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Precision Woodworking Tools…Dial and Digital Calipers

When we as woodworkers see a fine piece of custom furniture we tend to look at it very closely to observe the design and the choice of woods being used. We tend to want to touch the piece to get a feel for it and we eventually will inspect the craftsmanship of the joinery. Perhaps this is only natural due to the inherent nature of the woodworker to continually work to improve his knowledge and skill level. A piece of fine woodworking seems to set a standard. The piece could very well represent a personal best of the craftsman and be representative of all the training and experience collected during the individual’s career. Works of certain calibers are sometimes recognized as they find their way into museums and art galleries due to a specific standard that they have set.

Along these lines we somehow see quality works and think in terms of excellence, precision, and accuracy as well as the craftsman’s level of skill. So, my question is “How can we improve the quality of our work?”

Perhaps there are many areas that can be addressed as the question is rather broad, however we as craftsman are driven to continually improve in our chosen craft. After all, one of the reasons we got involved in the craft of woodworking was because we were driven or inspired to take on a challenge. Maybe when we started it it was just a small step to get us involved, but then we repeatedly commenced taking on greater challenges to test ourselves.

As we move forward in our craft we select various woodworking tools for the type of work we want to take on and it is only natural that we look for the best tool for the best price. Sometimes our choice of tool is simply limited by what we can afford. However, once again we are always looking for quality and this time we are looking for quality in our shop tools because this can relate directly to making the most of our skills. Now, maybe you will agree with me that great woodworking tools in the hands of an unskilled woodworker will not make much of a difference. However, a poor quality tool in the hands of a skilled woodworker can make all the difference in the world. So, what happens when you give a skilled woodworker a great tool?

When we measure it is typical to use a tape measure or a carpenters’ rule. In some instances we use a story stick and sometimes we are able to make a tick mark directly to the material we are going to cut and fit. Since we are always looking to achieve precision in our work perhaps we need to take a look at the measuring tools we are using. Are these the best tools for the job when it really comes time for precision and dead on accuracy?

Here is one simple tool that we can reach for to improve our accuracy. Enter calipers. According to Starret Tools, the digital and dial calipers came on the scene in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Originally, these calipers were used by machinists in metal working shops because of the high need for accuracy when tooling metal parts.

Well, somewhere along the line a woodworker found out about the dial and digital calipers and began using this measuring tool for his wood projects. To his delight his joinery improved immensely as well as the overall quality of his woodworking projects. His mortise and tenons now fit accurately and snugly just like in the woodworking magazines. Moreover, the shelves of the bookcase he built fit right into the dadoes without any play. All of a sudden his craftsmanship was taken to another level in his woodworking shop just because of using this more accurate measuring device. His confidence and pride of craftsmanship grew as well all because of using calipers in his work. For him there was now a new sense of confidence and new found freedom all because of using his new precision woodworking tool.

Our woodworker who continually wanted to improve came to the realization that the quality of his work was being compromised by his choice of tools. So for him the caliper now became one of his “tools of choice.”

The Apprentice and The Journeyman University

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