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What you don’t know

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Sometimes, as Bob Seger once wisely observed, I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then. Blotching bothers the heck out of me, but there was once a time I thought it looked pretty neat.

Blotching is that annoying habit of some woods – pine, cherry, maple, etc. – where stain absorbs unevenly, leaving dark blotches on what would otherwise be a uniformly colored surface. It looks horrible, but whenever I see it on a beginner’s work, unless they ask me for advice about how to get rid of it, I just bite my tongue.

Years and years ago, I thought nothing of slathering dark stain on pine. And when the blotching inevitably showed up, I thought it added interest to the project. In fact, I considered it such a normal and desirable thing that I was sometimes disappointed when oak didn’t blotch (I didn’t yet know it was even called blotching, much less that it was a characteristic of some woods but not others).

The point here is that blotching was just one of probably thousands of things I didn’t yet know about woodworking, things that I’ve learned in the decades since. The trouble with knowing all this stuff is that you’re sometimes not satisfied with just enjoying making something, you have to make it perfect. Back then, I was pleased when something came out right, looked reasonably good, and worked the way I wanted it to.

I still have a couple pieces from those days (you’ll see one next week), and while my skills weren’t very sophisticated then they don’t look half bad considering just how little I knew then. To top it off, some of the items have been useful for decades, blotching and all.

I’m extremely proud of the work I do now, and still enjoy just about everything I do in the shop. Blotching is such a little thing, but I – and probably most of you – will bend over backward to avoid or correct it, and sometimes the joy of the project itself becomes secondary.

That was never a problem back then when I didn’t know better.



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