How Not to Over-Think a Project

A question about filling nail holes for a pre-built fireplace surround prompts some wise thoughts about the effective use of time and brainpower. March 4, 2007

Thought I'd update with another question. I got the job doing a full fireplace surround. Key is they want to spend around 1500; can be more but not much. They are not looking for very fancy and they're flexible on the design. It will be made of maple. I am thinking of pre-finishing all the parts and installing. Is it considered acceptable to use a plastic fill stick for the nail holes? While the hole is tiny, the stick is usually a duller sheen. Am I making a big thing of this?

Forum Responses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
From contributor J:
This brings up something that I will have to deal with soon. I use those Mohawk fill sticks to conceal nails and trim screws. Can they be used on a mantle or does the heat pose a problem? If so, what are other solutions?

From contributor D:
I know it is tough when starting out to know where the line falls on any of a thousand issues, but here is the way I have always thought of it. Working alone, I can do $120,000 gross. This is about 45 hours a week - 40 in the shop and 5 in administrative, sales, etc., for 50 weeks a year. The 120,000 is divided by the 250 hours for $480.00 per hour of administrative. That means that my agonizing over this 1/4" or that joint or some molding is very expensive time - more expensive than a miscut board in the shop.

I evolved to the point where I could design and decide on the fly, while things were being cut up, while picking cutters for the shaper, etc. I would take some artistic license with things where I could. Then I learned to not look back and question (paralysis) except as an analytical tool for evaluating my performance on the project.

The one landmark through all of this was to err strongly on the side of quality - every time. Even if I was unsure if this molding was proper, or that joint was right, at least the quality of materials, construction and design was as good as I could make it, and would be better the next time I made it. Serendipity often ruled to my benefit. When I hear or watch some woodworker take all this time to do this or that, contemplating to the nth degree, I wonder how they are going to survive.

From contributor B:

I remember when my music composition instructor asked the class which variation of a chord should be used to orchestrate a particular melody note. One of the students raised his hand and gave a response about two minutes long, discussing the pros and cons of each variation. Our instructor interrupted him and said, "You know what? America doesn't (bleeping) care! Pick one and move on with your life!" There are a lot of things like this.

From contributor C:
I'm not familiar with plastic fill sticks, but if that is what you normally use, it should be safe to use on the surround. I use Wood Doug, Famowood, any of the solvent based wood fillers on the market would be okay to use. You might have to touch the color up with a touchup brush and fresco colors or whatever you are used to using for touchup.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. Just wanted to make sure that nails would be acceptable, rather than say a fast setting adhesive.

From contributor W:
It takes more years and experience to pick up the subtle issues of being self employed than a lot of people think. When we can learn from others' experiences, it tremendously speeds up the efficiency of the learning curve. You have to pre-finish this mantle to make any money on this contract. Think it through and keep your installation down to an hour or two at the most.

From contributor U:
Just build it in the shop, pocket screws, etc., then attach strips to the walls, slip it over them and add a few brads on the sides, fill 'em, done. That's the method I use.