Measure Twice and Cut Once

 The old proverb repeated ad nauseam has proven itself, perhaps even frustratingly useful in both woodworking and general decision making.

Mr. Bean "Measuring"

Measure what matters

In the workshop, carefully planned measurements and accurate cuts lead to less wastage and increased productivity and ultimately, improved quality in the end product. When taken in a proverbial context, the saying could be another way of stating the importance of plotting one’s course of action well before setting off. Sometimes this could be something as complex as formulating a unique marketing strategy, to something as simple as a basic pros and cons list before buying a new car.

In the modern social media-driven world, people have been pushing the whimsical lifestyle of just jumping into decisions with both feet first. The hard truth is; no matter how hard we try or how boring it seems, we cannot get away from needing a roadmap toward our goals. Keeping in mind that roadmaps don’t reflect traffic or road conditions. They also don’t take our driving abilities into consideration, which brings me to my tale:

New endeavours

I’ve recently started woodworking and all frustrations included, it has been a learning experience of note. So far, I’ve made my own workbench, a cutting board out of the offcuts (more on how I managed to obtain this many offcuts later) and have a medium-sized table out of pallet wood in progress.

The workbench was born out of necessity. One can’t very well have a wood workshop with no wood workbench. Thus my research began into making the best workbench I could both afford and actually MAKE with little else but my newfound enthusiasm. A few minutes of reading many hours lost in the YouTube algorithm later I had chosen my basic design.

Workbench, hand plane and belt sander

Off to the hardware store I went, with my shopping list and a vague goal in mind. After about an hour of dawdling around my local Woermann & Brock hardware filled to the brim with things I wanted but did not need, I got directed towards a friendly-enough shop assistant. Boom, back on track! So I managed to leave without purchasing any more than ten items that weren’t on my list, which is fine because it was all stuff I ended up needing.

And so the measuring begins…

Later back home, once everything got delivered I delved straight into it. No real plans were drawn, just an image of what some dude on YouTube reckons is the strongest bench he had ever, as a mere mortal encountered and also, happened to have assembled. I spent the rest of the day measuring out my cuts and the sites for the holes I would need to drill through the wood. It was around this point that I realised, not only did I neglect to purchase a POWER SAW, it didn’t even make my supposedly all-encompassing-comprehensive shopping list of woodworking mastery. Fast forward to a borrowed circular saw and I was off to the races. I made all my cuts, drilled about ten-thousand holes and set everything aside ready to be glued and assembled…and that’s where the cursing began.

Along the way, I got reminded of many wood basic working principles, like the way a length of wood GETS SHORTER EVERY TIME YOU CUT IT. Not through magic or spite but because cutting it actually removes some material each time, *which brings us back to the cutting board.  It’s generally not a good idea to mark 4 cuts but rather measure – cut, measure – cut in order to compensate for said removed material. This also helps you to not end up with the last cut being almost 30mm too short, which in turn forces you to cut 30mm off of about 30 prior cuts.

I managed to get everything assembled and squared out in the end through the application of a belt-sander, powered hand planer, angle grinder and a bit of what I like to call percussive maintenance. Remember folks, almost every tool can also become a hammer. Perhaps the most frustrating part of the ordeal was that I kept reminding myself about how thorough planning could have saved me all this hassle. The optimist in me just kept repeating: “well, we’re not going to make THAT mistake again, are we?” to which the realist replied: “Nope, we’ll probably find some brand new ones!”

Workbench and blue table

Lessons learned

Now that the cursing has subsided and a second project is passing through my hands, I’m reminded that even when we don’t follow all the clichéd proverbs regarding work ethic or life in general, they’re clichés for a reason – they have a tendency to ring true. Having said that, you actually can measure twice and cut more than once. It’ll just require some sanding, some chiselling and enough hammer strikes. If you really mess up you may end up with a slightly smaller table but, with a cutting board as a bonus.

Cutting board

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *