If You’re Going To Do It, Do It Right

Finish the job, even if nobody will know

My father is a woodworker. He stopped doing it in any professional context before I was born, but throughout my childhood he maintained a full wood shop in our basement. In it, I learned how to build all sorts of things, like a toy camera cut from a 2x4 with a hole drilled through it, how to use a Schnitzelbank to make a wooden sword, how to hammer in a nail without hitting my fingers, and all sorts of other construction / life lessons.

My first camera (on the right, obviously)

One of those lessons was this: when you’re putting the finish on a piece of furniture, always put the finish on the bottom too, even if it’s not visible.

There are arguably some functional reasons to do this, like that it can help prevent warping or cracking, but the main reason is because it’s just the right way to do it. It’s finishing the job. It’s doing it right, even if nobody is watching.

It’s doing it right, even if nobody is watching.

The photo above is a massive monitor riser that I built from red oak. The 30° angle slope of the feet is unnecessary, but it looks nice, and that’s the point. I sit at this desk a lot, and enjoying the space you create in matters. As I began putting the tung oil on the bottom, it struck me how wonderfully metaphoric it was. Doing something extra that nobody will see, but finishes the job, helps me know I’m doing my best work. Go the extra mile for people, even when they don’t know you’re doing it.

When I’m editing photos, I pour over the work to make sure I’ve done it right, no matter the client or budget. I remove dust and dirt and finger prints that are distracting, even though many images will only end up on Instagram at 1080 pixels wide, and all that meticulously cared for detail is lost. Or maybe I spend 2 hours color correcting an image to have just the right mood, then someone posts it on Instagram with the Valencia filter and it’s all lost. That’s out of my control, but delivering it the right way isn’t.

Maybe I’m talking about Karma. Whatever it is, it’s a lesson that has stuck with me beyond the wood shop of my childhood and is a key ingredient in being proud of my work.


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Caleb Kerr is a lifestyle + athletic + commercial freelance photographer based out of Austin, Texas. Follow his work on Instagram, or view his portfolio on his website.