…or as Norm would say: “Sawring”.

This is long so if you’re not into lengthy things, then skip to the bottom.

I’ve been making a craftsman style bed since January or so and completed the headboard and footboard rails last week. These were a bit wider than necessary (you know – to allow for mistakes) by about half an inch. So I needed to rip off the excess (each is 64”). Since I recently sold my table saw (and recovered a glorious amount of floor space), I intended to use the band saw. But my wonderful carbide-toothed ripping blade that I’ve had for years broke recently and defied all attempts to reweld it. During my last big cleanout, I found the old original bandsaw blade from 20 years ago that came with a low-end Sears Craftman that I had at the time. I now have a Delta but, surprisingly, it fit, so I strapped it on. It’s so dull that the wood began to smoke right away and very little cutting ensued.

So I got out my old Disston 26” rip saw that I had refurbished and went at it. When I say “refurbished”, what I really mean is that I scrubbed off the rust, oiled the handle, and made a n00b attempt at filing it. As it turns out, I didn’t do a bad job of it.

Well, that was a lot of work. After getting a few inches into it, I remembered that I had bought a jigsaw years ago at a father’s day sale – for $20. I got it out. After pushing away at that for a minute, I realized that I was smelling that same burning smell. I pulled the blade out of the kerf and it was completely bent out of shape. It had a bit of an “S” shape to it. And the memories came back of that jig saw never really cutting much of anything.

Back to the Disston. There’s nothing like necessity to force you into doing something that you kind of wanted to do anyway. Sort of like how there’s nothing like practice to make you a better musician but nobody ever wants to do that (at least I never did). Well, I sat back, remembered what I’d read (here and in the many books I have) about technique, waxed the saw plate, and went at it.

And the sweat rolled off my head like a river.

I tried this and that with my body position and after a bit, things began to straighten out and after attempting to correct the body alignment issues, the blade really began to advance. It got to feel rewarding.

I had four of these to do and after the first, I was really tired and sweaty. And now for an aside…

I used to play golf and the best game I ever played was one day when I was in danger of getting overheated. The temperature was about 115 and we went to play anyway because it was discounted and there was nobody else on the course (for obvious reasons). As I began to feel the fatigue and the effects of the heat, I dialed back my efforts. I concentrated on expending the least amount of energy possible which you do by attending to the proper technique. I just wanted to finish the game without caring any more how well I did. Surprisingly, I did better; there’s something about not caring that makes it easier to focus on your technique rather than the final outcome.

With this in mind, as I was just about too tired to keep sawing, I relaxed and tried to conserve my resources. No reason to try and force the saw because it seems not to help anyway. Just raise it and lower it and keep it straight. Surprisingly, my rate of cut went up a bit and with all this in mind, I managed to finish ripping the excess from all four boards.

Then I went and took a nap.

For the first one, I didn’t really pay enough attention to my vertical angle and ended up with more of a bevel than a real rip but that was easily remedied by some time later with a jack plane. For the later ones, I put a small engineers square next to the saw as a visual aid. It was remarkably difficult to stay vertical but with changes to my wrist position, I managed it. It took a few minutes of concentration to build up the correct muscle memory to maintain that position.

So I learned the following lessons:

1) Cheap tools are only good for their weight as a boat anchor. We all know this at an academic level but now I know it in my bones.
2) Practice makes perfect.
3) With hand tools, your bench is every bit as important as your cutting tools – both as a work surface and for holding the work.
4) When you have to, you really can rip 21 feet of 2” thick hardwood.
5) Finding yourself in a position of really having to muscle through a lot of material without your power tools to fall back on can be a really beneficial experience. Since it’s a hobby, that’s never a waste of time. Either you succeed or you learn something. Or both.

Hmmm…  Just learned a valuable woodworking lesson.  Wasted a fair bit of time too but at least I didn’t waste any material.

This was a lesson in the compounding of errors.

I’m working on a queen-sized bed and have gotten to the part where I make the headboard.  It looks pretty traditional with two horizontal rails and a series of vertical slats between them.  I started marking out the locations for these by measuring in three inches from one end and using one of the actual slats as a gauge and another spacer I had made.  I just moved over from one mark to the next.

Experienced woodworkers will probably immediately recognize this as a situation where any errors you make in marking (which are inevitable) build on top of one another and you wind up at the other end with your slats totally out of whack.  This is indeed what happened.  I remember learning this in some science class or another and you’d think that as an engineer, I’d have thought of this but I was just blindly reading a set of instructions and did not think.

So I took a cabinet scraper and scraped off my lines. (Quick side note:  I am not particularly good with a scraper and wondered if I was actually burnishing a hook onto the edge until I actually cut myself with the edge.  So I guess I made a proper hook after all.)

I decided to make myself a story-pole to use as a common reference standard.  I then made a similar mistake when marking the story pole.  This is getting embarrassing.

Well, I went inside to think about it and spend time with Melissa.  I now know how to go about it tonight when I get out there and start again.  Measuring and marking seem trivial but there are subtleties that I guess we only really learn when this sort of thing happens.