More on “Measuring” - Without Tapes or Rulers


Last night I finally got back to the December 2005 issue of Popular Woodworking that I’d put on the bedside table months ago after glancing through it before heading off to the Arms of Morpheus. Flipped it open to an article “The Lost Arts & Mysteries - Centuries-Old Secrets to Working Quickly and Efficiently”
Two of The Lost Arts the author, Adam Cherubini, describes are great examples of “measuring” without any pocket tape or machinist ruler. The two terms used are “gauging” and “slaving” - utilizing the tools you’re working with.
You’ve probably got a set of bench chisels - 1/4, 3/8, 1/2, maybe a 5/8, a 3/4 and maybe a one incher. They’re usually on the behch, on a shelf under the bench or somewhere near the bench - perhaps in a tool cabinet a step or so from the bench. It doesn’t matter if the 3/8ths is in fact 0.375 inches, it could just as well be metric. The point is that whatever the width, the width stays constant. If you want the outside face of a mortised piece to line up with the outside face of the tenoned piece - use the width of the chisel that’s close to what would be the theoretical ideal M&T location. Use a chisel as a gauge. No misreading errors - if one edge is flush to the faces you want to line up later and you scribe along the other side of the chisel, you’re well on your way to a nice joint. And it can be done by a blind man, or woman.
And when you get to laying out the mortise and tenon - use the chisel you have closest to “ideal” - the one you’ll be using to make the mortise - to layout the mortise and tenon width. No tape required, no ruler to misread - and no eye strain.
Two great examples of The Obvious - once they’re pointed out.
There’s also a paragraph or two on Tools Working Togeter - a striking knive marking a line AND creating a fine groove in which to register a chisel later. Again. No eye strain, no dedicated task lighting required. You don’t need to see the chisel edge on the line - you can feel it.
Of course these “secrets” are mainly useful when using hand tools. It’s hard to feel when the cutting edge of a power tool encounters a scribed layout line in the wood.
Some will say “That’s nice - BUT - I make things using power tools.”
Great. More power to you (pun intended). But at some point you’re going to want to fine tune the fit of a drawer or a part. Power tools aren’t often easy to use when it comes to fine tuning - taking just a hair off a surface, putting just a slight taper down a piece or a slight bevel on a face. Eventually, you’re going to get around to using hand tools. And once you do you’ll understand better how some pretty nice 17th and 18th century pieces were done - before MORE POWER - precision machinist ruler/rules.
Just something to think about - or not.
Charlie b
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