Nov 11 2011
Work to a line. Cut on the waste side of the line and leave the line on the work.
Supporting Tip: Mark which side of the line will be the waste side. The waste side is the part you don’t intend to keep.
This isn’t about measuring as much as it is about marking. Marking exactly that which we want to keep is the best way to assure things fit when we assemble our project’s parts. If we don’t observe this however, it can render our careful measurements powerless. The fitment of our work is what we honor the most.
The lines we mark give clear meaning to our layout. We should always put the lines on as clearly and accurately as we can, and have them represent to us the part we wish to keep. This way if we are called away and return to look at our project later, we don’t ever have to remember what the lines mean.
It’s been argued that you can take the line, split the line and so forth, but those techniques are fraught with problems when you really think about them.
If you saw to the line and take the line, how much over the line did you take? Is there room here for a mistake? Will we always remember to compensate for the saw’s kerf? Will we always be sure? Will it make things too short? Mistakes happen with this method more often than not.
Some have said split the line. If we draw a line with a pencil, the pencil will blunt as it draws, so what then is the standard width for this line? Does it really, truly stand for the part of our project, which we intend to keep? Again, what if the saw can take a kerf wider than the line? How do you split that? I’ve seen people advocate for this but too much is left to chance. Why risk it? Woodworking doesn’t have to require that we be lucky.
Remember that many things we saw are not finished off the saw, the saw is a rough tool, and usually leaves behind rough marks. Often, these marks are so rough that we can’t do further accurate layout on that surface, until after we smooth it up. It is rarely a finish surface in woodworking with few exceptions. It is a better practice to saw a short distance from the line on the waste side, particularly when the saw is coarse.
We must leave room on our work to smooth this rough surface, and we can’t do it if we split or take the line. We can sand, plane, chisel, even use a shooting board or a spokeshave to the line to obtain a smooth and accurate finish. It just depends on how we need to shape that line. More often than not, taking the line will leave you little room to smooth, let alone solve a problem if one occurs.
Good work practices are very important to consistency, so it is always good to be an early adopter of such practices. When showy woods can run from $20.00 to over $100.00 a board foot, we can’t afford to condemn wood to chance. We need to know where we are cutting for the best fit possible.
Depending on the level of accuracy the line needs to represent, we can use chalk, chalk line, carpenter pencils, sharp or fine pencils, even a marking knife with possibly the line darkened or lightened after we strike it, but the line should stay and represent the working limit.
With pencils, a harder lead can help. HB hardness is common; 2H hardness if you can find it works better. Sharpness is everything in a pencil, so be sure to maintain it while working. Red pencil leads show up well on dark woods and are more durable than white. Ballpoint pens will endure layout work, but depending on the project or position, can leave a mark in some woods that could be hard to remove later. Gel pens are good for marking light colors as well, but can be both expensive and fragile. Marking knives actually scribe lines that are more usable when they are slightly dull.
Remember that with dovetail layout, one joinery-sawn board lays out the other. On the board being laid out second, the lines can only be placed on the part which you intend to keep. This is true in many cases when working in joinery, and in joinery, fitment is everything.
Working to the line always allows room to trim if we still need. And all the lines can easily be removed once we have fitment and move towards the finish.
When accuracy in lay out matters, surface quality matters. It encompasses both the initial dimensions as well as the finish dimensions, and one is often used to lead to the other. Being squared up or at a specific angle can matter to the layout line placement. A shooting board can help us arrive at the right fit and finish when working to the line, both in the layout and the finish of joinery, as well as miters and butted boards that will require precise fitment.
Finally, remember as we lay out our work that we orient the placement of our lines so as to keep them where they will remain on the part of the work we intend to keep. This may mean we will need to orient the work so we layout from one or two reference surfaces only, (another good practice) and that the lines will work with the tool or machine that does the cutting, or which hand we use to work. If you like to saw to the right or left of a line for your waste, keep that in mind as you lay out. Think of what the tool will need for accommodations and the boards will arrive at the size needed consistently.
Practice consistency. Work to the line and rest assured that our best work has been done. These tips will help anyone create anything faster and with higher accuracy. The lines? They can be straight or curved. Anything you can imagine. This is a major part of building anything we can design. The bridge from what we imagine, to what we make become real. Now we can create!
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