To measure or not to measure

Drawing up plans for your project seems to be a good idea whether or not you’re going to reproduce the item being made but it isn’t the holy grail of woodworking and the measurements should be taken as a grain of salt.

In the world of hand tool woodworking you will never thickness a piece of material spot on to the exact thickness your plans state, even using the “Paul Sellers thicknesser” which I find invaluable when I need it but it will never be exactly to that decimal inch or mm which leads to many frustrations down the road if you head down that path.

I’m going to keep this as short as possible because I’ve had a long day and I still haven’t had a single bite to eat yet I still need to work late into the night because I am so far behind, these are the joys of self-employment which I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

Take my current project it is a simple box comprising of splines, grooves and rabbets which hopefully in the future will become a video but for now it’s in the mock up stage.  I drew up the plans in AutoCAD and they are mathematically correct yet nothing fits. Nothing fits because I followed the measurements to the letter and somewhere down the line I am off I did something wrong.  Computers are accurate and in a perfect world the timber planed would be evenly thicknessed, perfectly flat and crosscut dead on to the accurate mark but that’s all fantasy hog wash the reality is your planning is never dead on accurate.

Working with hand tools is not like working with machinery, you’re going to be off somewhere which means that you take those measurements and throw them out the window but you measure off the piece itself and everything should work out hunky dory.

In my case I didn’t do that because I firmly believed I could do it but hey this lesson cost me dearly and it was worth it just to get it out of my head that I can be as accurate as a computerised machine.  I can’t and no one can no matter how long you’ve woodworked for but still I aim for that insane level of accuracy and I sincerely hope that one day even though it is completely unnecessary I achieve that.

All in all, the moral of this story is use measurements as a guide, oversize everything and cut or shave it to fit.  You will breeze through your work effortlessly and you’ll have more hair left on your head than I do.


4 thoughts on “To measure or not to measure

  1. I’m surprised that you fell victim to the woodwork by numbers trap Salko. I do hate it for ou though.
    This is perhaps the hardest lesson to learn for folks just starting into handtool woodworking. Everything in today’s world pushes us to be exact and by the letter. Handtool woodworking is more fluid than that and folks have a real hard time getting their head around it. They want guarantees and, at first glance, numerical dimensions seem to offer that guarantee. However, not even the most experienced handtool woodworker can work to such rigid tolerances. The material and tools just do not lend themselves to such outcomes.


  2. It’s not that I fell into it I knew all along that it just don’t work but in the back of my mind it kept pestering me for a long time that I could do it. I believe it’s arrogance on my part thinking I’m that bloody good, yes on occasion I do strike lucky but the time spent in striking lucky isn’t worth it. Even though having said that and knowing what I know I still have this notion that one day if I slow things right down and concentrate more than I do I can do it, I can hit that numerical figure. I suppose I am just challenging myself all the time pushing that bar up just that one more notch trying to constantly achieve higher levels of achievements.

    My mother who is a knit picker has always pushed me from a very young age to work to higher standards, she would knit pick my work and tell me to do it again so I know where it all stems from but it’s gotten to the point to where she said to me the other day I am going overboard with this and I know I am. But I can’t help but wonder if such high levels of tolerance can ever be achieved constantly on a daily basis.


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