I’ve said it many times (though I’m sure I’m on the wrong page).
I believe that hand tools are the most efficient set up for the individual maker.
And not just the hobbiest.
If you’re building one-off pieces for clients then hand tools are still where it’s at.
Most that would disagree lack a thorough knowledge of using hand tools.
I have various reasons, and many exceptions. But I won’t go in to all of them here.
I just wanted to consider one area of working by hand that can lead to terribly inefficient work. And that’s marking out.
Marking out by hand is a very different animal to taking a machine or power tool approach.
This is why I differentiate the two.
It’s not snobbery, it’s that if I set out to do something on machine I take a different approach to starting out by hand.
My machine approach assumes pieces are square, flat and regular. Measurements are fixed numbers.
The hand approach doesn’t care for numbers. Once things are to rough dimension I’ll rarely care to know a length or angle specifically.
Like I’ve said, woodworking with hand tools is the most efficient approach for one off stuff.
But I’m not going to pretend I don’t dread the monotony of marking things out.
In one piece there’s still going to be several of the same joint.
If your table has four legs, then that’s at least eight mortice and tenons.
And I won’t even count the joints when I’m starting a chest of drawers.
I really don’t want to have to mark everything out individually.
Having a poor approach to marking out has a similar effect to a lack of sharpening routine.
It halts your momentum.
Hours spent laying out some lines on wood does not feel productive or motivating. And with poor marking routine everything else that follows will grind to a crawl.
Time To Make A Marking Rod
This is why I’ll often spend time in a project to create some kind of marking guide, or rod.
Rods are as simple as they get.
A bit of stick with some key measurements laid out that you can transfer onto multiple parts. But a simple marking rod can be a huge time saver.
And once you gather how they work, you can think up custom solutions for most projects, that not only see you flying through the marking out, but ensure accuracy.
The Mortice & Tenon Example
Let’s go back to those four table legs that need eight mortices.
They’re double tenons (that’s perfectly normal).
Let’s mark them out with a ruler.
You have to mark the haunch, the first mortice the bit that divides the mortices and then the second mortice.
Now you need to mark the haunch depth, know the mortice depth, and gauge the positioning and width on the leg.
Then do it seven more times…
How accurate do you think you’re being with that ruler?
With the marking all done, let’s chop them.
Every inaccuracy from the marking out is now transferred into the piece.
But I suppose since we’re working by hand we’ll fit each of the tenons individually anyway…
You can quickly see how time starts to stack up, and why hand tools are deemed slow.
Inaccuracies and variation in your first marks mean that extra time needs to be spent at every job that follows. To get things to fit individually.
Evolve The Basic marking Rod
Now let’s get our head out of our arse.
We spend five minutes and knock up a ‘Morticing Marking Rod & Guide’ all-in-one special. (Or fenced marking guide, whichever you find most catchy).
This is what I used in our Hall Table project.
The approach for making one varies depending on the size of joint it’s for. This was quite a long joint so is a bit of a worse case scenario. It still only took a tad longer.
Just like a marking rod, you lay out your measurements for each section of the joint so they can be transferred quickly and consistently to each leg.
What’s special here though is that this guide has a fence.
The fence is thicknessed precisely so we can locate our chisel against it.
Now we have no marking to do for the lengths or width of the joint.
In addition we can work our chisel along the fence to ensure the joints are dead straight and accurate.
So to top it all off, each joint is almost identical.
This means that our tenons can now all be cut the same with very little fettling.
Efficiency In Prepping
We can get all of this accuracy and speed even on very roughly, inaccurately hand prepped material.
It all works just by understanding face and edge marks.
By referencing everything off pre-determined faces I didn’t even prep the back of the table aprons at all.
They’re still rough sawn, and the legs were well out of square.
Learn more about these efficiencies when cutting mortice and tenons by hand.
So Many Possibilities
This is just one example of evolving a marking rod.
I make some kind of hybrid – multi-function thing for most projects.
Later in the table build we’ll have a ‘Mark Fast & Drill Square’ variant for getting us through the drawboring.
You’re probably thinking it’s easier to skip making the guides.
But if you’re building along I urge you to give them a go.
You will save time, I promise.
To really get to grips with building efficiently by hand, I recommend learning to do your woodworking with only one vice.