• Saturday, June 29th, 2019
my woodshop

A violin maker in Los Angeles, Hans Benning, relates a story from many years back when a man came to his shop seeking repairs on his violin. The violinist wanted Hans to come to his house to work on the instrument but Hans declined, explaining that all his tools and fixtures were there in his shop. The work could not be done properly on a kitchen table. After looking around the shop a bit, the man left.

Now this was no ordinary violinist who had come to Hans’ shop. It was Jascha Heifetz, one of the greatest ever, and his violin, an 18th century Guarneri del Gesù, was no ordinary violin. That’s right, Hans turned down work from the great Heifetz! The craftsman would not lower his standards.

A few days later, Heifetz returned, this time with the violin, and agreed to have the work done by Hans in his shop. This was the start of their 15-year working and personal relationship of great mutual respect. Some time later, Heifetz acknowledged to Hans that he appreciated Hans’ refusal to compromise his standards as a craftsman at their first meeting. 

Picture that. The most discriminating imaginable client, famous and at the pinnacle of his art, seeks your services as a craftsman on work of the highest caliber, and you say, “Nope, sorry, I don’t work that way.” But later he returns, seeing it your way, and the work commences. Wow.

So, here’s a thought. What if, instead of Jascha Heifetz, it is you who walk into your own shop. You have a conversation with Yourself, and walk away. Reconsidering, you decide to return and accept the conditions – and the work commences. 

It’s in your hands now.

Category: Ideas
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3 Responses

  1. 1
    Pascal Teste 

    Thank you for the link and the thought. Interesting story, a good example of a craftsman showing great dignity.

  2. I can’t say that I’ve done it MANY times, but there are several occasions where I’ve turned down a commission because it was not a project I was interested in doing or because the buyer wanted something completely unreasonable.

    In one case, someone wanted a box made, but he had a list of like 15 different things he wanted done to it – 4 different kinds of wood, several cabochon stones inlaid into the lid, engraving, mitered corners, tartan lining, and on and on.

    I told him that was too much decoration for one box and that it wasn’t something I’d be interested in making. He asked why not and I told him I could glue a couple gumdrops to the lid and it would be a perfect grade school project. I explained what my idea of good design was and then how his box wouldn’t fit into that idea.

    In the end, he agreed to leave me with complete design control if I would make the box. I told him I would select a few key items from his list and work them into the project. I said I’ve had a really good box design rolling around in my head for some time and that I’d like to use his box to work through it. When I was done, I’d send it to him along with a bill. If he didn’t like it, then he could send it back to me (at his expense) and I wouldn’t charge him anything. But if he liked it, he would need to pay me $XXX amount of money.

    Turns out he liked it so much he paid me $100 more than the price I quoted him.

    So that was definitely an example of where me sticking to my standards paid off in the end. That is how I approach any project these days.

    I don’t recommend being that callous with commissions if you are doing woodworking for a living. Because it’s a hobby for me, I have the luxury of making such decisions.


  3. 3
    David Gendron 

    Thank you! I turned down work that I shouldn’t have turned down, I took up jobs I shouldn’t have taken… A few years ago I got the ok from my wife to build myself a real shop in the back yard the way I wanted it, 3 years later it is totally done and I have to say I love going in there even if it is only to sit and breath!
    I’ve been at it for many years now and never could make a real living doing what I love, but I stick to it… I’m a lucky man to have the wife I have cause I ain’t making lots of money… Maybe one day!
    Thank you again it was great!