The Merits of Winging It

The internet is awesome. You can find just about anything in seconds and learn new things all the time. Woodworking has greatly benefited from this as we now have a place to share techniques that may have been lost over the generations. When you start a new project, or buy a new (or new to you) tool, you have an enormous body of knowledge to draw from. This is great but I think it has a dark side too. When was the last time you just gave something a shot without looking up how to do it? What happens when you can’t find the answer you are looking for? At some point you need to wing it and try to figure out the answer on your own. It can be frustrating but I can’t imagine a more rewarding experience.

My Frame Saw Experiment

Roubo Veneer SawingAbout 6 months ago I built a frame saw based on the now famous Roubo Saw pictured in a plate of two Frenchmen sawing veneer. I admit freely that I undertook this project because there was some great documentation online about how to build it. There is not however anything about how to actually use it. There are only a few people who have actually built one of these to begin with and there is only minimal conversation about how well it works or how it doesn’t work. So over the last six months I have been winging it when learning how to saw with any accuracy using this very different saw. Sharpening the massive 48″ blade was pretty elementary but setting it was a different story and with such a long blade length, getting it to run true took a fair amount of tinkering. I had to get behind the saw and cut up some boards making small adjustments to stance, grip, sometimes the teeth, how the work is held, etc before I could get consistent results from the saw. I have butchered a lot of wood, uttered a few colorful phrases, and more than once walked away from the saw in frustration.

I can’t remember when I have had more fun!

Roubo Resaw Frame SawThis weekend, I sawed a 16/4 piece of 10″ wide Walnut in half without any deviation, then proceeded to slice off a 3/16″ piece of veneer from a 4/4 Quilted Maple board. I didn’t read how to do it online or in a book but figured it out on my own by “winging it”. I can honestly say I have learned more about how a saw works and efficiency during this period of time than any technique I picked up by watching a video or reading an article. We are all guilty of relying on other sources to help us and there is nothing wrong with asking questions and doing research. I’m going to keep doing it. But just like a 6″ jointer will never be wide enough, eventually those sources will come up empty. Figuring stuff out on your own can be tough, but in the end you feel invincible.

I think I’ll go try to saw off a 1/16 thick piece of veneer from a 24″ wide piece of Lignum Vitae. That ought to knock me down a few pegs and even it out.

**Shameless Marketing Alert**

I’m publishing a lesson in The Hand Tool School this week on resawing and building this saw that is the direct result of this winging it. Maybe someone else can benefit from my trial and error.

Your Turn

When have you had to “wing it”? What happened and what did you learn?

6 Responses to “The Merits of Winging It”

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  1. TerryMcK says:

    Essentially what you have rediscovered here is how we used to figure out how to do something, before the invention of the interweb, knowledge instantly available at ones fingertips, long before videos or movie cameras recording techniques for posterity. Indeed you have unearthed the way of gaining knowledge as our forefathers did by being taught by a teacher or by writings. The knowledge probably started to disappear at the time of mechanization (the invention of the bandsaw). It just so happens that in the case of the Roubo saw there probably isn’t any documents explaining how to use it apart from the pictures. Shannon you have now become the authority on this by your experiments and should be credited as such by bringing it back to life and it is an extremely interesting article.

  2. Ethan says:

    “I think I’ll go try to saw off a 1/16 thick piece of veneer from a 24″ wide piece of Lignum Vitae. That ought to knock me down a few pegs and even it out.”

    No doubt! I love the CONCEPT of using Lignum Vitae to make, for example, a larger fence for my little Record 043 Plow Plane.

    But in practice, it’s a PITA to work with and I’m thinking about just using mahogany because it’s easier.

    Well done with the bow saw! Sounds like you’re having a huge amount of fun with it!

    • Shannon says:

      Let’s ignore the fact that finding a 24″ wide piece of Lignum probably isn’t possible.

      Now time for tool stickler to raise his ugly head. This is a frame saw or sometimes called a sash saw. A bow saw is smaller and tensioned with line and turnbuckle with the blade off center.

  3. Stan P. says:

    Very good article and very good points. I’ve only started seriously doing woodworking when I retired a couple of years ago. The internet has just been a God send for learning how do do things. Before this time just about everything I learned on to do on my own (i.e. w/o the internet, because it didn’t exist) was centered around repairing stuff around the house. speaking from many many years of experience, reading and to some extent even watching videos, and actually doing it are two entirely different things. What seemed so relatively easy from reading about it and in some cases even watching videos, was so mush harder when I actually tried doing it with my own two hands. But when you do it and it basically comes out the way it should or the way you expected it to, the feeling of a sense of accomplishment it great. When you’re tackling something new in woodworking (almost everything I try is new to me) I’ve found there are usually two basic parts, the steps, and the technique. For you, a person who know how to saw to a line, it sounds like this adventure is learning the technique of using this large saw. While I primarily use a table saw and chop/miter saw, I am still practicing sawing to a straight line and someday I will. The plate shows two people doing the sawing, is this saw designed fro two or can one person actually do it? I continue to enjoy reading your postings, thanks!

    • Shannon says:

      Thanks Stan. You actually help me illustrate my point with that question. One can assume by the images in Roubo’s book that two men used this saw. I have done that (if briefly) at WIA a few years ago and I can see how it would be useful to be able to keep an eye on both sides of the board at once and essentially steer from each side. However having a second man doesn’t make it any easier to work the saw so one person can handle it just fine. I just make a shorter 36″ version last night that I’m hoping to experiment with even more.

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