“Almost” always counts, Part 1

They say “almost” only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Not true. It always counts in woodworking, and in more ways than one.

How almost counts makes the difference in the quality of the job… and can make a big difference in how many fingers you have when the job is done. Let me address these in order, starting with the quality of the job.

When it comes to job quality, almost will always matter, in both negative and positive ways. For example, I recently talked here about a finishing job that just didn’t work. It almost worked, but no matter how I tried I just couldn’t get it to come out quite the way I’d envisioned. The end result was good enough (a close cousin of almost in this context), but it still wasn’t what I wanted or was looking for.

A tenon that was cut almost the right size goes both ways, too – if it almost fits because it’s too small, you’ve got some serious fixin’ to do. But if it almost fits because it’s too big, a little sandpaper may be all it needs to be perfect.

Thinking along those lines, we create a lot of project components taking almost into consideration right up front. For a measure of security for accurate parts we cut almost to the line, allowing a bit of waste for tweaking things just right. For safety in separating a box lid on the table saw I cut almost all the way through, and then finish the lid separation with a utility knife. When attaching hardware, I drive screws almost all the way, then remove the hardware for final finishing of the project. When the finish is dry, only then will I drive the screws in all the way to reattach the hardware permanently.

Small errors also carry an almost component. I had my driver slip off a screw earlier this week while working, making a small gouge in the workpiece. That gouge was almost deep enough to ruin the workpiece, but it easily sanded out and is now invisible. Almost worked in my favor.

I could go on citing examples of how almost can affect the quality of our work for several pages, but I think you get the idea and can come up with more on your own. Of course, none of the things I’ve mentioned here reduce the number of fingers I have.

In my next blog, I’ll address the how-many-fingers part of almost.

Till next time,



  • Another phrase that keeps popping up is “good enough.” Often times while working on a project I find myself saying “That is good enough.” In most cases, I later realize that it is indeed not “good enough.”

  • Jim Allen says:

    I recently had a commissiopn to produce a round frame for a copper plaque. I needed to make the frame in two arcs ofr reasons I won’t explain here, but when it was done it didn’t close on the plaque completely – a gap of 1/16 inch short. I had measured carefully but didn’t allow for variations in the plaque. Fortunately I still had some of the walnut offcut. I carefully made 1/8 inch spacers and glued them in. It now fit. after a little sanding and finish it looked great. So much for ‘almost’.

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