One sunny day last September, I stood on my deck with a pile of tools — some birthday gifts, some borrowed from friends — and tried to build something for the first time in my life. It was the first of seven projects included in The Weekend Woodworker, an online class my wife bought for me after years of listening to my idle musing about making furniture. For the next few weekends I would drag my new workbench out of my crawlspace into the yard and work on the California Casual Side Table and the Harmony Garden Bench. But it was the Extra Fancy Office Paper Tray when things got serious.
That project was only possible with a table saw, which is, or at least seemed, like the tool that makes you a real woodworker. It’s substantial. It’s pleasantly dangerous. The circular saw blade rises up out of a table, its teeth whirring toward you. Instead of bringing the saw to the wood, you bring the wood to the saw, which means you can accurately cut longways — following the grain of the wood — or fashion the grooves and dados (a word I had just learned, for grooves cut crosswise in a piece of wood) that are integral to the construction of boxes, drawers, cabinets, and bookshelves.
Craigslist had nothing of value. Just a handful of old industrial-sized table saws — not the kind of thing you drag into a yard on the weekend. So eventually I did what every good Millennial DIYer does: bought the Ryobi version. For $269 I picked up a foldable table saw with a 10-inch blade and a 5,000-rpm motor. That sounded good enough, I reasoned, not really knowing what either meant on a practical level. I had grown accustomed to the neon green color from the other Ryobi stuff I bought or borrowed from friends because it was always the cheapest decent option available.
I was wrong. It’s not a good saw. The table flexes too much, so my dados aren’t an even height. The miter gauge, which allows you to make cross cuts at precise angles, wobbles in its slot, and there’s only one of those slots — most table saws have two, one on either side of the blade. The Home Depot description didn’t mention that. I went looking for specialized dado blades, which would require a separate, specialized plate. It was only during my fourth phone call with a Ryobi parts distributor that I was struck by the irony of how much stuff I was buying so I wouldn’t have to buy other stuff.
I didn’t even need an Extra Fancy Office Paper Tray. I didn’t need a California Casual Side Table or a Harmony Garden Bench, for that matter. Why did I care if there were gaps in my miter joints, and why was I suddenly ogling $1,000 professional saws? This was supposed to be about practicing a craft, an experiment in hands-on, artisan labor that would help me escape the laptop life I had grown so accustomed to. And yet, I found myself more and more on a computer: watching instructional YouTube videos and finding new woodworkers to follow on Instagram and reading Reddit comments on other people’s pictures of their Harmony Garden Benches and listening to 60-year-old men tell me what I really needed was a set of hand-made Japanese chisels.
I bought a table saw because I wanted a reprieve from everyday capitalist drudgery. Why did it feel like the only way to make something for myself was to sink even deeper into it?
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