Put out the Fire First

It seems a simple concept really. But what appears easy to me or to you is sometimes not so easy for someone else to comprehend. This is what makes the teaching experience so endlessly rich with the variety and array of personalities.

In a class one time, the students were making mortising templates from 1/4″ Masonite. For some reason I had found the most tempered of tempered Masonite to use. This material was so hard it made the router bit scream as it cut through the board. This was hard stuff, hard hard stuff. We would cut slots in these templates on the router table with a straight bit, and most of my students had negotiated this noisy cut with no problems. Except for this one fellow. This particular student was making his groove cut through his Masonite template as the others had done, but he was moving at too slow a pace regrettably. Perhaps he was a bit too careful, a trifle more circumspect than others, more concerned with the perfect result.

Well moving slowly in a router cut can produce an array of effects. One effect is that you can burn the bit. The sawdust gets fried and coats the bit in a black gunk that sticks remarkably well to carbide. It makes it very difficult to cut. [There is an easy fix. Just take some oven cleaner and coat your bit with it for 20 minutes or so. Then clean the bit with a tooth brush. Repeat as needed until the bit is clean. This works on saw blades too.]

Another result of moving too slowly is that you can burn the wood. Particularly on end grain, you’ll find that if your feed rate is too slow, you’ll get burning. Slowing down the cut to admire your work gives you toasted wood in just seconds.

But another quite unexpected result from moving so slowly, with a burned bit, in a material so hard, with dust so fine, is that voila! the dust will be set on fire. Now when this happens, do not, as my student at the time did, just blow on the fire trying to put it out while continuing to make the cut. Put out the fire first.

There he stood at the router table blowing on the smoldering dust and probably making the flames grow higher while continuing to make his groove cut. But just as a general rule, for all of you who tend to set your work on fire as you make cuts in it, put out the fire first, and then you may continue cutting.

This may seem obvious to you and me. This may seem like good and sensible Standard Operating Procedure, an easy lesson. But not everyone gets this lesson at first. So be careful. Make certain that you understand this. Slow down here in order to speed up. It’s a good lesson for us all.

Published in: on February 26, 2008 at 1:21 am  Leave a Comment  
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