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Boxed in

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With my box book nearly finished, looking it over has reminded me how odd naming conventions are in woodworking. Sometimes the name fits perfectly, sometimes not.

Most of the box projects in the book look like boxes: Four corners and a lid? Yep, that’s a box. But one is cut on the band saw and has no corners, but it has small drawers you can put stuff in so it clearly qualifies. Two others, which I turned on the lathe, are a bit harder to classify. Put milk and cereal in one, or maybe some salted mixed nuts in the other and they’re clearly bowls. But turn them out of burl – along with a matching lid – and place them on a dresser or bookshelf, and they’re decorative boxes by almost anyone’s definition.

Some naming conventions seem based entirely on how old you are. Older woodworkers use a saber saw, for example, while younger ones use jigsaws. Beyond a certain age you may know the handheld tool with a round blade as a skill saw, even though that’s a genericized form of the brand name Skil saw. Younger guys have always called it a circular saw. (Then there’s that splinter group who still insist it’s a buzz saw.)

Others are extremely literal, but open to interpretation. You edge-joint wood on a jointer, but the result isn’t called a joint until you glue it to another edge-jointed board. On the other hand, a biscuit joiner does create a joint, even though you can’t form the actual joint until after the wood has already been biscuit-joined. Huh?

A tool that planes wood has two names, depending on whether electricity is involved. Plug it in to use it, and it’s a planer. If you don’t plug it in to use it, it’s just a plane. Along similar lines, a tool that scrapes is a scraper, one that sands is a sander, and one that routs is a router. So why don’t we chisel with a chiseler, drill with a driller, or saw with a sawer? For that matter, since a hammer hammers, why isn’t it called a hammerer?

Speaking of which, I write my name on any tools I frequently loan. You’d be surprised how many people tell me I spelled “hammer” wrong on one particular tool.

Till next time,


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