Saturday, February 18, 2012

Tapering A Disaster

Well I knew there would be issues as I started this project, but I was bound and determined they would not be caused by haste. Man oh man, how I hate when I end up eating my words!!!

This morning I headed to the shop to finish cutting the mortise in the last leg. I am excited to report that while the mortising process is still taking me quite a bit of time, I can definitely see a big difference. Ten thousand more mortises and I should be ready to call myself an apprentice.

Once I finished the mortise I took a brief break and then it was onto the tapering jig. While I take no pride in my jerry-rigged jig it will work fine for this project. Sometime in the future I will put more effort into creating a masterpiece. Just so you know the jig has nothing to do with the disaster.
Now, I lock in the first leg, set the fence to the appropriate width and fire up the saw ready to make the first cut. I push the front right leg through the saw and everything works great, maybe even better than expected. Aside from what I consider excessive tool marks from the blade, the taper looked great. The leg gets a second taper on the other outside face of the leg, so I taped the offcut back to the leg, rotated the piece and completed the cut. Once again it went off without a hitch. I was so pleased I decided to go ahead and plane the tool marks and basically finish the leg. I even went ahead and cut the decorative bevels in the top of the leg and planed them smooth as well. When I was done I had my first finished leg and a broad grin across my face.
Leg number two, lets get 'er done! I am ready, excited and confident I will have all the legs finished by the end of the day. I am thinking man this woodworking thing is really getting easier by the minute. Within a year I could easily be considered for woodworker of the year honors and my name will be mentioned with the greats. Nothing can go wrong! I got this all figured out!!!!!

SssCccRrrEeeCccHhh... Did I just get stupid or what? Insert second leg into the tapering jig, make sure the jig is properly aligned with the fence, start to make the cut and everything is going great just like the first time. Inch by inch the piece slides by the fence smooth as butter, supple as silk and man the mortise even lines up perfectly with the blade. WAIT!!! What am I seeing! The mortise is lining up with the blade? That ain't right! I'm not really seeing that, am I? Needless to say and despite freedom of speech, I cannot post the descriptive verbal apocalypse that matriculated from my oral orifice, but I am sure you can imagine. In my blind lust to complete the legs, I had placed this leg in the tapering jig backwards. Instead of tapering the piece from the top to the bottom my taper ran from the bottom to the top and cut directly through the middle of the mortise. A complete disaster in my book, not to mention this was what I considered the best leg, because the stock was rift cut and had the best grain flow of all the legs. I was devastated to the point I just decided to clean the shop and call it a day.
Thankfully, I have enough left over stock to create a fifth leg. Now, I'll get to see if I can recreate a matching leg after the fact. I should have been milling this spare part right along with the others as a precaution, but I'll have to chalk it up to a learning experience and move on. One other take away for this experience is always work from the least visible or most unattractive piece to the most visible or best in order to avoid ruining them and to work out the kinks before cutting them. While this was a real bummer, I will not let it keep me idle for long. Tomorrow I plan to hit the ground running and at least get the leg recreated.

Until my next post,

Keep Your Mind on your Fingers and your Fingers on your Hands!!!


  1. We've all been there.

    Maybe it'd help to mark out the taper in pencil on the leg so you have some safety check that the pencil line is inline with the blade.

    1. Great point! I had all the waste clearly marked on the other cuts, but not the taper. Next time...

  2. Two good lessons, one you've found for yourself: critical part? mill a spare, because if you don't, you'll need one. If you do, you won't, but hey, you've got a piece of milled stock for the next project.
    The second lesson, I agree whole-heartedly with Morton. It never hurts to mark the taper on the leg (sides and bottom) so you can see before you cut what it will look like. That way, before you cut, you'll probably notice something is wonky.
    Keep it up, I won't tell you how many lessons I learned on my first's sorta embarrassing!

  3. Ouch! As Nick & Morton have said, we've all done it. I'll third the idea of marking out the taper on the leg. Also, take heart in knowing you're much less likely to make the same mistake again. You will of course find new mistakes to make, but at least you'll now think long and hard before setting a leg on a tapering jig. Consider the mangled leg the cost of that lesson. Hopefully future lessons come cheaper.

  4. Yup, we've all had *that* moment. My worse one was, as last step, to route a groove. But had forgotten to lock the fence on the router table, so got a wandering cut.

    Since then, I always make an extra part (leg, stiles, whatever). Plus, you can use Murphy's Law to your advantage: I have never had a mishap when I have an extra part. Kinda an insurance I guess...