Saving time, and your sanity.

Recently I just completed a commission of 7 solid oak cassette tape tables for a customer in Germany for a Cafe/bar.

The tables are a 1:8 scale of a real tape and in my opinion, look very cool. This is down to the small details that make the tables , like the tab slots, the tape section and even the rounded corners. All these details make the table but also take a lot of time . The tables also consists of a lot of components that again, take time to build.

I learned a lot from building these tables, specifically 6 at once and then one to follow. I learned a new level of stress, time management, realistic goals, discovered new tools and techniques and so on.
Below are some of the things I did during the build that saved me  time, and also some of the things I learned and discovered that helped and well ........ didn't help. There worth considering if you're going to do anything like this or even just to speed things up.

So when I took on the commission , a deadline was agreed between myself and the client, admittedly there was a little pressure from the client, to finish the tables earlier then I felt comfortable with , which I could have said no to.

Stupidly I agreed, and started the build, with the  thought always at the back of my mind " this will be cutting it fine, I don't know if I'm going to complete on time". I didn't ! As the days grew close to the deadline, I knew I'd not make it, but I had a damn good try. What made it worse , is that I was going to America and, it wasn't a case of a day or two late, it was going to be two weeks and then some late.

During the run up to the deadline, my stress levels were through the roof. I was also a physical wreck, because I use hand tools, every rip cut, cross cut and bevel etc. Was literally done by hand. Late nights, and long hours only added to my fatigue and stress.

So what I learned is only a bit of common sense , and some maybe over looked information , which I think is good advice.

Learn to say no to the client for the right reasons, like the one above. It just wasn't enough time , and I shouldn't have agreed to it.

Be realistic on your time scale and allow for error but, also add extra time. In doing so, you'll have more then enough time, and if you finish on time, without using the extra time, you've completed ahead of schedule! And I'm sure the client will be happy. Your also going to avoid a lot of stress and heart ache.

As long as these tables took me to build, I did save some time . I did have the good sense to make two 1:1 scale templates which, had a lot of information on them and also provided a straight edge to make knife lines. All my cut marks where layered out and no measuring was required.

Twelve faces to mark out would have took me hours, but was relatively quick with the templates. I also have these templates for future builds, so they'll continue to save me time.

Having the right tool for the job is a phrase most of us have heard . It's not always correct but in one task it was very true.

The center section of the table has thinner stock, which I re-saw. Normally I use my regular western ripping saw, and I try not to re-saw boards to often, because it just takes to long and is hard work.
I had six boards at 500mm X 170mm to re-saw and so I began . The boards took 1 hour each and after the third, I was out of wind and patience! That's a lot of work , and so I stared with other tasks on the tables. Doing so I thought to myself there must be an easier/quicker way to re-saw .
Surely enough, that night , with a little searching on the net, I came across a Japanese re-saw saw,  Which actually had re-saw in its title. I looked and though that's not going to be any quicker, probably slower. I was desperate , so I bought the saw on the strength of it having re-saw in its title.
The saw came and immediately I started to re-saw . It cut through the board like butter! I couldn't believe how quickly it had cut. The second board I timed for my own curiosity, no rush, just cut away at a nice pace. 15 minutes later I had 2 boards. 45 minutes per board I had saved. I couldn't believe it and, the cut was so clean there was minimal cleaning up to be done with the plane. Not every example is the same but, in this case it worked well.

Another consideration would have been to buy the right thickness stock, which I did end up doing while I was on holiday, since I needed more thin stock for the outside trim, and I was past the deadline, I had to pay for these. I should have done this in the first place , but I think the supplier charges too much money for these, so I delayed buying them.

The center turning wheels have dowel in them. Something simple like making a batch of dowel, in some free time would've saved me time. Instead I spent time going through boards, looking for some fairly straight grain, then making the dowel. So in the future when I make some dowel I'm going to make a lot more than I need to keep me going through multiple projects.
Having enough space is something that was another problem, having to move these about putting them in the house, bringing them out , moving them about. This takes time and is a hassle. Especially when you are building 6 at once.

The planning and order of which the components were built could have been a lot better which in turn would have saved me time. The table is a multistage glue up, and I was waiting for glue to dry, before I could advance to the next stage. A little thought and time given to the build , and the order in which I made the components , would have saved me time and made my life easier . It will be something I will be concentrate on more in the future.

Workshop aids are something that can be very useful and speed things up. A good bench hook and  shooting board is something that I am in desperate need of and , I have made do with the one I have, altering it to my use. Spending sometime on building dedicated aids will save you time, and make your life easier. For instance , I cut a lot of 80° angles as well as 90°  ones , so I should have some well made shooting boards and bench hooks but , I don't. So that's on the to do list and I recommend others to spend the time building some.

I decided to batch make the tables, which basically means I made one component for all six tables. There's 4 legs a table , so I made 24 consecutively, there's a walnut tape strip in the table, so I made 6. My logic behind this is , once I had my bench set up to do a task, bench dogs in position, holdfasts in place and so on , it seemed counter productive to waste time with new set ups, especially when I knew I would be doing more of the same task with the next table.

For some tasks, this method can work very well. Rip-cutting the beveled legs is a good example. Where as ripping and cross cutting  the main body's is not. It took me pretty much all day to do all the ripping and cross cutting on the main body sections. There's approximately 3.2m worth of ripping and 2m of cross cutting. That's 5.2m of combined cutting per table and a total of 52m for all 6.
As you can imagine that's a very big strain on your back and a lot of hard work. For days after my back was very painful. I should have planed other tasks in between , to give my back a rest, that didn't require moving things around to much but, lesson learned.

With all this said and done in hindsight, it does all still come down to experience. That doesn't mean you can't learn from other people's experiences , and you can incorporate ideas and advise of others as you carry out such projects and still learn your own lessons. Happy woodworking!!!!


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