What do you do with design failures?


I’m a firm believer in re-visiting work after some time has passed. Be it writing or woodworking, a few years allows for a more disinterested judgment. If it holds up, you may be onto something. If not, there may be lessons to learn. About fifteen years ago I began to venture beyond printed plans. I built this little maple table for Barb. Although the joinery was solid, the design – not so much. It’s largely a failure in details that add up to mush to my eye. It began with a nice chunk of bird’s eye maple that I glued up for a top and aprons. I didn’t just do a poor job of joining together pieces for the top (cut from the same board no less), I managed to make them look like they were two different species of maple.


Instead of using a crisp moulding profile for the edge, I settled for a simple round-over that always had a feeling like some rolled out pizza dough. The curved apron patterns were based loosely on some pictures from a book on period furniture but I had no eye for curves and I fell into the mire that plagues so much massed produced “Early American” furniture. It has not the grace of the fine urban originals or the folk of the back country originals. It screams, “ I don’t know Jack about curves!” Finally I topped it of with an oil varnish finish that couldn’t take spilled beverages and hot coffee mugs. Game, set, match.


What is one to do?




Perhaps I can salvage the legs and build Barb another table.

More to come.


George R. Walker

About walkerg

Woodworker and writer
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6 Responses to What do you do with design failures?

  1. Sean Walker says:

    I give them away so I don’t have to look at them often. Although when I do see them, it makes me think about my mistakes, but it’s a functioning piece of furniture so it gets used.

  2. Bruce says:

    There is always the learning curve, and; a more subtle style or design impression that evolves over time. I look at articles from twenty years ago and think: ” Yeah, maybe. Squint, and stretch my imagination. It might look like Shaker style… ? An interpretation….”

    Looks like you have ideas for regeneration–the Phoenix rises. I would leave the legs, however. They look safe for replacement.

    • walkerg says:

      It’s not a done deal, but I’m thinking of re-using the legs and giving them a black finish to contrast with a new top and aprons.


  3. Jack Plane says:

    Good for you George!

    I fooled myself years ago that I could design and make modern furniture which, as it turned out, I really couldn’t. I chopped up dozens of tables and chairs etc.

    Self criticism is essential for all creators and there’s nothing wrong with culling the wrong and horrid. Artists have the luxury of painting over their canvasses – we have to be more drastic.


  4. Mike says:

    George, I made an end table for my Mom when I was in high school that was hideous! She kept it in her den for over 35 years! She died last year and I found a list she had made and that she wanted me to have it back at her passing. It was so bad and I didn’t have a place to put it so I let it go to the estate sale. After two sales, it was still sitting there. I took it as a sign that I was meant to keep it. It is in my shop as a monument to the fact that we all have to start somewhere, we just need to get started and continue to make progress. Luckily, I was able to make my first Queen Anne chair and give it to Mom and Dad as a Christmas present 3 years before they died. That chair is beside my bed.

    Thanks for all the knowledge you pass along!

  5. Thanks for sharing with us George. I’m not sure if you dabble in more modern styles but I think the top would be great as a modern table top or even Shaker; especially if you put a large bevel on the bottom.

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