Archive for ◊ March, 2014 ◊

• Thursday, March 27th, 2014


Finer pitch saws generally produce more precise cuts than coarser pitch saws. Well, of course they do. The finer teeth make a cleaner kerf with which to track a line. They also advance the kerf more slowly and thus presumably more controllably since each stroke is a relatively smaller commitment that can be adjusted as needed.

The finer pitch, all else being equal, also produces a smoother sawn surface. Also, the thickness of the wood must be taken into account. At least several teeth should ride in the kerf to maintain control and prevent the saw from grabbing and tearing.

So, OK, we don’t use a 5 1/2 ppi rip saw to cut dovetails in 1/2″ stock, obviously.

But what may not be so obvious are the practical limits to fine pitch saws. In other words, finer and finer is not more and more accurate.

If each commitment – each stroke of the saw – is too small to judge whether accuracy is being maintained, then you have to wait for a few of them to really make a judgment. In other words, the feedback is delayed and you can be going off course without knowing it for a while. Similarly, the corrective action is harder to judge.

The object is to use a tool that is palpably controllable, not too coarse, of course, but also not too fine. Among novice woodworkers there is a tendency to think that using the finest saw available will be the most accurate way as long as one is patient enough, but for a saw, and probably for just about any tool, it might be too fine to function accurately. Note also that the stroke speed of a coarser pitch saw can be slowed to some extent.

As an analogy, a good car steering wheel should be responsive, not mushy. The result of an input action – such as a saw stroke – should give a sufficiently sensible and prompt result so that the feedback loop is closed clearly and quickly. This is much of what hand tool woodworking is about. In other words, if you go too slowly, you can’t tell what you’re really doing!

In summary, consider balancing factors when choosing the pitch of a saw. And don’t be charmed by superfine saws (e.g. superfine dozuki saws) or see them as a substitute for skill; they may be too fine.

Category: Techniques  | Comments off
• Friday, March 21st, 2014


A nice byproduct of messing around with photography using a fancier camera has been that I think I’m also improving my seeing skills for woodworking. By this I mean learning to better observe and process visual elements of composition and design.

The simple key is that this takes effort – it’s not automatic – and it takes practice. Sure, it’s easy to have an immediate reaction when confronted with a creative work. “Wow, beautiful,” or “Please, you’ve got to be kidding.” This sort of intuitive response does have its place and value, and, at the other extreme, over analysis is probably capable of dissolving any creative work into boredom.

Between the extremes there is a very valuable habit of pausing, observing, absorbing, and seeing what the maker has in mind, including if the maker is you.

It is similar to the difference between quick snapshots versus truly observing and appreciating the light and visual elements before you, then using your technical skills to compose a satisfying photograph.

Among many woodworkers, including me, there is a tendency to too soon get absorbed in the intricacies of construction and joinery. Pause and see first, I tell myself, and in this, photography is good training. Photography is humbling because so often the photograph shows you that what you thought you saw when you took the shot is not quite so.

It is amazing what the trained brain can see. During a guided walk in the woods with an expert naturalist, I marveled at his ability to spot interesting things that I walked right past. Yet, in the more subjective landscape of designing and making good work in wood, I think one must be similarly astute.

The main thing is that, just like cutting joinery, it takes effort and practice.


Category: Ideas  | 3 Comments
• Wednesday, March 12th, 2014


A project idea has taken hold, a concept has developed, and maybe you even have scale drawings. This could come to fruition but your jointer isn’t wide enough or your bandsaw isn’t tall enough. Or the boards you found for the project aren’t quite consistent in color and figure. Or your shop isn’t big enough, or you don’t have a real shop at all. And you really don’t have the time anyway.

It’s always something.

Always, because making real things is done in the real world with all its unsavory limitations. The wood is never quite right. There is always one more tool that would probably make the work a breeze. A wide belt sander? Sure, that will solve everything. Everything, that is, until the next limitation comes along.

Make it anyway. It won’t be perfect or just the way you want it, but it will be. Until then, it is nothing.

Let’s take an example from music history. What do you do if you are an organist renowned throughout Europe, later to be recognized as one of the greatest composers in history, you basically get canned from your job and move to a place where you have no access to an organ? It must have been like a woodworker with no planes! Well, I guess if you are Johann Sebastian Bach, you deal with the limitations and use the resources available to you to make stuff like this:

Bach violin sonata

Nearly 300 years later, the lack of a right hand does not stop Adrian Anantawan from playing these works. [The sample heard in most of the clip is from Partita #3 in E for solo violin, 3rd movement.]

So, what then, when the work is done? If the piece is the product of a sincere effort, it becomes its own point of reference, freed from the maker’s expectations, limitations, and nervous influence. Never perfect, but excellent, good, or just fair, it is nonetheless now on its own.

It is too late for substantive changes. This is just as well, because now everything hopefully seems right unto itself, at whatever level the work was done, including the imperfections and doubts, almost as if it was meant to be that way.

Deal with limitations, do the best you can, and accept the result for what it is. Make something.

It’s always something – until the thing is.

Category: Ideas  | 5 Comments