Sticks and Stones and Naked Gnats

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In our household, we have offered the following guideline to our young girls: Words are not weapons. The only way that words can hurt you is if you let them hurt you.

So, as you can imagine, we allow complete freedom of speech within our walls (though we caution them to take great care with people outside our family). This is the same policy I follow on this blog. I will never write any words here that I would not say in front of either of my grandmothers (God rest their souls). It’s just polite.

This makes it difficult for me to discuss dovetailing on the blog. When I teach dovetailing, I use an awful expression to describe the amount of compression that the joint can and should endure where you drive the bits together. In other words, I try to explain how far away from your knife line you should saw your pins to fit the joint together tightly. Wood compresses. And we should take advantage of it.

So in an effort to describe this tiny measurement, I today asked my students for ideas (after using my foul expression). The students are British, for the most part, and should have some sense of propriety. Here are the three top suggestions.

When sawing your pins, you should saw slightly away from your line – exactly one…

1. Gnat’s firkin
2. Gnat’s chuff
3. Gnat’s nasty

I personally like No. 3 (alliteration is the mark of quality writing). Why they focused on gnats I do not know.

If someone has a better G-rated suggestion, I’d like to hear it. There could be a beer in it for you.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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53 Responses to Sticks and Stones and Naked Gnats

  1. maross1248 says:

    Now, I’m really curious about the “unprintable” phrase. But, how about “a hair’s breadth”.

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  2. Matt Merges says:

    I vote for #2: we Yanks won’t be offended since we don’t use “chuff,” and we can appease the Brits at the same time (who, in my experience, prefer “colorful’ language in situations like these).

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  3. Ben Lowery says:

    How many micrometers are we talking?

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  4. Doug Shannon says:

    In the UK the Gnat’s Chuff is actually the SI unit for a small amount. Often used in the context of “Tighter than a gnat’s chuff” though why the gnat’s chuff should actually be tight, or which anatomical part of a gnat is actually it’s chuff, are both debatable.

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  5. sirlurkcalot says:

    Personally, I use a whisper or two.

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  6. fitz says:

    Have you eschewed the “bee’s male organ” measurement?!

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  7. shavingsandawl says:

    How about a “Gnat’s Whisker” ?
    I am not sure if they have whiskers, but if they do, they will be tiny!
    ~Alistair

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  8. Oh come on fitz thats below the belt.

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  9. tesla77 says:

    Tighter than a bee’s tickle

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  10. countercosta1952 says:

    I’m with ‘Fitz, you used the bees d*** terminology in ME and it fits! Don’t change a good thing.

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  11. jonathanszczepanski says:

    From our conversation at dinner tonight:
    – a shrimp’s monocle
    – an ant’s anklet
    – a flea’s toothpick
    – a mosquito’s spleen (do they even have them?)
    – an atoms electron orbit
    – a mosquito’s fly
    – a ladybug’s eyelash

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  12. jonathanszczepanski says:

    A tick’s tattoo.

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  13. kendewitt608 says:

    How about a Gnomes eyelash

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  14. Joe Eberle says:

    How about ” as thin as the excuse you gave your wife last night”?

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  15. Jason Weaver says:

    What about a bee’s knee? It stays in the same biological realm, and adds some rhyme for good measure.

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  16. texasbelliott says:

    As wide as a frog’s hair.

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  17. pathdoc70 says:

    Chris, So while you are going with gnats: My long departed and dear Dad was a very good and ultra precise machinist. I often heard him use the phrase ” a gnat’s whisker” for ultra small increments. Use as you like and attribute to James W. O’Brien. Best to you, Mike O’Brien Valley Head, AL

    Sent from my iPhone 5s

    >

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  18. Well if they’re british, it would be gnat’s arse. But if that is too profane go with gnat’s nasty.

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  19. Ben Kamp says:

    From the cabinet shop were I work

    -Fairy fart
    -tighter than balls on a brass monkey (which is a nautical compression term from way back)

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  20. Wine Box Woodshop says:

    If a gnat were holding down your line and his hand slipped for the briefest of time only his nails would you cut. he would still have his fingers, to scratch his butt.

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  21. edfurlong says:

    Gnat’s eyelash is in the nanometer to subnanometer range and should suffice for most woodworking applications.

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  22. How about a deer tick hair on his *#!.

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  23. thequietworkshop says:

    A gnat’s nadgers.
    As in, “I say Charlie! Watch what you’re doing with that croquet mallet, you nearly caught me in the nadgers.”
    It has the added benefit that you can split the difference if nadgers (plural) seems to be two big a measurement and suffice with just a gnat’s nadger.
    I’m not sure how the gnat would feel about this though.
    St.J

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  24. A gnat’s nostril.
    Clearly, I’m gifted in writing (as exhibited in the above phrase). You may forward on my contract for a series of books and large cash advance.
    Did I mention the alliteration??

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  25. “Mote in a mouse’s eye”, with apologies to Messrs. Niven and Pournelle.

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  26. rickbowles says:

    How about simply, “as close as you can.” Sorry for the lack of creativity, but, I think that’s how it’s going to work out in practice.
    Additionally I have taken countless dovetail classes from Professor Schwarz, and I have not heard this “foul” phrase (nor to I want to). My conclusion is that the classes were co-ed. Lucky us.

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  27. I’ve always used “a skerrick shy of smidge” in such circumstances that require it – not an iota more!

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  28. toolnut says:

    A gnat’s gnut. ( I think the spelling will give it a G-rating.)

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  29. I’m sure if you peruse Viz comics, you’ll find ample British terms (for anything).

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  30. pavlos63 says:

    Gnats Curly

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  31. momist says:

    Hmm, as a Brit I’ve always used a smidgen. However, if gnats must be involved, it has always been the whisker.

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  32. ssayott says:

    Since the G is silent it should be spelled ‘Gnats Gnasty’

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  33. Brian Ashton says:

    My father always referred to the hair of my chin my chin chin. Alternatively if you want to flirt with the G rating try Fanny Fur

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  34. wldrylie says:

    Use “Skosh” Websters dictionary.

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  35. Nick Webb says:

    The British phrase is “a gnat’s whisker” or just “a gnat’s”. Anyone claiming otherwise is winding you up.

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  36. mrogen says:

    I was all set to give you the phrase that I’ve heard since I was just a ‘young punk’ growing up on the mean streets of Brooklyn NY, and then thought better of it. Trust me it was the right decision.
    A gnats nasty is cute and probably not offensive to most. I’ll go with that for now.
    Michael, who has cleaned up his act, for the most part anyway.

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  37. jenohdit says:

    The whole phrase is “tighter than the trunk on a red countach,” but ’round here we just say “a red countach” when we speak of unmeasurable fineness. http://tinyurl.com/redCountachTrunk

    That’s a general term useful in many woodworking situations. When it comes to joint making in particular “rizla” is preferred. That’s about 20 micrometers thickness or less than half of an average human hair.

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  38. davelouw says:

    How did your group miss the suggestion “a gnat’s merkin”. It’s mostly G rated based on the obscurity of the term but it’s a great term when you look it up.

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  39. A chigger’s eye. So said my grandmother.

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  40. jwatriss says:

    I’ve heard the phrase. It’s an odd one, that really depends on context. Particularly since, to another gnat, and depending on the lifestyle of the original gnat in question, said anatomical feature may not actually seem that tight.

    So it’s really all about what you’re actually trying to fit in there… And, obviously, why it occurred to you to try.

    You sick, sick man.

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  41. misterlinn says:

    In Scotland, a “baw hair” away. The translation of “baw” is ball. It refers to one of the balls closest to a chap’s heart. There are usually two. Enough clues.

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  42. An old engineer I knew used to say “a C.H.”; the H stands for hair. He used it around a pretty PC office without any trouble. Naiveté was probably the saving grace though.

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