Episode #47: Removing & Re-installing a Saw Spine

I today’s episode I’ll do a little simple saw doctoring. It’s common to find old backsaws who’s spine has been knocked down too far at the toe, giving the saw blade a tapered appearance. While canted saws certainly were made for many decades up until around the end of the Civil War, they’re rare to find on the old tools market. Most backsaws that we find by makers like Atkins & Disston have rectangular saw blades, not canted blades. The easiest way to tell is to look at the angle between the toothline and the toe and heel of the saw. They should be 90 degrees in a rectangular saw blade and different from 90 (but add up to 180) in a canted saw blade. Rectangular saw blades with improperly installed spines will also often appear to have the toe angled out in front of the spine instead of perpendicular to it. Such is the case with the saw I’m working on today, so I’ll remove and re-install the spine properly.


Another Slice of Humble Pie?

So just when I thought I was making good progress on my cabinet doors for the entertainment center, I am once again reminded that I am not the one in control here. Recall in Episode #46, I laid out the ends of the mortises in the stiles of the door frame by coming in 1/4″ from the end of the stile. All went well during dry fit of the door frame, so I glued it up. Today I cut off the horns, planed everything flush and double checked that everything was the correct size. It was. So I proceeded to plane the rabbets in the front for the molding. All went well. So I proceeded to plane the rabbets on the inside of the door frame for the lip. That’s when I noticed this.


The ends of the mortises were located 1/4″ from the end of the stiles. The rabbet that creates the lip on the door frame is 1/4″ wide. So I planed away the ends of the mortises. On the bright side I can see that the tenons fit the mortises well. But now I have no outside support to the tenons.

I’ve never done this before. In fact, the two other door frames I’ve built already were done correctly with a 1/2″ outer shoulder on the tenon so that the lip wouldn’t encroach on the mortise. But on this one I just forgot this important detail.

I’ll have to fix this by adding some pegs to the inside of the door frame to lock the tenons in place. The pegs won’t show if done on the inside of the door. But I will always be reminded of my mistake every time I open this door because there’s no way to add back the bottoms of the mortises now. I’ll just fill in the gap between the bottom of the mortise and the end of the tenon and live with the tenon showing. So I’ll have sort of a pegged bridle joint for this door.

Bet I won’t make that mistake again.

This Is Why I Hate Measuring

As a woodworker who studies traditional methods, I have taken to the practice of gauging as much as possible or transferring dimensions directly from one piece to the other. To me it’s just good practice and results in a much more precise fit than measuring with a ruler or tape. So why on earth did I use a tape measure to size this board before planing 1/2″ off its thickness and raising the panel? I have no idea, but I won’t make that mistake again. Buh-bye tape measure.


1″ too short and 1″ too wide :oops:. Luckily I can cut it shorter and rip it narrower and use it in the upper door frame. Don’t worry, I’ll just put the door frame over the panel and trace the correct size on it this time. I know how to do that right.

Get Woodworking with the Classics

So if you’ve decided that you want to pursue learning how to work with wood with hand tools, one of the best recommendations I can make to you is to study the classics. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the books on the subject put out by contemporary authors. However, even if the book is all about working with hand tools, most of the more modern books (like those written in the last 50 years or so) still have some obvious power tool influence. The problem with this, as I see it, for woodworkers that really want to learn to do things primarily by hand, is that some operations described in the contemporary works on the subject are approached as if the person was using machines, even though they aren’t. This can be very misleading to those who have not studied older texts and older woodwork, and often leads to the assumoption that hand tools are slow and inefficient. This is simply not true when traditional methods and techniques are understood and employed.

This is where studying the classic texts and period furniture and other woodwork really become important for someone wanting to really be able to work efficiently with hand tools. The main difference with the older texts is that those authors didn’t have power tools to work with, so the methods they describe are all based solely on working traditionally with nothing more than a sharp hand tool. Similarly, the classic furniture of the 17th and 18th centuries, being built 100% with hand tools, is very telling of methods and thought processes employed while the maker was building the piece. Even if you have absolutely no interest in building period furniture yourself, studying the forms and the historical texts is a great way to understand the traditional processes. Once the tools and the methods and the joinery are understood in theory, it’s very easy to take those traditional methods and adapt them to a more contemporary furniture form, if that is more your taste. Going the other way, however, trying to take a machine operation or type of joinery designed around a machine, and adapt it to be done with hand tools, usually leads to frustration, confusion, and right back to the assumption that hand tools are slow and inefficient.

So to get you started, here are two great English sources for traditional trade knowledge:

Joseph Moxon, Mechanik Exercises…, published in the late 1600s. The 17th century English can be a little hard to get through if you aren’t used to reading it, but after working through the first dozen or two pages, you get used to it. This is one of the first, if not THE first English language book on the early tools and trades. One thing to pay attention to is how few tools are discussed in the section on joinery. It really gives one an appreciation for how much can be done with very few tools.

Peter Nicholson, The Mechanic’s Companion…, published in the early 1800s. This book has some similarities to Moxon’s book, and in fact it was based upon Moxon’s book. However, Nicholson goes into much more detail in many of the sections than Moxon did, and he also includes more tools and more information than Moxon did. This version is also a little easier to read if you have trouble with Moxon’s 17th century English. Nicholson’s English is much closer in dialect to modern English.

These two texts are free through Google Books and will get you off on the right foot if your goal is to really become effecient working wood with hand tools. If you read these books and then go into your shop and try some of the techniques described within them, you’ll have a great foundation to discovering and understanding the lost arts & mysteries of traditional woodworking.

Get Woodworking, Together

One of the best way to get started in the craft, learn a great deal, and meet other like minded individuals of all skill levels is to take a class or get invloved in a local woodworking club. Classes are great because you get hands on instruction. They can be expensive though. Local clubs on the other hand are an absolute bargain, and often you can attend a meeting or two for free to see if the club is for you. The benefit of local clubs is that you can meet local people who usually are more than eager to help out newcommers and get them started right. Most clubs have lectures and demonstrations fairly regularly, and many have special seminars, group wood buys, and mentor led group builds to help you get your feet wet.

My own club, the Central Jersey Woodworker’s Association, has recently started doing mentor led group builds as a way for us to get together in small groups, work out project details and learn from each other. Participant experience levels run the gamut from rank beginner to seasoned professional, and skill sets are equally as diverse, from CNC to hatchet and drawknife. Group projects like these are a fantastic way to see other woodworker’s shops, learn new skills, build new projects, and make new friendships for nothing more than the cost of a club membership.

So seek out classes, but especially get involved in your local guilds and clubs. The cost of annual membership to one of these organizations typically pays for itself the very first meeting. If you’re around the New Jersey area, feel free to stop in to the CJWA meetings. New members are always welcome. We meet the second Wednesday of the month (except for July and August) and are centrally located to many areas. Click the link above for more information and directions to the meetings.

Can Woodworking Save Our Economy?

As I read through this post after writing it, I realize it is ever so slightly political in nature. I’m not a political person (I hate politics) and really intended to focus mostly on the woodworking aspect of my thought, but I let my mind ramble on a bit. So the woodworking is in here, but there’s a lot more than just woodworking going on. So if you came here for woodworking and woodworking only, you can stop reading now. Otherwise, for a bunch of random drivel that has spilled out of my head, read on.

I’m not a politician or an economist, nor do I ever desire to become one. However, it doesn’t take a degree in political science or economics to know that the American economy is in crisis. In all honesty, I don’t think that the politicians are the real source of the problem though. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly don’t believe that they’re interested in helping anyone but themselves. But, I also don’t think it’s really their fault that we’re in the economic position that we are. Most were elected or appointed into an office already overflowing with problems they didn’t create.

In my day job, like many of you I’m sure, much of what I do is fight the daily fires that inevitably arise on an hourly basis. When we do get to spend some time working on bigger issues, the ultimate goal is not to put in a quick Bandaid fix, but instead to get to the true root cause of the problem, and implement a long term, permanent solution. In my opinion, that’s what is missing from most of the solutions being proposed by the politicians. The parties blame each others’ laws and bills, while we blame the politicians, the bankers, and the large greedy corporations sending their jobs overseas.

The truth of the matter is that these people really aren’t the ones who created our problems. We are. We did it to ourselves. Like it or not, it was our own greedy, irresponsible, consumeristic ways that got us into this economic mess. As consumers, we have continued to demand low price over quality domestic production. And let’s face it folks, money talks. How we spend our money is the most important factor in determining how the big corporations are going to invest their capital. If we demand low price, they’re going to do whatever is necssary to lower operating costs in order to increase profits and deliver on customer demand. This includes higher output, lower quality and offshore production. They’re just giving us what we asked for.

As Americans, we consume everything. Electronics, clothing, fossil fuels, processed foods, and yes, furniture. We simply use things up and throw them out. We don’t repair things anymore, because our demands and spending habits have driven the prices on goods so low that it costs less to just buy a new widget than it does to repair the old one. We have become a disposable society, demanding disposable goods, at disposable prices.

The truth is often times painful, but really, the only true solution to our problems is to take a good look at our own habits. If we want things to change, we have to start with ourselves. If we want quality, we have to demand quality, not with our mouths, but with our wallets. If we want domestically produced goods, we have to demand domestically produced goods, not with our mouths, but with our wallets. It is up to us to tell producers of goods what is important to us, not with our mouths, but with our wallets. As I said before, money talks. This doesn’t mean spending more of our money, it just means spending our money more wisely.

What’s this got to do with woodworking? I’m getting to the point. Really. Just bear with me a little longer.

We just finished the holiday season. I don’t care how much you spent, or didn’t spend. The dollar value is unimportant. Instead, I’d like you to take a look at the gifts you gave and received. Where are they made? How well made are they? Did you focus your shopping more on quality, or quantity. Is anyone guilty of buying low cost, low quality items made in offshore countries so they could put more stuff under the tree instead of fewer, higher quality, domestically made alternatives?

Believe me, I’m not judging. I do it too. I’m part of the problem. I need to be part of the solution.

The sad part is that while I am a woodworker, not one of the gifts I gave came out of my shop. Looking back on this fact, I’m somewhat ashamed of myself. Such a simple solution to the holiday frenzy, yet so many of us will still fight the crowds at the mall to spend our hard earned American money on overpriced imported crap that will be broken, worn out or out dated in six months.

As woodworkers, we can play a big role in changing things though. Our creations make great gifts that will last for generations. Plus, most people are much more appreciative and will cherish an item much more and for much longer when they know the care and thought that went into making it special just for them. There are lot’s of things that can be made from wood. It just takes a little imagination.

As individual craftsmen, it’s also our responsibility to promote quality, local goods and services, not just by our own work, but by our own spending habits as well. When shopping for clothes, it just takes a look at the label before shelling out that $50 for a pair of jeans. The local mall may not have US made jeans, but they are out there, and they aren’t really any more expensive than the imported stuff.

Our food choices are similar. Sure, the supermarket has apples imported from Chile for $0.99 per pound. But think about the satisfaction of supporting the local orchard or farmer by paying the extra $0.50 per pound for local produce, and knowing where it came from. A trip to the local farmer’s market is all it takes. At a minimum, only buy the stuff from the big grocer that is from a US grower. Heck, start a garden right in the backyard. Grow what is needed and preserve the extra instead of buying the commercial jars full of chemical preservatives and imported from all over the globe. Gardening is a natural extension of craft. It’s another way we can “make stuff” for ourselves, and others, and promote quality, local products.

We can’t change things alone just through the items we make, but the movement has to start somewhere. We can simplify our lives and demand quality in everything we buy. We can develop relationships with local farmers and other local caftsmen. We can trade services with them. We can buy from them. We can sell to them. We can learn how to make and do as much as we can for ourselves. If we can’t find a local, or at least a domestically produced alternative to what it is we are looking to purchase, we need to ask ourselves if we really need that item. If we absolutely have to buy imported, we should make sure it’s a quality item and not a piece of junk made overseas just to cut costs and undercut a similar, quality, domestically made item.

Most of all, we need to pass it on. Woodworking is far too often a solitary hobby. Keeping what we know to ourselves doesn’t help anyone. We should be teaching these skills to our kids, our grandkids, the neighborhood kids, and anyone else who will listen. We need to instill the value of home grown quality into those around us. Grow a garden (something my family is getting back to this year after a two year hiatus). Support the local Mom & Pop shops (if there are any left) instead of the big box importers. Promote quality, local products, not just to benefit our craft and our own agenda as woodworkers, but for the sake of craftsmanship as a whole.

At one time, communities knew each other by face and name. By striving to once again build those relationships, and support our local communities not just with our words, but with our dollars, we can begin to make a change.