The Secret Manuals

The router.  The band saw.  The table saw.

These three tools are some of the most versatile tools in the shop… but you would never know it from reading the owners manuals.  Sure, they give information on how to change blades and bits,  use all of the adjustment controls and build essential safety items, but that’s about it.

To really crack the code on how to get the most out of  your tools, I’d strongly recommend that you get your hands on a few of the books that give you the tips and tricks that go way beyond what’s included in your owner’s manual.

For me, I picked up copies of the Cutting Edge books.  Kenneth Burton wrote Cutting Edge Band Saw Tips and Tricks and Cutting Edge Table Saw Tips and Tricks.  Jim Stack went rotary in Cutting Edge Router Tips and Tricks.

Each of these three books takes a much deeper look at these tools they address and provide a much more detailed picture of what is possible.  First, you can’t do good work without an accurately tuned tool.  While every manufacturer builds its tools with unique controls and adjustments, the books advise readers what the most critical areas of concern are to ensure accurate work. Getting the blade aligned properly. Ensuring the router bit is securely tightened and won’t fly out of the collet. Discovering the proper way to align the rip fence.  Stuff like that.

If you are looking to buy new blades or bits for your tools, readers can find sound advice on what to look for before they plunk down their hard-earned cash.  How to evaluate the quality.  Which ones are most essential And, since each blade or bit represents an investment, care and storage tips advise the best way to care for these to get the most from each. Proper cleaning instructions.  Careful storage techniques. How best to organize them so they are ready to go when you need them.

Jigs, jigs and more jigs.  From the most basic push stick to the far more elaborate and exotic, these books offer detailed construction plans and how-to instructions.  For example, did you ever want to cut dovetails, but never wanted to lay out the cash for a router jig or take the time to cut them by hand?  I discovered that a well-tuned band saw can do the deed admirably.  Want to make curved pieces for a project? How about using your straight-shooting table saw.? What about carving details in the face of a board?  You could invest in a set of carving tools and lessons, or you can build a simple face-routing jig and let your router do the work.

Finally, what good are all of these skills if you don’t have a project to use them on?  The books offer step-by-step plans to build such items as  a glorious showcase cabinet, intricate band sawn boxes or gracefully curved demilune tables.  Each of these projects uses the skills and jigs taught in the books, giving woodworkers the opportunity to try out their newly-discovered skills.

Let’s face it – money is tight these days.  Woodworking can potentially be a very expensive hobby to pursue.  Anything as inexpensive as a quality ‘how to’ book that helps me get the most out of my tools is certainly a welcome addition to my shop. I’d almost like to see some tool manufacturers partner with these publishing houses to bundle these books with the tools they sell.  It would certainly help out the budding woodworker with his or her new shop tools.  They are – in effect – the secret manuals you wish came with your purchase.

I chose to go with the Cutting Edge series of books, and they have served me well.  But, there are also many others out there well written by talented instructors.  My advice would be to check them out and pick up the ones that work for you.  You may never know just how much money you can save by learning all that your tools are capable of.

3 thoughts on “The Secret Manuals”

  1. Tom,
    Nice, timely post! By coincidence, I received my Lee Valley News email today, and though Cutting Edge Table Saw Tips & Tricks wasn’t mentioned in the email, I followed the link to their discounted books section and found Table Saw Tips & Tricks for $7.90, so I ordered a copy (I also got Bill Hylton’s Power-Tool Joinery for $6.00). Thanks for the recommendations.

  2. Charlie – is a great place to look for this stuff… you can find used books in insanely good condition for uber-cheap.

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