The Quiet Shop

Because I have very young children, I have to work with very quiet tools. Routers and table saws make the babies scream, which is bad. I work with in the quiet shop, and I work almost exclusively with hand tools.

Location: Greater Northwest Chicagoland, Illinois, United States

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The fallacy of flat

I just read Adam Cherubini's column Arts and Mysteries in Popular Woodworking and it came as a revelation to me. A specialist in 18th century, traditional woodworking, he rails against efforts to make hand tools achieve machine-like tolerances for flat. This applies to the flatness of plane soles as well as the surfaces they create. While it may be possible for an handplane to equal or even eclipse the 'flattening' qualities of a machine, what is point? The wood needs to be made only flat enough to make a strong joint or a visually pleasing surface.
Early on I picked up the belief that my wood had to be perfectly flat and perfectly square or my joints wouldn't come together right. This belief bred fear - fear of trying to make dovetails, in particular. Before I tried a dovetail, I wanted to be sure my wood was milled perfectly square. Before it could be perfectly square I had to be sure my plane soles were perfectly square. Moreover, I had to be sure my blades were prefectly sharp and (not coincidentally) perfectly square. This, of course, meant that my water stones had to be perfectly flat. And on, and on, and on.
I spent the better part of a year learning how to make things flat, yet I never made a single piece of furniture. Flat is important, but beyond a certain point lies madness (and incredible expense).


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