Sep 04, 2020
7 mins read
Dear members old and new,
First off, thank you for your support. I really appreciate it. It's because of you that I am still making time for public YouTube and Instagram content, as well as the member only content on here.
We recently completed a set of shaker wardrobes with an oak desk in the middle for a repeat customer.
It so happens that the previous project completed downstairs in February 2018 was the subject of my first ever instagram post! I thought it would make an interesting comparison, illustrating how the incremental improvements we have made in the meantime - in both our manufacturing and finishing processes - have led to very visible improvements in quality.
But you might not see the difference in a photo from afar.
Do you ever look at an attractive project on instagram, and idealise it? Or is it just me?
From a distance I often assume everyone else is getting a perfect painted finish, and everything is perfectly fitted. I seem to default to the assumption that other makers are more skilled than me, or they don't have the challenges I have, or they know secret fixing methods that I don't know.
Then sometimes I discover that close up their door gaps are not as perfect as I assumed, or it's actually a quite textured paint finish, or what I assumed to be a magically pristine construction has actually been built very simply, with screw holes filed with wax or capped with stickers! Like a lot of my projects!
(Of course, sometimes the work of others just simply is excellent, and then I look for what I can learn!)
Take a look at some close ups from that media unit we made a couple of years back:
I mean, it's not bad, but look a little closer:
I was very proud of that project at the time. And I'm not saying I shouldn't have been - it was well designed and fairly well made. Certainly solidly made and well fixed to the wall - we successfully mounted the biggest TV I have ever seen on an articulated bracket, and I always liked the overall proportions of it and the photos I got of it.
However, seeing it again in person, I was slightly shocked at how poor the quality of finish was compared to what we can achieve these days.
And yet it was produced after we had moved over to spray finishing.
I don't think we had a domino jointer then, and I seem to remember that I just glued and pinned the 38mm painted cover strips over the doubled-up edges of the adjoining 18mm unit edges. A bit lazy! I was very into using white soft wax filler at the time, but it was also slowly dawning on me that it wasn't really as invisible as I had led myself to believe. So I wax-filled the pin holes, then decided to also brush-paint the strips!
If you look closely at the picture above you can see that the brush marks sit over a still-visible 'orange peel' texture.
I'm surprised how 'orange peely' the finish still was despite being sprayed. Yet, as I remember it, it was a big improvement over the far more textured finish we used to get just applying Leyland Acrylic Eggshell using mini foam rollers.
We've always used water based finishes, and like a lot of MDF furniture makers we settled on Leyland acrylic eggshell (on top of Leyland acrylic primer/undercoat) because it's thickness seemed to minimise grain raising in the MDF, it was fairly easy to apply and covered well.
Plus, this kind of decision is constrained by what is easily available - I didn't know about fancier paint brands at the time. Just like how I concluded that Medite MR MDF was the 'best' MDF available, because I didn't have access to other options, it was just the best I'd tried so far.
Regarding the painted finish, we always worked on the basis that a consistent texture was ok. Personally I prefered that to brush strokes on the whole. And it was ok, for us and our customers at the time.
When we stared spraying, we just kept using the same Leyland or Johnstones paint at first.
It's all about incremental improvements. You improve one process, like the application of the paint. Then you see further room for improvement, and start experimenting with different paints. You start to discover what's possible, and you work harder to achieve it, and a standard that once seemed good enough - excellent even - no longer quite seems to cut it.
This hunger to improve, in lots of small steps, is an essential part of producing our best work. There is always room for improvement! And we are all at different stages of that journey - hopefully proud of what we have achieved and how far we have come (because that's important - appreciate the present moment!). While also marvelling at those achieving greater things than us with a mixture of envy and motivation to get to that level.
When you start to achieve a much flatter sprayed paint finish, it forces you to adjust your other processes, like using more secret fixings because touching up on site is really too much of a mess. (You can get away with some imperfection when your painted finish is consistently imperfect anyway). You have to raise your standards all round when your finish improves.
The thing I'm especially ashamed of on that project is the cornice joint!!
It was longer than an available length so I cut the pieces at 45º, overlapped, glued and pinned and repainted. I'm sure I would have filled and sanded a bit to try and smooth them. But it really doesn't look too good!
These days with the sprayed finish I would never do that. (We now use the Sayerlack spray paints bought from Movac - the primer is code HNAU454013 and the topcoat is code SAYAT99XXF1)
As I've shared in past videos such as this one, I often take the approach of neatly emphasising a butt-joint between sprayed parts with a very tidy slight softening of the arrises prior to painting to create a little v joint where they meet. It's the old joiner's maxim: 'If you can't hide it, make a feature of it'.
A lot of sprayed work can end up looking slightly piecemeal that way though.
And you're always working around your limitations, whether in skill, technique, or simply space.
Now that we've got a bigger space, we decided for this latest bedroom project to make the 4.5m cornice as one piece, and spray it as one piece. I'm glad we did! We dominoed it, and used strengthening strips behind, secured with pocket hole screws.
All round, the fit and finish of this latest project 2 and a half years better is miles ahead of what we used to be capable of. (But look, those top door gaps are still not quite perfect! - These doors were handmade, not CNC'd this time).
At a time when I am finding work highly stressful, juggling so many things, and often feeling very burdened and anxious regarding the risks we are taking in setting up a bigger workshop, it's been so encouraging to stumble across such clear evidence of how far we have already come. Being able to directly compare these old and new projects in the same house, I know for sure that all those little improvements and all that hard work does add up!
So I should be confident that the new steps we are taking now will continue to add up.
I write this to encourage you too - keep learning, keep improving, however slowly. Small steps are good. You may have unique challenges. You may have a unique personal situation that makes everything seem so much harder for you than 'everyone else'. Don't worry about that, and don't compare yourself too much to anyone else, just stop every now and then and compare how far you've come, to where you used to be. It's not a competition (and if it ever becomes that way in your mind it quickly gets quite unfulfilling). Just compare yourself to yourself and keep moving forward, learning whatever you can from others who might be a bit further down the road than you.
Enjoy the weekend!