The first WoodRat prototype

The first WoodRat prototype

WR1, The Seeds of an Idea

They say that necessity is the mother of invention. It’s not quite true. The world had been spinning quietly five million years ago without the wheel, and nobody needed it. Then some bright spark tried tying two spinning whorls together and rolled them down a slope, and the kid had wheels, and everything changed!

Whereas necessity requires design, and skill requires 10,000 hours of doing it, invention is the product of an idle mind, However, there are short cuts.

Inventing things can be lots of fun. It’s like conjuring things up from nothing. Then you put everything into it that you can think of that might be useful but, following that writer and aviation pioneer Antoine de St Exupéry’s dictum that “Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing left to add,  but when there’s nothing left to take away” then you skin it down to perfection. 

In the beginning

My first router table was a nice little Elu 96 placed upside down under a sheet of plywood: the fence for it was a clean stick of wood screwed down at one end and clamped at the other. It was useful at the time (this was 1983) for rebates and grooving but, I couldn’t see where I was cutting, it was difficult to adjust the router to the correct depth of cut, and it did not seem to make any actual joints. 

An idle moment gave me the idea of turning the router the right way up and tracking the wood under it somehow, pointing to a drawing of dovetails on the left with a cutter, cutting on the right: and so the WoodRat was born.

My second router table was a bigger affair, with the heavier Elu177 router. I was making the tee slot in a prototype of the Sliding Bar using a Woodruff cutter. The first cut was fine, but I moved the fence the wrong way to widen the tee slot, and my work was snatched from my hands, exposing my fingers to the jagged blades of the cutter. It was an extremely painful encounter and I have hated router tables ever since. Router tables are certainly not for beginners. 

The WoodRat project started seriously in 1987 with an idea for making dovetails. The first prototype was mocked up from wood, brown phenolic laminate, and odd blocks of blue plastic. We used dovetail cutters ground from straight bits, and even that first prototype made quite presentable dovetails. 

We had cracked the most difficult of joints at the beginning, so tenons, dado joints and mortises and all the rest followed. A lot of WoodRat’s most useful features came with that original idea: the router, moving forward and back, and the wood, held at its edges, hanging beneath the router moving left and right, high speed steel tooling, and importantly the router being the right way up where you can get at its controls, and can see what and where you are going to cut. The method of registering where you are cutting, by the Mark on the left, and cutting the first part of your joint as a template for the second part of the joint, was part of the original patent and has remained constant over the years. These features, and not needing guide bushes or fingers to go in and out of, gave the WoodRat the freedom to make virtually any joint. 

The WoodRat is a bit of a challenge to the trade: how many magazine articles have there been over the last 25 years telling of how to make a jig for this or that joint that can be done in no time with the WoodRat? How often finger joints one at a time on a saw table? That’s a job for batch cutting twenty or more perfect pieces at a time in one pass with the ‘Rat. Some simple actions like cutting across a plank cannot be done at all on a router table, but are easy and accurate with the WoodRat. It treads on a lot of people’s toes. 

It’s also not easy to sell unless you have used it. By looking at it, the WoodRat does not tell you much. A chisel mortiser is obvious, and you can see that you go in and out of the tines on a dovetail jig, but then that’s all that mortiser and dovetail jig do. The WoodRat is different. It does not just make a tenon, but a whole range of tenons – twin and double tenons, stub, through etc., and it will make any dovetail that you have a cutter for: from 6 or 7 mm to 50mm deep. and it will make sliding dovetails or mortise your cupboard doors. It just happens to have very broad capabilities. 

So look to discover an easier, faster, friendlier addition to your workshop.

 

Martin Godfrey: Inventor and CEO