Working to a Line
The basic principle of woodworking is painfully easy: Mark your project carefully, then remove the wood that isn’t part of your project. Over Christmas break, I built my wife a coffee table. Here it is:
The table has “clamped” or breadboard ends. Three tenons, integral with the top, fit into attending mortises cut into the breadboard end. Oh, and the couch in the picture is massive. The table is 31″ wide, and 6′ long… more the size of a dining table than a conventional coffee table, so there was a ton of end grain wood to remove and no good way to saw any of it. No big deal, you just mark it out and cut away material with a chisel until you get what you want, right?
So back to the beginning of this blog post. In the top picture, I’m excavating material to inlay a brass pull into the tool box I’m making. You know the drill: You lay the hardware on the work, mark around it, then cut to the line, right? I had to stop myself and take this picture because I think I never cut to the line – I almost always end up leaving the line. And even when I have to remove the line, I tend to sneak up on it. When I cut dovetails, I cut tails first, then mark the pins from the tails. I tend to darken that scratched line with pencil and I think I always leave that line. For some joints, a line-to-line fit will result in a gappy joint. Why? Because wood compresses. For other operations, the action of the chisel alone compresses wood. Try it. If you knife a line cross grain, then lay your chisel on the line and chop, inevitably the chisel back compresses material and basically undercuts your line.
The basic principles of woodworking are simple. But the reality of woodworking often isn’t.
– Adam Cherubini