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Tips from the Pros

I’ll be upfront and say that this post will probably get me in trouble but it is something that has been on my mind for a bit. I view fine woodworking to be in a renaissance of sorts as more and more new people come to the craft. It is exciting and somewhat nostalgic as I answer emails from beginners and scratch my head wondering if I am really qualified enough to be giving advice. This influx of beginners and the inordinate amount of lawyers in the world has created a cadre of highly safety conscious woodworkers. More is written in the blogosphere about safety and the traditional print world is following along nicely too. I think it is great that so many people want to be safe, but I wonder what wisdom we are missing out on as we sidestep a technique or tip that might be viewed as unsafe and fear a call from a lawyer hired by an overly litigious and injured listener. It seems that idiots can ignore all safety measures, work a table saw, cut off a limb, and strike it rich just because manufacturers are afraid to call an idiot an idiot.

Meanwhile in the deep, dark underbelly of the woodworking world nestled in the dusty shops of crusty professionals who have been making furniture since before the Internet and personal computers dominated our existence, wizened professionals are making beautiful pieces using techniques that might make the information age neophyte cringe. Yet these professionals can count to ten using only their two hands.

“Don’t y’all do this” is something I have heard Charles Neil utter more than a few times as he engages in a somewhat risky cut on the table saw or a climb cut with a hand held router. “This is not the safest thing in the world, but it works” is another Neil gem. Professional advice born out of 30+ years of woodworking experience.

I have attended classes in professional’s shops and been enlightened by simple techniques for beautiful joinery only to be accompanied by the disclaimer, “don’t tell anyone I told you this because it might be viewed as unsafe”. Yet the technique yielded an incredible chip free tenon shoulder right off the table saw. Any of you who have been in one of these professional’s shop will know of what I speak.

So here is where I get in trouble: how can we get these nuggets of wisdom on the open market for all to enjoy? At what point do we recognize that woodworking is working with sharp things that can cause bodily harm and it is up to us, the woodworker, to be responsible and smart enough not to injure ourselves. If I get hurt, it is my own dumb fault and no one is to blame.

It is stunning to me that when I truly uncover a new method of doing something, it is usually just a slightly less safe way that creates better results than the tactics I am using currently. For instance, have you ever cut the last 32nd of an inch off your tenon shoulder by climb cutting on the table saw? It does a great job and leaves an immaculate shoulder. If done properly it really isn’t all that dangerous, but let’s face it climb cutting with a table saw is not the best idea when trying to make a through cut or remove more than a tiny amount of wood. I won’t divulge who taught me this (you know who you are) because the woodworking safety police might lock you up.

So fess up folks, what are you doing behind closed doors in your shop that yields great results and you are afraid to write or talk about for fear of condemnation. In my mind, everything in woodworking has an element of risk and it is up to the individual to determine how comfortable they are doing it. So what do you think, am I nuts to open this can of worms? I just feel there is a lot of wisdom out there going untapped because it might be unsafe.

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