I admit to a slow comprehension. The geometry of the table saw made no sense to me. Mostly because I was so afraid of its power to slice me in two. A good trade-off I thought, trading caution for comprehension. But eventually I came to understand its angles and how, like a matador, to be close to it without danger. It was an understanding of the beast that got me there. Knowing how the back half of the blade is always the more dangerous part in rotation because it can take things and with power spit or spin them at you.
Same thing occurred with my jointer. I did not understand its geometry. I fussed for years over my jointer fence trying to understand its secrets to cut so perfectly out of square. Years, until I discovered that the fence had a warp to it, that I could ignore its squareness up to a point for edge laminations, and that I need only set it out of square to get the squareness I was after.
So simple, these things. Understanding came slow but it is oh so important to me now.
Precision is a topic I get involved in. How much precision today? Just a dose? A smidgen? A dash of precision on my way to completion? Or is it time today for that bone cracking precision that stops time, stops the world, that makes me check and recheck until I’m about ready to throw the work away? And I make a cut and I can see that it’s 1/32″ off. Grrr. And I take a deep breath and dive back into the clear water to get it right.
Standards are changeable with the weather, mood, and economics. Precision isn’t always precise then. Some days it fits like a glove. Some days, you’d rather eat bait. Pick your moments, pick your spots. Decide how it feels once you’re done. If you’re happy with the results of your persnickety-ness then it’s a good choice. If not, cut yourself some slack. Do your second best piece ever.
I find myself being quiet at the bench these days. Hours go by when there is no voice heard, no radio bleating, no podcast informing. I need the blessed silence to knit back together from the constant barrage of media. Like this blog.
Stop reading. Go to the bench, be quiet with yourself. Practice your skills.
Band saw. This is an important tool for me. I use it daily. It has two switches on it. One I use all the time. It goes on and off. The other is a panic button and I tell myself and my students, stay away from the panic button, unless! you have panicked. Then by all means, push it. I replaced the main switch 6 years ago. This should last another 20 years or so. Nope. Now the saw works intermittently. Something wrong with that switch.
So I call up the manufacturer and the tech guy tells me, Oh you’re supposed to use the panic button because otherwise, [insert words electrical], you fry the contacts. Dang it. New switch in the works because I thought I was doing it right. Still my fault. Oh well. I’ll remember next time I go to turn off this machine.
Lesson: Ignorance is curable.
Photo note: this machine pictured has only one switch. It never breaks.
We start these jobs and we have it all figured out. I will mill up this wood and it will be perfect and straight. I begin to cut. Oh wait, that board warped a little. Too small now. And, holy crap, this one twisted like it was electrified on one side. Toss that.
Okay, we mill up our perfect wood.
Next we lay out our joinery. Wait, is this side up or down? If I cut here what does that do to this there? Wait. Where did I put my brain? I need to figure this stuff out. We lay out our perfect joinery and commence to cut.
On the wrong side.
Mill up another stick. [I realize of course in writing that I am not describing your perfect world, only my own, on some days. On some days it’s worse than this.] I cut my perfect joinery next and start to fit tenon to mortise. Shave, try, fit, shave, fit, try, shave, fit. Too small! Fix problem, move on.
Get the dang tenons fitted and start to put together the legs and rails and get into a groove finally after a warm-up of only four or five hours. Progress being made. Cut wedges, need to cut wedge slots, start shaping parts. I need my spoke shave which is as dull as my elbow. Take time to sharpen. Always sharpen. Shape parts.
Good day. Grand day. Gonna get a lot done today. Except it’s almost over. Picture perfect day not counting the mistakes.
Okay, it’s not a triangle yet. Let those legs head out another foot or two and we’d get four of them. Triangles are inherently stable. Which is why we build in rectangular forms, mostly.
A paradox explained simply: Human, All too Human.
Join us for the Rogowski Stool: Aug. 22-26. It will be mind boggling fun.
The world is a parlous place. That means it’s scary as hell out there some times. People see their jobs disappear to a cheap replacement or fall victim to the banner of progress. In other words, they’ve been replaced digitally or in-house to supposed experts, or to someone just plain cheaper to pay.
Fear not. Become a woodworker. If you can work with your hands, I guarantee that you will have work. It may not always be the work you want. It may not fill your sails with the winds of prosperity. But you’ll be doing honest work with tools. Work that will tire you out and give you a sense of accomplishment. Work that will always pay. Just forget about buying that fancy new car.
Oops, did I just delete that last sentence. Cain’t do that as a woodworker. No deleting allowed. Mistakes will be made of course, but you will get to see the fruits of your labors every day. Hard to put a price tag on that kind of satisfaction.
Excuse me, I have to go build something for myself.
A messy bench is the sign of a superior intelligence.
This is an axiom that I have been working on for some time now. Born out of necessity really as the mess came first. One job gets started. A slew of tools emerges to help with this task and then more come for another task. The first set stays, gets pushed aside, oh there’s my notebook, the new tools get used. Chips and shavings pile up. Progress gets made. Clamps hang from the edge of the bench. I have to use my spoke shave now. Oh and a file. I need to draw a little bit here in order to make a decision so out comes my drawing board, pencils, French curves, ruler. I sit to imagine. I walk away for coffee as I place down my pencil and I come back and it is now adrift in a sea of flotsam and jetsam and if I stand still long enough it will all stop bobbing about and I will find what it is I am looking for. In time.
Another axiom appears. Neatness is the mother of necessity. Or maybe invention. One of those. But I accumulate enough on my bench until the poor camel’s back breaks. I can take no more. I need my life returned to me and I commence to clean. It is such a satisfying act that I begin filling my bench immediately no doubt in anticipation of cleaning it once. And fill it does. Since this is its most constant state, I have given up complaint and aver that since it is most usually a mess, then this constant state must be its natural one. It is my superior intelligence that wills it so and so it must be.
Or I’m an idiot and I need to clean my bench again so I can try to get some work done. One of those. Good luck with yours.
Drawers help me with this task.
Drawers: Building & Fitting, July 21-23. Join the cleaning revolution.
Pete Dexter in his book Deadwood, “He liked having a drawer, it was a neatness you could see just sliding it open.”
There’s something about drawers that appeals to me. I say to myself, I don’t need another drawer, and as soon as I build one for the shop, I fill it up. These compartments, these hideaways, these boxes hold our our tools, our treasures, our nuts and bolts in a way that gives us order, a sense of security, completeness. All attributes that I treasure in the shop.
Building drawers requires a mix of planning, patience and precision. Join us July 21-23rd for a three day class on making drawers. You will learn a bunch about joinery, both router and hand cut. You’ll learn about drawer building and fitting. Finally you’ll learn some stuff about your own need for neatness in this crazy world.
Why do we trust what we read on this internet as if every orifice is an oracle? Listen to me, I’ve done this once before. Or I saw it on the internet, it must be true. Are we so trusting? Do we believe everything that we’re told here? Perhaps it’s the power of the written word. Why would anyone go to so much trouble only to lie to me?
No matter. What I’m about to tell you is the truth. Believe me.
Pay attention to what I say or write with a bucket of salt close by.
It is drivel, the ramblings of a self-absorbed maniacal woodworker. What I write is filled with half-truths, opinions, and conclusions based on my own scant experiences of forty years. It is slanted to favor my biases and proclivities. It has nothing to do with your own work, stance at the bench, or tooling. If I give you dictums, ignore them. They may not work for you. If I sound like I’m preaching, forget me, you’re different. Should I say that this is my way, it is not The Way.
I have my methods. They work for me. I can tell you what they are but it may not be right for you. That’s okay. On the other hand, you may learn something from me that helps you along your path. Decide for yourself. But please don’t think that my way is the only way. It’s one of many.