Sunday, September 26, 2010

Antique Veneer Saw?

I have no desire to own or use power woodworking tools, but I cannot even think of living without the computer and internet. What an amazing time to live.

I was born at the same time television was introduced, and I remember watching the first color broadcast of the World Series through the glass window of the bank downtown Los Angeles. That was the only place where we could see a color TV. Everyone I knew who had a TV had a black and white, and I was amazed that the grass on the field was so green. It didn't much matter that the color was slightly blurry or that the flesh tones were not exactly normal. It was in COLOR! NBC's peacock was revolutionary.

Now I think of the widespread use of the internet in the same light. Every person walking around has immediate access to the web, which has permeated our existence like the air we breath. Just typing a word into a search engine produces a million sources of information in a tenth of a second. 10 years ago no one even knew what an algorithm was; now there is a movie out on the youngest billionaire in America who made over 6 billion dollars in 10 years by writing an algorithm.

The reason I am thinking of all this is because, out of this internet web, I receive emails and questions from people all over the world, who I have never met.

One of these questions recently was from a woodworker who wrote me about a veneer saw he purchased at an antique tool meet. It seems that he was told this saw was used to cut veneer and, since I was known to work veneer, he wanted me to tell him how it was used. When I opened the attachment, I immediately knew he needed assistance.

I went into the shop and picked up my mitre saw and jack and asked my partner, Patrice Lejeune, to demonstrate while I shot some pictures. Patrice is a very talented "ebeniste" and graduated from ecole Boulle, in Paris, before running his own cabinet shop in Paris for nearly a decade. I asked him to move to San Diego and work with me since he is experienced in all aspects of furniture making and finishing, including French polish.

What he had was a mitre saw, probably French. It was used with a mitre jack to cut 45 degree and 90 degree cuts when making trim, picture frames, or specialized woodwork. It usually was sharpened with little or no kerf, to reduce the tear out of the face of the jack. It had a large one sided handle for both hands, and was sharpened with cross cut teeth.

The mitre jack was made of wood, and was a standard bench accessory. It mounted either on top or on the side face of the tail vise, and had a second screw to tighten the moveable jaw. On one face was the 90 degree cut and on the other side was the 45 degree cut. The wood was placed into the jack and the saw was slid along the face, using both hands. This produced a rough cut at the correct angle. After that a specialized hand plane, also called a mitre plane, was used on the face of the jack to smooth and trim the cut to final dimension.

Thus, the complete set included the mitre jack, the mitre saw and the mitre plane. It is sad to think that such a lot of traditional methods and specialized tools from the history of woodworking is not well understood in this modern age. Woodworkers today would enjoy using these tools if they only did the research to discover their use, and realized that there are traditional alternatives to modern woodworking methods which are equally effective.

I believe that the internet will allow us to return to that pre industrial age if we use it to its full potential. What irony.


Paul said...

Several interesting items in this post. First, to see an old, large mitre saw was great - I've been working on creating one for my needs . Next, how can I not comment on the shocking pink shoes worn by Patrice. I guess the French do have a sense of style.

I find your blog to be well done, informative and entertaining. Thanks!

W. Patrick Edwards said...

Thanks for the nice words. You have good eyes. I had to go back and see which picture showed his feet.

What you can't see is that the other shoe is turquoise! I will post a picture of both of his feet so you can see for yourself. Yes, he has style. I just don't know what style...