I really hate to pass up an opportunity to gloat over what a fun job I have. So I won’t.
One of the funnest parts of my jobs is editing the Shop Tips column. Every issue, I get to call up a fellow woodworker and let them know that they’ve won a tool valued at more than (sometimes way more than) $300. There is just no way that can turn into a bad conversation. Believe me, I’ve never talked to a grumpy shop tip winner.
To rub it in some more: every couple of weeks, I get to sit down with a team of experts and pore through a fortnight’s worth of entries choosing tips from clever woodworkers who have come up with novel ways to make life easier in the shop.
And then there are the ones we don’t choose.
We reject shop tips for many reasons. Sometimes, we’ve seen them before (sometimes many, many, many times before). Sometimes, though clever, they’re too specific to an operation or tool that few others would use. Sometimes they’re downright unsafe.
But there is a special class of rejections that are near and dear to my heart. These are the ones that take a perfectly simple operation and make it downright complex. Not that their solution is not clever—oh, no. In point of fact, it is usually far, far too clever. These are the tips that have been so completely over-thought that the tipster has obviously lost sight of the original goal of simplifying a problem, and has lost himself in the joy of creating the solution. These are the ones that are way beyond “Keep It Simple, Stupid” (KISS. You didn’t think the title meant the band, did you?) and into the surreal land of Rube Goldberg.
We’ve seen complicated rigs that will precisely follow a template for duplicating parts (flush-trim bit, anyone?). Or fussy rail-riding sleds that let you angle your workpiece while running it through the tablesaw in order to cut an angled kerf slot (or you could use the bevel feature on your tablesaw). Or complex microadjusters that could be replaced with a playing card shim or a strip of masking tape. On the one hand you want to show these mad scientists the mercy of pointing out the blindingly obvious solution and save them all their trouble. On the other hand, you know it would be about as merciful as telling them they have ugly babies.
Sure, I poke fun a little, but in truth, these are really my favorites. I feel a kinship. I’m a wannabe inventor myself and I see a reflection of that spirit in the devices these fellows have meticulously thought out, laboriously assembled, and lovingly wrote to us about.
To prove it, I offer my recent contraption. At first blush, a clever solution (to me, at least). Until I showed it around the office and it came back full of holes:
Here’s what you’re seeing: On the back of my mobile tablesaw/router base, I’ll be mounting necessary dust collection fittings. Since I’m in one stall of the garage, I have to stay mobile, so I won’t likely install permanent plumbing for now; I’ll simply move the dc hose from tool to tool. To make that easier, I’m trying to decide between the Rockler Dust Right system or this quick-connect system over at Penn State. Either way, I’ll likely get Rockler’s expandable hose. They demoed that at the office a couple weeks back, and it looks like a pretty cool solution for small shops like mine.
So on the mobile base, I’ll need to switch dust collection back and forth between the tablesaw and the router table (one hose to the tablesaw, 2 to connect to the router cabinet & fence). My first thought was that I could make one input and use blast gates to direct the air flow. As I was diagramming and making a parts list, one thing led to another and I struck upon an idea for the blast gates. Since I would never be running the router and tablesaw at the same time, I could place the gates in opposing directions, join their handles, and with a single tug, the air would be redirected from the tablesaw to the router and vice versa. It would be as simple as throwing a light switch.
Until it was pointed out to me that the T intersection is going to cause turbulence and a drop in suction at the tablesaw—Not the place you want to lose air flow. So, out went the binary blast gate idea. Bob Hunter pointed out that as long as I’m in back of the saw and have to throw one gate, it’s not much trouble to throw two. That line of reasoning led me to the obvious conclusion that as long as I’m back there throwing blast gates, it’s just as little trouble to simply pull the hose from one tool and plug it into the other. So, now I’m down to buying a single “wye” to route the two hoses for the router table. I can plug the dc hose into that or into the tablesaw.
It’s simple, much cheaper, and low-fuss. But not as crazy-cool. So, I still hold out hope for my brainchild.
Maybe if I add a lever that reaches to the front of the saw and switches the airflow when pulled. I wouldn’t even have to walk around to the back of the saw!
Hmm. Back to the drawing board.
Lucas Peters @ WOOD
PS: Keep those crazy ideas coming. We pay $100 if we use one of your tips. If we choose your tip for top shop tip honors, in addition you’ll get a tool worth at least $300. Send them to Shop Tips, WOOD Magazine, 1716 Locust St., LS-221, Des Moines, IA 50309-3023 or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org or post them in the Top Shop Tip forum. We keep an eye on that as well.
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