A Hand Tool Story

While reading Keith Mathewson's article over on ThisIsCarpentry.com titled Why Hand Tools (Still) Matter, I was thinking of how hand tools were exactly the right tool for the job I was working on in the shop last night.

I'm in the process of making a jig for cutting some evenly spaced grooves for a project I have in mind. A key part of the jig is a series of spacer blocks that I drop in each time I want to make another dado. I wanted these spacer blocks as accurate as possible to minimize accumulated error as I added more spacers.

To cut these spacers, I used the table saw. (Wait, isn't this an article about hand tools? I'm getting there, stay with me) I set the fence as close to the width that I wanted (1 inch in this case) and ripped a strip. Using my dial calipers, I measured the thickness of the piece and dicovered that it was oversize by almost 0.02 inches. By itself, not too bad, but when you combine four or five spacers that adds up to nearly 1/8 inch of error.

I could have fiddled with the table saw fence and cut several more spacers until I hit on the right width. However, I instead went to my bench, pulled out my jack plane and block plane and shaved the edge of the spacer, checking my progress with my dial calipers, until I was within about 0.002 inch of my desired thickness.

Now that I had a spacer that was the desired width, I could use the spacer to set my table saw fence accurately and rip the remaining spacer strips to the correct width.

Had I tried to make my spacer blocks solely with the table saw, I'm sure I would have had to toss a few pieces until I got it dialed in just right. By using hand planes, I was able to get the size I wanted with less time and waste. Plus it was quieter too!

How about you? What is your story about how hand tools saved the day?


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