Received wisdom has it that necessity is the mother of invention, but my best ideas seem to come from an idle mind, and are usually relevant to subjects I know little about. The WoodRat, mounted on the shop wall behind me in the photo at left, came from just such an idle thought: Although I was well taught at school, I had not cut a dovetail since then, and I wanted to find a better way of routing them.

Yet working with the router is to a large extent a business of making jigs, and jig­making often takes over from the work at hand and becomes an end in itself. I envi­sioned a single jig to hold both the wood and the router, replacing the need for multiple jigs. I called it the WoodRat.

Having an idea that no one else in the whole wide world has had is a euphoric expe-
rience. The whole wide world, on the other hand, is often managing quite well with-
out it. Why are they not beating a pathway to my door to buy me out? I feel a bit
like a mad inventor.

My original prototype, made seven years ago from scrap plastic and wire, works well enough. The excitement of making that first rough box has driven the business ever since. Then the discovery process begins, and I became a Development Engineer, learning too much to be mad anymore. By holding stock vertically in the jig, I found that I could rout practically any length of timber. Introducing a Bowden cable allowed stock to be power fed smoothly with the direction of bit rotation, reducing tearout and prolonging bit life. And once the dovetails are all sorted out, I discovered that the Rat has no difficulty making any other joint in the book. Suddenly one can make fine furniture without a seven-year apprenticeship.

Gathering forward momentum, I switched hats with each new stage: production manager, photographer, copywriter, businessman (complete with suit), and techni­cal writer. 1 am not qualified for any of this but no one else does a better job for no pay. Was this what I intended when it all began?

But there are milestones, like the first fellow that pays with a wad of notes, the smell of brochures fresh from the printers, trying out new parts hot from the mold (Do they fit? Yes!), the thousandth sale. It’s a heady moment when the U. S. patent arrives, and I join the ranks of patient scientists, dreamers, and cranks. It is the only kind of diploma there is, since there is no school for inventors. A little respect here, please.

There must come a point where the WoodRat gets taken on worldwide by an out-
fit with more marketing clout than I have. Bowing out will be a wTench, but then every-
one is having fun with my machine except me. I shall happily go back to my workshop,
where there are some projects that I’ve just been having some idle thoughts about.

Clive Joslin on

Updated: March 2, 2016 — 7:28 pm