Highland Woodworking Wood News Online, No. 154, June 2018Welcome to Highland Woodworking - Fine Tools & Education Learn more about Highland Woodworking View our current woodworking classes and seminars Woodworking articles and solutions Subscribe to Wood News
The Down to Earth Woodworker
By Steven D. Johnson
Racine, Wisconsin

This Month's Column:

• What's Next In Woodworking Tech?
The Blackwing 602
Oh, Those Easy Edges!

What's Next In Woodworking Tech?

Figure 1 - The FractionPlus calculator allows
mixed-denominator and string calculations,
making woodworking easier for those of us
locked into the Imperial measurement system
Woodworkers have had access to some awesome smart phone apps for several years. I've drawn attention to some of these before. The fraction calculator on my phone is used more often than I care to admit… I shudder to think of having to add or subtract mixed-denominator fractions without it. I use the dB Meter app when I am testing the relative loudness of equipment, and the Vibration measurement app is a good way to compare two machines for solidity, balance, and quality of manufacture.

There are apps that contain in-depth information about wood species, apps that assist in finishing, and apps that give basic tutorials in woodworking.

Figure 2 - For accurate sound level (sound pressure)
readings, the Decibel Meter Pro app can't be beat
There are also lots of apps that are not strictly for woodworkers, but are invaluable in helping me plan my shop time and activities. "Let's see, the weather will be least terrible on Thursday, so that's the day I'll go to the lumberyard." The stock market app might be a good indicator of when to pull the trigger on that next new machine. And while woodworking has "working" in its name, woodworking is not exactly a workout, so the health and fitness apps tell me when it's time to go out and take a walk. I use the countdown timer in my phone to tell me when a glue-up has set-up enough to remove the clamps and when any squeeze-out is "just right" to be scraped away. I keep my shopping list on my phone and use the alarm to tell me what time to stop working and start cooking dinner. In a pinch, I use my phone as a flashlight. Sometimes I even make a phone call on my phone.

I read somewhere that in the palm of our hands now, the average smart phone has more computing power than all the computers combined in the Apollo missions that landed Americans on the moon. But I am convinced that there is more to come, and since last writing about technology and apps a couple of years ago, I am a little perplexed that there has not been more development lately. Perhaps all we need to do is ask. For example:

Figure 3 - Can’t decide between two different
woodworking machines? Compare the vibration
of each with this app and buy the one with the
lower vibration… you won’t be sorry
The facial recognition on my phone is outstanding. It works great, whether night or day, when I have a hat on or not, even one day when I was dressed for snow, with a full-face balaclava. The software combines camera technology, lighting, infrared lighting, sophisticated software and who-knows-what-else to build, essentially, a hyper-detailed topographic map of your face… in other words, it measures the contours, the high and low spots, in microscopic detail. I have little doubt (and sincere hope) that some bright person will soon harness those capabilities and give us an app that will tell us how smooth and level a surface is. Imagine planing or sanding a surface then scanning it with your camera to find any high or low spots or spots that need additional attention.

Recently I built an Infeed and Outfeed Storage Cabinet to reside under the wing of my table saw. It was designed and built to complement the SawStop Outfeed Table I built a couple of years ago. The finish was several coats of shellac and top coats of General Finishes Arm-R-Seal. Even though I followed the same formula for mixing the shellac, the color was slightly different… not an outrageous mismatch, but if the two pieces are side-by-side, you can see the difference. With the color correction capabilities of my phone's photo app, I believe that someone will soon create a color comparator for woodworkers. It might even give suggestions for altering a finish to achieve matching colors.

The camera and on-board computer in our phones could be tasked to do other things, too. Imagine aiming the camera at a just-clamped box, frame, or cabinet and the app advising you whether the assembly is square, and if not, how much correction is needed and in which direction.

I suggested this a couple of years ago and nobody has done it… I want a sensor for my dust collector's barrel that will send an alert to my phone when it is time to empty it. I know some smart person can do this, so let's get with it! And since a blade is merely the intersection of two edges at an angle, and the degree of "sharpness" is merely a measurement of the theoretical vanishing point of those two angles and the continuity (smoothness) of the edge, measuring sharpness and establishing a scale for that sharpness is just a matter of math… something computers, uhh, smart phones, are very proficient at doing.

Since there are music apps that can produce waveforms of any sound, why can't the microphone in the phone be used to "listen" to my table saw blade and tell me when it is time to clean it, sharpen it, or replace it? We all know that the sound of a blade through wood changes as the blade dulls… this can apply to router bits, too.

A woodworker's maintenance app would be nice. In fact, this might be my number one wish-list app. One app on my phone where I could record the name, model number, serial number, date purchased, purchase price and other pertinent information for every piece of equipment in my shop. A calendar function inside that app would remind me when to grease, apply oil, or change belts and other wear items. Such an app would be invaluable, too, in the event of disaster and the insurance adjuster asks for an inventory. It would also be nice if this "maintenance" app could house a PDF version of the instruction manual for each machine and perhaps a link to each respective manufacturer's web site should I need to order a part or accessory.

Apps are built to generate money for the creator, and I, for one, would pay for these apps. I'll bet others would, too.

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Steven Johnson is retired from an almost 30-year career selling medical equipment and supplies, and now enjoys improving his shop, his skills, and his designs on a full time basis (although he says home improvement projects and furniture building have been hobbies for most of his adult life). Steven can be reached directly via email at sjohnson@downtoearthwoodworking.com

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