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    Hugo Notti

    A lot of frustration that I get from woodworking is due to small mistakes that I could have avoided. When looking back to such experiences, I often feel silly, because the reason for my failure was so simple. But not all mistakes are obvious right away, and I want to start an introduction to “silly mistakes” that we newcomers haven’t met yet (except for the one, who tells us about it). So, this topic is supposed to be written by many people, in order to grow fast. I will keep adding, but it might be slow. Well, let’s get started. Oh, I think, no mistake is too silly to make it here. Suggesting, that none of us is a complete idiot, making any mistake is reason enough to warn others 😉 .

    My very first mistake was to rely on a combination square, that was out of square. Obviously, it is a good idea to check a square for squareness as soon as you get it (and probably again every now and then). So my first small projects were quite crooked.

    In the meantime, I got a square square, but my first dovetail project was again quite out of square (1 mm variance over a width of 30 cm), and the reason again simple: I had marked the depth lines with a pencil prior to cutting a knife line. When I checked later, the knife line was actually square, but I could not see it well because of the pencil mark, which was much wider of course. While chiseling “into the line”, I sometimes noticed, that it looked off by a bit and tried to correct that. Of course, none of these corrections were precise, and the result very disappointing. I found the old knife line, when I was cutting a new one to cut off the dovetails.

    The third example is cutting a tenon into a leg. I was making four legs for my workbench and wanted to cut them to length on one side and cut a tenon at the other side. On the very first leg, I started by ripcutting the tenon width, then I sawed it off right away – oops! I was lucky, that I had started with the tenon, because the leg was long enough to get the full length. In this case, I am not sure, but in many other cases, marks on the waste wood are certainly helpful. I noticed that later, when cutting my first dovetails: I always knew exactly, on which side of the line I had to saw, because the waste wood was marked on all three sides.

    Looking forward to your mistakes and comments!


    • This topic was modified 3 years, 11 months ago by Hugo Notti.
    David B

    I can totally relate to the dovetail issue! (though I learned from Paul’s videos to mark everything with pencil first to get a rough idea of where the depths should go and then using the knife when ready for the final fitting. But yeah, the pencil marks can also become distracting (and even cause self doubt if/when they are visibly different from the knife line). I’ve found that most of my mistakes happen when I become impatient and try to force something instead of taking the time to understand the wood and how to deal with the challenges each piece and grain pattern may present.

    Like when making a mallet out of hardwood I found myself impatient cutting the mortise and at times just used brute force to pound the chisel through…forgetting about the tear out that I would most likely cause which then means a final product that may be loose/out of square/etc.

    • This reply was modified 3 years, 11 months ago by David B.

    The first mistake I made was assuming chisels were sharp when bought new…

    Once I saw Paul’s video and sharpened my chisels properly I realised just how much easier things were with properly sharp chisels!



    One of my biggest lessons came as I was building my bench. While laying out the mortise holes for the legs I did not use the same face to register my gauge and I was 1/2″ off center. As I cut the mortise I noticed that it only broke thru on one side. Took me a minute to figure out what I did. I decided to flip the piece over cut two pieces to fit the holes and left it as a reminder of the importance of working accuratly. The “mistake” is on the back leg of my bench and only I know it’s their but sometimes I see it and smile, thinking about how far I have come.

    Dave Riendeau

    I keep cutting dadoes on the wrong side of the line….it makes slanted shelves…Just a FYI in case you want to incorporate that sort of design feature into your next project.



    I find that most of my mistakes are made when I venture away from the process or try to cut a corner. Or if I get in a hurry… But I tend to think of my mistakes not as a failure, but a learning experiance.

    The funniest mistake I’ve made, and I am afraid I have doen it more than once, is to cut the dovetails in the wrong direction and you end up with a fence and not a box!….

    Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

    Albert Einstein

    Steve Giles

    Sawing on the wrong side of a pencil line despite having carefully marked the waste side. I did that once – don’t think I’ll repeat.

    Using an edge tool way after you should have sharpened it and only later realising how blunt it had become.

    Conceiving and holding a design in your head rather than on paper and ending up with something slightly different than you intended as a result of having done so.

    David B

    I just did one yesterday…I mis-hinged a dovetail box. i.e. I mounted the hinge to the wrong side of the lid. I couldn’t believe how foolish I felt. Oh well, I made it work but the back of the box has visible hinges which was not the goal. Positively, this is a mistake I don’t think I’ll ever make again. Gotta love a good learning lesson.


    I feel all of your pain and will now add to it. Milled and cut to size some very expensive mahogany for a dovetailed box today, spent an hour re sawing and planing interior dividers to size. I them proceeded to square up some pieces to size for a final fit, only to plane off my reference faces on two pieces. Now out of square to my other faces realized what I had done and continued to spend the next while re planing the other pieces down to a new size. Although not much changed in the overal dimensions it was still far more prep work due to not paying attention. Such a bummer over a mindless error. Always mark your faces!!

    Rowdy Whaleback

    Oooh this is a good thread, it’ll be filled very quickly….
    Marking out:
    I had a nice piece of 1″x2″ oak that was long enough to make the base, two sides and two ends to make a chisel tray. I cut my end piece and split it into two. I then marked up (i.e. cut around) my remaining piece the length of an end piece forgetting that I already had two ends. Realising my mistake I gave myself a little congratulatory pat on the back for avoiding such a foolish mistake. I put the two ends together and slid the remaining length onto the base to get the length minus the two ends. Cut this all the way around and after a brew realised that dovetailed walls need to be overlapping. The side walls had about three knife walls around them by the time I’d finished!
    Got all this sorted and eventually did the inevitable pins one way at one end and the other way at t’other.
    I’m learning to take things a bit slower and to be a bit more methodical. Don’t think this conforms to the measure twice cut once thing, nothing wrong with my measurements, just in the wrong place!


    When making Paul’s shop stool design, I did two of the tenons early on, then didn’t work on it for a week or so. Then I had a bunch of free time around the holidays and did all the remaining tenons in one go. I was really in the groove and getting great cuts with my tenon saw, and crisp shoulders that matched my bevel gauge beautifully. Only later did I realize the gauge had shifted at some point, so all but the first two were slightly off in precisely the same way. Had to adjust every shoulder line a bit, which was very fiddly. For my current project I fixed my bevel protractor to the proper angle at the beginning and check my gauge against it every so often, and check both against the full scale drawing occasionally.


    I had a similar experience. For some reason all my small projects would come out OK but any time I tried to create something bigger, none of the joinery would line up. It was maddening. I always felt utterly useless, and pegged the failures to my chest and my own deficient skills, a familiar pattern of thought for me.

    Well, after yet another expensive failure with a wide piece of poplar (13″), I was trying to re-cut it to re-do the dovetails again, and I could not seem to get my lines to square up. I re-planed and re-jointed, every face was flat and perpendicular, but that line across the wide face was always not meeting the other side. I spent two hours fiddling before I realized that the 16″ combination square (that I had been using for more than a year and a half) was out of square.

    I only ever used that square on larger projects, and only when marking across a wide face. So when I checked my edges and faces I was using the accurate smaller square, then just trusting the larger square since I’d taken care of all the other variables. And I’d been using it for so long, of course it was accurate, I wouldn’t have used it without checking it right?

    It is a painful thing, to realize that all the failure of a whole year was due to a single tool and a single oversight long past. That large combination square went into the garbage with a little bit of language from me. I brought a small accurate machinist’s square to the tool store and got a verifiable large combo square that day.

    The lesson I hope I can pass on is not to check your squares. You do need to do that. But also, don’t just blame yourself and your abilities blindly. Lay out your assumptions, find the reasons behind what has gone wrong, forgive yourself and take your self-worth out of the equation. And try to see who you are, how you think, and how that affects what you do. And maybe have a little fun too.


    Thought I could clamp the quarter inch of twist out of the leg frame of my workbench. Turns out that a pair of 2x6s put up quite a fight if you try to untwist them. When I attached the tops, of course the quarter inch was multiplied by 5ft and the whole bench was even more twisted.

    Stepping back, I wish I’d taken greater care in choosing my wood (knotty and twisted pine was really challenging to work with for my first project) so the lesson is that taking care at each stage lays the groundwork for the next and problems trend to compound.

    Matt Newnham

    While creating my workbench laminated the legs then used pegs to drawbore the stretchers to the legs. Well the pegs I made were a little crooked and the lamination a little gappy and the offset a little much. So when I drove a few of the pegs home they came out the seam in the leg. I was a bit surprised but the joint is strong and I needed the workbench. When I make my second workbench I will have no excuse right?


    My most recent and catastrophic mistake was veering from the plan and attempting to remove part of my grooved cherry doors in order to set glass instead of a panel (Tool cabinet). Needless to say I chucked 2 weeks of careful door building work into the burn pile. Trust me, I learned from my mistake.

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