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Learning doesn’t have to be boring. In fact, it can be a lot of fun. Graham McCulloch, author of the new Popular Woodworking book, “The Woodworker’s Illustrated Encyclopedia”, not only thinks learning should be fun, but he decided it should be fun to teach as well. In keeping with that concept, he dropped a number of Fun Facts into the book. I’ll be the first to admit that he may have had some fun with the truth on one or two, but it does make learning fun. Take a look at a sampling of some of the fun found in “The Woodworker’s Illustrated Encyclopedia”. Oh, and there’s actually a lot of very serious and useful information in the book, too.

– David Thiel, Editor, Popular Woodworking Books

The axe has some notorious historical moments. When young George Washington’s father asked him if it was he who cut down the cherry tree, he replied, “I cannot tell a lie, Pa, I cut down the cherry tree.” These words are now deeply embedded in the historical lore of the United States. “Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother 40 whacks, and when she saw what she had done she gave her father 41.” Or so goes the limerick of the infamous Elizabeth Borden axe killings that occurred in Fall River, Massachusetts in August of 1892.

In Quebec and New Brunswick thieves steal into maple sugar tree groves at night and with axes or machetes, quietly strip the bark off randomly chosen sugar maple (acer saccharum) trees. By doing this they can tell if the tree has a much-valued bird’s eye pattern to it. They will then fell the tree and cut it into logs and later into boards for sale. A full tree of boards could yield as much as $10,000. The sad thing, though, is that the trees that are stripped and are not bird’s eye will soon die. They will not produce any more Maple Syrup.

In 1813 a Shaker-Sister by the name of Tabitha Babbitt was working at her spinning wheel and watching some men in a nearby sawmill. The men were struggling with a two-man pit saw that was being used to rip logs into lumber. She combined some of the elements of the spinning wheel, made a circular steel disc and cut sharp teeth on the perimeter. This was the first record of a circular saw blade in the U.S. Her religion prevented her from applying for a patent.

Sister Tabitha is also credited with inventing the cut nail.
Apparently unknown to the good Sister, an Englishman named Samuel Miller apparently also invented the circular saw blade 33 years earlier in 1777.

The dovetail joint dates back to the first dynasty of ancient Egypt and has been found in furniture that was entombed with mummies from that era. The dovetail joint has also been found in the tombs of classical Chinese emperors.

A cloth,backed adhesive tape rumored to be discovered by the famous Greek tycoon, Aristotle Duct in A.D. 1042. Ari discovered this by accident while walking through clear-cut pine trees on the way to his newly constructed subdivision. Apparently, some pine tar stuck to the hem of his Armani,designed toga. At the same time,  the strap on his Florsheim sandal broke. Ari tore the tar covered hem from his toga and used it to repair the sandal strap. He immediately asked Armani to produce rolls of this tape in a variety of colors. Ari’s contemporary, Archimedes, was building some sluices that leaked water terribly, and Ari’s new tape came to the rescue. The rest is history. It was through great difficulty that the author was able to obtain this autographed photo of the reclusive Duct.

In 1908, P. L. Robertson began to manufacture a square recess impression in the head of a screw in Milton, Ontario, Canada.  At that time, it was a revolutionary change in the fastener industry. Although Americans, in general, were reluctant to adopt the new screw, Robertson convinced the Ford Motor Company to use the screw in manufacturing the Model T. Ford realized the enormous savings the screw would provide because it would not …?cam out’. Ford and other automobile makers wanted some control over the manufacturing process, but Robertson staunchly refused. Although the Robertson screw was widely accepted in both Canada and Britain, the Americans were slow to use them. The first patent for the Robertson screw and screwdriver was issued in 1909, and the last patent expired 55 years later in 1964. P.L. Robertson screws and screwdrivers carry his name to this day. Now, square drive screws and screwdrivers are in wide use, and they are still made in Milton, Ontario.

It is important to note that the Robertson screw recess is tapered inward and that design helps to secure the screw to the driver. Most copycat manufacturers have neglected to add this important feature.

To Order “The Woodworker’s Illustrated Encyclopedia”, click here. For information on other Popular Woodworking Books, visit our bookstore by clicking here.

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  • Neil

    You know David, I was thinking about the PL Robertson recess square head screw. Knowing now that its been around since 1908…….we should have been given the option to use the recessed square in our Yankee Automatic rachets….sure would have saved alot of dings in my projects from spinning and stripping and jumping off those phillips head screws.

    Is anything Henry Ford wasn’t messing with????

  • woodiespassion

    Wow sounds fantastic. Can’t wait to get my copy!
    There is was a side table found in Tutankhmun’s toomb which had a dovetailed drawer. You can see an in Florence de Dampierre’s book ‘The Best of Painted Furniture’

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