Measure Twice Cut Once

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by: Jim Tolpin

Topics include: trammel beam, extension moldings, crosscut box, adjustable curve, panel stock, marking gauge, drafting template, mortise gauge, panel square, bevel gauge, construction angle, drawer face, marking knife, waste side, isometric projection, joint gaps, combination square, cabinet scraper, framing square, cutting curves, radial arm saw, miter box, factory edge, golden rectangle, story poles

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First Sentence: Most people to whom I've shown the table pictured at right don't like it.


Good introductory woodworking book: This book bills itself as a course in shop math and measurement. With a few extra chapters, it could be an excellent introduction to woodworking. Tolpin takes us through the entire process from project design and layout to developing a list of materials and cut list. He then introduces a number of layout and marking tools to transfer the measurements accurately to the wood. Next, he talks about a number of cutting techniques, followed by a chapter on preventing and fixing mistakes. The author raises an interesting point: if you can cut the work to the proper size, it doesn't matter if you have a numeric value for the dimension. There are a number of techniques such as story poles and marking devices which do not rely on numeric values, and which can be more accurate than conventional measurements. More common measuring tools are considered as well; he shows that there is more than meets the eye even with the common tape measure. In the section on cutting to the lines, he shows a number of basic techniques on both hand tools and power tools. There is some interesting discussion here about tradeoffs between different tool choices. He also presents some simple jigs, which I am looking forward to building. The jigs here are much simpler than the ones he describes in Table Saw Magic. For a very small book, there is a wealth of information here which will take some time to digest. I heartily recommend the book.

I Was Hoping For A Bit More: I don't know about you, but after years of hanging around serious woodworkers, constantly tuning and improving expensive equipment, and buying measuring tools accurate enough to build a space shuttle, I've come to the conclusion that accuracy is a goal never quite achieved. And that is if you are lucky. I can't tell you the number of times I've cut four boards of 'precisely' the same length, run them through a locked down finger joint jig, and managed to produce a box that is 1/16th of an inch wider from side to side than it is from front to back. So when I found Jim Tolpin's book I grabbed it on the hope that it contained the one secret I had missed. Unfortunately, if you've spent three years woodworking you already know most of what is here. Tolpin's secret is simply the rigor of working through stages of drawing and then cutting to the drawing. Now I already use a drawing package to lay out work, so I can reel off life size diagrams that tell me everything is 1000th's. And I find it far more accurate to use the diagrams for assembly and rough measurement and fit every piece by hand. If for no other reason than the tendency of wood to change size with temperature, moisture, and the will of God. Tolpin's explanations are helpful if you don't use a design methodology at all. But if you follow his advice slavishly, you will through out more wood than you should. What I did find very useful is his final section on what to do when you really don't get it right. Several of his tricks for changing the dimensions of a piece of wood which is the wrong size at the wrong time will save you the cost of the book in one cut. These aren't necessarily easy techniques, but they are far better options than giving up. I also found the pictures of some of his more exotic measuring tools very interesting. Although it will be a long time before I spend $200 on a depth gauge. There is a good section on proportion as well. Tolpin does describe some jigs, but there aren't any plans for them. For those you will have to look elsewhere. I also wish Tolpin had spent some time on computer aided design - at least enough to show what it can do. More of us already have the equipment around, and it can save a lot of time and erasing. Still, if you are just starting out by yourself, without access to training, this is a useful volume to have on hand. It gets you past the point of thinking that creating a cabinet is a combination of magic and pure luck.

More Than You May Think: This book really surprised me. I was hopeful that it didn't simply tell you how to read a tape measure. And I was right. Just about any experience level will learn something from this book but the person new to woodworking will learn the most. I'm somewhat in between beginner and moderate experience and I was impressed. You learn some really nifty tricks for getting accurate angles, finding bisecting angles, working with arcs and more. You also learn how to lay out a project to save material (and make your work easier). Believe me, you will enjoy reading this book. Well written, informative and lots of clear color photos and other illustrations. No sloppy, halfhearted drawings in this one.

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