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by Steven D. Johnson
Racine, Wisconsin

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The "Anti" Gestalt?

Click on any picture to see a larger version.

Usually when I refer to the "gestalt" of an experience it is in a positive vein… the total experience being perceived as better than the sum of the parts. That's just my general positivity, I suppose. A concert, a great tool buying experience, and a walk in the woods on a sunny spring day are gestalt experiences. But there can be situations where a whole experience can be perceived as worse than the sum of its lousy parts.

I think we need a new word or phrase for such an experience… perhaps "anti-gestalt"… the conceptual opposite of the positive gestalt experience. It does exist, this "anti-gestalt," and I have the tool to prove it.

A little context… Every time I make cabinet doors with 35mm cup hinges I set up stop blocks on fence extensions at my drill press table. It works okay, even though it can be a bit fussy. And, of course, after the cup holes are drilled, the pilot holes for the attachment screws must be drilled. That can be a little fussy, too. If the hinge isn't seated in the cup hole perfectly square to the door edge, the hinge will ultimately bind a bit in use. I make enough cabinet doors to justify a decent hinge cup hole drilling jig, but not enough to justify a cabinet-shop-grade machine. So I recently went "jig shopping."

An internet search produced a surprisingly large variety of hinge cup hole drilling jigs. It seems many companies have made something, and it is also apparent no one sells a lot of any of them… how can I tell? Well, when you find an interesting jig and then try to get more information, you find the jig is only available from a company you have never heard of on a web site with a rather "iffy" look… or you get redirected to a web site in a language you don't understand. If any one of these products were in high demand or well known, Highland Woodworking would carry it, and they don't. So, again being my positive self, I considered these to be "niche" products and redoubled my search efforts. Okay, okay, before someone corrects me, I know Festool makes a 32mm hole drilling system that will also make 35mm cup holes, but that solution seemed a bit pricey for my needs.

I could envision exactly what I wanted… pretty simple, actually. The ability to clamp the jig to the door solidly… a referencing stop or mark so that the jig could be positioned accurately and symmetrically… three drill bits; one 35mm Forstner-type bit for the hinge cup and two 3/16" bits to drill the mounting screw pilot holes… said drill bits mounted to and or guided by the jig so as to make square, neat, clean holes that stop surely before bursting through the back side of the door. And I wanted a jig that would last.

When I finally found a jig that looked plausible, the next step was to find someone reputable that sold it. No small feat, that. Ultimately I took a chance and placed an order with a company I really didn't know. And thus began my anti-gestalt experience.

The seller's web site and e-commerce system was so clunky and "old-school" that I almost stopped before completing the order, but I plowed ahead. We've all grown accustomed to receiving email order confirmations almost immediately, but not on this web site. It was the next day when I finally received a confirmation and it was to tell me the item was backordered until June. The experience was already "iffy" enough that I decided to cancel the order. But before I could stop what I was doing in the shop and go sit down at the computer, I got another email saying they were shipping the product tomorrow... which at the time made me wonder about their inventory control system… did they just suddenly "find" one of the jigs in their storeroom? In retrospect, this should have been a tip-off of things to come.

A few days later the jig arrived. It was packed in a plain brown cardboard box with no identification other than a barcode. Inside, the product was wrapped in a sheet of bubble wrap and crumpled next to the jig was the instruction manual. "Manual" is not exactly the right word. Eight pages of indecipherable gibberish would be a better description. English is the fourth of eight languages in the instructions. And I have never seen a worse translation to English. Seriously, a qualified translator can't be that expensive! But who needs words when there is a photo and a drawing, a la Ikea? Sure…

After no small amount of noodling and head scratching I finally got the jig set up on a test board and started to drill my first cup hole. For some reason, the drill would not go into the wood. I read the awful instructions again. I stared at the photo. I tried again. Nothing. The only thing that happened was a smoking brown circle where the outer edge of the drill bit burned the wood.

Diagnosis time. Without wood in the clamp, the drill bit descended correctly. So it had to be a problem with the drill bit. Perhaps the Forstner-style bit had some type of protective coating I needed to remove… no, that wasn't it.

Finally I put the jig with the clamped scrap on the floor, inserted the hex bit into the drill bit and turned on the drill… full speed, full power, all my weight, and I was able to get a few wood chips to fly.

Conspiratorial things began to fall into place. The company said the units were backordered, then they mysteriously "found one" to ship. Was it a used or defective unit? Finally I called the online retailer and they didn't really seem to care a whole lot about my problem, but after a lengthy and occasionally heated discussion they agreed to send me a replacement drill bit.

Then more trouble, as if the whole experience had not already been bad enough. The directions to replace the bit were cryptic nonsense. Disassembly required a 17mm wrench. I'm not an expert on metric tools, but the three sets of metric box end, open end, and socket sets I have skip from 16 to 18mm. Even after securing the correct wrench, it was no walk in the park. The clamping mechanism had to be removed in order to remove the drill bit.

Figure 8 - Eventually, I was able to get a clean set of holes
(even in this plywood scrap), but it was hardly a "gestalt"

The bit, as it turns out, was the culprit. The bit was not used or dull; it was apparently built "off-specification" in some manner such that the outside cutters did not cut, and the interior cutters thus never reached the wood. Perhaps I was shipped a factory recall that didn't get sent back.

Gestalt is defined as a total experience that is perceived as greater than the sum of the parts. And if you buy the wrong tool, or buy it from the wrong people, a really bad experience can be perceived as worse than all the bad things that happen along the way… the anti-gestalt. I learned my lesson. From now on, if Highland doesn't sell it, I don't need it. And once again I was reminded that being "cheap" is different from being frugal… In the long run I would have saved time and money by getting the Festool 32mm Hole Drilling System . What was that item number?

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