Archive for February, 2011


My Micrometer Is in My Other Pair of Pants

February 22, 2011

My left brain and right brain each accept the presence and ultimate necessity of the other, sort of like Sam the sheepdog and Ralph the wolf in the Looney Tunes cartoons I grew up with. My left brain tries any number of ploys to get over on my right brain—obvious gambits, like carefully reasoned arguments, and then subtler maneuvers, like trying to shame me into being more organized. But it got downright dirty when a very attractive and silky smooth micrometer was inserted into the the picture. My left brain slipped the micrometer into a pocket of my shop apron, and my right brain let it stay there for a little while, no doubt due to its nice weight and perfectly smooth mechanism. But that’s all the farther it ever went.

The fact of the matter is, when I make saws I rely on as few measurements as possible. I start with a handful of them, but by the end there are no numbers left that I care about. And the numbers I do use are not built into templates and things like that. I apply the measurements themselves each time from scratch. No doubt this is very inefficient and conducive to tiny errors.

So how can I work this way and ensure that all of my saws are the same?

Well, they aren’t. No two are exactly alike. Not exactly. The differences aren’t so great that one dovetail saw, say, is completely unlike another one, but they aren’t either carbon copies of one another. Far from it. I mean, what’s the point of working by hand and trying to emulate automation? That negates perhaps the biggest advantage that working by hand affords you.

What maintains consistency between them is the amount of care and attention given to each one, so that any uniqueness becomes a strength, not a deviation from a standard or ideal pattern. They all start from about the same spot and then are allowed to develop a bit of their own character. What is exactly the same in each case is the degree of internal consistency—everything gels. This way a saw can be unique and still be spot on. Otherwise, if a measured pattern is your standard, and you have any deviation from it, and that pattern remains your standard, you now have an error. The idea of tuning a tool for performance isn’t uncommon—I just start that whole process from back when the tool is built.

No it isn’t the most efficient way to make a saw—but it isn’t supposed to be. And yeah, a lot of the differences are soft and are difficult or maybe even impossible to quantify. That’s kind of the point. Measurements aren’t necessarily the most complete expression of detail. The left brain doesn’t always have a comparable way to express everything that the right brain does.

My left brain baits my right brain as if asking for Grey Poupon. “Pardon me, may I borrow your micrometer?”

My right brain yawns. “Sorry. It’s in my other pair of pants.”