Follow the Leader


I was on Twitter the other day, complaining about how clumsy a deep-throated fretsaw was for cleaning out dovetails.  The problem was that the board was too wide for my jeweler’s saw, and my Gramercy dovetail saw’s kerf was too narrow for the pivoting blade of my coping saw.

Kari Hultman (The Village Carpenter Blog), with her usual clarity, pointed out that I could saw down the middle of the waste with the coping saw, and then turn and cut to each side.  Duh! Another V-8 moment for The Gravedigger.  It’s not easy to ‘fess up to something like this, but never let it be said that I don’t show the bad with the good.

The thing that struck me about this incident is how easily we can miss the obvious when we already have an answer. This can be especially true when the “experts” are involved. Robert Lang of Popular Woodworking in his August 20, 2010 blog quoted Kevin Drake of Glen Drake Tools as saying “the worst reason in the world to use a particular method is because you were taught to do it that way.”

There’s a certain disconnect that happens when we see an expert do something. Suddenly, THE ANSWER has been found.  We drink the Kool-Aid and become True Believers. All other techniques are inferior, and it is our duty to “help” the uninformed.  In his classic novel The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov’s next-to-last chapter was “The Answer that Satisfied”.  The protagonist is given an explanation to the plot’s puzzle that explains everything to his satisfaction, and he goes away convinced that he has discovered the truth.  However, the book’s last chapter is “The Answer that was True”.

How often do we do this? It seems as though every month we read about some Ultimate Technique or No-Fail method and come away converted, even when the little voice in our heads is saying, “Ehh…”

Pins first, tails first, dovetail saw, bowsaw, hacksaw, chisel the waste, bandsaw the waste, coping saw the waste, fretsaw the waste, dovetail jig the whole thing, Frank Klausz, Rob Cosman, Mario Rodriguez, Christopher Schwarz, Norm Abrams. Each of these is The Answer that Satisfies.

And that’s just dovetails.

The Answer that is True?

They’re ALL good and ALL right.

Don’t be afraid to look beyond the latest tips and tricks if they don’t seem to fit with your way of doing things.  Next month another expert in another magazine will have a new Ultimate Technique for dealing with the same problem. YOU are on the path to becoming an expert in your own right.  Don’t be afraid to try something new.  Experiment with the various methods, keeping an open mind, and determine through experimentation what works best for you.

Oh, what did I finally do?  I took a swipe at the fretsaw blade with a block of canning wax before the cut.  It does wonders for friction and blade life and makes the whole process much easier.  Truth is, I bought a half-gross of the things, and I’m too cheap to let ’em go to waste.

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4 responses to “Follow the Leader

  1. Nice post! And I couldn’t agree more. Choose/create/modify the technique that works best for you. That’s one of the beauties in woodworking—there’s always more than one way to complete a given task.

  2. A very good analysis of the situation and a very good tip at the end for fret saw users like me. Thanks.

  3. This is a topic that needs full fledged flush-out. This is one of my biggest complaints about this internet woodworking. This following nonsense. Especially from the experience level on some topics. Woodworking is an independent passion not the kool-aid flavored passion you also see.

    I don’t really care about the 50 yr olds and above, its the 25 and up that gets me. I see this 25 and up group being manipulated by the purchasing power of the 50’s instead of the independent creative power of self.

    An awful lot of nonsense rooming around woodworking today. The real good ones separate themselves.

    I toast your awareness.

  4. I love this post. As you probably know I’m working on building a hand tool school over at my site (plug, plug). When I first hatched this idea, I was adamant that I present options for different techniques but to not get lost in that multi-verse (hey you quoted Asimov) and just work the wood. It is never a good idea to close off to new approaches, but to obsess over the myriad ways of doing things and never doing anything is just madness. Keep writing Robert and most of all, keep woodworking.

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