One stick can improve the way you work. Two sticks can change your entire workshop regimen.
This blog entry began months ago when Richard Maguire posted an excellent video called “The Holdfast and the Batten,” which demonstrates how to use a notched batten to secure your work against your planing stop.
It works brilliantly. So brilliantly, in fact, that I started to comb through my old books – both in French and English – for some hint of it. I asked Jeff Burks what he thought. And, most important, I made a notched batten that looks identical to one shown in Albrecht Dürer’s famous “Melancholia I” (1514). This engraving is so famous that it graces the wall of the bathroom at The Woodwright’s Shop.
If you start looking for this notched stick in the historical record, you will begin to see it everywhere. It has different shapes at the ends – ogees, coves, bootjack, etc. Many of these sticks have holes bored in them as well. They appear in workshop drawings, engravings about architecture and geometry, and in images of libraries.
It is obvious that the stick is a straightedge, called a “reglet” in France and England – used to lay things out or to follow a line of text in a book. But why the shaped ends?
Here’s my guess: To differentiate it from sticks that were mere offcuts, scrap or project parts.
And the holes? Peter Follansbee thinks they are for hanging the reglet on the wall. Two holes ensure you are always going to be able to hang the thing without flipping it end for end. I think that’s an excellent guess.
Several weeks ago I made a reglet that looks like the one shown in Melancholia I, and I hung it on the wall above my bench. The bench I use everyday is quite primitive. No tail vise. No dog holes. My leg vise lacks a parallel guide and a garter. It is a lot like a workbench from the 16th, 17th or 18th centuries.
The ‘Dürer Stick’ (as I call it) has been a constant companion during the last two projects. It has been a straightedge, and it also has held my work in place as I traversed it or planed it with the grain. I have ogee ends on my stick, and they work just as well at securing the work as the straight taper that Maguire shows.
Also, the holes in the stick? I used those to nail the stick to the bench to act as a fence while cutting 16 dados today. Again, it worked brilliantly.
Before you jump up my butt about this, know that I am wearing two pairs of flannel-lined pants. Also, I ask you to do this one thing before criticizing: Make a stick. Use it. If you can’t make the stick, you probably shouldn’t be commenting on a woodworking blog anyway.
Was that bitchy? Sorry.
Oh, and what did I mean about how two sticks could “change your entire workshop regimen?” More on the second stick later. This second stick is a mind-blower.
— Christopher Schwarz