Bauhaus of the 21st Century

Back in the start of the 20th century, a school of modern art and design was established in Germany. It had, as one of its underlying principles, form follows function.

In other words, design an item where it is ideally made for the job it has to perform, not for its aesthetic form first. This doesn’t mean the resulting item does not have aesthetic merit, but it has to be designed to work first, before its form is considered.

Many of the concepts that were developed are still seen today, such as this modern kettle, which is based on a Bauhaus design.

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The primary function of the kettle is to boil water on a stove. So maximising the surface area in contact with the element is first giving consideration to the function, before being concerned with the implication of that on the form. (And so on).

It is a very appealing principle for engineers.

Although we are 100 years on, many of the designers out there have seemingly forgotten that function is important, and so we have power tools that look like Cylons, tools designed to appeal to a particular demographic, tools designed for every reason, other than the specific function they are meant to perform.

Tools built as cheaply as possible, because who in their right mind would actually want to pay good money for quality?

This box warehouse concept, these Chinese-made tools, this concept of power tools for $10 and $20 have really destroyed many expectations of tools in a throw-away society. Buy a tool, use it for a few jobs, replace it when it dies. The service charges for repair of appliances is insane. As is the hourly rate that is proposed. More than many people earn as an hourly rate, so why would they spend 2 hours working to pay for 1 hour of a repairman, when for the same (or cheaper amount) you can buy a new, replacement (cheap) tool?

So now we have over priced labour, over priced manufacturing, offset against ludicrously low priced imports.

Never mind the imports are built, not for a function, but a price. Let’s not use real bearings, use nylon bushes. The tool is made to last 10 hours of operation for its life (and no, that is not an exaggeration, some GMC drills were specifically designed for 10 hours use. If one lasted longer, it was considered ‘over engineered’, and was rebranded platinum). 10 hours operation of a drill may last some households a lifetime, so sure, for some people, that is a reasonable purchase.

But what I see when I look at those tools is a waste of resources. A waste of the raw materials that made them, as with the same raw product, refined better of course, and with a much better design, a real tool could have been made. In fact, the minerals would have been better just left in the ground, rather than mined, drilled, crushed, refined, shipped, refined more, shipped again, machined, assembled, shipped, distributed, and shipped again to be sold, in a product that cost $10, and is designed to last 10 hours.

I tried to review a clamping workbench a few years ago. I won’t mention its name, but it was sold through Bunnings for a while. I had a couple of models to cover. The concept seemed reasonable, the sales video looked impressive. I got one model assembled, but the second broke before I even got it fully together. (I had videoed the whole process, and by the end, it was obvious that even if I did use the video, I’d have to over-dub the whole soundtrack).

By the time I had the two assembled, the flimsiness of the material (too thin struts, too weak, too compromised to save a few dollars in raw materials), the overall quality of construction, both models were picked up taken back to the supplier and unceremoniously given back. I wanted nothing to do with them. (The company (importer) hasn’t spoken to me since either). All I could think was “what a waste of resources”. Not there was enough steel used to even make a good boat anchor from it. Perhaps if there had been, it wouldn’t have been such a crap product. About 6 months (or even less) later, Bunnings dumped the range as well. Guess that says something.

So let me introduce a different concept. The Bauhaus of the 21st century.

Instead of “Form Following Function”, I propose that the new Bauhaus is “Finance Following Function”. And one of the big proponents of this (not that I am suggesting they are considering themselves the new Bauhaus, that is just my take on things), comes from the country of the original Bauhaus, Germany.

German engineering. It has long been regarded as the créme de la créme of design and manufacturing excellence, and when building something where Finance Follows Function, means building a tool to the absolute best it can be, to do the job it was intended to do, and then worry about the price.

And there sits Festool. Tools made to be the best, not the cheapest. Other brands also appear: Tormek, SawStop, Woodpeckers, Incra, Teknatool. Tools overengineered, over-speced, over made, to achieve the optimum quality, not price.

The tools last, and really work.
Function √
Justified use of materials √
Longevity √
A pleasure to use √

How much?

I read this on the packet of some premium pizza bases, but it was so fitting:

“The bitterness of poor quality remains, long after the sweetness of a low price is forgotten” How true that is.

I know expensive tools are, well, expensive. I know we can’t all afford the very best tools all the time. (Yes, I still have some GMC tools too). But little by little, I am replacing them with the quality equivalent.

The first was my ROS (random orbital sander): when the previous one died, I bought my first Festool – the ETS 150/5. Sure, it was 3x the price of a reasonable ROS, but not once have I regretted that purchase. It is a pleasure each and every time I pick it up and use it. And my hands are not in real physical pain at the end of a sanding session either (from vibrations). I could repeat that same story for a number of other tools as well.

So just something to keep in mind the next time you are shopping for a tool (or anything really). You may well be heavily influenced by price (who isn’t), but give some consideration to what I have said here too, and see if you can choose to allow “Finance to Follow Function”. You won’t regret the decision each and every single time you subsequently use the item purchased.

It is a Bauhaus thing.

A Clean Sweep

For people getting into woodworking, the router tends to be a tool that is either disregarded due to an (incorrect) expectation that it has fairly limited use, or one that is treated with a degree of mistrust. After all, holding a tool that is primarily a motor spinning at up to 20000RPM hardly fills the new woodworker with much confidence.

However, those fortunate to discover the sheer brilliance of inverting the router and mounting it under a table find a whole world of possibilities opens up, and the need to handhold a screaming banshee is something that doesn’t have to be the norm of router operations.

It has always been a source of bemusement to me that of all the machines in the woodworking workshop, the router table is both one of the most useful and yet is typically made rather than purchased, or is an afterthought tacked on the side of another machine. If you surveyed 100 workshops that used a router table, 99%* of them would be home made to one degree or another.

The requirement for components for router tables is being recognised by a few companies, and if you bought the various components together, the resulting router table becomes an impressive machine. Long time readers of this site will be aware of the attempts I have made thus far to create the ultimate router table. At one stage I did look at a spindle moulder, and that may one day become part of my workshop setup, but although they can have an adapter to fit router bits, they do not have the speed range needed to drive them properly. If you are intent on using router bits (which have an incredible range of functions and profiles), then there is still a place for router tables. Spindle moulders get up to around 8000-9000 RPM. A router can achieve 21000-22000 RPM.

There are already fences, featherboards, switches, stands, tops, and through fence, or above-table dust collection has been built in, there hasn’t been a commercial solution for below-table collection until now. Some routers dealt with this onboard, which allows the finer dust collection, but clogs with the heavier production.

The router table would be about the second largest waster of wood (and I say that with love – using the term to mean turning the timber machined into shavings, rather than offcuts), following only the thicknesser. The jointer generates a lot of shavings, but as it only typically takes a few light passes to achieve the job of flattening a side, it doesn’t make as much overall sawdust as the router, especially when used for edging, shaping, template copying and joinery (and often all in the same project). Of course, if you have a lathe, then this jumps right into first place!

So dust collection. To really handle dust production, both fine and coarse, light and heavy, you want to be using a 4″ collection system (at least!). But how do you plug a 4″ hose into a router?

Simple – you don’t! Instead, you can box the entire router in, and collect not only everything that falls under the table, but also draw air and dust from above the table as well.

Given so many of the improvements and refinements for the router table are Incra, it would come as no surprise that the latest improvement comes from that stable as well.

Incra CleanSweep

Incra CleanSweep

This is the CleanSweep. It attaches to the underside of a router table, and surrounds the router completely. At the base is a blast gate leading to the 4″ connection. The rear door has a clip to secure the power cable, minimising dust leakage. The front door is also steel, and is on a very simple, foolproof (and fault-proof) mechanism – dropping down to allow access.

I know what the CleanSweep looks like in the photos – a bit of a box. However, what you get in practice is significantly more spacious than what appears in the photos. It is designed with a specific purpose in mind, and is well constructed. You get to appreciate that during assembly.

Mounted under Table

Mounted under Table

My current router table (not pictured!) has the Incra frame, the LS Positioner fence system and the cast iron top, and although now very functional still feels unfinished.

My next mod will now be to remove the current surrounds, fit the CleanSweep, and create new sides, shelves and drawers. I can already testify to the benefits of 4″ dust collection from under the router- the amount of dust drawn from above the table is impressive, let alone keeping dust from building up under the router (and in the air- fine dust has no chance!)

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You may be concerned about dust being drawn down, past the router, but let me reassure you on a couple of points. Firstly, and speaking from experience, the only time I have had dust issues with an inverted router is when I wasn’t actively collecting dust, and the MDF (particularly) got into the switch and the plunge shafts (and bearings & gears of the height winding mechanism). When collecting, especially with 4″, I have had no reoccurences.

Secondly, the cooling for the motor is often on top (and therefore underneath when the router is inverted), and will get very little dust in (if not sucked immediately away).

Thirdly, although the air can get a lot of dust entrained into it, overall the amount of relatively clean air that the router is exposed to is significantly higher than times it has to deal with dusty air.

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If the router table is flat, it is very easy to attach the CleanSweep directly to the bottom of the table.

If not, then some infill can be made with MDF. It doesn’t have to be a 100% tight seal- the 4″ system will still create a decent degree of negative pressure irrespective of a few gaps.

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I haven’t any pictures (yet), but I have checked the CleanSweep on the bottom of the Triton Router Table, and I am very confident it can fit with some infills. For any infills, you can add space filler, but it really is messy stuff. On the Triton table, the CleanSweep will block the sliding table, but I never used it in that fashion anyway. It was always a much better option to use the sliding extension table if you want that function.

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So if you have an existing router table (Trition, homemade, or even just a wing on a tablesaw), the CleanSweep is a stylish and functional upgrade that will significantly decrease the amount of uncontrolled dust that your router table will produce.

Available (as with all the other best router table upgrades!) from Professional Woodworkers Supplies.

*This statistic is not based on any real-world survey

One Workbench to Rule Them All

Thanks to Dennis for sharing this link with me. It doesn’t matter in the slightest that the entire video is in German- there are plenty of ideas to pinch from this video!

With a prolific use of Veritas, Incra and Festool, this is one versatile workbench. Check out the Festool storage system in the background too- neatly made. Tool and vice mounting, saw and router. All revolving around a single workbench, which makes a great option for a small workshop while maintaining the functionality of a larger one.

The Pandora Box continues

For those following along, I opened Pandora’s Box about 2 weeks ago, and have been pushing to get it completed in time for my wife’s birthday.  Rather than jump to the end, we will pick up from where I left off, where the box had 4 dovetailed sides, a base, and I had made some practice excursions into the dividers for some yet to be built trays (at that time).

This next bit ended up being a bit of a detour – as I’ll explain at the end.

I needed the trays that will fit into the main box, and wanted to have them pretty thin – an obvious point of difference from the thickness of the main box walls (it is around 10mm thick, so aimed for about 3mm for these boxes).

The Miter Express from Incra, complete with the V120 Miter (and the Incra fence I have added to mine, with Shop Stop), really came into its own here.  Superb control, and repeatability.  In fact this project would have been significantly harder without this setup – it proved invaluable having such controllable results, and being able to work with fine components.

After resawing the boards (silky oak) again on the bandsaw with the new blade from Henry’s, they were again fed through the thicknesser to get the boards I wanted.  Ripped, and crosscut on the tablesaw gave the sides I wanted.  As much as there are shop-made jigs for ripping small boards, I really think there is an untapped commercial market here – something Incra based for sure.

I wanted two trays, and thinking about the result, decided that the second tray should be half-width only, and able to slide back and forth for access to the lower tray where the bracelets and necklace is stored.

I know where this idea came from – Chris Schwarz’s Anarchist’s Tool Chest

I wanted to dovetail these boxes (and I don’t hand-cut dovetails- one day) but discovered that there is a lower limit for the Gifkins Dovetail jig for wall thickness.  I tried to fake it, and did work out a way to do it, but decided to go a different direction.

The Incra iBox.

Rather than using a dado blade, I measured each of my current saw blades to find the one that was closest to the minimum size that the iBox could handle.  It ended up being the CMT 80 tooth crosscut blade.  With each piece run through the iBox, I had the joints ready to go.  I felt rushed, so didn’t take as much care setting up as I needed to, and the joints were a bit looser than I wanted. Definitely an operator error.

One trick that Incra advised is to draw a line across the top of the board, directly at the back of the jig, so that if the board isn’t perfectly vertical, it is easily detected.

I particularly liked the individual fingers being proud of the surface, so deliberately cut the joints deeper.  The base was made by resawing some pieces of mahogany, and running a rebate around the edge.

This provides support for the walls, and glue area.  The protruding edge effectively becomes the lowest layer of the box, and is the same thickness as one of the fingers.

Glue and clamp up proceeded, and the trays were finished.  I looked, considered, debated then decided not to compromise – the trays were just not good enough for what I needed.

Next article, the project gets back on track.

Under Pressure

When using a featherboard, you normally don’t get to choose how stiff the fingers are – they are what they are.  When you put the featherboard into operation, it is pushed up against the workpiece until the desired deflection is achieved.  However, if you find it isn’t right, you have to start again with its setup.

I’m a big fan, as regular readers would know, of the MagSwitch range.  But they only works on ferrous materials.  My router table base is cast iron just to get to use the MagSwitch featherboard, which is all very well horizontally, but given the fence is an Incra LS Positioner with Wonderfence (from PWS), and that is all anodised aluminium, there is a bit of a problem.  I need a featherboard that works in a slot (and the Incra has slots that are perfect for this).

So where to turn?  Well when it comes down to it, there are two companies with incredibly similar ethos where it comes to innovation, quality and accuracy for woodworkers.  If one is Incra, the other must be Woodpeckers.

And sure enough, there is a new Woodpeckers featherboard that is an ideal complement for the Incra Router fence.  The Incra is not the only place the featherboards can be used.  Any slot, T or Mitre can be used. Router table, table saw, bandsaw, disk sander, spindle sander etc etc.

So you choose the Woodpeckers featherboard, put some load into it-get some deflection of the fingers (or feathers), but they are a bit soft for the application.  So instead of trying to achieve greater deflection (which also makes it difficult to feed the wood under or past the feathers), with the Woodpeckers you can choose to stiffen the feathers right up without having to reposition the whole setup with their innovative design.

It also works in reverse – if the feathers are too stiff, applying too much force against a soft timber, you can use the variable adjustment to get a softer action from the featherboard.

Horizontal or vertical, these featherboards are a real complement for the tool.  They come in sets of two – infeed and outfeed, or vertical and horizontal (or just have 2 sets!)

The real secret is in the method for controlling the finger pressure.

There is an upper plate, secured separately to the featherboard itself.  Small fingers insert in between the main featherboard fingers. By loosening the central knob, this separate plate can be slid up and down, effectively lengthening or shortening the feathers as required and thus controlling (and varying) the pressure without having to relocate the whole featherboard.

The shorter the fingers are made, the stiffer they become, and vice versa.

I haven’t taken a photo as yet of this setup on my Incra Wonderfence, but they definitely look the part, and are a perfect complement for my setup.  Being Woodpeckers, they are available from Professional Woodworkers Supplies down under

Inaccurate Perfection

The Science of Inaccuracy

Ever drilled a hole with a bit that was meant to be ‘exactly’ the right size, only to find the hole either too large, or too small?

Ever taken every care measuring the length of board to be cut, and found the result disappointingly long, or worse, too short?

Just how accurate is a ruler?

In the scientific, and particularly the engineering community, every measurement is given a tolerance range (+/- 1mm for example), every tool has a tolerance range, a degree of confidence. There are reasons why this sort of constant monitoring of precision is not translated into woodworking.

For one, it is cumbersome- constantly focusing on accuracy can get in the way of the work. Wood is also rather forgiving- it compresses, there are fillers (and filling techniques), glue can span small gaps, nails can span large ones.

But this doesn’t mean that there is not a lot of benefit to be derived from understanding measuring accuracies, the sources of error and how to control it.

When you are building a house, having a measurement out by 5mm or more is not the end of the world, and the measuring tools used reflect this. If you are making a fine box however, 5mm is an unmitigated disaster. 1mm is a disaster, and is the difference between a fine box, and one made by a 10 year old in a woodshop class at school.

We’ve heard the general rule about not changing what we are using to make the measurements during a project, so as not to introduce an error, but there is an underlying issue there that is glossed over. The accuracy of the device we are using, and while we are at it, let’s ignore the additional errors introduced by thermal expansion.

Any rule, or other measuring device, cheap or expensive has an error.  The more you spend, generally the smaller that error is, but it never goes away.  Every drill bit, every spanner, bolt, protractor, tape measure, setting block, square.  They are all in error. How much they are out, is the difference between whether we can accept the amount of the error or not.

A quality rule, such as one from Woodpeckers are manufactured to be accurate to within +/- 0.025 mm, which for a woodworker’s requirements is pretty good.  So if I was to measure the width of a board, does that mean I can be assured that it is (for example) 100mm wide, +/- 0.025mm.

Sorry – not even close!  Just because a rule may be manufactured with a high degree of accuracy, it always relies on one other tool – the eyechrometer. (Your eyeball!) The rule for measuring inaccuracy, is you cannot assure an accuracy any better than 1/2 the distance between the two smallest measuring marks.  And the error compounds.  If I used a normal rule, where the markings do not extend right to the edge, and the rule has markings every mm, then the best I can say is the board is 100mm wide, +/-1.025mm  Yuck!

Might explain a few things in the workshop though, when things go wrong.

Take the same example, and let’s ignore the error in the rule itself, and let’s also assume the tablesaw fence is calibrated as accurately as possible (which by definition is +/- the finest measurement shown, so that would typically mean it is accurate +/-0.5mm)

Using a steel rule, which doesn’t have markings extending to the edge, such as this one:

The width of a board is measured as 100mm.  The fence on the tablesaw is set to 100mm, and a piece of timber ripped, then laid it on top of the current board, and both stood on edge on the top of the saw.  Why are they not the same width?  Didn’t I do everything right?

Error has crept in. My original measurement of 100mm is +/- 1mm, so the actual board is somewhere between 99mm and 101mm wide.  Let’s say it is actually 101mm.  The next board that I rip has been set on the tablesaw, which has its own error of +/-0.5mm, so this board can be anywhere between 99.5mm and 100.5mm.

But wait, not only is the fence out a fraction, the blade itself has some runout which I didn’t know about- happens to be 0.25mm

My cut board can now be anywhere between 99.25 and 100.75mm!

The difference between the board I measured, and the one I cut could be out as badly as 1.75mm.  I’m back in my 10 year old woodworking class, and I was being CAREFUL!

Am I doomed to failure?

No: by understanding error, error can be controlled, and minimised.

For one, a rule that has markings extending right to the edge immediately halves the error in measuring.  You can feel it is flush with the edge, rather than eyeballing to see the edge is lining up with a marking on the rule’s surface, so that measurement is regarded as accurate.

By switching rules, I can now be confident that the board is 100mm wide, +/-0.5mm

By getting a better rule, with marks laser cut every 0.5mm, I can measure the width to be 100mm +/- 0.25mm

So the board is now somewhere between 99.75 and 100.25mm  Already quite a bit better than 99-101mm.

I use the same rule to set the fence to blade distance on the tablesaw, and by knowing the amount of runout of the blade, that error is also taken into account and controlled.

My overall error is controlled, and the resulting board is now also 99.75 – 100.25mm . At worst, the difference in widths of the two boards – the one measured and the one cut is down to 0.5mm.  At worst.  Probably less, as error is worst-case scenario stuff.

How about another example.

I want to measure the length of a board, and I have 2 ways to measure it on hand.  A cheap tape measure, which has it’s own inaccuracy of +/-1mm (a cheap one!), and I also have a good steel rule (the same one as pictured above), accurate to +/- 0.1mm

The board is 2m long. Or is it?

The tape measure measures it as 2000mm +/- 1.5mm (the error of the tape measure, plus the error of the measurement itself)

The steel rule, which is 10x as accurate in its manufacture as the tape measure reads it as

2000mm +/- 15.4mm!!!!  How on EARTH did a cheap’n’nasty tape measure absolutely thrash a steel rule?

Simple – every time the rule had to be moved, the error compounded.  The steel rule is too short, being only 150mm long, so it had to move a total of 14 times to measure the entire length of the board.  Each time, it is +/-1.1mm (because it has 1mm graduations, and the rule itself is already +/-0.1mm)  The +/- 15.4mm is a confidence level – you can be sure the length is between 1984.6mm and 2015.4mm.  It may be exactly 2000mm, but you cannot say that with certainty.  And if you measured it again, it probably wouldn’t come out the same.

What is it they say – measure twice, cut once?  But why is that?  One big part is that if you repeat the measurement, you might pick up an error you made first time, a total misread.  It also increases your sampling, and you can start to average out the measurements.  If you measure it twice, and get it to be 0.1mm different, you can increase your confidence you are getting a good reading of the actual width of the board.  How many times is enough?  How accurate is your rule, and how much variation are you getting each time – at the point you are confident of the measurement, then you are done.  If I measure something twice, and I get the same measurement each time, that’s typically good enough.  If I was needing some very fine tolerances, such as in precision metal working, 2 is probably no where near enough, and I’d be better off 3 or 4 times, even more, and over an area rather than in the same place.  It all depends on how accurate you want to be.

Now you’ve probably been reading all the above and thought “B.something rude”, I can be more accurate than that, and I’m sure that is right. Personally, I’d say I could take a mm rule, and be pretty close to 0.25mm accurately. But the point is, confidence and repeatability.  Repeatability from one job to the next, repeatability from one day to the next, repeatability from one tool to the next. Repeatability from one person to the next. But you don’t work with anyone else? Never used someone else’s plans?  They were made by a real person, with their own error rate.  May not be a big deal, but still worth keeping in mind.

With all that in mind, what do you do? All this has focused on the right tool for the job, and is not saying one person can be more accurate than another.  It also looks at being as precise as you need to be.  I’d love to build a house to 0.1mm accuracy.  But it is not practical (or affordable!) Would be a stunning house though!

If measuring a long board, you need a long rule.  A tape measure can be pretty accurate, a Woodpeckers 900mm rule isn’t too bad either. ;)

For small scale stuff, I regularly use a digital calliper, and the Incra rules.  They are particularly special.  Accurate to 0.001mm, and specifically designed for precision, with the pencil being captive in the rule for the required mark, that precision jumps dramatically compared to a conventional rule. The accuracy when drawing two lines a given distance apart, or a set distance in from an edge will be somewhere in the order of +/-0.1mm or so (it is probably more accurate than that : 0.1 is my conservative estimate.)

Making a mark can be done with a carpenter’s pencil, but at 2-3mm wide, do you then cut to the left, right, or down the middle for accuracy? A fine pencil is better (and a 0.5mm clutch pencil with an Incra Rule is exceptional), and a marking knife produces a razor-sharp line, with no width to speak of.  Oh, and don’t forget about parallax error. A good rule is designed to minimise parallax, and again the Incra rule doesn’t have that problem (yes, I am a big fan of Incra rules- can’t you tell?)

There are other ways of dealing with sizing timber correctly.  One I do regularly is to cut the first board close to the right length, then mount two together and cut them to the final length simultaneously.  This works particularly well when it doesn’t specifically matter how long the two boards are, so long as they are equal.

The Kerfmaker is an exceptional jig for what it is designed for, taking account of board width, saw kerf, blade runout, all without a single rule or scale.

Another useful tool is the story stick, whether this be a simple stick with some marks drawn on it which you then store until the next time you need to make the part in question, or a commercial one which is excellent for the current project, but you don’t keep it dedicated to a single project.

If you want to get into the seriously accurate tools, then the Incra LS positioner, either on the router table or the table saw (or drill press) is one of exceptional accuracy.  With the ability to position a fence to within 0.025mm of the required measurement is exceptional.  To be able to do it repeatably because of the unique design is quite unbelievable. I have the LS positioner on my router table (love that fence), and am very keen to have one on my tablesaw one day.

If you have ever done any car or motorcycle maintenance, then the concept of a feeler gauge would be quite familiar. Woodpeckers have decided to produce a limited run of an equivalent tool for woodworkers. Called Set Up blocks, these are being produced as part of Woodpeckers One Time range- they will be made to order, and then (at this time), never again.  If you are in Australia, you’ll need to order by the 27th June to be part of the manufacturing run from Professional Woodworkers Supplies - cost is $96.50 for the 7 piece metric version (imperial set shown).

The sizes are 0.5, 1.0, 2.0, 4.0, 8.0 and 16mm and there is an additional block which is 25x50x100mm.  Like feeler gauges, these can be doubled up to get all the other measurements required.  Looks a very cool set- it will be very interesting to see how they work for real.  The accuracy of a digital calliper, and no batteries required!

So that is just a brief look into the world of precision, something I am particularly partial to, (and hence why I have a reasonable collection of Incra and Woodpecker.

Quality costs, as does accuracy, but it is a great feeling when you absolutely nail something precisely.

Now That’s a Knife

It’s only been 4 months since I got this set of steak knives from Professional Woodworker Supplies.  That is a pretty quick turnaround time for me these days!  Everything hasn’t gone to plan though, as I will elaborate, but I got close to achieving a good result.  I don’t like accepting a compromise – it may be that others wouldn’t notice anything wrong, but I would every time I use one of these.  However, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Knife blanks

These four knives are begging for some stunning handles (the timber on either side are known as “scales”), and so the timber of choice is African Rosewood.  I recently bought a couple of lengths during the recent April WoodFest with the vague idea of making a box, but it jumped out at me when I was looking for what to make the knives from.  The timber is around 19mm thick, so a bit over double the thickness required for each side of the knife.  So resawing was the order of the day.

Resawing the African Rosewood

I changed the blade down to a 5/8″ blade on the Carbatec bandsaw, then racked up the tension.  With the MagSwitch fence in place (single roller), the blade sliced the timber cleanly in two.  I am so loving having the bandsaw tensioning handle below the upper wheel.  The benefits of a larger bandsaw.

Single Roller MagFence making the job easy

Can’t beat those MagFences either for resawing. Love how easy, and accurate it makes the task.

Passes through the Drum Sander for accurate dimensioning

From the bandsaw, the next step is to run it through the drum sander.  This may not be everyone’s first choice – for one you have to have a drum sander to be able to use it.  I’ve become a big fan, especially for situations like this.  These are pieces of timber way too short to ever consider running through a thicknesser, so you’d have to resort to a ROS, hand plane or similar.  Me, I like the electron-murdering whirling abrasive wheel! With careful passes, I was able to get the board down to within 0.1mm of the required thickness.

Jig to accurately cut the handles

Next job was to shape the scales.  The only important side initially is the edge that butts up against the bolster.  To save on timber (a big mistake – not how I chose to do it, but any attempt to scrimp on timber inevitably leads to undesirable results, and more timber wastage. I know this, and still find myself doing it), I cut the timber close to dimension, and drilled holes using an MDF template I made of the scale from the knife tang. I used a couple of lengths of brass rod to replicate the rivets to position each scale to be cut precisely.

Thinning down the pins

For the two pins, I needed them a little thinner than the rivets would be, so I could get the scales off the jig.  To take off a small, controlled amount, mounting the pin in the drill, then running it on the sandpaper provided a precise size decrease.

Ready to cut the handle end

In hindsight, doing it this way was a mistake. Drilling the holes for the rivets needed to be done after the first scale was glued to the tang.

Knife handles roughed out

The scales, ready to be glued on.  Rather than gluing both sides at once, the plan was to do one side only, then use a pattern copying bit to get the scale to accurately match the tang.

Gluing the first handle side on

Two part epoxy resin (Araldite) being the glue of choice.

Clamped up

There is plenty of overhang which is a good thing, but this is where two mistakes compounded.  The trying to be too thrifty which resulted in the scale slipping in a couple of cases enough that the tang wasn’t properly covered, and when the glue had set, not trimming off the excess resulted in a couple of chipouts on the router table that destroyed the handle.  The router bit here is a straight bit with copying bearing.  Straight after this, I was down at Carbatec and picked up a solid carbide spiral router bit with double bearing – the spiral has a shearing/slicing action rather than a chipping action for the next time I attempt to make more handles.

Shaping the blank to the handle

Did have a couple of successes, the bearing running on the tang so the scale gets cut accurately to match.

As good as it got

The results were looking good, and the few refinements to my technique should prove very successful.  For the handles here, I took the photos, then took a chisel and snapped the scales off. Oh well, I’d rather it right than compromise.

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