“On the Square”
I don’t know if this is a blog or an extended metaphor or a plea for more of the same. Mostly likely, it is the last. It’s about a simple tool and integrity and workmanship and quality and caring and about values that were once prevalent in this country but are no longer in vogue.
When Joe Dusel and I started this blog site in 2008 we discussed its parameters at some length and eventually decided that it would be about consumer products in kitchens and baths. Politics is a favorite subject, and I have sometimes commented on the issues of the day, but in the main it has been as it was when we started, a blog to help introduce consumers to all that is new and exciting in kitchen and bath design. And even though Joe and I are both woodworkers, we decided early on that we would stay away from that subject. So here I am today talking about a simple tool that is of use only to other woodworkers. It’s because of the integrity with which his tools are manufactured.
Getting good tools these days is becoming more and more of a problem. When I first started out I specified the best whenever I made a tool purchase, and I almost always got it. And whenever I found a maker of good tools I stayed with them because I knew that the next purchase would be as good as the last. No longer. Nowadays it has become a race to the bottom. It’s because so many companies are infected—I don’t know any other way to state it—with MBAs. Their mission is to look for ways to make it cheaper, often insisting that it is “just as good,” but when it becomes manifest that it’s not, they simply point to the bottom line and the sad truth that it is often possible to make more money by consciously making a product on the cheap. They pay low wages (and accept the lackadaisical labor that is a natural consequence of that sort of thing), buy cheap raw materials, and design a product that does little more than look good. And when it fails, as it so often does, the purchaser has little choice but to replace it with more of the same cheap schlock. It’s gotten to a point where I would much rather repair a tool than replace it because who really knows if the design department has been infected with bean-counter mentality? But every now and again you come across someone who insists on swimming upstream, which brings us to the little device featured in this blog.
One of the problems with building a cabinet is keeping the sides square, especially if it is glued together. The yellow wood glue we use begins to tack rather rapidly and within ten or fifteen minutes starts to set. If one has a project of any size or with multiple shelves to glue up, it quickly becomes a problem to keep everything straight. Truthfully, even if you glue only one side at a time, getting it to glue at an absolute 90° can still be a real challenge. The easiest way to do it is to simply clamp the two sides to a square one knows to be dead accurate. That’s also the problem because the accuracy of some of the squares sold for this purpose often leaves much to be desired.
The first squares I purchased for this purpose were designed and manufactured by one of the mainstays in the field of woodworking equipment. Their squares were rather substantial, but they were made of phenolic plastic. In using them I found that the sides of the squares tended to deflect a bit when I clamped the pieces to them, thereby defeating the purpose. And to add insult to injury, the squares themselves were not at a dead 90°. They were within a degree or two, but c’mon, now! That’s the kind of “accuracy” I had before I sent away for the squares.
Enter Robert Jevons. His squares are smaller which automatically makes them stronger. A clamp at the very end of these squares will not deflect it as much as it would at the end of one of those much larger squares I had used previously. Truthfully, I could note no deflection at all when I applied a clamp to these squares. Secondly, they are made of 3/16” aluminum which makes them considerably stronger, and they’re shaped like angle iron, which also adds considerably to their strength. I don’t know if I could get them to bend short of putting them in a vise and attaching a long bar of some sort to give me the leverage I would need to bend these puppies. In actual use I have never seen them do anything but the job, first time, every time. And, finally, they are dead accurate. Use these to assemble a cabinet, and the result is a cabinet with perfect corners.
And here’s another thing I like about this product. It is actually made right here in the USA, in Kansas City, Kansas, to be exact. This world being as interconnected as it is these days I have no doubt that Mr. Jevons could find a way to have his products manufactured in China on the cheap. He doesn’t. He makes them here.
And finally, there is this: integrity. Because of the complexity of the projects I am now involved in I decided to add to my store of Jevons 3d Squares and ordered another dozen. I now have all I can ever put to use (I’m a one-man shop), which means I’ve bought all I will from Jevons Tool Company. Short of deliberately destroying the tool by beating on it with a sledge hammer or some such foolishness, I see no way that these squares will ever need to be replaced, and Mr. Jevons surely knew that would be the way of things when he designed them. But it’s how I work and how Joe Dusel works and how any woodworker worthy of the name works. I build my projects to last and over the last thirty years they always have. So does Jevons Tool Company, and so should we all. When I was growing up in the Fifties, we called this giving people a Square Deal.
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