A commentary on (hand) tools

When I began this re-creation, I already favored the use of hand tools. It has been my experience, however, that hand tools suffer a kind of discrimination in the modern world. To the at-large public they’re perceived as being slow, backward, or for the financially poor woodworker. In short, they’re second-class citizens. This is an unfortunate perception, which I hope to change.

The usual rationale you will hear about hand tool use is:
• hand tools produce less dust,
• there is less noise with hand tools, and
• hand tools are safe(r).

While these are true, for the most part, they’re not entirely truthful. My “shop” still has plenty of dust accumulation, and I do have to vacuum the floor. However, many times I can get away with simply sweeping up the shavings rather than having a dust collection hose connected to the tool. I wear ear plugs when performing some operations, especially anything involving mallet work. More often though, I listen to the birds singing outside, or carry on a conversation with passers-by. I’ve met plenty of woodworkers who reluctantly admit that they should have been more careful with their hearing earlier on in their careers…
Also for the most part, all of my tools have “flesh-sensing technology”…

Hand tools are really for production. Yes, you read that right! Most hobbyists seldom make more than one piece at a time. So, it takes longer to set up a power tool, use it, and put it away then it does a hand tool. And let’s not even mention the time (and materials) required for jig building!

Graham Blackburn once said (paraphrasing) that the point of power tools was to decrease the cost of the finished piece. Instead it cheapened the piece! In other words, power tools compromise the design. Jim Tolpin put it another way…power tools users design pieces to the capabilities of their tools. Hand tool users design first, then figure out how to build it. With hand tools, the skilled woodworker can cut any joint produced by a machine. However, the opposite is not the case!

Hand tools require skills development. Anyone can use power tools – set a fence, or guide to a measurement, and pull the trigger…
However, this mode of operating can be limiting. People are afraid of doing things free-hand since it might not come out “perfect”.

Understanding the principles upon which hand work is based gives a woodworker a better knowledge of machine operation. To paraphrase Matthew Quigley… It’s not that I don’t know how to use power tools. I just don’t have much use for them.

In the end, most woodworkers truly aspire to employ hand tools. After all, a common marketing phrase used by power tool manufacturers is that their tool will produce results just like it was hand made!

Now comes the hard part…

According to Helmuth von Moltke, a Prussian military strategist, “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” When your plan meets the real world, the real world wins. Nothing goes as planned. Errors pile up. Mistaken suppositions come back to bite you. The most brilliant plan loses touch with reality (Lexician).

The mechanisms, now installed in the carcass, are stiff. They don’t move freely which is a necessity. Otherwise, the table will bind and won’t open. I began the investigation by checking each rack/guide individually outside of the table to make sure it moves freely. Ideally, they should slide by gravity alone when held vertically although sometimes, they require a push. My first “discovery” during this process was that the drive barrel was making contact with the lower guide. It left a “rub ring” around the barrel very near the gear (as shown in the above photo), and a shiny spot on the lower guide brass. After a quick consultation with Jon the machinist, I addressed these areas with a file to relieve material, and while it did prevent further contact, it did not rectify the problem.

Bright spot from contact with drive barrel

Bright spot from contact with drive barrel

Another thing to consider…

Even slight differences between the aprons and legs can be enough to cause the mechanics to “hang”. If the legs protrude even less than 1/32 inch out from the side apron the lower rack gets caught. I gently used a chisel with a swiping motion to bring the two surfaces flush. Depending on the severity, however, it still leaves marks.

My current thinking is that the rack is too closely fitted to the drive gear. That is, the rack and drive gear are so tightly positioned that it’s causing excessive friction in the mechanism. I’ll test this out by relocating the rack and guide slightly lower than it currently is, and report back.

While contemplating this issue a thought occurred. It would seem that the position of the lower racks/guides with relation to one another is not critical. In other words, they don’t really need to be aligned at identical heights in the aprons. So long as the main box is mounted squarely to them the height shouldn’t be a problem. We’ll soon see how this turns out.

A mounting conundrum

Before we can proceed to shape the carcass, the mechanisms must be completely installed and operating properly. With the mechanisms in place, the challenge becomes mounting the main box and tabletop to them. The tabletop is relatively straightforward: center it on the carcass, then mark the top racks. The main box, however, isn’t so simple. Not only does it have to be located left/right, front/back within its opening, but it also needs to be situated in height above the carcass floor. If it’s too high, the bolt on the latch won’t catch; too low, and the bolt will drag on the main box as it opens. To complicate matters, it is impossible to directly mark any of these components. They’re buried deep in the carcass interior!

Being the case, I’ve devised the following plan…

  1. With the tabletop removed, center the main box between the lower racks in the carcass. This dictates the thickness of the shims that will be needed.
  2. Remove the top racks such that the main box can be lifted out versus slid through the front.
  3. Coat the latch bolt with graphite.
  4. Retract the latch bolt by turning the key, and place the main box into the carcass. Align it appropriately, then release the latch bolt. This should imprint a line on the underside of the main box where the latch makes contact.
  5. Align the back of the hole in the metal latch plate with this line.

While I’m certain some level of adjustment will be necessary, this methodology provides a plan to move forward. Such is the nature of product development or, to put it another way, if we knew what we were doing, it wouldn’t be called research!

The main box latch

The main box latch is the trigger for the table’s entire mechanical system. When the key is turned within the right side apron, it actuates a lever releasing a bolt from the bottom of the main box. Under the tension from the drive mechanisms, the main box is propelled forward while, simultaneously, the table top slides back. Before proceeding with the mechanisms, it’s necessary to mortise in the main box latch. 

This is a bit of a delicate operation. The latch mechanism has a 90° bend where the key connects which has to be mortised behind the lower rack guide. It also has a sleeve into which the key is inserted. This needs to be contained within the apron, not protruding from it. 


After a bit of drilling, sawing, and paring things finally slide neatly into place!


Next, the long portion of the mechanism must be mortised into the floor of the carcass.