Window of Opportunity
I was trying. All the time it was a challenge and woodworking did not come naturally to me, especially with the standards at the bench. We were in the middle of making a mix of a hundred window frames, many with four opening sashes. Jack, the foreman, did all of the layout for every component and most of the mortises were cut with a chain mortiser which is like an extra wide chain saw blade without the slop and stretched taught between a bottom bearing and and an upper drive cog below a second bearing that added the tension. Chain mortises are the fastest method for cutting mortises. Plunge the chain in on the line, rotate the carriage over to the next line and lift the arm to withdraw the chain. I through mortise 3″ deep and 5″ long takes literally a few seconds. My task was the mortising. To prevent tear-out on the up-cut side of the chain required a single chisel cut with a suitably sized chisel. With so many mortises and then the sashes too I would be stood at a machine for a week loading heads and sills, sash bars, stiles and rails. In one such frame there would be 28 mortise and tenon joints. Times a hundred that would mean 2,800. Thankfully the tenons came from a tenoner, a machine that held several stiles or rails of the same size and cut half a dozen tenons and moulded shoulders in a single pass. I was not allowed to use the tenoner until I was 18.
Ian and Phil were 2 years older than me and they were stacking the parts on a pallet after Jack did the layout. Jack was known for his ability and accuracy in layout better than anyone. Ian and Phil were known for being pranksters. Late in the afternoon George stood watching the furtive pair from behind the wood racks working in a zone that had nothing to do with them. On two previous occasions they had moved the pencil marks Jack made so that my cuts would be out by a few mil. When the two left George examined the two pallets and worked out that they had done some ‘adjusting’ again. I and George would make a hundred frames with two mortises staggered by 1/2″ rather than directly aligned opposites. The differences would throw us behind because all the changes would not be readily detected until assembly was in full progress. George quickly switched their pallet for ours. These two had to be taught a lesson. Especially when it would affect our bonuses. A week later we were all caught up in the task of making and our frames went together fine. On the other side of the shop there were periodic cursings that drew Jacks attention. The savvy foreman called me over and asked for an explanation as to the discrepancies. I couldn’t understand it. I’d been diligent to keep to the lines he’d placed for me to cut to. I looked over at George who smiled and winked at me and Jack caught the glint in George’s eye. Ian and Phil worked late that night to catch up on the work lost without anyone saying anything further. George had confided the details to Jack over night and told him of the switch. George greeted the two recalcitrants in the morning by questioning the accuracy of their mortise cutting. I just carried on with my work.