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Why are We in Such a Hurry?

“I don’t want to hurry it, that itself is a poisonous, 20th century attitude. When you want to hurry something, that means you no longer care about it and want to get on to other things.

I just want to get at it slowly, but carefully and thoroughly.”
-Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M Pirsig

I read this book back in high school when I was in my moody, teenage, angsty days. I read it again while in college during my deep and philosophical artsy days. Now I’m reading it again in my jaded, mortgage paying, corporate drone working days. It’s funny how the book still remains powerful to me but each time the message changes.

The quote above particularly grabbed me while the author was talking about a botched repair to his motorcycle from a “professional shop”. He is exasperated by how taking his bike to the experts resulted in not only his problems not getting fixed but made worse.

I can augment this story with literally hundreds from the lumber yard where contractors have called in claiming they got defective wood that moved on them or checked. Upon further investigation we find that flooring was not allowed to acclimate or decks were installed with no gaps between boards and without proper ventilation underneath. Invariably the excuse for skipping these essential points was “I don’t have time to wait for that” or “I just needed to get it done”

splitting away tenons

I posted this picture the other day saying, “stub tenons are quicker when you split them out”. Why is quicker necessarily a better thing?

Even more telling is the attitude we are faced with when we try to educate this contractor on how it could have been prevented or what should be done in the future. They don’t want to hear it, they just want us to fix it with new material…gratis of course. They just don’t care how to improve their work, they just want to get it done and move on to something else. Or using Pirsig’s words, they don’t care.

I’m purposely generalizing here and don’t mean to cast a wide net that says all contractors don’t care about their work.

I’m fortunate to also work with some truly exceptional craftsmen who build homes, furniture, and boats. But I’ll also state that stereotypes exist for reason and I feel bad for those quality contractors whose thoughtful and thorough work goes unappreciated amongst a sea of mediocre projects just waiting to fail when the seasons change.

I’m not innocent in this attitude either. There have been plenty of times when my best work has suffered when I have grown tired of a project and stopped caring about it. Fortunately I’m usually able to remedy that by walking away and coming back later. But I do have to remind myself to slow down from time to time and “care” about the details.

I read and hear from other woodworkers all the time about ways to speed up a task. I hear exasperation about how long a process is taking when done with hand tools. I want to know why we are in such a hurry? Why don’t we care enough about what we are making to “get at it slowly, but carefully and thoroughly”?

I understand that for many woodworkers time is money and paying the mortgage is a big deal to the professional furniture maker. But I think whether you are a hobbyist or a professional, we all got into woodworking with a desire to make something durable and beautiful and that requires great care.

And maybe that is what is most important, not how fast you get it done.

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