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DON'T CUT CORNERS ON WOODWORKING TOOLS

There has been a great deal of discussion, some of it rather heated, on the Internet lately over whether a woodworker has to have the best tools to do the best work.

There are those who stand squarely behind the adage about not blaming bad work on your tools. There is, I believe, another adage about how a craftsman is only as good as his tools.Actually, both sides of the issue can said to be right, with certain caveats.

If you have a high-quality table saw that once everything is aligned, stays that way, then you can't blame bad cuts on it.

There are, however, plenty of table saws on the market whose blades will scarcely stay in alignment with the miter gauge grooves for half an hour. You can do perfectly good work with them, providing You stop every half hour and spend half an hour realigning everything or You're enough of a machinist to correct the saw's basic problems.

Most chisels can be sharpened to a very similar state; one made of good steel will hold its edge for quite a while; one made from inferior steel will lose it rapidly. The expensive one will probably (or at least should) have a flat back; you'll have to flatten the back of the cheap one.

That's pretty much the way it goes. If you can't afford really good tools, be prepared to invest plenty of time and effort in making cheap ones work well.

Another correspondent asks:

"Does anyone out there have an informed opinion on using a lathe for drilling?"

There are a lot of ways to drill on a lathe, most of them haphazard. I nearly always drill out the center of a deep, closed piece and I've had some hairy experiences doing it. In this case I want a big hole; I use an old 3/4-inch plumber's auger bit, the only thing I could find long enough and wide enough to suit the purpose.

However, holding onto it is a problem. I suppose I could buy a brace, but that would be expensive. I generally try to hang onto it with a set of big lock-tight pliers. The trick is to take it in short steps, especially if the lathe won't turn around 300 rpm. The one I generally drill on won't run slower than 800 rpm. So I shove the bit in a ways, then back it out to clear the chips, then go in a little deeper, and so forth. It usually works.

I've never done much that requires really accurate boring. If that's what you need, however, you'd want to get a lathe with a hollow tail stock. Many British lathes are built that way. You can then get a hollow jig that fits in the tail stock, holds the tail end of the work piece and allows you slip a bit through it to accurately bore deeply into the work piece.

These are generally sold as a kit for drilling out lamp bases with a bit of about 1/4 inch, and I've never seen anything that would allow the use of a range of bit diameters.

This is one of the reasons why most wood turners eventually seek out a machine shop willing to do small jobs without charging a fortune. The jobs we present to them are usually simple enough to entrust to an apprentice.