Size Does Matter: The Other Side of the Coin

Can I brag for a moment?

I have really good eyesight. I mean, REALLY good eyesight. As long as I can remember, I have been able to read license plates across a parking lot. This is quite a feat, considering the rest of my family has awful vision. Both of my brothers, my mom and my dad all wear glasses or contacts. To be fair, my dad’s glasses are reading glasses (that must be where I got the good eyesight from). But they are all amazed at just how much more detail I can see than they can.

Why, then, was I having trouble seeing what I was doing? Could it be that I was tackling my first really small project?

It was a simple one. Someone asked me to build a postage stamp holder – something funny, creative and made out of wood to hold a roll of stamps. I had the idea of building a very small band-sawn box that could do the job nicely. The lid was going to be held on by rare-earth magnets and a slot that would meter out a stamp at a time from the roll. There was even going to be an appropriate decoration paying tribute to the speed at which stamped letters travel compared to e-mail.

To make this vision a reality, I grabbed a chunk of maple, headed to the band saw, and immediately realized just how different the scale of the project was compared to others. This piece was small. I mean REALLY small. Three inches across and an inch and a half thick. And, once I cut the body of the box to size, I had to cut it into even smaller pieces to create a base and a lid.

As I cut the box from the chunk of maple, the tiny size of the project forced me to rethink nearly all of my construction practices. Well, it wasn’t actually the size of the project, but the close calls I kept having that caused me to sweat the details and count my fingers.

My band saw, normally a very well-behaved machine that gave me very few troubles in the past, provided me several frights. I will often scribe a line and freehand larger pieces through the saw, but those methods didn’t work on the small pieces. They had a nasty habit of slipping from my fingers and shooting across the shop.

Fairing the piece on my benchtop belt sander was another adventure in aerodynamics. Simply running the small piece against the belt – while preventing a nasty 120 grit manicure – allowed me to skip my cardio workout as I chased it all over the shop after it went flying.

Fortunately, before I had to run to the hospital, I realized I was going to need some shop jigs that would help me stay a perfect ten – on my hands, at least. Cutting jigs, sanding jigs and even drilling jigs helped me build the piece without a visit to a hand surgeon.

Sure, building jigs can seem like a pain in the butt. While you are in the flow of a project, you can get lost in the work you are creating. Taking time out to build something out of MDF that will never see the light of day can seem like an unnecessary waste of time, especially if you only have to make one more cut. You are indeed tempting fate.

When you feel like this, think for a minute just how long it will take you to get back into the swing of things after you finally get the all-clear from the medical folks.

Benjamin Franklin was right on the money when he said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Remember, if the little voice in your head is screaming, “Hey, dummy, that looks pretty scary,” you have got to listen. Hopefully, you’ll see how safe you can truly be! That’s so obvious, I’m surprised I didn’t see it earlier in the project.

I guess hindsight really is 20/20.

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