taken to this form. In addition, the purity of it’s never ending sequence without a pattern is fascinating. When I fist saw this particular form my minds eye envisioned a comfortable bench to set beside the Mini-Meadow I’ve been cultivating.
I visualized the bench with 4 primary pieces on each end. Using enlargements of the symbol as templates I adjusted the patterns to fit the limitations of a 7-inch wide beam. By my calculations I had about 20% more board feet than needed. It gave some room for error but not a whole lot. The rough cuts of the first pieces were very encouraging. I was pleased with the beauty of the grain on the century old pieces.
As I was beginning to work on some of the more challenging parts I ran into an unexpected problem. At first I dismissed some of the imperfections in the beams as flaws that would provide character. In reality it became a design-changing dilemma.
I hadn’t expected the beams to be rotten. Beams I had used a few years ago for a dinning room table was fine. These were not. At first it seemed like the rot was not in areas that would experience stress so I still had hope. The basic form that motivated me would be preserved. Initially, I used wood glue to repair & keep structural integrity.
As I cut more of the primary pieces I found lots more rot & realized I would need to attempt/inject some more serious repairs. It is always worthwhile to make a plan before you start. The Boy Scout motto of “Be Prepared” was an early & valuable lesson. As I got older, especially in my Freelance Career, I navigated challenges with a mantra of “Making It Up as You Go Along.” Even, when following your plan you encounter unexpected challenges & must adjust.
Filler, putty & even Bondo for Wood made the beautiful old lumber into a Frankenstein creation. I realized I would have to put some “lipstick on this pig” to cover the problems. I adjusted my plans & decided to paint the bench hiding the ugly patches made. At least the design would still be there even if I couldn’t highlight the pure color & grain.
I anticipated proportions of the basic sections would need to be tweaked. Before I assembled what I had cut I staged the 4 primary pieces. I saw it would require more than just a tweak. The basic concept was still good. But, for a functional bench, adjustments to the design proportions would need to be made.
Using an old bench side for scale I saw that I was close but the shortcomings of the Pi Bench were pretty extreme. I didn’t have enough lumber to re-cut so I procrastinated & pondered for a while. I’ve learned patience has value.
It might be maturity or a twist on being stubborn but I refused to abandon my idea. I went ahead & assembled 3 pieces for one side. I liked the form but realized continuing to make what I had into a bench would be disappointing on many levels. I know myself well enough that if I moved forward with the bench, every time I looked at the finished work I would see flaws & compromises I made. My plans had become a failure.
I told a neighbor about my mistakes & he said to call it practice. Making lemonade out of lemons now became a reference for my next step. These simple & memorable phrases can be helpful. I had learned a lot from the process, the problems I encountered & design errors. That simple nomenclature adjustment did change my perspective. I decided to use what I had cut & make a plant stand!
Now when I look at what I made I don’t see mistakes & problems. I see a decisions that made the best out of a bad situation. I also see the next steps in learning how to take a good idea & bring it to completion. Instead of a Pi bench I came up with something else. I call it the Practice Stand.