Integrity vs. Compromise

My goal is to build or make all of my projects to the best of my ability. I think we all share that goal. I don’t think any of us set out to do a poor job. What happens along the way however is where the trouble sneaks in. Errors happen no matter our skill level. Experience is what tells us how to deal with those errors. Can we correct the error? Should we remake the piece? Or, do we live with the error?

Integrity vs. compromise.

Most of us are doing this sort of work as a hobby. We all have different reasons for making things. But the most common reason I see given is to make something of quality that will last a lifetime.

Integrity vs. compromise.

So where is the line between integrity and compromise?  I don’t think that it’s the same for everyone.  I do think that all of us know where our individual lines are though.  Each and every one of us know where we transition from “good as I can possibly accomplish” to “good enough”.

Integrity vs. compromise.

This is just a little food for thought for you and a personal retrospective for me.  What brought all this up was my most recent project.  “Ditty Bag with Wooden Bottom.”

I rushed that project and made compromises.  I allowed myself to justify it. For a while anyway.  It has been eating at me and I had to make it right.  So first let me point out the compromises.

The eye splices on the handle were sloppy.  Period.  I know and I can do better.  The seizing on the handle was sloppy as well.  No excuses, just sloppy.

Another compromise I made was the fit and attachment of the wooden bottom.  During the shaping of the bottom I ended up slightly undersize.  This caused a few puckers in the canvas and gaps in the seam between the canvas and the wood.  I knew it was undersize but convinced myself it would be “good enough” for use in the shop.

Yet another “good enough” compromise were the tacks I used to secure the bottom in place.  I used what I had knowing the tack heads were smaller than ideal.

At lunch today I made a trip to Lowes, spent $1.50, and purchased more appropriate tacks.  As soon as I got home this evening I began dismantling the ditty bag.  I pulled apart the handle and removed the original tacks and the undersized bottom.

I then reworked the eye splices and the seizing on the handle.

Then I marked out and cut a new, properly sized bottom.  Then installed it with the new tacks.

These may look like small changes to most of you.  To me they are the difference between…

Integrity vs. Compromise.

Greg Merritt

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18 Responses to Integrity vs. Compromise

  1. orepass says:

    Spoken with real integrity!

  2. Maybe you can use the other bottom to make a sibling ditty bag. Ditty bags are like drawers and boxes……

  3. Brianj says:

    Marks of someone with a good work ethic, dare i say a craftsman starting to show. Thank you for contibuting positivley to my morning browsing.

  4. momist says:

    I see your point, but I don’t agree that compromise and integrity are polar opposites. Many times I have made something that is not the best, but “will do”, and later have made a better version when I have the time, motivation and sometimes improved skills. It’s very satisfying, but I don’t feel the earlier ones lacked integrity. YMMV (and does!)

    • gman3555 says:

      I don’t believe that they are polar opposites either. I think its a grey, fussy line that separates the two. When first starting out that grey area is quite large. As are skills improve and we gain experience, the grey area shrinks. It is up to each individual to know where their line exists and whether or not to cross it.

      I’m not judging anyone here but myself.


  5. ctregan says:

    The first version would be good for an Ordinary Seaman, but the second one says Chief Officer. Sometimes first attempts are a way of figuring out methods of work – sort of like a rehearsal?
    The after looks in ship-top-shape.

    • gman3555 says:

      Thanks Craig.

      The simple fact is, the first version should never have existed. I was well aware of the errors when I made them and chose to accept them at the time. I shouldn’t have. Plain and simple.


  6. joemcglynn says:

    Greg, great post. I think a lot of us struggle with questions about quality, are tempted with shortcuts or compromises and harangued by feelings that we could/should have done better. I suspect we’re generally our own worst critics, and to a degree that’s appropriate.

    As hobbyists we’re building things to please ourselves. They may be gifts for others, we might even sell them at a local craft show on occasion, but the baseline is that we have to feel good about our work.

    Personally, I didn’t see any problems with the first version — until you compared it with the improved version. Yes, much cleaner. But even better, you fixed your mistakes — to me that’s what being a craftsmen is all about. I was telling my son that Sunday night. He’s made the King for his chess set and was vacillating between “it’s good enough, no one will notice” and “I suck at this”. The middle ground — that he’s actually good at it, and everyone makes mistakes — is the truth of the situation. A craftsmen is able to see the errors and correct them, perhaps redoing the job from the beginning if necessary.

    • gman3555 says:

      Thanks Joe.

      The errors are not what I took umbrage with. Errors happen for a multitude of reasons, but most can be traced back to skill level and experience. If the first version of my above example was the limit of my skill level then I would have been just fine with it. However, I knowingly produce the first version below my skill level. I was not fine with that. Recognizing errors that are a result of skill level is how we improve. Ignoring errors that can be rectified is where compromise creeps in.

      Be sure to post some pics of that chess set on your blog when its done. I’m anxious to see how it turns out.


  7. Roy says:

    I’m so glad that you wrote this. I’m new to woodworking and struggle with this compromise constantly. My mind has a vision of what I’m making should look like, but my skill level hasn’t reached that vision…yet. I think compromise is needed to keep moving forward. Sometimes a project just needs to get done so you can move on and not lose momentum or motivation.

    The key is that “grey area” you spoke of earlier is different for everyone. Integrity in this context comes from within. Keep up the good work!

    • gman3555 says:

      My house is filled with pieces that contain all manner of errors. But each was built to the best of my ability at the time of construction. I do not consider errors due to limited skill to be a compromise. Accepting errors that you have the skill to correct however, is a different story. It’s up to each of us to make our own decisions on how to handle them.


  8. billlattpa says:

    I go through this on just about every project. On my cupboard I technically should have used three tongue and groove boards for the back of the case. I didn’t have the material and instead used plywood that I had in my garage. The tongue and groove was certainly more traditional, but on an unseen part of the project I went with material I had because it firstly saved me money, and secondly wouldn’t hurt the functionality of the project.
    I think the compromises are sometimes important. If we make those compromises and are satisfied with them, then we learned something new. If we make those compromises and are disappointed, we know for future reference what not to do.

    • gman3555 says:

      I’m a big fan of using what you have on hand. I also typically wouldn’t consider material choices to be a compromise. My example of the tacks above was just me being lazy. The correct tacks were readily available and I could easily afford them. I was just too impatient to finish the project.

      I don’t consider your choice to use plywood in your cupboard a compromise. Its simply a choice between two viable solutions. The only way I would see this as a compromise is if you had set out to make an absolute period authentic reproduction.

      It may just be a matter of semantics, but I believe there is a distinction between a decision and a compromise.


  9. tianwilson says:

    Great post, and it really strikes a chord at the moment. I’ve done a few things in the shop recently that I am ever so meh about. Mostly it’s a result of rushing in and not planning things out. I’m making a conscious effort to slow down and proceed in a manner that reflects the quality I want from projects. Which, as a hobbyist, makes sense. No client is waiting for these things. I only have me to please, and the process is much more enjoyable when done right, at the right pace.

    • gman3555 says:

      Thank you.

      I know exactly what you are saying. I have an entire other post rattling around between my ears that has to do with our obsession over speed and time.


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