[Today’s post is a guest column from Seattle-based woodworker Thomas M. Scott. He’s talented, funny and very knowledgeable about hand tools. Here’s his take on a discussion you may have participated in.]
One of the things I love about getting together with other woodworkers, either in person, or online, is discussing methods of work. It often seems as though there are as many different ways of tackling a problem, as there are woodworkers to discuss it.
A discussion of this nature, usually starts thus: The problem is laid out, and the solutions begin with the most expedient (read simple) use of whatever machine or power tool a participant has the most experience with. Then, someone will usually suggest a specific joint, or classic method, modified for modern machinery. Eventually, the discussion comes around to how it was done in antiquity, and how, or why that particular joint or method is so well suited to its purpose, and if the modern variants are really any improvement over the original.
For example, the discussion might concern the construction of a simple frame, for a frame and panel, or a face frame. Someone will suggest that it could go together quickly with pocket screws.
“All you need is the jig, some pocket screws and the power drill.”
Certainly, someone else will prefer to use dowels (perhaps they already have a doweling jig). Once the pros and cons of dowels versus pocket screws have been exhausted, someone else may suggest a mortise and tenon joint. The virtues of various tenoning jigs are weighed; maybe someone will have built their own.
If this is an international forum, as is likely online, then there will inevitably be a sidebar of the differences between tenoning with a router verses a table saw. Perhaps, someone will bring up the convenience of floating tenons, and of course, everyone will wish that they owned a square mortising machine
And yet, the patient among us, …hold fire until the last possible moment, …when the debate has nearly petered out, … just before the discussion threatens to change entirely. In timing, it’s not unlike an auction, with anxious bidders rapidly exhausting their funds until only one or two are left bidding. Then, just as it seems that the deal is sealed, from some unheard corner comes a new bid,
“Why not just chop the mortises out by hand, and trim the tenons with a shoulder plane?”
After what resembles a stunned silence, the discussion continues with renewed vigor, and those whom were eagerly waiting to speak, now become anxious listeners. New (old) terms are employed, such as ‘haunched’, and ‘foxed’. There will be a discussion of how to ensure precision, using proper technique. Examples of the ancient method will be trotted out as testament to their strength and durability. And each of us will privately examine his own ability to do things the way our forefathers did.
[Thanks, Tom. By the way, today is the awards ceremony for the art contest at the county courthouse. I’ll have an update on Wednesday’s post.]