How to Start a Woodworking Myth
There are so many old wives’ tales in our craft that you could write an entire book that lists and debunks them. Students constantly bombard me with them, and it makes me wonder: How do these begin?
After a slip of the tongue the other day, I think I have a good idea.
This week I’m assembling a Roman workbench and had a couple woodworking friends over as we drove in the 3” tenons into the benchtop and wedged them in place. The wedges were massive slips of oak that I’d cut earlier in the day.
The weird thing about my wedges was that they each had a thin layer of cork affixed to one edge.
“What’s the cork for?” one guy asked.
“Because the top is so wet and these tenons are so big, the springy cork will allow for some wood movement without the wedges splitting the benchtop,” I replied.
I was, of course, joking. The cork was there because it had been stuck to the piece of scrap I’d grabbed to make the wedges. But the response from the other woodworkers was heads nodding.
Oh crap, I thought. So I quickly admitted that I was joking. The information was false. But my bullcrap had sounded good, and that was the problem.
Lots of times, students ask me “why” I am doing a certain operation. If I know the answer I tell them. But if I don’t know, I am quick to say: “I don’t know.” But I know a lot of people who won’t say “I don’t know,” and so they’ll generate a logical but false response. Here’s an example that I’ve heard first-hand many times:
Question: Why do you finish both sides of a tabletop?
Answer: To equalize the moisture exchange on both faces of the board to prevent the board from warping.
The answer sounds reasonable, but it’s completely the opposite of fact. And so the information is absorbed by the student and passed on. And because the information sounds logical, it’s almost impossible to stamp out the falsehood, especially once it’s written down.
So if you know nothing, say nothing.
— Christopher Schwarz