Did that get your attention?  Do you believe it?

I hope not.

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in woodworking magazines in recent years.  The teasers on the covers have gotten more and more extreme.  Here are just a few examples pulled from covers of issues currently in my magazine rack:

Goofproof Glue-ups Guaranteed!

From Paper Plan to Perfect Project

Achieve a Flawless French Polish

Discover a Foolproof Staining Method

Building Flawless Projects

Our Secret for Cutting Perfect Curves

See what I mean?

Now, I understand the intent here.  Not everyone has a subscription to these magazines – many are sold off the rack, and, I realize that competition is fierce for those readers whose intent is to choose a single periodical to purchase.  However, there’s a fine line between attention-grabbing and flat-out misrepresentation.

There’s no such thing as flawless, perfect, or foolproof, not in the world of woodworking anyway.  An old woodworking maxim states that, “The real expert is the one that knows how to hide his mistakes.”  I’ve been woodworking for almost 30 years, and I have yet to make the perfect project.

We work in an imperfect material.  Wood, being a natural product, has all sorts of variations in color, density, and grain.  In fact, these are the very things we prize about it.  If we wanted a perfectly uniform material, we’d work in plastic or metal.  However, these variations mean that no two pieces respond exactly the same to any technique you choose to use, no matter how foolproof it’s supposed to be.

Now, we veteran woodworkers understand this.  When we see a title like one of those above, we smirk, say, “Yeah, sure”, and continue on.  The article may contain something useful, but we don’t take the claim at face value.  We have enough experience to be discerning.

The same can’t be said for the newer woodworker.  Marc Spagnuolo once observed on Wood Talk Online Radio that most woodworking magazines are aimed primarily at the beginning or less experienced woodworker.  This group, by definition, has less experience judging the veracity of claims, and can more easily get the wrong idea.  When they goof a “goofproof” glue-up, or have a flaw in a “flawless” project, they are far more apt to get discouraged and give up than someone who has been around the workbench a few times.  This is the very result that the magazines should be trying to avoid, since their goal is a steady readership.

Let me be perfectly clear for the new guys:

There is no goof-proof technique, no flawless finish, and no perfect project.

Woodworking has far too many variables for anything to work perfectly every time.  All of us mess things up on a regular basis, and many bloggers and videographers will include this in their offerings, so that you can learn from their mistakes.  Don’t be misled by over-the-top claims on magazine covers.  By all means, read the articles.  They will often contain valuable techniques that can help you to become a better woodworker.  Just don’t think that if you botch a glue-up or can’t get a flawless finish, that you’re a failure as a woodworker and should take up finger painting.  Instead of expecting perfection, learn how to adjust for your mistakes, learn from them, and improve your techniques so that you (hopefully) do a better job next time.  That’s what this is all about.

Oh, and editors?  Tone it back just a little, OK?



  1. Oh man! What a good post. I wish I had thought of it myself. You hit the nail on the head. It is just like every adversement for “House” each one is supposed to be more exciting and complaicated than the previous episode.
    Well done.

    (now I still have to think about something to write about. oy vey!)

  2. Pingback: Comfort | Artisan's Call

  3. Great post!

    Things don’t seem to be “as bad” on the covers of two UK magazines I have on my coffee table right now… These teasers aren’t as onomatopoeic, either.

    ‘Hinge Fitting Masterclass’
    ‘Why ply’s such wonderful stuff’
    ‘Make your own Inlay’
    ‘Learn Free Sketchup’

    Each UK magazine also claims to be the ‘No.1’ (under the title, on the front cover)!!

  4. Excellent blog. I am now encouraged to post one of my project which was held up for a long time because I thought I have made a mistake.


  5. Good post and great advice to people starting in the craft. Somewhere I have run across the admonition that goes something like, “So you have made a mistake, don’t waste it”. Even after a lifetime of woodworking, I still have that teacher (mistakes) looking over my shoulders. My only hope is that I am getting quicker at learning from them. I am glad to have found your blog (through Yaakov’s Artisan’s Call).


  6. I can’t tell a lie, that really helped.

  7. Mistakes are inevitable. The best thing we can do is learn from them. We will all be better off.

  8. Nice post Robert some of these magazines have become what models are to teenage girls, always making you think you should be something you can’t.

  9. Pingback: Spoken Wood Podcast No. 175 | Matt's Basement Workshop

  10. Pingback: Spoken Wood Podcast No. 175 | Matt's Basement Workshop

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