Avatar Of Mike In TnMike in TN
Post count: 301

Hi syntheseiser,

I worked in machine shops for about ten years myself. Think about the fact that machined parts are designed within tolerances intended to produce the desired results. “Perfection? is simply a theoretical ideal and specifications include deviations that are allowable that will still allow for the parts to perform their intended purposes. Wooden parts (normally, with exceptions for some disciplines) are no different except that, because of the mechanical properties of wood and craft traditions, tolerances are not normally specified. Mortises and tenons have to go together well enough to make a strong joint for a specific application, etc. As a matter of fact, many parts can vary from the ideal and still be perfectly fine. Consider paired table rails; it is less important that they are an exact length than the fact that the distance between shoulders of the paired rails are the same in order that the table ends up square (provided that is the maker’s intention). Also consider that because of the visual separation of individual rail parts, minor differences in rail width (or thickness) make little difference in the appearance of the piece in normal use.

There are places in nearly any woodworking projects where acceptable tolerances are tight, particularly in joinery, and in many of those cases it is simply a matter of the individual pieces working well with the mating parts. A table can be built, and can look and function very well, with all of the joints having different dimensions.  Who cares how well the interior of a table rail is planed since it doesn’t affect the performance or appearance of the piece? Realistically, we all would give it some attention due to our personal standard of work, but in the past, especially when cabinet makers really had to struggle to produce enough product to keep the business open and feed the offspring, choices were made as to what was important to the piece and what wasn’t. Experience guided that process. Hobbyists are lucky in that they can choose to be as exacting with their work as they want without the pressure keeping a business alive.

So the next time you cut that table rail (or leg, or top, or box sides, etc.) 1/16 too short, just cut the shoulders at the planned dimension since you needed a little glue relief anyway. If that doesn’t work for you, just saw the paired rail at the same dimension since it won’t make any real difference in the look of the finished piece.

Traditional woodworking thought has promoted the idea that surfaces should be smooth as a sign of high art but who can deny the beauty of  a well finished  undulating textured surface proving the hand of a practiced human hand guided by an artistic choice, instead of a machined surface  Most woodworking is like that and ain’t it grand.

Have fun