Derek FeatherstoneEverything is a work in progress

Lessons learned from making just one drawer.

Derek Featherstone / Published:

I finally worked up the courage to make one drawer. I’ve been fixing smaller things around the house, and using my tools to accomplish small things, but by my estimation building this single drawer was the thing that required the most precision, accuracy, and patience. This may not have been a great way to start, but I decided to go for it anyway.

How long did it take?

I’m glad you asked! It took me over 10 hours to build this simple drawer (click through to see it in all its glory!)

That’s not a typo. It really took me 10 hours, and here’s why:

  1. This was my first drawer, so I didn’t have any experience to relate it to. I originally estimated it would take me about 2.5 to 3 hrs, but the 10 hours was because I literally didn’t know what I was doing. I had to do research I wasn’t considering in my estimate. I had to do things multiple times when I made mistakes. I spent too much time thinking about building the drawer, and not enough time building the drawer. I’m sure that changes when I build the next one, but wow, was that first one slow.
  2. I didn’t gather everything before starting. I needed building materials (wood), tools, hardware (the right length screws, the drawer slides). In the middle of it all, I had to go to the store to get more wood, and a different length of screws. It was necessary, but I didn’t think of it as a thing that would slow me down much, but it really did. And, I had to keep going back to the garage or to the basement to get a different tool that I ended up needing for the project.
  3. I had no scrap/leftovers from previous projects. That meant an extra trip to get a small ¼ inch board that I needed after I messed up by choosing the wrong wood to attach to the inside of the cabinets so that the drawer would miss the door hinges. I chose the wrong wood (3/4 inch wood that I almost drove the screw completely through), then replaced that wood with more appropriate wood (1/2 inch plywood that was solid but also meant my measurement on the other side of the cabine was now off by 1/4 inch), and then realized that it wasn’t the same size after I’d attached it to the cabinet. I didn’t have any 1/4 inch wood laying around, so that meant I needed to go buy some on another unplanned trip.
  4. I second guessed everything because I hadn’t done it before. This may have been the biggest issues. I likely over-analyzed. I didn’t just “measure twice, cut once” — I think it was more like “measure 6 times, cut twice, trim down a little more once.” That made progress slooooow.
  5. I had tools but I didn’t know how best to use them. That meant more time on setup than I’d have liked. My table saw, for example? I’ve used it a total of 4 times. So I’m still getting used to it. That had one impact… SLOWER.
  6. I switched context too many times during the project. I don’t think I worked on it for more than 30 min straight. That means no flow. No flow, and progress was therefore slow. I was trying to do too many things — time with the family, fitting the work on the drawer around the weekend routines, and (honestly), getting constantly interrupted by someone needing something or me needing to drive someone somewhere.
  7. I was trying to document while building. And that’s not easy to remember to stop and take photos. That doesn’t take a LOT of time, but it adds up, and again, slows me down because each time I grabbed my phone to take a shot, I’m sure I was distracted by some other notification or something.

What did I learn from all of this?

There are a lot of lessons to learn from on this project — some of which may seem obvious, and some which don’t. Next time I will be more efficient because I will:

  • know to check for the right length of screws in advance
  • know how to work with the drawer slides more efficiently
  • know how to level the drawer slides in the cabinet so I can be predictable
  • know when I should use the table saw and when I should use the mitre saw
  • turn on a few cameras for the entire process and shoot video so that I don’t have to stop to take still photos, and I can grab photos after the fact
  • not have to look up how to use or adjust tools before using them
  • get all my tools and materials collected and in the vicinity so that I don’t have to slow down for that
  • reduce context switching and find dedicated time to work on this so that I can get into some flow and just get it done, rather than trying to do it 30 mins here, 30 mins there

Overall, I’ll just be better because next time it’ll be my 2nd drawer. Hopefully I’ll be able to go much much faster.

I should have known

If you look at that list of things that made it take longer, and the things I’ll do differently next time, you’ll probably come away feeling the same as me: “That’s all common sense” and “Yeah, yeah… of course I’d do that, I don’t know why it took him so long?!”

I get it. In fact, I’m saying to myself right now. I should have been able to predict every single one of those issues. So why didn’t I?

There’s a difference between “knowing” something, and being able to put it into practice.

I suspect I’ll have the correct length of screws next time.

I suspect I’ll find a dedicated block of time to get the next drawer done much more efficiently.

And, now that I know a bit better what I’m doing, I suspect I’ll do about 4 or 5 drawers at once, so that my drawer productivity rate goes way, way up.