In woodworking and life, it’s the little things that can make or break an outcome. For example:
You’re working on a jewelry box for your significant other.Throughout the project you’ve made measurements with a couple different tape measures and a metal ruler. At assembly time, you find that things just aren’t square, and have to re-measure and trim accordingly to make it fit together properly. You end up making the box smaller than planned, wasting time and wood in the process. While a great learning experience, here are some suggestions to start right and end right:
One is an accurate number… If you use only one measuring device throughout the entire project, you have a better chance of consistent measurements (parallax notwithstanding). If I need to measure something I use an 18” Incra rule with its precise measurement marks or a 12” Incra corner rule. However, I prefer to make a story stick marked with specific measurements, which is used to replicate layout marks faster, easier and more accurately. I also make notes on the stick as reminders, like “need ¼” dado here,” so I can quickly and easily transfer that information to the wood.
Always be on edge… For accurate, consistent measurements, be sure the edge of your rule or story stick is always flush to the edge of the board you’re marking. I use a flat, square piece of wood scrap perpendicular to the board edge then place the rule/story stick against it to ensure I’m starting my measurements right on the edge.
En Masse… Make all of your repeatable cuts at the same time, while the tool is set to the proper dimensions, to ensure uniformity. This also makes a project more time efficient as well, since you are not running back and forth cutting individual pieces as needed.
Plan your work then work your plan… While a plan (or “measured drawrings” per Norm) is handy, even a sketch with dimensions is helpful. It acts as a road map, guiding you along the way.
A process list can also be helpful to move you though the various phases of a project from milling to finishing.
Practice makes perfect… After you set up your tool for a specific process, make a test cut and check your measurements before you tear into that pricey project wood. This is especially important with angled joinery. If time and budget permits make a prototype out of a cheaper material and use the successful pieces as set up blocks for the real thing.
Make your mark… Before you cut up your pile of wood, be sure to mark the sides, cut lines and orientation marks on each piece to keep you on the right track during milling and assembly. It’s a real bummer to make an angle cut and find out you didn’t cut it the right direction – or cut a dado on the wrong side of the board – during assembly. There are a lot of great articles on marking your projects pieces on the internet. Check them out and use what works for you.
Time out… While rushing might get you done faster, it could impact your quality. Allow enough time to complete your project – with a little extra time built in. If you find yourself getting tired, frustrated or just making dumb mistakes – STOP. Take a break, relax and sort things out. You’ll come back relaxed, refreshed and re-focused.
Don’t worry, be happy… For most people woodworking is a form of mental floss – a physical/mental release from the daily grind. Keep it that way. Enjoy the process, don’t sweat the small stuff (but learn from them) and have fun.
Hopefully these suggestions will make your projects more accurate and enjoyable, because shop time should be for making sawdust and memories…