Great Expectations

A recent post written on the Arts & Mysteries Blog by Adam Cherubini really got me thinking about how we view our own experiences, specifically related to the woodworking we do and the tools we use to do it. Adam is specifically speaking about his experiences using his version of the Roubo veneer saw and how through his use of it over the last few years, he has come to the conclusion that the saw doesn’t work all that well. This style of saw has received a small amount of publicity in recent months, partially perhaps due to my own experiences with it and partially due to Shannon Roger’s version as well.

I have indeed recommended this style of saw for resawing to several folks who have asked me about it, though I have recommended it be shortened to a 3′ blade for one person use. My own experience with the saw has proven it to be a better option than a regular hand saw FOR ME when I need to resaw stuff wider than about 8″. In addition, while I’ve not made veneer for a project using this saw, I have sawn a few small pieces for practice and demonstration that have finished out at just under 3/32″ thick after planing away the saw marks. So my frame saw retains a prominent position in my shop, patiently waiting until it is needed.

The difference in experiences with the saw that Adam and I have had got me thinking though. How much do my expectations from my tools and my work differ from other folks? Are my positive [in my opinion] results with my version of the frame saw and Adam’s not so positive [in his opinion] results merely a difference in expectations? Or is there something inherrently different in the cuts I’ve made with my saw and the cuts Adam has made with his that would lead a person to have a good experience with one saw and a not so good experience with another (of the same design and configuration)?

I suppose like with any tool, project or process, most of the satisfaction that we do get from our work is very closely related to our own personal expectations and what we deem an acceptable result. For example, I am not averse to leaving a small bit of tearout on a show surface of a project if during smoothing I run into a section of difficult, reversing grain. If I can remove it easily I will, but if it requires me to contort myself in uncomfortable ways or if it just isn’t easily worked with the tools I have, I am perfectly satisfied with just leaving it and moving on. I’ve seen enough period examples with similar “flaws” to know that I am not alone in this kind of thinking. However, I have spoken to many other woodworkers who would never do such a thing and consider leaving any amount of “imperfection” (such as minor tearout, scribe lines, over cuts, etc.) in any surface poor craftsmanship.

I think this must be a real struggle for folks like Adam, Chris Schwarz, the guys at FWW and PWW, and anyone else who writes about this stuff for a wide reaching audience. Based upon my own experiences answering questions about tools, methods, wood, etc., that have been asked as a result of my writing this blog for a very small audience, I’m guessing that those folks are constantly inundated with questions about tool recommendations and techniques. With all of the different expectations people have, however, I think it must be a losing battle for them trying to respond to all of these inquiries. Some folks are going to agree with them and have good experiences as a result of their advice and put them on a pedestal; and some folks are going to cry foul and brand them as liars and heretics.

I don’t know that there is an easy answer to this other than to suggest that folks try as much as they can for themselves. I know that a lot of the folks from the magazines have always suggested just that. I’ve suggested it plenty of times myself. But the more I think about these kinds of opposite experiences like Adam and I have had with our very similar frame saws, the more important I think it is for folks to try things for themselves. Adam says he cannot recommend the saw based upon his experiences and I have said that I like mine based upon my own experiences. For folks who are on the fence about how to accomplish this task by hand, this might be confusing.

Indeed there are plenty of folks who will swear by what one or two people write in a magazine or blog just because of who wrote it. However, with all of the choices we have today in tools and materials and workbenches and working styles and on and on, I think it is more important than ever to draw your own conclusions about these things. My point is, don’t just do what I do or what Adam does, or what Schwarz does or what Asa does, or what anyone else does. I’m sure all of these other guys would agree with me. What we do works for us. If you’d like to try it out, by all means do. But ultimately, get out in your own shop, experiment, and see what works for you!


8 thoughts on “Great Expectations

  1. Well said Bob. I’m a lot like you in regards to what I will “tolerate” in my projects so perhaps my expectations are lower than Adam’s too. I have had my finished saw about a year less than you and I too have a very favorable impression. I mentioned this on Adam’s blog but I think most of this is because I am not sawing veneers but rather halving my boards for solid wood panels and such. Much like trying to rive unequal thicknesses, these saws don’t respond well to it.

    Regardless, I think this expectation/perception topic is highly relevant and should give everyone motivation to think twice before accepting even the most credible source as gospel. Makes it much more interesting don’t you think.

  2. Interesting. I really can’t contribute practical experience here, but do have a sort of an observation that begs the question. Please pardon the ramblings of a neophyte. I saw that Adam cited a picture of the saw where two men were thin slicing a log held in a vertical position. Especially note the right hand image of the log and the multiple thin slices. I read Adams point number 1 where he shares his thoughts on the picture. I don’t have anything to say about his comments.

    I’m not sure how much difference the set up in the drawing would make in the sawing experience, but it seems Adam is putting the focus on sawing thin veneer and probably over a distance as the men in the picture are demonstrating versus breaking stock down into thinner pieces. I certainly don’t know how “wet” the log is and how this would effect the cutting (slicing) of the wood. Other things I don’t know in regards to the two men is their experience. It could be assumed that there may be an unstated “technique” in sawing this way, or these men may have gone the hard way and simply have hundreds if not thousands of hours experience in doing veneer sawing of logs. I wonder what their reject rate was?

    I guess they must have had a need for a lot of veneer back in the day. I wonder what their reaction would be, if they could see the efforts of today’s woodworkers using “their” saw. Would they be shaking their head, or maybe laughing? Is the joke on us?

    I have to agree with Bob’s statement (conclusion) “… ultimately, get out in your own shop, experiment, and see what works for you!” And that really describes Bob.

  3. Great post Bob.
    I think you hit on something else that gets overlooked by so many out there in regards to the Schwarz, PWW, FWW, and other publishers of woodworking content. It is all someones opinion. Time and time again these mass contributors tell people to “try it and see if you like it”, “do what works best for you”, “this is just my feelings on the topic”, and “there is no right or wrong way to do this”. But, over and over people somehow take these concepts, tool reviews, magazine articles, and theories as gospel truth.

    Well all like working wood or we wouldn’t be doing it. We all work wood in different ways. We all find some ways easier or quicker than others. We all have different standards. etc etc….

    We should all just be happy that people/we are out there preserving these lost skills, of working with wood to produce something, anything, that is of use and appreciation to someone.

  4. Insightful post Bob, Great response Bill.

    I started working wood before the internet, so I assembled tools and formed techniques, based on, like you what works for me. Are they conventional? not sure. I formed a lot of my work habits from working with my father, a cabinetmaker and carpenter. We used hand tools, and a lot of things I do he did as well.

    Although I have re-sawn a lot of board ft. of lumber with a bow saw with satisfactory results, Dad would have used a western rip saw, and scoff at my odd bow saw. I sometimes watch the guys on the blogs do things and think, “Oh man!” Thats the way they do it!” But I’m pretty set in my work habits and tools.

    So in todays idiom, If it feels good, and works for you, do it. There’s no right or wrong way.
    Cut dovetails with a hacksaw? Done it. it works.


  5. Very good post Bob. Adam’s posts have left me a little introspective this week, which is not a bad thing from time to time.

    In this case, I do think it is likely a case of different expectations. Adam does mention performance of this saw versus a “coarse toothed” panel saw. I am curious what he is comparing it to. He does raise some interesting questions…

    Regardless, I think it is important from time to time to remember that we all have different expectations and different needs. In the on-line world, I think it is best to just “share experiences” (ie. “this is what works for me”) and be wary of “providing solutions”. You (and Adam) are very, very good about this. To me, part of the fun of “period woodworking” involves trying stuff (like a Roubo framesaw) to see how it does work and from that try to better understand how it was used – but as you discuss balancing providing that info with helping new woodworkers seems tricky. It is often a question of intent – is the “journey or the final product” more important to someone?

    We wouldn’t be having this discussion at all if no one had built and tried these saws. To me, that is the point.

  6. Good points, except that trying everything is the most expensive rout. (I like that route too). But following one particular woodworker can be a really good thing. If you like their work and approach I think it’s perfectly acceptable to do what they suggest without trying lots of other options. It works well in apprenticeships. 🙂

  7. OK, I usually take flak for bringing up esoteric stuff like this, but this expectation effect can actually quantified. (to the degree you can be honest with yourself)

    It is done with something called the Bayes Theorem and it’s not nearly as complicated as something with the word Theorem after it at would suggest. It about how people revise opinions and expectations based on their new experiences.

    If you suddenly found yourself on a lush island and each and every day you woke up to a gentle morning rain, your expectation of rain when you wake up on tomorrow on day 18 would be far different than your expectation of rain was on day 2. This is just a way to quantify that thought process.

    You only need to answer 3 easy questions – and be rationale and honest about the answers.

    While this methodology is very old, it has recently been taking on more and more credibility with today’s statistician. This is real, not some crazy idea I dreamt up. You can actually see it in action at a webpage I built.

    If you try the webpage calculator with this example, when you see ‘Initial probability estimate of X being true’, think ‘My expectations the saw will be beneficial to the resawing process.’

    When you see ‘New Event probability conditional on X being true’, think
    ‘What are the odds I would have had this experience PRESUMING the saw is truly beneficial to resawing’

    When you see ‘New Event probability conditional on X not being True’, think ‘What are the odds I would have had this experience PRESUMING The saw is just no good for resawing.’ If the saw is truly no good, and the experience seemed to indicate it was not good, we still should ask ‘are there other explanations that might explain the experience?’

    These last two do not always add to 100%

    Just change 1 or more of the numbers and click calculate.

    What you see after playing with it for a while, is that your initial expectations have a very large impact on what feelings you walk away with later.

    For those who don’t want to fool with it here are a couple of examples.

    Assume you think up front that the saw is 75% likely to be ‘good’

    You subsequent experience is generally unfavorable; so you ask
    ‘What are the odds I would have had this experience PRESUMING the saw is truly Beneficial to resawing?’ Maybe you were in kind of a bad mood, maybe you cut yourself with the saw and you were mad at it. Whatever. You need to say what percentage probability do I feel would have led to this negative experience, still assuming the saw is good.

    Let’s say you feel its only 20% likely the saw is really good and you would have this kind of experience.

    Next you ask yourself ‘What are the odds I would have had this experience PRESUMING The saw is no good for resawing.’ It does not have to be 80%, matching the 20% number above but it could be. Maybe the lumber was gnarly, maybe your technique felt a little off; let’s say you feel its 75% likely you would have had this experience if the saw was no good.

    Crunch the numbers and you get and new level of certainty the saw is good as 44%, or nearly a coin flip in spite of your negative experience.

    Keeping the same ‘new experience’ values (20% likely if saw is good and 75% likely if the say is bad) but changing only your initial expectations from 75% to 45% expectation the saw is good for resawing, you get the following.
    In this case, your new expectation after the bad experience would drop to 18%.

    So, if you are rational and ask the correct question, your initial expectation does indeed affect your post experience thinking, and in a predictable fashion.

  8. Bob,
    I appreciate your candor on this subject; I also appreciate Adam’s as well. We all have different expectations and experiences in our woodworking. For every task there are many approaches. Lets just face it, re-sawing is a job! I have used many methods and all are time consuming and labor intensive. There is no way around it, however, I have found for me in the long run it is worth it. I agree that it has to be hard for the good folks who publish day in and day out about our fine hobby in that some folks take what is said as gospel. The mere mention of a sources in some eyes is an endorsement when in fact it simply a listing as a source.
    Myself, I had a bad experience with a vendor that was listed as a source by a writer. Note that this writer only listed it as a source. So I went to a woodworking forum that I visit from time to time and I asked if anyone had the same experience. Indeed there were some who had the same experience. I was stuck by a few who blamed the writer that listed the source. I disagree with that thought. It was lack of due diligence on my part that lead to the bad experience. The writer was simply supplying a source. Could the writer have done more due diligence? Sure. But, I’m still responsible for my own decisions and the out come is still on me.
    Thank you for all you do. I really enjoy your sharing.
    Regards, Richard

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