Recently over on the Oldtools Email list, there was a question about the Table Saw and what it was, why it was called that and what in the world did it do? Back a ways I discussed this question in a blog post The Table Saw Conundrum. As chance would have it, I was watching a Roy Underhill episode - 2802 the other day on the building of a tool chest.
Of particular interest to me was the method Roy discussed to match up the edges of two pieces of wood. If memory serves, he was making the skirted base for the chest. The corners of the skirt were a combination of dovetails and a mitred joint. The mitred joint created the corner of the molded upper edge of the skirt. To get a good match between the two surfaces of the mitre, Roy cut the dovetails, dry assembled the pieces and cut a kerf between the two halves. This was done a few times until the two halves of the mitre met cleanly.
Which brings me to the Table Saw. Back in that first discussion, a definition of Table was the flat surface of an architectural element. There were also stories and guesses at the Table Saw being used in ship building trades to create scarfed joints. I have a theory, based on Roy's discussion, the shipbuilding mythology and pure function:
Out in the shipyard there was a need to create very long scarfed joints. There would also be a need to create a tight joint between two very long pieces of timber in preparation for caulking. How would you get those two long surfaces to match up using hand tools? A narrow blade saw is the answer. Not a saw with a thin blade, but one with just enough depth to give the saw some rigidity while allowing the saw to track smoothly. Clamp the two pieces of timber together and saw along the joint. The narrow blade will track along the existing joint rather than wandering off to create a new kerf. The Table Saw is perfect for that job... which would also explain why they show up as often as they do. And why almost every major saw maker seems to have offered this model.
There are numerous instances when the naming of a tool seems to bear little resemblance to the modern use of the term. I think this is one of those.
Till next, Gary