Earlier this year I wrote about these rules after conceding defeat in making our own versions under the Crucible brand name. If you haven’t bought your own, what the heck are you waiting for? Are your eyes getting younger?
The black rules with white marking are extremely easy for older eyes to read when it comes to the quarters, eighths and 16ths on one face of the rule. Turn the thing over, however, and it’s a white smeary mess of 32nds and 64ths. Basically unusable for woodworking or machining. So ignore that face of the rule and just use the quarters, eighths and 16ths.
We use three rules in our shop. The typical 4R 6” rule, the flexible 6” rule and the 12” 4R rule. All are useful in a woodworking shop, but if you have to buy one, get the 6” rigid 4R rule. As of today it is $6.90 – a huge bargain.
We asked SPI if they could make us a couple thousand 4R rules without the 32nds and 64ths. They said no. Then we asked to become a retailer, and the wholesale price wasn’t any cheaper than the retail price at MSCDirect (which owns SPI).
So just buy them from MSC and be done with it.
The rules are fairly durable. The only problem I have found with them is that the white paint in the engraved numbers gets a little yellow with use. But you don’t notice it until you compare it to a new rule.
No it’s not a Starrett. But you can read it with old eyes and it’s durable enough for the long haul.
In high school, my favorite things to wear were my gas-station shirts from the Goodwill store. I could pick up these shirts for about $5. They were comfortable, breathable during the Arkansas summer and were incredibly well made.
Yes, they were all blue (light blue, dark blue, blue with light blue stripes). And they had the former owner’s name and employer stitched to the chest, but there was nothing else to complain about. Pockets? Yes, both sides. They had durable buttons and they were cut long enough for my awkward high-school body. Plus, when I worked at the chair factory or door factory, I didn’t mind if they got messed up – I could easily buy another one for $5.
Last year I decided that I missed my old work shirts, which were swiped by a college girlfriend. Instead of going to a thrift store, I decided to see if I could find an online retailer. I settled on Walt’s Used Workwear. The company offers tons of selection, low prices and quick shipping.
You can find work shirts for as low as $2.50 apiece. You might have to buy six, but at those prices, you might as well buy 12. You can pay extra to have the patches/emblems removed, but why bother?
The shirts arrive clean and broken-in. No stains. In fact, I can’t believe the shirts I received were ever discarded.
I typically wear them over my T-shirts to prevent dyes, glue and other shop nastiness from getting on my street clothes. But honestly, they are so comfortable that I wear them around the house and to our local bar. And hey, if you call me Mike and want me to pump your gas, I’ll do that too. It might be a raise from the woodworking trade.
Something that quietly becomes clear in Nancy Hiller’s newest book of essays (“Shop Tails,” now shipping) is a subtle underlying theme of worth. “Blue-collar” vs. “white.” Grades earned, degrees obtained and at which institution. Worth in the eye of friend, teacher, sibling, parent, boss, client, beholder. Critique. The worth of a commission. Representation in a shop. The worth of a stray. Staying, leaving and their reflection of your worth to self and others. The worth not of a house, but of a home. The worth of pets, even when problematic, and love, and life. The worth of good pudding. Self-worth.
“What I wanted, for 50 years, was to prove that people were wrong about me, to exceed their low expectations. When people mentally translated my work as a furniture maker to “She makes ‘furniture’ out of pallets or fruit crates and decorates her work with cut-outs of ducks and bunnies – you know, because that’s what women like,” I would show them my take on an Edwardian hallstand with a perfectly fitted door and drawer and a cornice of compound bevels. Anyone who assumed that, as a tradesperson, I would be less intellectually curious and articulate than someone who works in an office (any kind of office would do; this is a matter of longstanding prejudice against “manual” and “blue-collar” workers) would have to square that assumption with a growing body of published essays and books in which I brought my academic training in classical languages, history and ethics to bear on the social and economic significance of commonplace things such as kitchen furnishings. I did my best to illustrate the ways in which a house, typically thought of as “property,” could fulfill many of the roles we usually associate with a human partner. In response to the critics who might deride my ways of putting cabinets together, I would point out that there really are as many ways to build a cabinet as there are cabinetmakers, not to mention that the cabinets I build, however simple their construction, are far stronger than most that are commercially made.”
Last week one of my twin 11-year-old boys was outside when our dog, Io, found a squirrel, already hurt and hiding in a bush. He pulled it out proudly, carrying it by its tail. My son yelled at him to drop it. On its side, its big beautiful brown eye stared at us while it breathed ever-shallower breaths. My other son appeared, and we gathered a box and a towel. One boy bit his tongue, the other was indignant: “We can’t save him. It won’t work.” Two defense mechanisms that failed to stop silent tears. I thought, It is OK to be 11 and soft while simultaneously thinking how best to end a small animal’s life in order to end its palpable pain, knowing I couldn’t possibly actually do it. (The squirrel died on its own shortly after.)
I share this story because my sons’ recognition of the squirrel’s worth in that moment reminded me of something Nancy wrote to me, the day before this incident:
“Every time I think about ‘Shop Tails’ I am filled with delight at the thought that the stories of these animals, some of them strays, some wild, others abandoned to the shelter, get to be commemorated in a book – a beautifully produced hardbound book, with pictures. There’s something about this that I still don’t even quite grasp. It’s the opposite of the usual publishing world, where Important People are the only ones who get remembered or have their stories told. (Yes, thankfully that has been changing over the past 40 years, but I still see a distressingly overwhelming hangover from the middle of the 20th century and before.) There’s something wondrous about this noticing of the rejected and otherwise-un-notable, especially those who had short lives. And of course I’m aware that there’s a vast genre of books about animals, this one is by no means alone, etc. But still! Little Alfie with his explosive digestive problems and impossible William, pathologically jealous Henny, champion-of-gratefulness/gimp-boy Joey, the turkey vulture by the side of the road, and ‘Henry’ the mourning dove, all get their day, as do others. It’s a kind of triumph. Yeah, these stories are written from my perspective, not the animals’, but that’s a limitation we have to live with.”
There’s a shift taking place in the woodworking community, where more people than ever before are getting to see their worth in more welcoming environments Among them The Chairmaker’s Toolbox, a slew of Instagram feeds that show work by members of populations that have long been underrepresented by the majority of woodworking populations, the proliferation of scholarships for classes at woodworking schools that are now available to members of underrepresented populations and the “Gallery” in Fine Woodworking magazine.
It took Nancy more than half a century to come to terms with her own worth, both in the shop and out. In doing so, she has acknowledged the danger of being too dependent on outside forces – of people who express their approval, just as much as those who express their opposition. Consider the consequences this can have on representation in community, in craft – even in the personal work you do, in the choices you make about the tools you buy or the pieces you make. They’re huge.
“It suddenly felt deeply exhausting,” she writes. “I let my awareness of that exhaustion sink in. Whatever might happen with the course of my cancer, I was not going back to my old ways of living.”
This book is a celebration of not just the “otherwise un-notable,” but also of the notable who are just beginning to realize their worth. And in that, I imagine Nancy’s not alone.
If you’ve read our gift guide before, you can skip this preamble. There’s nothing new here.
The Anarchist’s Gift Guide is a small attempt to focus on the little things – mostly inexpensive – that make life in the workshop a little easier. It’s stuff your kids can afford to give you for Christmas and that you will be glad to receive.
Most gift guides are utter s&$e. A company pays some boob to squawk that he LOVES a bunch of silicone-covered tools (which the company ordered too many of from China). The company hopes to ensnare your spouse when he or she Googles “gifts for woodworkers.”
Next, your spouse watches a video of boob-boy offering up chisels with a silicone glue brush on one end. “It tickles!” And then you receive a full set of those lovely tools on Christmas morning.
Our gift guide doesn’t give a crap about selling anything. We bought these items for ourselves, and we used them. We didn’t contact the manufacturers to tell them “Ooooh – you’re in the gift guide!” We don’t have affiliate links or make money on this guide. None. I do it only because… damn, I’ve forgotten why I do it. Just inertia, I guess.
If you have complaints about the gift guide, let us know and we’ll offer you a full refund for your gift guide subscription (and you can keep the sanding sponge and drilling chart). So without further grumpiness, I offer you our 2021 Anarchist’s Gift Guide.
Day 1: Merterks Green Laser
We use a laser level for a lot of things related to both woodworking and home improvement. I’ve burned through a lot of laser levels in my career. Most of the reasonably priced ones are so dim they are three Smurfs short of a village.
Then one day a fellow chairmaker suggested I try a green laser level (instead of classic red). I did, and it made a huge difference.
Our workshop is filled with daylight, so lasers have a hard time competing against the sun coming in from the huge east- and south-facing windows. But even in full sun on a July day, the green laser is easy to see – even for an old man like myself.
The laser we use is a Merterks, which we bought from Amazon. I looked all over town for one locally, but couldn’t find a decent green laser for less than $100. So you win this one, Amazon. (Yes, you can find this tool via sketchy retailers.) Other similar laser levels include this one, this one and this one. (The message here is to spend less than $50, get a green one and make sure the self-leveling mechanism locks.)
This laser on the Merterks is bright. So bright. Even from 20 feet away the light is crisp.
The Merterks has far more features than you need for chairmaking. But I haven’t found a simpler laser for less money. All in all, it’s more durable than other lasers I’ve used, and it comes with a protective carrying case, which will slide onto any belt and complete any outfit. So it’s a sartorial win.