Cheap Seats: Considering Tools

In all honesty, there is a severe limit on producing medieval furniture with the expected set of typical home-owner tools. To me, as a (semi)pro furniture maker, a basic tool set inherently includes a set of chisels. Getting to the point of having a decent set of chisels (both in quality of the tools, and in variety) took a few steps along a learning curve. Joe-and-Jane homeowner aren’t likely to have a decent set of chisels on hand. If they do, they’ve likely acquired a 1/4″, 1/2″, and 3/4″ matched set of low quality steel chisels with a poor temper that have been used repeatedly to pry open paint cans. Trimming tenons and chopping mortises are impossible with such chisels. A lot of breaks to sharpen dull or folded over edges can slow work to a maddening pace.

A jigsaw and circular saw are great for processing sheet goods and trimming 2-by material for around the house jobs. Crosscutting solid stock quickly is also an asset of these tools. Cutting joinery and narrow ripping are not in the forte of these tools, however. Even in the most basic formulation of the settelbanc in the “Cheap Seats” project, some joinery needs to be cut and thin rips are required. Edge joining is poor without some way to provide a flush mating surface.

Processing the rough lumber imposes its own challenges. The boards used in pallets are left “in the rough” and often are weathered into more horrible condition. A lot of sanding can clean up the broad faces of the boards, but the narrow faces are difficult to flatten and smooth. “Flat” and “Smooth” are two different things, if you hadn’t noticed. The easy solution to these challenges is to flatten and true the boards on a thickness planer and jointer. Though labor intensive, these operations can also be done with a hand plane, but require overcoming a learning curve. An inexpensive jack plane is still another few dollars added to this project. Add to that, a cheap plane is cheap for a reason, and may actually constitute having purchased a funky paperweight rather than a functioning tool. A block plane is too small to handle the work. Tuning and sharpening a plane takes some skill and additional equipment as well as skill. And all this is for naught if there are nails buried flush in the lumber you are attempting to mill. Striking a nail with any of these tools is at least damaging to the tool, and at most catastrophic and dangerous.

The only tool in the homeowner arsenal that might be used with minimal concern is the drill/driver. It can be used to bore peg holes, rough out mortises, and drive mechanical fasteners even if all the surrounding material is rough, out of square, and otherwise in poor condition.

Perhaps I’m being too particular. Any finished project should, in my mind, meet the Classical Trivium of Utilitas, Duritas, and Venustas. Poor fit and finish detracts from all three of these, but a servicable piece can be constructed without being more than marginally durable, while being as ugly as a manatee who shaves with a chainsaw.

Doilies on an outhouse might be the end goal of this project.

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