Working with Duncan I get to experience something amazing. Something I really don’t ever get to see. Something almost no one I know practices… patience, mindfulness, being present, and really putting himself into his work. It has been amazing working alongside Duncan.
As Duncan worked steadily on the cherry console table I helped with some more small parts of it like making and installing the drawers and sanding. I was really nervous working on Duncan’s project for a client. When I work on a project for myself and I mess up I just have to deal with it and it’s okay. But helping Duncan make something that someone expects to be very high quality and they are going to pay really good money for it changes everything. I felt like I couldn’t mess up, there was no margin for error. Duncan, however, gave me small, manageable tasks that weren’t critical. He also had such a great attitude towards this, he told me on several occasions that, “It’s not a big deal, if it doesn’t work we can just cut a few more pieces and redo it.” This took a lot of pressure off and felt good. Thank goodness I didn’t make any really big mistakes, although, of course, there were a few.
One of my favorite moments so far was watching Duncan build the bottom shelf for the table. Originally Duncan had designed the bottom shelf to have small curves on each end. Once he had most of the table put together he decided that design was too clunky for it. So he redesigned it. When he presented the new ideas to the clients they didn’t like it. They had completely opposite views; the husband thought it looked to rustic and the wife thought it looked too modern. After spending some time with them working through different options they finally came to a decision. The shelf would now have a concave curve on the front edge and all the other edges would be straight.
I watched Duncan trace a curve on a nice piece of cherry plywood and cut it out. To cover up the plywood edge a thin strip of cherry wood would get glued on. Duncan found a piece and bent it along the curve. To me it looked like the strip fit pretty well along the cut. Duncan, however, knew it could fit better. In that moment, watching him sand down a bump here and a bump there, I realized something, a master doesn’t necessarily get things perfect the first time around but they have enough patience to keep going, to continue refining it. In so many things that I do I often tell myself, “It’s good enough.” I say this long before it’s actually good enough; I give up too soon. Duncan knows that neither he, nor anyone, can ever make anything truly perfect but I’ve heard him say several times that, “If you don’t aim for perfection you have no chance of ever getting close.” There are many differences between a beginner and a master and this to me is one of them. Once you learn how to properly use the tools it becomes a matter of taking your work to that refined level that defines mastery.
Finally Duncan, with a little help from me, finished the table. It looks amazing; it is beautiful and elegant. All that’s left is to have the top and shelf lacquered and the base oiled.
“The Master has failed more times than the beginner has ever tried.” – Stephen McCranie