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Before I get into the topic of this post, I would like to preface it by saying that I have been working with and around machinery for most of my adult life. That list includes construction equipment, printing presses, pipe benders, wire pulling machines, fork lifts and earth movers. Of course this list also includes power tools for woodworking. All of the equipment I listed could and can seriously injure or even kill.
Lately, while woodworking, I have been exclusively using hand tools. This has not been a philosophical decision. The projects I have been working on are generally small, and because my daughter has been with me ( I will not use a power tool with her in the vicinity), and because I could just as easily crosscut a few boards by hand, I have been avoiding the table saw. But over the past weekend I broke out the table saw for the first time in quite a while, and truth be told it may be a long while before I break it out again.
Last year my father-in-law brought me some hickory and ash logs from his property in upstate Pennsylvania, so I split them into smaller pieces and set them aside to dry. When inspecting them on Saturday I deemed them dry enough to use, so I decided to further prep the wood (namely the hickory) into smaller billets to be used as handle stock for some antique farm and logging tools that I have been attempting to restore. This prep work consisted of a lot of sawing and hatchet work, and I don’t recommend it if you are working under any kind of time frame because it is a long and arduous process despite what anybody will tell you. Regardless. I ended up with four “sticks” roughly 2 ½ feet long and 2 or so inches square. I planed them down mainly to get a flat reference face (this wood will be shaped into contoured handles, so there is no need to start off with a perfectly square board), and rather than spending another hour rip sawing and cross cutting, I decided to use the table saw to get all of the wood to uniform size. That is when things got weird.
The first thing I wanted to do was cross cut the boards to uniform width. I have an Osborne EB-3 miter gauge, which I feel is a top of the line product, and it has never given me any real trouble. It is accurate, and safe, and I feel comfortable using it. The blade on the saw is new and sharp. So I set the blade height, and decided on an off-cut of around 2 inches just to be sure to remove any funky end wood. So I began a process I have completed thousands of times…My first off cut shot across my garage like a rifle shot. I turned off the saw, checked the blade height-which was right where it is supposed to be-and got back to work. The second off cut, which was the other side of the same board, did not shoot across the garage again, but it wanted to. Instead, it seemed to “tug” the board into the blade slightly, and I believe the only thing that kept the board from being pulled laterally any further was the fact that my miter gauge is lined with 60 grit sand paper just for the purpose of keeping the wood from shifting. At this point, I unplug the saw and check the blade-it is tight and sharp; I check the miter gauge and it is 90 degrees to the blade (not that it should have mattered in the least but I checked anyway) I even checked the voltage at the receptacle that the saw is plugged into-121 volts. So I chalked up the missile launches to the dense hickory board and began again.
The next 3 boards yielded generally the same results: flying wood, pulling boards, and overall chaos. After the boards were sawn to length I was planning on ripping them to width as well, but by then I was becoming worried. I have always had a very healthy respect for all machinery and I am always very cautious when using it, because I’ve witnessed several gory incidents as well as surviving a few near-misses myself. But this was the first time that I can ever recall being afraid to use a table saw.
At this point I decided on some more detective work. I went back to the blade, which is a brand new 40t combination blade, a Diablo from the Depot. While I don’t consider the Diablo blades anything special, I have used them in the past many times without incident. Nevertheless I doublechecked it, and found no wobble, the teeth were nice and sharp, and as I said before, the height was set where I always set it, with the gullets approximately 1/8 of an inch above the cut. Hickory is a hard wood, very hard, so I decided to cross cut a piece of scrap pine to see the results, and while it did not shoot across the room or bog, something definitely did not feel quite right. So I re-checked the Hickory; there were no wild grain patterns or large checks, and while the boards likely have more moisture content than a kiln dried board you may find in a lumber yard or home center, they were definitely not openly wet or even damp.
However, one area of concern did crop up, and that was the throat plate on my table saw. The plate is wider than it should be, and perhaps an offcut just a few inches long will dip, even slightly, due to lack of support, causing it to touch the revolving blade, possibly shooting it back? I have always wanted to make or purchase a zero clearance throat plate, but because I use the table saw so little I haven’t considered it much lately. So to test this theory out I cross cut a scrap board so that much of the off-cut would be supported by the table and the results were improved, though I still seemed to feel a slight tug that I had honestly never noticed before until that day.
Here’s the thing, not too long ago I came to the conclusion that I am probably going to sell my table saw. I don’t use it much, but more importantly it takes up a lot of space. At the same time a table saw can be a useful tool to have around. I know that I can work without it, but I also know that there are times it will be greatly missed, in particular on those days when I need to cut a few dozen dados. I’m not sold on the notion of “all handwork, all the time.” Once again, I have nothing against it, I just don’t have the free time for it; I woodwork for fun, not as a crusade. Yet, I haven’t really used the table saw in earnest this entire year, and we are heading into September. Either way, for the first time in my life I did not feel comfortable using a familiar tool. It’s worth the $25 investment to add a zero-clearance throat plate, but that may not be the issue, and that issue may be a problem with the saw that I cannot necessarily identify without a true expert checking it out for me.
If I add a new throat plate and I still don’t notice a difference I can only see two options: sell the saw and put the money toward a band-saw, or sell the saw and put the money towards a Sawstop Saw. For the record, this is not a commercial for Sawstop. I’ve used a Sawstop saw a handful of times and I think highly of them. I don’t know if they do any more to stop kickback on crosscuts than any other saw will, but I do know that if that kick back causes my hand to slip, or jerk, or what have you, and my hand happens to touch the blade in doing so, I have a far better chance of not sustaining a serious injury. Yet, even if I sell my saw and get top dollar for it, the money raised would still be less than half of what I need. I can get a nice bandsaw for half the cost of a Sawstop, and bandsaws, in my opinion, are a far safer option, perhaps the safest option of all when it comes to sawing wood with a motor.
When it comes down to it, I’m not a kid anymore, and I’m not a professional woodworker. Maybe my months long lay-off from the table saw has me somewhat gun shy. Maybe my reflexes aren’t what they used to be, and I have definitely had some issues with my hands and fingers, so maybe that is the problem. Whatever the case may be, I was honestly rattled this past weekend, and that is no way to woodwork, and until I figure it out, the power switch to that table saw is remaining in the “off” position.
I haven’t made a piece of furniture in many months.
I’m not too happy about that fact. This has been my longest stretch without making a piece of furniture since I started woodworking. But I found that my hiatus did have one added benefit; it gave me time to think. In actuality my upcoming project has been in the planning stages for several months though I only decided on starting it a few weeks ago. But it has given me more time than ever to plan every joint, the assembly order, and all of the little details that are sometimes missed, not only in my head, but on paper. But the real “rarity” was my laying out every tool that I plan on using for each phase of the construction. I can’t recall ever doing that before. Of course, like most woodworkers there are certain things I do during a project that happen “on the fly”. I’m sure that this project will have some of those moments, but I think they will be few.
Friday afternoon I got to do something that I don’t often get to do: Go to my local lumberyard. For the record, this lumberyard is not a hard wood dealer. Though they offer some oak, maple, and cherry, most of their business is geared towards construction. What they do offer is very nice, clear pine, and that is what I purchased. The only mistake I made was not purchasing enough, and that only because it wouldn’t fit in my car. But I got enough for the bulk of the construction, which cost me $78.00. While I would have loved to build this project from oak, I chose pine because it was in my budget. $78.00 gave me both case sides, all 5 shelves, and the top and bottom trim pieces. The only thing I am missing is the 3 boards needed for the back.
Though I’m happy to have visited the lumberyard this past weekend, the real reason I am writing this post concerns my table saw. Anybody who reads this blog on a somewhat regular basis knows that like nearly every other woodworking blogger on the internet, when concerning woodworking, I often use hand tools. I’m not a zealot; I’ve said many times over that I don’t care who uses what. And I’m happy to say that it’s been a while since I’ve come across the “Hand tool vs Power tool” forums. While I don’t see the spiritual side to using hand tools that some woodworkers claim to find, I do enjoy using them. However, on Saturday morning I prepped all of the stock for this project, first rough cutting it to size and then sawing it to finished length and width. I did nearly all of that prep work using my table saw.
In approximately 30 minutes I had the bulk of that work finished. The only hand tool that saw action was the #7 jointer plane which I used to clean up the edges. Having that table saw saved me a lot of time this past weekend. It allowed me to get a lot of grunt work finished and still take my kid to her soccer game. In short, it allowed me the time to sweat the small stuff when the time comes; it allowed me speed and accuracy; it allowed to me start making furniture again, and it allowed me to once again be a real woodworker
…Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez echoed the condolences, adding that Americans understood the difficulties of mine rescues – and the grief of victims’ families.
“Tragedies like this remind us once again of the need to ensure that all workers return home safely at the end of their shifts,” he said in a statement. “No one, anywhere in the world, should have to risk his or her life to earn a living.”
For the past few days I’ve been reading reports of a horrific mining disaster which occurred in the country of Turkey near the town of Soma. For those of you that may be unaware of the situation, just two days ago an explosion in a coal mine and an ensuing fire trapped hundreds of miners underground. There have been hundreds of fatalities, and many more are expected. I will be the first to admit that I know little about the history and culture of Turkey, but that doesn’t mean that I cannot sympathize with those workers and their families.
Mining accidents are not unheard of in my part of the country, though thankfully they have become an extremely rare occurrence. There was a time when they were much more commonplace, and they usually resulted from lack of safety equipment, and more importantly, the complete disregard of safety regulations. More often than not, the technology and safety equipment already existed to do much in preventing mining accidents, or at the least to help better protect the miners in the event of an unpreventable disaster. Yet, that wasn’t usually the case as the safety measures were never implemented because mine owners circumvented or just plain ignored the safety rules, and worse, they rarely provided their workers with proper safety equipment to begin with, not because it didn’t exist, but because it they felt that it cost too much. But perhaps the most despicable aspects of these disasters were not only the result of carelessness on the part of the mining companies, but the carelessness of the Federal Government.
“Regulation” is often considered a bad word. Some people in the woodworking community hear the word and they automatically think that the Government is out to get them. Corporations fight tooth and nail to this day to have regulations lessened or even removed completely. The destruction of these regulations is always proposed in the name of profit, and job growth. The funny thing is that much of the time the first regulations these corporations want to remove are safety regulations. It seems that safety is expensive.
Anybody that has ever been in the military, or worked as a tradesman, or in a mill or factory among other places, has probably encountered a situation where the working conditions in terms of safety were lax. They may have even been threatened with losing their jobs when pointing out the indiscretions. There are even times when companies have threatened to close rather than comply with proposed regulations, or even regulations that have already been legislated and are considered law. There are people out there that applaud certain corporations for it, for sticking it to the Government. But in the end, it’s always the people working the jobs that pay the cost.
When the “Sawstop Legislation” was first proposed I was all for it, and I still am. The fact that it didn’t pass doesn’t bother me in the least, though maybe it should. What did bother me about it was what was said on the forums, and what really bothered me was what was written in the editorial sections of several major woodworking magazines. You know why? Because it’s my personal opinion that every one of those “editorials” were written not for the benefit of woodworkers, but to protect the advertising profitability of the magazines. In other words, safety, or the proposal of it, was once again compromised in the name of profit.
Before I go on, I will admit that I didn’t like how Sawstop corporation handled the situation. Some would say that they were trying to force their technology on other manufacturers, and to a big extent they would be correct. Yet, recent history has basically proven that safety features that cost any money nearly always have to be regulated or they will never make it into the market-Seat Belts, Air Bags, Safety Harnesses for high work, GFCI and Arc Fault Protection to name just a few examples. If you happen to believe that the free market will force safer products onto the mass market you are sadly mistaken. Free market correction has been nearly non-existent for more than a generation, de-regulation has seen to that. Mass market products, including tools, will continue to be made more and more cheaply until they are forced to change by law, because if the free market actually worked the way everybody seems to think it does, we would already have noticed a real improvement.
All of my opinions could be way off base, I admit that, but here is something I do know; every person that uses a Sawstop saw, whether at home or as a professional, has a far less chance of being severely injured by the piece of equipment they are using. And if the “Sawstop Legislation” had passed, as of January 1st, 2015, all new table saws sold in California, and possibly across the nation, would have had flesh detection technology as mandatory installed safety equipment, and every woodworker, carpenter, furniture maker, and factory worker that used a newly installed table saw from then on would have a hell of a better chance of going to bed every night after work with their digits and hands intact. Across the country, table saws would be safer, home wood workers would be safer, jobsites would be safer, and going to work would be safer for thousands of people. That’s enough for me.
So yet again, we have another instance where safety regulations were apparently compromised and hundreds of people paid for it with their lives. If Sawstop legislation was as evil as quite a few people made it out to be, I would ask the same people to talk to the parents, wives, and children of those miners that will never come home again, and tell them that safety costs a little too much and that it really isn’t the business of the Government to regulate it. I would have them explain to those families that although things could be made safer, it would cut into profits. I would love to see them present some facts and figures to those families, and show them the dollar value saved comparatively to the life it cost. Because the woodworking magazine editors sure as hell liked to use a lot of facts and figures explaining how much the Sawstop safety technology cost, and how losing a finger really wouldn’t affect your life all that much, and that it would just cost too much to produce a much safer saw. Most of those figures were completely unfounded, so while they were at it I would ask them to also put a price on what they think a finger, or a hand, or even a human life was worth. Why not? It’s all conjecture isn’t it?
Before I go, rest assured I am not comparing this horrible tragedy unfolding in Turkey to Sawstop Legislation, but I am saying that the same line of thinking is present. I know it’s been nearly two years since Sawstop legislation has been a hot topic in the world of woodworking, but that doesn’t make what some woodworking magazines printed in their pages regarding the legislation any less disgusting. Here’s what they said: Safety costs too much. Here’s why: They didn’t want to piss off their advertisers. That’s it. They told woodworkers that they really didn’t need a safer table saw, even though there are still thousands of table saw injuries every year. Why? Because they didn’t want to piss off their advertisers. They even made claims that a table saw with flesh detecting safety technology will make woodworkers careless. Why? Because they didn’t want to piss off their advertisers. Maybe that’s smart thinking, or just plain old good business, but I’m not willing to put a dollar value on my hand, or arm, or life. Yet, a lot of woodworking magazines were willing to do just that.
Something extremely disappointing happened to me last week that I didn’t mention on the blog. While prepping the wood for my plant stand I discovered that a good portion of it wasn’t usable. There was some rot, and bad checks, and worst of all twist. Rather than throw it all in the trash; it’s still Walnut; I salvaged everything I could and stacked it neatly on the small rack I have in my garage. In fact, I had planned on taking a photo of it for the blog and seeing if anybody could come up with a good project for it. But with the Walnut not an option I wasn’t too sure what to do about the plant stand that my wife has been asking me to make-I really don’t want to purchase any material at the moment, and at the same time I don’t usually keep much laying around. So I did some searching in my scrap pile and found that I had enough clear Fir to make the stand legs, and bottom stretchers, and I had enough clear Pine to make the top stretchers as well as the table top itself. I still need a board for the bottom shelf, but I will worry about that when the stand is ready to be assembled.
Today saw the most progress of any other during the project. I got all 16 mortises laid out, the tenons are all sawn, and the top is finished. The tenons were the most time consuming part of the day. I used the table saw to define the cheeks of the tenons, but I sawed them with a hand saw. I’m not sure exactly why I do it this way, because there really is no advantage one way or the other, but it’s always how I’ve done it, and it seems to work. For accuracy I saw the tenons two boards at a time, which seems to help make sawing easier, and it speeds things up a little. With all sixteen tenons sawn I started on the top.
To make the top I glued up two boards, using the jointer plane to make a tight glue joint. I don’t know why, but when I did the glue up last week I had some trouble getting a good joint. The iron was certainly sharp enough, but the board did not want to plane properly. In any event, I did eventually manage to get a tight joint, and today I used the smoothing plane to clean it up. Before I went any further, I used the table saw and cross cut sled to produce the finished size: 16×16. I then planed the edges clean and used the random orbit sander, 220 grit, for a final light pass on the top.
The last operation of the day was laying out the mortises. Before I started I marked both the legs and stretchers with a cabinet makers triangle just so I didn’t screw up royally. To mark the mortises I used the tenons of the stretchers to size them, and then used a marking gauge to lay them out. Because I don’t have a mortising machine, I will chop them out with a mortising chisel. I suppose I could use a router, but on a soft wood like Fir the chisel will do just fine. So by next weekend the joinery should all be ready to go. I will only need to at the beading and the stand will be ready for assembly.
At first I was a little worried about using Pine and Fir together, but I think they will do fine. Both are softwoods and the material is nice and clear with no warp or knots of any kind. I wish I could use all Fir but I just didn’t have enough. I had even considered buying a 2×8 and milling the material from that, but that could be hit or miss, and I doubt that I could find a piece that was clear enough to make furniture from, at least not without searching through hundreds of boards to find it. I may regret that choice when I stain this project. I’m hoping that the gel stain that I used for my end tables does a good job of evening out two slightly dissimilar woods. I will have to do a test run at first, and maybe use some conditioner on the wood. If I don’t post any photos, you all will know it turned out.
I read a comment on a woodworking forum last night stating: “I wouldn’t take a Sawstop table saw if you gave me one for free!” Or at least that’s what it said in paraphrase. That got me to thinking. If Sawstop offered to give you a free table saw would you take it? No strings attached, no cost, nothing, just a free saw out of the goodness of the company’s heart.
Or lets say you really love your current table saw and wouldn’t want to give it up, so Sawstop came up with a free adder to retrofit your current saw with their safety technology; let me stress free of charge. Would you take that offer?
I’m curious to find out the answers here, because there is a lot of backlash against Sawstop and many claim that price has nothing to do with it. So please feel free to comment and let me know what your reasoning is either way. Thanks.
Yesterday, New Year’s Day, I decided to get started on the right track and celebrate the day with a little bit of woodworking, and that meant getting my new Dutch tool box started. Of course, it is freezing in my area, and with it snowing as I type this post, with temperatures expected to dip down close to 0 degrees F, it’s not going to get much better, so yesterday I thought ahead and set a space heater in the garage to warm it up before I got started. Even with all of my preparations, the garage was still a little uncomfortable, and my very stable Aspen still warped a touch. It wasn’t such a big deal, but when I ripped the stock down to rough width on the table saw, it left the edges out of square corresponding to the slight bow in the board. You wouldn’t think that something so minor would be very noticeable, and usually it isn’t, but I needed to have those boards perfectly square in order to dovetail them correctly, so I knew that I would have some work ahead of me.
The first thing I did was to rip the boards to width. I was aiming for 11 1/4 inches wide, so I set the fence 1/8 wider to give me some wiggle room to not only plane off the tooling marks, but also to square up the edges. I ripped the panel into two equal pieces, and then crosscut them to just under 24 inches. With that out of the way I chose two boards to use as the side panels, with the others set aside for the bottom and the shelf. I picked the clearest boards for the side panels, sandwiched them together, and placed them in the leg vice to plane off the tooling marks and square them up. For that job, I used my jointer plane to get it flat, and I smoothed the edge with the wood try plane I made last summer. Shockingly, I had both sides finished in just a few minutes, so I repeated the same thing with the other boards I had set aside. Originally, that was all I had planned on doing, but since things were going so quickly I decided to move onto sawing the angles on the side panels.
To saw the angle for the front lid, I used the table saw and miter gauge. Rather than sawing each angle individually, I once again sandwiched the two boards together, set the miter gauge at 30 degrees, and sawed both angles at once. My saw blade is fairly new and very sharp, so it still produces a nice, clean cut, especially when cross-cutting. In just a few moments the angles were finished, so while I was still rolling along I decided that I may as well saw the dados to hold the shelf.
To saw the dados I again turned to the table saw and cross cut fence, but I used a dado stack rather than nibble away at the joint piecemeal. My luck was holding up yesterday, because it took only two test cuts to get the dado perfect, with only one extra shim added to my first attempt to get the fit I wanted. I had both dados finished in no time, so I brought the two boards over to the workbench to clean up the dados with my router plane. I have two things to report: First, using a router plane with a newly sharpened iron is a joy, and even across the grain it produced a perfectly clean and smooth bottom to the dado. The second thing is even better: This is the first project I’ve attempted since the tool tray was added to my workbench, and I’m happy to say that there was absolutely no change in how I worked. In fact, I honestly forgot for a moment that the tray was even there. The tray did collect a few shavings, I admit, and I had them vacuumed up in about ten seconds. Otherwise, my bench performed just fine, though I definitely need to add a few more dog holes for versatility, as my short row of four holes forced me to work in one spot. In any event, I had both dados cleaned up and ready to go quickly and easily.
With the dados cleaned up and everything fitting nicely, I decided to call it a night as far as the tool box was concerned. All in all, I was really impressed, and happy, with how quickly everything went together. I was so far ahead of schedule that I decided to sharpen both my jointer plane iron and the iron for my wood try plane, just to see if I could frustrate myself a little. The only downside to yesterday turned out to be when I sharpened the jointer, and I came to the realization that my jointer iron, which is more than 100 years old, is probably going to need replacing sooner rather than later. I estimate that I can sharpen it maybe a dozen or so more times before it needs to be reground, and there really isn’t much iron left for that operation. So I may be ordering a new iron from Hock in the next few months. But all in all it was a good day woodworking, and it occurred to me that once I get the dovetails sawn and fitted, the bulk of this project will be finished. I estimate that it should take around an hour to get it all done, and then I can glue it up and go from there.
The other really good news is that I am taking my time on this one, mostly because I have the time to take. I have no new projects on the horizon, mainly because it is going to be too cold to really begin any project of depth. So I am going to really go at an easy pace, not because I have the time, but also to fuss over the little details. I’ve been doing everything out of my head without a drawing, plan, or cutlist, though I took the dimensions roughly from the plans in Popular Woodworking magazine. No offense to those plans, but they are too ambiguous, and once I decided on the size, I didn’t even bother to look at them anymore.
I will continue the project on Sunday morning, and I should be able to have it glued up and ready to go in just a few hours. In the meanwhile, Lee Valley is currently offering a free shipping event so I will order the hinges from them once again. I am guessing that by the time they arrive the tool box will be ready to receive them. With that, it is already looking like a happy New Year.
The other day on a woodworking forum, a beginning woodworker asked me which I would purchase first: a table saw or a workbench? Before I answered, I told the person that I don’t often offer advice, which is true. To paraphrase a favorite author of mine, “Advice is a dangerous gift, and all options could end in failure.” At the same point, when somebody asks me a question, I usually feel obligated to answer. I answer questions all day. People ask me electrical questions that make me cringe and pray that they have a nearby fire company. So when this person asked me this question I did my best to answer it.
Firstly, I asked him if the question was just hypothetical. He said that he had always wanted to woodwork and now is finally ready to start. My initial advice was to buy a table saw and use it to make a workbench. In fact, that is exactly what I did. I know that not long ago I had said on this very blog that if I could start all over again, I would purchase a workbench rather than make one. I still stand by that, but I also said that a new woodworker in the market for a workbench should build the Bob Key bench, use it for a few years, and then purchase one after they got a real feel for what they wanted to do as a woodworker. I am a firm believer that every woodworker will make or purchase at least two workbenches in his or her lifetime, and not because of the first bench wearing out. You can take any workbench plan out of any workbench book that the author claims is just about a perfect bench, and I guarantee that eventually you will find several things on the bench that you would like to change. My current bench was born out of nearly five years of woodworking; I must have changed or modified it at least a dozen times. The worst part is, I know I will move onto another bench sooner rather than later. At that, workbenches are too expensive to both purchase and make and too time consuming to build over and over again til you get it right. You can spend $2500 on one of the top model table saws and pretty much be set for the next 20 years. The same can’t be said of a workbench.
So my advice was to purchase the best table saw he could afford. I reasoned that with a table saw you can immediately begin to make furniture; with a workbench you have nothing but a cool looking table. A workbench needs saws and planes and chisels to produce anything. Of course, you need other tools besides a table saw if you want to woodwork, but getting a good one at the get-go will save a lot of future headaches. He told me the reason he had asked me was because he read one of my blog entries about workbenches and table saws being two of the most expensive tools a woodworker usually owns. He felt that by starting off with one of the big ticket items, he could slowly and surely build up his tool kit from there. I thought that was smart thinking. He then promptly told me that he had already ordered a workbench, and that he was just wondering what I would have done. I wished him good luck. It turned out that my impassioned reasoning was all for naught. Well, what do I know? Now you all know why I’m slightly confused.