Episode #33: The Wooden Square

Note: All of my old podcast videos have been moved to my YouTube channel.  You can now watch this video here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iIGyscwCJVM&t=25s

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15 thoughts on “Episode #33: The Wooden Square

  1. Bob, thanks for creating the excellent video on making try squares. Since you have been using wooden try squares for a few years now, how often do they go out of square and need to be tweaked in again, discounting the unforeseen drop on the floor?

    • Denny,
      In the three years or so that I’ve been using my most used 9″ square, I’ve had to true it up exactly one time, and that was only by a couple of shavings. It literally took less than a minute to true it. I check it very frequently, like almost every time I use it (which also takes just seconds), because it’s best to be sure. But they really need re-truing very infrequently. Mind you my shop is climate controlled and indoors, but still, I think the worry about wood movement affecting their accuracy is over exagerated. They honestly don’t move that much, and they are so easy and fast to true that the time spent doing it is for the most part negligible. You’ll spend hundreds of hours more time sharpening and futzing with hand plane adjustments than you will re-truing wooden squares.

  2. Hey Bob, love your videos especially those concerning tool making.I will be attempting a few of my own.Any interest in bow saws? Would love to see something done with that.
    Thanks for an excellent site.

  3. Really interesting video. I have a question about wooden squares and metal striking knives. You used one in the video when checking the inside edge of the square’s blade for square. But doesn’t the metal knife cut the wood a bit each time?

    I guess my more general question is: Do you use wooden squares differently than you do metal ones? Do you have to baby them to prevent damage?

    Thanks for you site.

    –Dave

    • Hi Dave,
      I wouldn’t say I baby my wooden squares. They are tools like any other tool. I use them regularly. In fact, I only have wooden squares at this point. The knife should not cut the square blade if you are using it correctly. Sure, I’ve shaved the blade a few times, but this was my fault for using too much pressure and holding the knife too vertical. Had it been a metal square, it would have seriously dulled my knife blade.

      The flat face of the knife should be held flat against the square’s blade. This is actually made much easier with a wooden square because the blade is so much thicker than it is with a metal try square. The blade on my large square is a full 1/4″ thick. That’s a lot of registration surface. My marking knife also has a low skew angle compared to say a spear point knife. I find the lower skew angle to be advantageous because you don’t have to hold the knife at such a low angle to register it well without cutting the blade. It is also single skewed, not spear point, so there is only one cutting edge. I think spear point knives would have a greater tendency to cut into the blade because they are ground to such an acute angle. They need to be held at a lower angle to the wood to keep their cutting edge lower. The style of knife I use doesn’t have this problem because of the low angle, unless I’m holding the knife too vertical and really forcing the knife into the square, which means I’m using too much pressure.

      The nice thing is, if I do happen to shave a little off the blade, it usually doesn’t make a difference because the blade is so thick, so it still stays plenty precise enough. If it does impact the tool’s precision, it is easily fixed with a couple of swipes of the plane. I can retrue and clean up the edge of the blade in just a minute or two. This might be done once a year if the square goes out of true anyway. I check them for truth often, but they rarely need adjustment. The 1/4″ to 3/8″ that the blade protrudes above the top of the handle is to allow for this occasional retruing without having to plane the end grain of the handle.

      • Thanks for the response. I love the way those squares look, so I’ll have to try and make (and use) one and see for myself if I have any problem with a metal knife. I am currently using an x-acto knife for striking lines, but I’m thinking of buying a spearpoint knife like the one from blue spruce, so we’ll see how it goes with a wooden square. Thanks again for the great site.

  4. Hi Bob, thanks for the dedication you are sharing.
    I didn’t get what you said when you remove the inside of the mortise after sawing the sides.Do you say that if you had a 3/16 chisel, you would do it entirely with that chisel ? skipping the sawing ?
    How would you achieve it ? I woulg be afraid the wood would tier apart or split opten at the end grain, since it’s a kind of “open” mortise.

    • Sorry for the delayed response. I had to rewatch the episode myself as I wasn’t quite sure what you were referring to. I think what I meant was that the mortise in the square I was making was 3/16″ wide, but because I didn’t have a 3/16″ wide chisel, I was using a 1/8″ chisel. A 3/16″ chisel simply would have made cleaning up the 3/16″ wide mortise a bit easier vs. using a narrower chisel to clean up a wider mortise. Regardless of whether or not I had a 3/16″ chisel, I would saw the sides of the mortise.

    • It’s an similar process, but you need to do a bit of geometry with a compass to create a 45 degree line to use to set the angle while building the square. Then you test it in a similar way but the resulting two scribes should form a perfect 90 degree angle instead of falling right on top of one another. It’s a bit more involved, but still very similar.

      • I think the 45 square would be a great project for you to show, I do understand what you mean though

  5. You stated in the video that truing the inside 90 degrees was very difficult and care should be taken to insure it is perfect before glue up then truing the outside 90, this leaves me wandering, if you have to true the square eventually on the outside 90, you would need to true the inside as well. What is the best method to remove wood from the inside 90 angle? I tried truing a metal try square with a file and found it very difficult to approach the meeting point of the base and blade. Any advice on this point?

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