Embellishments don’t cut it (or, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sows ear).

I think sometimes that we woodworkers get to the point where a project is nearly finished, step back and look at it and decide that it needs something extra.  Often, we’re not sure what it is that it needs so we try a few things.  We add some stringing or some inlay; we route an edge profile or add some other edge detail.  We do anything to bring that piece into closer alignment with the image of it that we have in our head, but more often than not this fails miserably.  Our attempts to make the piece more beautiful or more functional end up making it less so.

The problem is that beauty comes about via the holistic integration of form, function, materials and construction, and afterthought embellishment is just that – an afterthought.

Dont get me wrong – I am not an anti-embellishment modernist; embellishment certainly has its place and is often a defining feature (think inlays on federal furniture or cabriole legs on a Queen Anne chest).  The point is that the embellishment must be integral to the greater whole, not added on as an after thought.  Nor should embellishment be considered essential to beauty.  In my opinion, a simple Gustave Stickly table is quite as beautiful as an ornate Rococo one.

So my advice to woodworkers is as follows:  Don’t be tempted to “fix” your piece by adding to it without a great deal of thought.  You need first to really understand what it is about it now that is “wrong”.  Is it the dimensions? The materials? Is it too chunky?  Too flimsy?  Out of balance? Or perhaps some combination of all these things.

It’s only by this kind of deep analysis that you can understand the problem and hence come up with a solution that works.  Accept too, that sometimes the best way to fix a piece is to take something away rather than to add to it, and sometime there is no fix – your piece sucks and that’s all there is to it!


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