Reality Check

Last week, I obtained a mobile set of drawers full of hardware. Awesome. To transport it back to my shop, I removed all the drawers and laid the unit down in the back of my truck and stacked the drawers against the truck’s cab. Then, to get it down to my shop, I carried down one drawer at a time, followed by the frame. As I put it all together, I began to better understand how it all works and more significantly, how it was built.

When I took possession of the unit, I had assumed that it was a commercial unit modified by the last owner to suit his needs – he had enclosed it on three sides, added a top and a base with wheels. But as I worked to put it back together, I began to notice little differences you wouldn’t see in a commercially made unit.

Each slide was bolted to an L-shaped bracket which was then bolted to the frame. I noticed that some brackets were mounted in front of the frame, others behind. The bolts used to fasten the bracket to the frame were different lengths.  Furthermore, some were carriage bolts but most were regular hex-head bolts. Most of the nuts were standard but a few were nylon lock-nuts. All the nuts were on the inside of the front, but at the back, some were inside and some were outside.

These are all little things that you would never notice unless you looked closely. Surely none of them make much of a difference in the performance of the unit, yet the inconsistency bothered me a little bit. But I left it the was it was, both because it is in fact trivial and it also serves as a good reminder that we don’t need to take as much time making our shop fixtures look as pretty as the products that leave our shops.  (Do an image search for “hand tools cabinet” if you’re not sure what I’m talking about.)

That drawer unit came out of the shop of the father of a friend of a friend, who had recently passed away. I never met him, but I get the feeling that he was a true old-world woodworker. And by that I mean, he was the type of woodworker who wouldn’t buy what he could make. I saw stuff in his shop that I’ve only seen pictures of before. Most of his machines he had built himself – two wooden table saws, a lathe and a shaper. The metal components were mostly hidden beneath the wooden tabletops. Even the table saw’s fence and miter gauge were shop-made and mostly wooden.

Though I never saw what he made in his shop, I got the impression that he didn’t struggle to make what he made. It got me thinking about today’s machined cast-iron surfaces. Tables are machined to be precisely flat (tolerance of 0.025” concavity on the SawStop Industrial Cabinet Saw).  And I’d be willing to bet my table saw (that I so dearly love) that the plywood top of his table saw was not as flat.  And somehow, he got by.  Go figure.

Reality check complete.

PS:  We also relocated a circa 1900, 24″ thickness planer made by MacGregor, Gourlay & Co.

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