October 02, 2013

Zen and the Art of Dado

Test cut. First attempt at actualizing the dado. Not bad, but room for improvement. 

Nashville is not known for it's plethora of fine-arts industry related services and I have had to resort to building my own stretchers (strainers, really, but no one is keeping track.) It's been a good thing. I actually like the prep work and I'm not too shabby.

I have owned a simple chop saw for 25 years. Crosscuts and miters were as fancy as it got. A couple of years ago, my friend Carla, and sage guru in all things DIY, taught me how to cut  beveled edges using an inexpensive table saw. I added the table saw and beveled miters to my skill set. I make cuts as needed to build small to medium stretchers. For years, I was spoiled by living in cities where quality stretchers were actually affordable, and without certain tools I could only get so far in my DIY stretcher building when I wanted to work large.* Enter, the elusive dado cut cross-brace. And also, most of the time I believe in using quality materials and craftsmanship, though not always.**

I've also known about dado cuts for about 25 years. I've read about them in my hardware books. I've looked at diagrams. I've studied them close-up after purchasing stretcher bars made by professionals. I knew how to make dado cuts, and yet, no dado cuts were made.

There are at least 4 ways to make dado cuts. There are others, but these are the ones seemingly accessible if you don't run a major woodshop:
1. A hand router.
The hand router is a lot of work and frankly seemed a little heavy and prone to operator error.
2. A table saw with a dado blade.
The dado blade is a myth. I've never seen one and no one I know has ever used one. To change the blade for a single dado cut is apparently so labor intensive that no one wants to do it. There is no dado blade. 
3. A coping saw, a chisel, and nothing to do for the rest of the day. Maybe some band-aids.
Need I go into detail? 
4. An inexpensive table saw with an all-purpose blade.
I finally asked someone to show me the mechanics of making a dado cut, specifically, how to handle the wood as it glided over the saw blade. It sounds simple, but when there's a whirring blade inches away from your fingers, anything is possible.*** It came to my attention that they assumed I didn't know anything about dado cuts, saws, or lumber for that matter, but I listened patiently and watched a single cut being made on a megafancy table saw at the school woodshop. I paid attention to the wood and the position of the hands as they went back and forth over the blade. I was concerned with potential kickback and keeping my lumber straight as I made multiple passes- the action part of making the cut. 

Yesterday, I finally made the elusive dado cut on my home table saw. The test cut came out at 90 degrees and perfectly flush. That is all. 

*sometimes I also support crappy cheap labor from China, but only because it's impossible to find crappy, cheap store-bought canvases made in the USA. 

**I quit using a stretcher-builder out in LA when  in a snarky convo, he told me that most of his work (stretcher bars) winds up in landfills. I didn't want that as the foundation for my paintings. I don't know where my paintings will wind up, but it seemed like a rotten place to start knowing that the guy who made the stretchers was already thinking "landfill.") I think about these things in terms of karma. "Take care of your work and it will take care of you."

***Allow me to make the analogy between lane-splitting on a motorcycle and making a dado cut on a table saw. When discussing the pros and cons of lane-splitting, a friend in California explained that when you (the motorcyclist) are between cars, you're relatively safe. The cars on either side are parallel to you; they are not converging to single point. They will not crush you. True enough, unless one of them wants to radically change lanes. I grew to love lane-splitting, but back to the saw. The saw blade is lowered to about half the depth of the wood and it's not roving around all willy-nilly on the table, so making a dado cut using multiples passes on the table saw is a rather safe cut, but like anything you do more than once, there are odds to beat and conditions to be alert to. 

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