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by Steven D. Johnson
Racine, Wisconsin

This month:

This Year's Biggest Woodworking Mistake (So Far)

The Runner-Up Screw-Up

5S In The Woodworking Shop – A Learning Opportunity

Healthy Egos

Insightful, Controversial, and Funny Reader Feedback

This Year's Biggest Woodworking Mistake (So Far)

Click on any picture to see a larger version.

About a half-century ago, like most of my generation, I learned in kindergarten (now called pre-school, I think), how to print letters and write words. I also keenly remember a wraith-like witch-like first grade teacher that kept slapping me, taking the pencil out of my left hand and putting it in my right hand… until my mother had a few "choice" words with her. I remember learning cursive, practicing on paper with solid and dotted lines… the letters that extend below the solid line, but just to the dotted line, the letters that sailed above, to the upper dotted line… Unfortunately, I was never really good at staying within the boundary lines, in writing or anything else.

Figure 1 - Blame it on poor
penmanship or eyesight,
but I misread this leg

My penmanship was horrid. By the time junior high school rolled around and the quantity of note taking had ballooned, I could barely read my own scribbles. I reverted to printing. It was not quite as fast, but at least I could read my own notes. Soon, though, the work piled up and my printing got faster and faster… and less and less legible. Then, as a freshman in high school, I took my first journalism class. The class had typewriters and I took to the machine like a duck to water. Soon I was burning up that old manual Royal, 70 words a minute and more. Like any skill, from sheer disuse, my handwriting worsened even more.

Today I barely write a thing. My shopping list is on my iPhone. I type everything. When I want to send a personal handwritten card, I type what I want to say and let my wife do the transcription…. her handwriting is legible. I use a little electronic label-making machine in my shop. It is ridiculous. My iPad is my constant companion. I can "thumb-type" like a teenager. The little electronic charge-your-card sign-on-the-screen point of purchase modules at stores are so dysfunctional that your digital signature looks nothing like your real signature, so I no longer try. I make an "X" like an illiterate cowboy villain in a B-grade movie. Disuse leads to further degradation.

Figure 2 - The moment of realization
...oh, that sinking feeling.

And so it is with this embarrassing backdrop of excuses and irrational rationale that I come to drawing plans in the shop… and labeling said plans with dimensions... it's ugly. Oh, I can draw acceptably with a straightedge and rule to guide my misguided pencil. And I can calculate scale conversions in my head. But when it comes time to pencil in the dimensions, I have to really, really concentrate and try really, really hard to make those numbers legible. Sometimes I have to erase and rewrite so many times, the paper wears thin. It really is ugly… so ugly, in fact, that a few weeks ago I misread my own dimensions and made the legs for the SawStop Outfeed Table project too long. Yep, my drawing called for 25-5/8" and with my terrible writing, I saw 28-5/8" instead. Measure twice, cut once, is not a helpful aphorism if you can't correctly read the dimension! I now have four built-up, mitered-corner pedestal leg assemblies that are three inches too long for this project. I had to remake the legs.

Don't be surprised if I soon make another shop fixture with mitered-corner built-up pedestal legs exactly 28-5/8" long. Waste not, want not is another aphorism…

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