Perfection In The Little Things

One of my many flaws is a tendency to do things half-assed. The problem is that I get worked up and want to finish the task, and as a result, I make mistakes. Then, my impatience wins out yet again and those mistakes are left. I’m not good at perfection.

Granted, we’re all human. Few of us are. 

But some of us actually strive for that perfection, and it pisses me off that I’m not one of them. Especially when some of those have created things like this:

This chest belonged to a piano maker named Henry O. Studley. It’s his tool chest, the thing he worked out of each and every day. It was, at its core, a tool for him to use.

And it’s lusted after by woodworkers all over the world, though I have yet to see anyone come close to this level of craftsmanship.

The chest hold something like 300 individual tools and takes three men to move it. Yet everything is accessible. It’s a perfectly functional piece of equipment.

And it’s beautifully made, as well.

The truth is, most of us would never attempt something like this. Most people would look at it and say, “It’s a tool box. It doesn’t need to be fancy.” They wouldn’t even be wrong for saying it. It doesn’t have to be fancy.

But the chest is more than just beautiful. It’s well-constructed. It balances form and function in a unique and stunning way. It does what it’s supposed to do and does it well. So well, in fact, that it’s still around almost a century later. (Studley died in 1925.)

Basically, it is a prime example of perfection in all the small things.

Now, I suspect that if I could call Studley up and ask him about his tool chest, he could tell me all the things wrong with it. Maybe he made some of the dovetails too narrow or too wide. Maybe he didn’t plan something quite right. Whatever. Craftsmen are typically able to see every flaw in their own work when no one else can.

That’s not the point, though.

What is the point is that Studley took his craft, honed it, and gave everything to something that most of us wouldn’t think twice about making simply utilitarian.

He sought perfection in the little things. Not just function, but form as well. 

He thought that it needed to be more than done, it needed to be right.

I wish I could be like that. Not just in woodworking, which I’m taking up again to try and teach me patience, but also in life in general. Not to the point of nothing ever being finished, mind you, but to the point where your “Good enough” is other people’s “HOLY CRAP! THAT’S AMAZEBALLS!”

Frankly, I think it’s something we all should work toward. It’s something we all should embrace.

As I sit and think about being a barbarian and what that means in our modern world, I can’t help but think this should play a factor as well. If being a modern barbarian is eschewing the nonsense of the modern world while still grasping hold of the good, shouldn’t this attitude be part of that nonsense?

Take a look at the activities we take part in and ask yourself, are you seeking perfection in what you do?

When you lift, are you seeking perfection in your form? Are you using the techniques that will maximize your improvement?

When you do martial arts, are you approaching it as a student thirsting for knowledge? Are you repeating as instructed not until you get it right, but until you can’t get it wrong?

Are you approaching your vocation as something that’s worthy of your all? Are you constantly looking for ways you can be better at any given task?

Sometimes, you’re not really going to improve except through experience. That’s fine. Experience is a great teacher.

But once you gain experience, are you still looking to improve?

So much of our world is wrong. I’m sorry, but it is. We have people going through the motions, doing the minimum, and that’s a damn shame. It’s probably past time that we started working to change that about our culture, and it starts with doing it within ourselves.

After that, we have to evangelize this attitude. We have to share it with the world. People need to understand that if you want greatness, you have to do great things. You can’t get away with the minimum.

That’s why almost a century after his death, I’m sitting here talking about a piano maker from Massachusetts. All because he didn’t do the minimum when it came to a simple tool chest.

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