The first lesson of handwork is this: Most things that you think are important are not important.
Most surfaces do not need to be true. Most edges do not need to be square. Most boards do not need to be four-squared (or even free of bark). Most dimensions – length, thickness, width – will only trip you up and cause you to make a mistake. Never add dimensions. Never subtract.
Instead, you should focus on form, close-fitting joints and fair surfaces. After achieving those three things, then you can satisfy your dial caliper.
When I first realized all this about handwork, it was a gift. I had been trying to get my hand tools to work like my machines.
Question: How should I set up a plane to give me a perfectly four-squared 3/4” board?
Answer: You never do.
Question: How can I quickly rip my case sides to 18-1/2” down from 20”?
Today is the third day of a class where we are building “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” at Kelly Mehler’s School of Woodworking. This is the day where I always hope that fatigue, heat and desperation will reveal the above lessons to the 11 students.
Sure, I’ve been trying to tell them this stuff since the git-go. But you cannot accept these ideas until you have an enormous tool chest’s carcase to square up so that it can receive some dovetailed skirting. So this afternoon I told the students to true up the carcase and the bottom. They went to work.
After a couple hours, one of them asked the most important question of the week:
Student “How wide is the lower skirt?”
Answer: “Six inches.”
Student: “Then the chest only has to be squared up in the bottom 6”, right?”
— Christopher Schwarz