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.”


  1. Andrew,

    Excellent and poignant as usual. My only complaint is that your posts are too few and far between.

    Very good writing indeed.

    • Hi FJ,

      Thank you very much. I will try to be better about posting more regularly. I did let it slip there a bit didn’t I! Take it easy.

  2. Hi Andrew,

    thank you for this blog entry! Your words express much of what I feel!


    • Hi Pedder,

      Thank you. Best of luck to you with your own work as well!

  3. Hey Andrew!

    Pedder wrote me and asked me to come and read your latest blog entry. He and I have been discussing this very subject…. jigs versus doing it mostly by hand.

    Your saw making is much like what an artist creates compared to a mechanic such as myself who gets it done the easiest and fastest way with the use of anything and everything available, hand tools or otherwise. Both methods are right and neither method is wrong. Just different means of getting there from here. I am slowly gaining a better understanding of not only what you do but why and how you do it. That understanding helps me do what I do. Thank you.

    The older I get, the more I learn how much I don’t know. When I was younger, I learned from older people. Now that I’m one of those people, I now learn from younger people. It’s a fair exchange.


  4. Hi Marv,

    Coming from you I consider that a high compliment indeed–I don’t know that I’m worthy of it, but thank you. I’m myself always trying to learn what I can.


  5. Hi Andrew,

    This is why I’m looking forward to receiving my saws with so much anticipation. I rarely buy into anthropomorphic nonsense, but you give a unique personality to each of your saws; they become individuals and should be appreciated as such.
    Also, I have to heartily second the comments about the quality of your writing. It is worth reading for its own sake.

    Best Regards,

    • Hi Guy,

      Thank you very much. I also look forward to you receiving your saws. Not much longer now.

      Best wishes to you as well,

  6. I’m afraid there are times in my own shop where my left and right brain feel more like Tom and Jerry. Ralph and Sam would be an upgraded state of detente.

    Big projects have become an ongoing exercise in being creative enough that everything looks good, being precise enough that the good ideas aren’t overshadowed by technical errors… and making sure that the hours of inspiration and hard work aren’t being chased around the yard by the need to get the bills paid.

    At this point, it’s finally starting to feel like those episodes where Spike and Tom and Jerry have negotiated a cease-fire, and I’m able to be productive and get the bills paid. Everything’s in line, I can almost hear the trilling flute, while all three characters go be-bopping down the street.

    But I know there’s still a yard full of metal rakes, lead pipes, and other blunt instruments that are just lying around, waiting for me to get sloppy.

    But it’s good to know I’m not the only one with a head full of cartoon hijinks.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: