Have I been doing it wrong ?

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Blog entry by canadianchips posted 12-24-2010 02:49 AM 1896 reads 0 times favorited 19 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I have been reading about Table Saw fences being out of alignment. Squares not being square. Hand Plane bottoms not being perfectly flat.
On a normal day I go to my shop, set the fence on my table saw, using a tape measure that has smallest increment – 1/16”. The method I use is as follows: I measure from the tip of saw tooth (the tooth that is SET towards fence), I lock my fence in place and start cutting. By the way I do NOT have a beismeyer fence or any other fence that uses micro-adjustments), mine is an original Sears Crafstman fence that LOCKs at front and back. It has been customized over years to be SOLID. NO movement after it is locked. Part of that success is also sliding work onto table without ramming it into fence. On sheet goods I measure the edge of panel with my framing square, it is 24” along longest side and 16 ” on short side. If the edge is clean, (free from damage) and square I will use it. I run the panel through my table saw (myself) I have an outfeed table made on exit side to receive the material after it is cut. Once I have my panels cut to width, I then concentrate on the length.This is a personal choice, but I find it easier to cut long pieces on Table Saw myself “rather then have some in-experienced help pulling when they should push” A couple times each year I check my Table Saw blade to make sure it is square with the table. I put my 24” rafter square alongside the blade, making sure it is sitting parallel with body of blade and not touching a tooth of blade. I know the miter grooves are square with the front edge of saw, so if the blade is square with the front edge we now have things in common. Next I check if fence is running square as well. I do NOT use a micrometer, just my steel rafter square.To cut the length, I do same procedure. After I cut the first one, I measure diagonals and see if they are square enough for my needs.If both numbers are identical, that is my clue . GOOD to GO. I can proceed to cut another 20-30 pieces.
So the question I have is: I have NOT used a digital micrometer to see if the fence is within 1 /1000 of an inch, for accuracy. I have NOT checked my square to see if it is still accurate square ? Have I been doing this all wrong all my life?

I am quite anal about things looking balanced,square and done correctly, I am also human and realize that SOME things just have to be done, get on with it. If I were to measure and check every cut , I would still be building the FIRST set of cabinets that I did 32 years ago !
I am not opposed to new technology, I am just content and make my older equipment STILL do the work it was designed to do.

-- "My mission in life - make everyone smile !"

19 comments so far

View Mike Gager's profile

Mike Gager

665 posts in 2689 days

#1 posted 12-24-2010 03:28 AM

its wood. its rarely going to require the precision of anything less then 1/16th of an inch. if it does it will usually a trial fit type of thing to get a perfect fit anyways. if your procedure is working for you then i say keep doing it

View longgone's profile


5688 posts in 2731 days

#2 posted 12-24-2010 03:42 AM

I use precision tools to get precision accuracy. I don’t think a framing square could be quite as precise as a Starrett sliding square or a micrometer for setting up tools. I find it worth the investment to get my tools in precision alignment as it makes more precise and easy cuts.

View ajosephg's profile


1878 posts in 2983 days

#3 posted 12-24-2010 03:55 AM

Sounds like you’re satisfied with the results you’re getting. So what’s the problem>

-- Joe

View sras's profile


4363 posts in 2551 days

#4 posted 12-24-2010 04:53 AM

Yes – you are doing it wrong. If you are happy with the tools you have you won’t want new tools! Other than that it sounds like every thing is fine.

-- Steve - Impatience is Expensive

View Broglea's profile


677 posts in 2513 days

#5 posted 12-24-2010 06:45 AM

The proof is in the pudding. If your getting square cuts, you must be doing it right. Don’t change a thing.

View David Craig's profile

David Craig

2136 posts in 2531 days

#6 posted 12-24-2010 06:52 AM

I read a WOOD editorial once where the author was asked to help a buddy with a fence alignment problem. The guy was complaining that his fence was off by .002 and couldn’t get it perfect. He noticed some blade marks on the edge which the author could barely see, except by wetting the board and holding it to the light. Then the light bulb in the brain kicked in as he remembered that his buddy is an engineer and it is his nature to try to align things to microscopic perfection. That is just not the nature of wood. You cut it to certain measures today and it will not measure the same tomorrow.

Enjoyed the post,


-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

View shipwright's profile


7094 posts in 2220 days

#7 posted 12-24-2010 08:39 AM

When I first read this post , I was shocked. I didn’t remember writing it. Then I realized I didn’t write it…... but I sure could have. I have no understanding of the need for micro tools in woodworking whatsoever. It just evades me. I’ve never had accuracy problems and my usual, almost universal measuring device is a cheap tape measure. It’s not that I don’t seek accuracy, it’s just that I get my accuracy from fitting one piece to the other pieces rather than to an arbitrary set of predetermined numbers.
Thanks for coming out and saying it.

No you aren’t doing it wrong.

-- Paul M ..............If God wanted us to have fiberglass boats he would have given us fibreglass trees.

View ajosephg's profile


1878 posts in 2983 days

#8 posted 12-24-2010 01:07 PM

Guys, it’s not about accuracy, it’s about precision. For example if you make a joint where the two pieces don’t align by 1/16 inch it will look terrible in anybody’s book. If you are cutting rails for a face frame, they all better be the same length (a whole lot closer than 1/16”) or you’ve got big problems. Good woodworkers routinely cut stuff with several thousands of an inch whether they realize it or not.

Some people are gifted with the ability to kind of sense where to cut, and how to align stuff. Other’s don’t have that kind of talent (including me) and need some precisions tools to keep their stuff tuned up. For me, a major part of the joy of woodworker is using the machines. If I have to fight a machine to do good work, then the joy fades.

Another analogy or two – You may be able to take a day trip in a beat up clunker, but you might have to repair and adjust it several times on the way. But, isn’t it a lot more pleasurable to do it in a beautiful Corvette convertible? Or, if you’re into drag racing, most any vehicle will get you to the line eventually, but isn’t it a major thrill to drive something that gets there in 8 seconds!

-- Joe

View EEngineer's profile


1054 posts in 3035 days

#9 posted 12-24-2010 02:35 PM

I also think some of the concerns about .001” accuracy in woodworking equipment are ridiculous. Hell, wood moves much more than that from a damp day to a dry day. But 1/16”? Naw, I gotta be closer than that. 1/16” is the difference between drawer slides working or not. 1/16” difference in the length between 2 sides of a drawer is enough to make the drawer not square enough that the drawer face will never set flat against the cabinet face (DAMHIKT).

I recently had a friend come over to cut some wood on my table saw. I have the measuring tape on my fence setup well enough that I never check it – I just set the fence to the tape and start cutting. He pulls out a tape measure and starts fussing with the fence. “it was off when I set it that way” he says. Curious, after he left I set it to 8” did a trial cut and measured it with my tape measure – 8” right on the mark of the tape measure! Now, some of that may be nothing more than being used to my equipment – there is parallax in just sighting through the clear plastic guide and the lines on the guide and the tape are damned near 1/32” wide in themselves. But I still don’t feel that I need to check the saw every time I use it.

Many times the way I build things can make a little slop go away. For instance, I often see people here with a project that starts by cutting a 4X8 sheet of plywood into all the pieces they will need for the entire project. I never do that. Although I am a nut about having a complete dimensioned design before I start, each project suggests to me a nice, logical sequence of assembly that helps minimize the effects of any errors. For instance, I mentioned drawers being square before – who cares if they are off by 1/32” or even 1/8” as long as both sides of the drawer are exactly the same! So I setup the saw, make all the cuts associated with the length, change the saw setup, make all the cuts associated with the height, setup the router table, make all the dadoes… you get the idea. I don’t care what the actual absolute dimension is, as long as both sides are identical and the front and back are identical, I will get a square drawer. And I never, ever start working on the drawers until the carcass is finished and I can take final measurements on the drawer openings because odds are they will differ a little from the dimensions in the initial design.

It isn’t a production line, for me every piece is a one-time thing. Maybe I’d be a lot more anal about things if I had to produce everything separately and have it all fit together at the end of the line.

-- "Find out what you cannot do and then go do it!"

View Uncle_Salty's profile


183 posts in 2495 days

#10 posted 12-24-2010 03:04 PM

I use a dial indicator, an inside mircrometer, setup blocks, a feeler gauge, and an engineer square set to do all the set-up stuff on my equipment- but then it is time to get to work!

The only real concern I have with this whole thread is that, as has been posted earlier, wood’s dimensions change from hour to hour, day to day.

All woodworking projects, to some extent, are “custom” pieces. You can’t work with a living, breathing thing- like wood- without its own natural grain and ring patterns changing what size or shape it really wants to be! Sometimes you cut a piece, and it “unwinds” a little, if you know what I mean.

Sure… proper gluing techniques, plaining methods and finishing materials will go a long way towards insuring an heirloom quality piece of furniture, but these are competencies that are learned through experience: sometimes trial and error, sometimes mentorship, sometimes by accident.

Whenever I am in the middle of a project, I make certain that I have the time and material to perform all cuts with the same set up at the same time! This is as accurate as you can get- for that ONE operation, and then, fire, forget, and move on!

View Gregn's profile


1642 posts in 2405 days

#11 posted 12-24-2010 05:19 PM

One man’s junk is another’s treasure. So is the methods one uses to achieve the results they’re after. My philosophy is if the end results are safe and acceptable then its good enough. If they’re not then we look to other methods to achieve the results we want. I still use my framing square with my Radial Arm Saw because its quick and accurate enough for me. Although I also use my dial indicator, calibers, set up blocks, combination square, etc. depending on what I’m doing. Heck theres been times when I’ve used my open end wrenches for measuring. I’ve gone to using steel rules, while there are lots of guys that still prefer using tape rulers.
There are a lot of things I’ve done wrong in my woodworking career that have changed as my woodworking skill has progressed. Its not till we have the need to do something different do we learn new ways and methods.
Merry Christmas to everyone.

-- I don't make mistakes, I have great learning lessons, Greg

View terrilynne's profile


834 posts in 2315 days

#12 posted 12-24-2010 06:09 PM

You’re not doing it wrong. Everyone has their own way of doing things, as long as it works for you that’s all that matters. Fine furniture has been being built for centuries without the use of gadgets. “To each his own”.
Merry Christmas!

-- Terri, Rocky Mountain High Colorado!

View canadianchips's profile


2310 posts in 2419 days

#13 posted 12-24-2010 06:14 PM

After I hit the Post comment button I was wondering, have I upset some woodworkers ? THIS was not the intention.
I wrote this for re-assurance that some people do things the way I do. Maybe I wrote it to help new comers understand that things can be done without the latest greatest machinery. Maybe it was just the hussle bussle of the season and I needed to vent . I don’t know.
I worked 35 years ago with an older gentleman that never had a power tool in his possesion. He did the most remarkable work I ever seen. It took him longer, but it was always perfect when he was finished.
I have learned something from this, be open minded and continue to learn something every day.

-- "My mission in life - make everyone smile !"

View Bluepine38's profile


3336 posts in 2507 days

#14 posted 12-24-2010 07:44 PM

Looking at your signature, all I can say is mission accomplished, I am setting here with a smile on my face and
remembering my Dad with his old Craftsman table saw and his folding rule. He did not have a micrometer in
his woodworking tools, but he built a trailerhouse to live in when he first married and then a small house, and
finally a bigger house when the the family grew. Everything fit and worked. Thank you for bringing back
the happy memories and sharing. Just being a good carpenter seems to be about perfect with me.

-- As ever, Gus-the 77 yr young apprentice carpenter

View jcwalleye's profile


301 posts in 2495 days

#15 posted 12-25-2010 03:51 AM

I wouldn’t worry about offending anybody. Your comments and questions are exactly what this site needs and gets. Different points of view and ways to do things are enlightening.

Personally, I obsess a little over getting my tools into alignment because I need every edge I can get. If I shoot for 1/64th accuracy, there’s a good chance I’ll get 1/32. Starting with 1/16th, I’d be lucky to get 1/8th accuracy which is sometimes what I get anyway. I admire those that can intuitively get to where they want to be.

-- Trees, a wonderful gift --Joe--

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