One of the best references for studying 17th-century tools is the carving known as the “Stent” panel. It shows a joiner and turner working in a shop, surrounded by the tools of their craft. The joiner is planing a piece of stock at the bench, his fittings are clearly depicted. These include the bench itself, with its holes for the holdfast (which appears underneath the bench) and the bench hook, against which the joiner is planing a board. Hanging behind him are some planes, chisels and a pair of compasses.
The turner in the panel is working a pole lathe, turning a large pillar for a cupboard. This lathe makes use of a springy pole in the ceiling, tied to a foot treadle, to make the workpiece spin on the lathe’s pikes. The cord is wrapped around the workpiece, and as the turner tromps on the treadle, the entire mechanism works to rotate the stock back and forth. The cutting action is on the downward stroke. The pole springs back to return the stock for the next spin downward. The turner’s tools are likewise hanging on the wall behind him: gouges, chisels and his own pair of compasses. Between the two workmen are a hatchet, saw and low bench. Presumably both craftsmen use these tools in roughing out their stock to size.
This panel is the next best thing to being inside a joiner’s and turner’s workshop. It imparts a level of accuracy that greatly enhances our understanding of these trades and their workings. This is primarily because, unlike an engraving, it is cut by a woodworker whose familiarity with the tools provides a first-hand image of the actions in the shop.
The most labor-intensive part of preparing for classes is, by far, the stock prep – especially for the tool chest classes I teach. For those classes, I crosscut pairs of ends, and pairs of fronts/backs, together so that they’re the same length. That was difficult with our old shop-made crosscut sled. When crosscutting the front/backs, more than half the length of them clamped together was unsupported, so I had to hold them both tight to the sled’s fence and down at the same time. (The only good thing about that was the upper-body workout.)
So Chris – exceedingly kind man that he is – bought (me) a sliding crosscut fence. We looked at a few other brands, but after talking to people who already owned one, we decided on the SawStop slider.
Right after the box arrived we shut down classes for 2020…so there will be no massive amounts of stock prep until there’s a COVID-19 vaccine. But in the meantime, we’ve had time to put the new slider through its paces.
Chris has set up five or six different sliding tables over the years, and he says this one was by far the easiest; he had it up and running in about an hour (my only contribution was helping to adjust the leveling feet – it’s really a one-person job). There’s the option to bolt the slider to the table saw’s wing, or to remove the wing and bolt it directly to the main table. But either way, you almost certainly have to cut the rip fence’s rail. I believe the instructions said to do that with a metal-cutting band saw. But Chris used a recip saw with a home-center carbide blade (you could also use a metal-cutting jigsaw blade), then he filed the cut edges; the cut took less than 5 seconds.
In all honestly, we don’t have the fence perfectly set above the table’s height; it rides up the bevel on the front edge of the table by maybe 1/32″ every time we push it forward. Not a big deal – it works fine, and you can’t hear the fence hitting that edge over the noise of the saw and dust collection anyway (and you get used to the feel of it after a cut or three).
Among the nice things about this sliding table is that it can be pulled back far enough to allow us to stand in front of it for most rip cuts – which means we don’t have to take it out of square to get it out of the way for most rips.
Getting this one back to square is a lot easier than on my JessEm Mast-R-Slide at home, which requires Allen wrenches to adjust the setting blocks. This slider locks in place not against a block, but in the T-track. So all you need is a framing square to set it square to the blade. Still, once you have it square, why move it unless you have to?
I’ve heard a few complaints about the flip stops on the fence slipping or bending, but I was taught to always gently push my stock again a stop, so I haven’t had any trouble with the stops losing their settings so far. I also had one person mention that if you have a substantial angle set, the end of the fence is far away from the blade. Ninety-nine percent of our cuts are at 90°, so we’ve not yet had to tackle that issue. I imagine that whomever has to make that first 45° cut will make an auxiliary fence that fits in the fence’s T-track.
In addition to the extra support and ball-bearing sliding action, what I like most is the flip stops. It used to be I would crosscut one end of all my stock, then clamp a stop to the sled to cut it to final length. I save a lot of time now by simply flipping the stop up to square one end, then flipping my stock, and putting the stop down to cut the second end. Heaven. I’m very much looking forward to finding out – hopefully in the near future – how much easier this new setup will make cutting stock for seven tool chests at a time!
The worst woodworking mistakes I’ve made have to do with shop time.
When it comes to estimating how long it will take me to perform a series of operations, I always guess too low. When I first started estimating how much time a new commission would take me, I learned to double my number. A cabinet I thought would take 40 hours would take 80.
That first mistake will kill a furniture business right quick. You have to get your estimates right, or lower your standard of living, or go back to work for the corporate bully boy. For amateurs, that mistake is not a big deal, except when it comes to cribs.
Many of my friends who made cribs for their first child never saw the projects in use until the second child arrived.
Second mistake: When I botch a single operation, I always grossly overestimate how much time it will take to start the operation again from scratch. Example: I recently messed up an entire set of sticks for a chair. I moaned and stomped around the shop, wondering how I could save the poopy sticks with some patching, wedging or witchcraft.
“Argh,” I whined. “I’m going to lose an entire day making new sticks.”
I moped a bit and grabbed a new set of rough sticks and started shaving. In 60 minutes I was done, and the new sticks looked much better than the first set.
This sort of mistake is more insidious. Trying to repair or navigate around a complex mistake – instead of starting the operation over – usually takes me far more time. And the result is less than stellar.
As soon as I start scheming to repair something with some crazy technique that involves the warp core, reversing the polarity or separating the saucer section, I stop.
I put the crappy parts aside. I get some more wood. I start again.
Apologies for all the commercial blogs. We are trying to get all our holiday stuff into the store early because of delays with the mail system. Order soon to avoid disappointment. Today I have two quick things to report.
We finally have our brown moleskin vests in stock. These are identical to our green ones except for the color. These are handmade in Cincinnati using moleskin from Great Britain. Custom buttons. Durable stitching. My vest has become one of my favorite objects.
The only additional thing I can say about them is that I wouldn’t delay. These should sell quickly. (Also, we still have a few of the green ones in stock in XL and XXL, which you will see in the dropdown menu for “color.”)
Second item: The printer is finishing up work on Drew Langsner’s “Country Woodcraft: Then & Now” and it will be done soon. As a result, this is your last chance to order it and receive a free pdf of the book at checkout. After midnight on Thursday (Nov. 5), buying the book with the pdf will cost $48.75 (instead of $39).
We don’t know when the pre-publication orders will ship from the warehouse. Probably within two weeks.
We are thrilled to be publishing this updated and expanded edition of such an important woodworking book. “Country Woodcraft” inspired a generation of woodworkers to make spoons, bowls and other handy home implements. And we hope that the new version will inspire another generation.