Machines in the Workshop, Part 4


Part 1 is here
Part 2 is herePart 3 is here

MACHINIST: I often wonder why such a fetish is made of sheer hard work. After all, the operation is merely a means to an end. A man wants, say, a sideboard. He has the choice of doing the whole thing by hand, involving a lot of really hard work and taking possibly a hundred hours, or of lightening his labours by letting a machine do the donkey work and taking half the time, leaving him free to get on with something else. In both cases he is getting pleasure from the exercise of his craft. Possibly the purist has pleasure in ripping down his timber from the rough, but for my own part I prefer to do the lighter tasks which call for every bit as much, if not more, skill.

Consider how short a time a man has for his woodwork. All day he is attend­ing to his normal duties, leaving possibly three hours in the evening for wood­work. This may be enough for one who goes in for small, light items only, but when it is proposed to make a bed­room suite it is hardly giving oneself a chance. It would take years to com­plete, and life is too short, it seems to me.

No, I think that the man who is going in seriously for woodwork will find a light machine an excellent in­vestment. I would suggest a circular saw. I have known many cases of men who would like to make certain pieces of furniture, but who have been put off because they know it would take a tre­mendous time and would involve some really hard, strenuous work. If they would only take the initial step of buy­ing a light power saw they could tackle the work without hesitation. Small saws do not cost much and they con­sume little power.

Now let me turn to your point about the danger of the saw completely oust­ing handwork. I do not think that this need be the case. Apart from straight-forward ripping out, I should certainly do my rebating and grooving on the machine, because it does it just as well as by hand without any disadvantage. But I still cut tenons by hand; also mouldings. When the machine saw will not produce so satisfactory a result as the handsaw the latter should be used. And the same thing applies to all other forms of machinery. For in­stance, a drilling machine is invaluable for the preliminary clearing out of the waste from mortises. The holes can be made to run one into the other so that subsequent chopping with the chisel is reduced to a minimum. On the other hand, to substitute dowelled joints for the mortise and tenon just because the machine is capable of making them rapidly is obviously a mistake.

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15 Responses to Machines in the Workshop, Part 4

  1. momist says:

    I find that holes in the mortice position more often results in a ragged mortice once the remaining material is chopped out by hand. Starting without the holes makes a more accurate and cleaner job, and doesn’t seem to take much longer.

    • jayedcoins says:

      Earnest question — do you think there is value in chopping out the first layer, to get the clean knife walls (to use the Paul Sellers term), and then to use the bit to bore out the bulk of the waste? Might be a good way to speed up hand mortising for those that aren’t adept at it, or just have less practice (like myself).

      • momist says:

        I wouldn’t do that. It seems to me that the holes tend to deflect the chisel from it’s intended course, even when deeper into the wood. Of course, others may find differently, maybe it’s just my lack of control over the chisel? A sharp tool and lots of practice makes the work quicker.

        • jayedcoins says:

          Fair enough, in my limited experience the speed has certainly grown with each one I chop.

        • will says:

          I’ve been finding this too, I make the holes thinking it will help but it tends to drive my chisel off course get it stuck and make it tougher going. I always regret making the holes at all in the end, the last few I’ve done with chisel alone and it seems to go much faster and easier.

          • First (and most important…ha, ha):

            Holes to Mortise vs Chop to Mortise…??

            To me (and what I teach first)…learn both and use what works for you!

            I will hit some highlights from the above that may be helpful?

            “…I find that holes in the mortice position more often results in a ragged mortice…”

            I would suggest this is because too large a bit is being used to pre-drill the mortise. Traditionally, the bit used is only 3/4 the size of the mortise to be cut. Some even teach 2/3 the size bit to final mortise size. Drilling out a mortise does speeds up the waste removal and the process of cutting such a joint.

            If the mortise is not “clean” I would suggest treat (or think about) the inside of mortise like the insides of any living thing…”Guts tend to be messy.” There is more on this subject but I would start to ramble…

            “…It seems to me that the holes tend to deflect the chisel from it’s intended course, even when deeper into the wood…”

            This view does indeed reflect a chisel control challenge not a hole vs chopped modality…as well as perhaps approach technique to the process.

            Further (and not to turn this post thread into something about mortising methods…ha, ha) I would find whatever works for you and stick to it!! Once you have a method mastered and feel really good about it…then expand your skill sets by learn other methods just as well. Once you have internalized several different mortising methods then you skills will be at a level to adapt to any situation that comes your way.

            When much younger and just starting out…I was told-instructed that it takes at least several hundred mortise (or any joint system) to really learn the nuance about them individually…After that, one can move on to deeper understandings. At this point I have cut (large and small) tens of thousands of mortise in all manner of method and material from wood to stone…What I have learn the most is…its fun!!!

            And I am very much still learning all the time!

            I also (strongly!!!) agree…”Just build stuff!!!”…and have fun doing it…

  2. gilgaron says:

    This back and forth is starting to sound pretty familiar… I didn’t think they had internet forums in 1938? It reminds me of reading Thucydides history of the Peloponnesian war and thinking how much it was just the Cold War on a smaller scale due to technology…

  3. Salko Safic says:

    I understand and see your point but I just couldn’t resort to a circular saw. I did a YouTube video of ripping a one metre board and took only 2mins, sure it was hard work your muscles ache but they also grow and become strong and ripping just gets easier. Unfortunately most of us don’t woodwork all day to become physically strong and remain that way. No I just couldn’t do it no matter what the attraction is.

  4. Scott Taylor says:

    Festool Domino….

  5. ctdahle says:

    What sort of circular saw is “Machinist” talking about? Is he referring to a handheld circular saw…I guess by 1938, these were commonly in use in the trades, but were home craftsmen using them? Or is he referring to a table saw?

    • jkvernier says:

      I think he means a table saw, or what was and is in England called a saw bench as well as a circular saw. In the 1930s The Woodworker had ads for things like the “Walker-Turner Driver Line” tools for small shops. Try image searching that for a good idea of what he’s recommending. Pretty basic by modern standards.

  6. Some will and some won’t succumb to more than donkey work. The good news is that as a hobbyist we get to decide. Given that sad state of affairs in terms of folks pursuing any hobbies other than the TV, I am perfectly fine in whatever form folks decide to do it up to an including using dowels. Also, just because someone goes head deep into woodworking with power tools (or hand tools) doesn’t mean that they won’t want to try the other approach at some point out of interest or as their physical abilities (for the better as they gain skill; or for the worse if they don’t age well). I know as I have built confidence I am more open to trying new things that intimidated me at first. Any woodworking (or just about any other hobby) change is better than sitting on the couch watching TV.

  7. This has been an interesting series and even more interesting set of comments. It would be fun to sit down with this crowd over a few pints of good beer (or coffee) and rehash this conversation.

  8. Someone one touched on it yesterday, just build stuff! A lot of us newbies and even seasoned veterans have machines, use them or get rid of them and replace with hand tools. If you can master hand tool skills they do become less strenuous to perform. Take risks and try new ways of doing things, if you don’t have master joiner to learn from practice, practice, practice. Eventually you’ll either figure it out or you won’t and you’ll find an alternate method that works for you and what you want to make.
    The biggest thing I have learned from Chris S and the Lost Art Press team and Roy U, is just make your stuff. Stick it to the man and be you’re own person, that is as subversive as you can get.
    Technology isn’t inherently good or bad (normally) it’s the application of that technology and how it people apply it to their own lives and the lives of others if they are in a position to do so, that determine the technology’s standing in our world.
    The Machinist and the Woodworker are both in favor of us making things, which is agreement enough, the rest of the argument about skills and time commitments are superfluous and serve as topics for good conversations not to score points on who’s way is better.

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