Hand Tools Archive

Re: 20th century
Response To:
Re: 20th century ()

steve voigt
the person who got me into woodworking gets strange pleasure out of setting up machines and then finding out that he has a tenon exactly 2 thousandths less than the mortise he's just machine cut...for "glue expansion". I have no idea if those numbers are right, but that's the kind of thing he talks about. I told him I hope to never expose a tenon (personal choice) or have any clue how many thousandths shy my tenons are of the mortise, because they're too rough to tell and I'd rather go with what feels right until I actually have one come loose

I generally lose interest in threads like this that bang away on the same old arguments that we've all heard a hundred times (and that inevitably make the OP feel beaten up), but Dave's comment above is useful and actually makes a productive point.

One of the problems with "machine thinking" is that it creates unrealistic expectations of handwork. If a novice expects his hand-sawn tenons to look like they just came off a Multi-Router or other dedicated machine, with the same .002 tolerances, he is going to get frustrated and discouraged, and then fall back on a router plane or some other jigged, relatively slow approach. But if you take apart pieces of period furniture, including those that have stayed tight for centuries, you'll find that hand-sawn tenons don't look like that. As Dave says, they are rough and made to fit so they "feel right." If you try to saw a tenon so that it's very snug, the ones that are a little small will still be tight enough to use, and the ones that are a little big can be quickly trimmed with a broad chisel. Even the ones that are just too sloppy can be fixed easily with a shim, and fixing the occasional tenon that's too loose will be faster than going through some arduous setup to make sure that all tolerances are within .002.

Certainly some people, like Brian, can saw with machine-like precision, but most don't and no novices do. And even Brian,as he already said, will saw fat and pare for something like an exposed through tenon.

Derek is right that anyone can do what they want in their shops, and they shouldn't have to feel defensive about it. But I think this argument misses the point. The point is that people who want to do handwork are missing an opportunity if they get frustrated and fall back on failure-proof setups that produce machine-like results but take three times as long. Most would ultimately be happier if they learned to make tenons and dovetails right off the saw, but that will require being accepting of certain imperfections, not requiring machine-like surfaces when they're not needed, and above all being willing to fail as part of the learning process. Brian/Dave/Warren aren't trying to pick on people for their router plane setups (I think!); they're just trying to point out a better way.

*caveat: sometimes, for reasons of disability or age or otherwise, people simply cannot make a tenon off the saw, no matter what. That's obviously an exception and those people have to find another way. But I don't think that's what we're talking about here.

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