To paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill, all woodworkers make mistakes,
but only wise ones learn from their mistakes. While most can
agree that it's better to avoid workshop blunders altogether,
it's not always possible. The following are some prevention
strategies and some ways of dealing with slip-ups should they
Here are some suggestions to help prevent common types of errors.
Lumber Woes: Many woodworkers pride themselves on being
frugal, but sometimes choosing lumber based on price alone can
be false economy. Wastage from defective boards and the effort
you spend on fixing their defects can be high hidden costs.
In general, avoid buying warped, severely crooked or cupped
boards, which are also more difficult to work from a safety
point of view.
Measurement Mistakes: In addition to "measure twice
and cut once", here are two helpful habits to have.
Don't measure from the 1" mark of a tape measure.
That way, you'll never have to worry about or deal with
the notorious off-by-an-inch blunder. Also, use the same
measuring tape throughout the entire project.
measure if you don't have to. Use set-up blocks or the
actual parts to transfer the measurements. For repetitive
cuts, use a story stick. My tipster friend Serge Duclos
of Quebec devised a clever storyboard method for when
measurements are too close to each other to read or to
mark on a stick. For every fence set-up, after cutting
the actual piece(s), he makes the same cut on a hard board
as he does on the storyboard, thereby creating a permanent
record for reuse of all the set-ups for the project. Unlike
the stick, a board has four sides (say, A, B, C and D)
on which measurements can be marked. If, for example,
side A is full of markings already, the additional markings
can be put on side B instead of being squeezed on with
the other markings on side A. Under the memory board approach,
the actual saw kerfs, not markings, are used to set the
||Measuring tape not required
Machinery and Tool Mistakes: Using a machine that's not
properly set up can create and compound mistakes. When a rip
fence is not parallel to the blade, for example, the mistakes
are usually not apparent until you are at the late assembly
stage. At this point, a quick fix will be almost impossible
as all the mating pieces have been cut. You can prevent most
of these unnecessary slips by performing regular tune-ups and
using scraps to test the critical set-ups or cuts.