WT163 – Overrated Woodworking

Special thanks to our show sponsor Festool.

On today’s show, we’re talking about overrated woodworking tools, techniques, and materials.

Listener David wrote in to ask if dovetails are the “bicep curl” of woodworking, meaning they are more or less just for show and totally overrated. This inspired us to each select two things in woodworking that we feel are overrated.

Marc – Workbenches and solid wood.
Shannon – Dovetail saws and jointer planes.
Matt – Lock miter bits and mortise and tenon joints.


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27 replies on “WT163 – Overrated Woodworking”

I get crap all the time because I don’t sing the dovetails praises. For one thing, it’s for strength not show. The exposed end grain looks terrible. Also it’s not the holy grail of joinery. It boils down to 2 things. One – you have enough cash to buy a jig and templates. Two, you’ve practiced hand cut dovetails enough. Hand cut doves require as much skill as handwriting. It simply muscle memory.

You’re not alone…the Society for Dovetails Only is a group who are not very open minded and accepting of those who see them as an option, not a requirement. We all run into them at some point.

Solid wood? I make musical instruments, and I wouldn’t bother if I couldn’t use solids. Laminates, of any sort, could never match the tonal qualities of a nice piece of ‘insert favourite tonewood here’.

Obviously there are some things that solid materials are crucial for, and others…that it’s simply an option in the woodworker’s arsenal.

Marc is right on, no question. I love working with veneer and knowing that my table top is going to stay flat. As for workbenches – I have a good sturdy bench, but I seem to gravitate to a favorite corner of my assembly table to do most of my work.

Shannon and Matt – shame on you!!Good joinery is the beauty – the hallmark of fine furniture…

My solid wood tables, shelves and cabinets stay flat since I know how to make it so. I particularly like my solid mesquite kitchen table.

I think good joinery is important, but design and use of wood and materials, along with specialized hardware are equally important. You can have amazing joinery skills and use them to create rock solid construction, but if that’s all you’re concerned with on a project it could come up short on looks.

I’ve constructed the most amazing dovetailed drawers, super tight joinery and well spaced…but they were never noticed because I spent more time concerned with their construction than choosing stock that looked nice and a design that complemented them.

I love the contrast between end grain and edge grain. End grain is my favourite part, specially if its like oak with medullary rays.
I think hiding end grain with mitres is way over rated.

Great episode but it looks like the Roubo bench wood bundle that I bought from Bell Forest Products and picked up at the truck terminal Monday should just be made into bench hooks. I also have a Benchcrafted hardware for the bench and Maxon on order from Highland Woodworking I can just spin those wheels for hours. I was awaiting with great anticipation for the hybrid dovetail tennon saw I ordered from Badax. But it looks like that it may be just hung on the wall and just admired . Well maybe I will just break out my PC profile sander work out the stress. Yea thats the ticket.

You all missed the most important overrated item, and that’s experience. How many times have you put something off or not done something because you thought it might be too difficult or that you weren’t ready for it yet. Then you get around to it and realize it wasn’t so hard.

I have to admit that yes everything you guys said is the truth. Benches are overhyped a lot of the time. The Schwarz said “My first bench was a solid wood door on a couple of saw horses.” For most beginning woodworkers this is plenty fine. They/we/I don’t need a 400+ lbs. french workbench, yet.

What I would like to see either of you guys do is a english workbench out of construction grade lumber. Yes I know Marc and Shannon have made workbenches already. Shannon you don’t really seem to have room to build something like this. So Matt and Marc how about you guys? Why not do it on the free site? Then donate it to a local high school.

Just a couple of thoughts.

(And yes my first saw purchase was a dovetail saw, tried to cut one once and wow I think you could see the gaps from space. Mostly because they didn’t line up very well / at all)

To be honest, while I love the idea of donating the bench, I have absolutely no desire to do the work. Bench-building is one of those things you should only do once in your life, unless you’re Chris Schwarz. 🙂

Yes very true, if you don’t want to do it a project then it never gets done. (I think I have heard this from my wife a couple of times) But it sounds like once I get my shop really up and going its gonna be break out the video equipment; so I can send a video to Marc time.

Or thrice. As my skills improved I’ve built a new bench to suit. For me, construction of the third one begins following completion of a replica of the Gamble House bed. The ne bench will be the Benchcrafted one. With all of their hardware.

True, but if we were being completely logical, we’d keep our cars in our garages and buy our furniture from stores, or pay someone else to custom-make it to our specs. Even paying for custom furniture would be cheaper than the true cost of our shops + time, wouldn’t it? There’s clearly more factors involved here than just the sheer logic of it.

I was halfway expecting to hear you guys gore another sacred cow, the tablesaw. Not that it doesn’t have it’s place but I think it’s definitely over-hyped. When I started I bought a tablesaw, because that’s what I used in college and what all the sites said you had to have for a workshop. The problem is it’s expensive in real estate, and dangerous if operated without a healthy respect for the tool. All of it’s functions can be duplicated by other tools, frequently in a safer fashion with a smaller footprint.

I’m not planning on getting rid of mine, but I’ve held off from purchasing a more expensive one because I find that I just don’t use it as much as I expected to. It excels in repeated cuts and dadoes, which is why I still have one, but it’s not the center of my shop.

I can’t speak for Matt or Shannon, but for me, the table saw is still in my top 3 most-used tools. While there are workarounds for many of the tablesaws functions, you would need quite a few other tools to match them all. And some of those tools will not do the job nearly as well or as efficiently as the table saw. I think that’s why the table saw got it’s reputation as the “heart of the shop” in the first place. It’s a workhorse and a powerful multi-tasker. But that functionality comes at a cost in space, money, and safety as you pointed out. For the home shop woodworker where it isn’t always about efficiency and time-savings, I can see why some migrate away from it.

Solid wood overrated? Please – if I couldn’t build solid I might not build. And almost everything I make incorporates mortise & tenon joints in the assemblies like doors that need them.

I have a electronic work bench that was converted to Woodworking work bench. It has metal legs and a two inch thick 8′ x 3′ top. But, I use my Black and Decker Workmate 400 99% of the time. The best thing about the work mate; it folds up and fits in the trunk on my car. I think big heavey work benches are over rated now, and planing it flat…again….maybe not.

My Lie Nielsen LAJ was my go to plane. I have 6 different blades for it form heavey camber to 90 degree scraper. It was my go to plane till I got the 7.5 Low Angle Jointer. I use the 7.5 for jointing, flatening, shooting and more. You can get the most angle lite shaving from it. So lite and fluffy of a shaving that I have been tempted to use them as TP. The shaving also work great for paper towles in the shop. 😉

I appreciate the comment on the workbench. I have been lamenting the fact that I don’t have a “real” workbench. I have two that are solid core doors on 2×4 frames, a WorkMate and my “assembly table” is a ping pong table. But last night I was in my shop thinking and looking at the tools, and thought “you know, I really have a good setup, I can do what I need to.” Then I heard your episode this morning and feel a lot better about my setup.

No one is going to agree with anyone on this subject. I was a tool and die maker, prototype maker, and plain ol’ machinist for 40 years, so I have had my fill of precision and machinework. My rule is It is always more fun to devise a way to do by hand what no power tool can do. Free association geometry in space is my passion. All my answers are accordingly. My favorite current workbench solution is an old solid oak Couch end table. Top: 3x2x1″. Frame: 4 solid, curved legs triangle blocked into a 1″x 3 1/2″ skirt frame, 2 1/2 inches/side smaller that the top…WAY strong! A pattern of carving screw holes for holding medium size sculptures, and lots of possible clamp-to possibilities. Then there are the supplemental tables that mount on top, designed for certain classes of work…For instance my vise Table. The vise is an old blacksmith’s vise; jaws open just shy of 1′ and I’ve removed the steel jaw shoes and have made a set of snick into place wood shoes whose hardness will match whatever wood I am clamping and which shields the metal work from damaging precious knife edges. The vise back casting is the standard forge anvil shape ending as the vise back jaw= it IS a fully functional anvil=
The whole assembly rotates 360 degrees, indexed every 30 degrees and double clamped. Altogether, the most thoughtfully designed and beautifully functioning tool I’ve ever purchased for $20 at the Albuquerque flea market. Eat your heart out. Anyway, you’all can drool over the possibilities of such arrangements. One thing about being a machinist is a thorough grounding in the power of jigs and fixtures and the art of whipping such together out of found materiels, and never have to make one again because I always archive… If a tool doesn’t work for me, it soon is turned into a tool that does. I have seen many, many dovetails and box joints, so why would I ever want to make one. There a thousand ways to skin a cat; question is what the best way THIS time… German craftsmen hate that answer; THERE IS ONLY ONE KORRECT WAY IN ALL CASES. Same-same I say, Korrect is the best way at THIS time… Did I fail to offend anyone??…. I can’t imagine why.

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