One good turn (deserves another)

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I’ve ruined many a project component by going one step too far – one more pass with a sander, one more coat of finish, once more through the planer, one more tweak on a dovetail, etc. Almost always, the one more thing was one too many.

But there’s an exception to this, at least for the way I work, and that’s screws. When assembling anything with screws, or building or repairing with screws, I’ve found that once you’ve tightened the screws properly it’s a good idea to come back two more specific times to do it again.

The first time is in the initial build. Even when a screw is fully tightened, if I come back once all the screws are placed – sometimes only minutes later – and check to see that they’re all seated properly, every last one can stand to be tightened just a bit more. I’m no wood expert, but I’m guessing that the wood fibers stressed by the original screw placement have had time to relax a bit around the threads. This is especially true with softwoods, as I’ve been experiencing lately while hanging drywall on standard 2x4s.

Following up with another quarter turn or less usually does the trick. This is so consistent that I now make this a regular part of the way I work: Place and set all the screws, then come around for another pass immediately when finished.

The second time is weeks or months later, after the project has been in use for a while. Then, screws can be very loose, requiring more than a quarter turn to bring to adequate tightness. This is typical for furniture like tables and chairs that receive racking stresses, and for anything used outdoors where humidity levels fluctuate frequently. And, of course, as any furniture with fasteners sees continuous use, it’s a good idea to tighten things up periodically even beyond my “two more times” personal rule.

With a history of ruining things by going one step too far, it’s a pleasure for me to have at least one area of woodworking where doing one more thing actually pays off.

A.J.

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