I'm not sure if anyone really knows where or how winding sticks came into being, but I would be willing to bet it was in ancient boat building. Boat builders use all sorts of tricks to figure out the best angles, curves and lines on boats and to do this they need to start with straight lines, which is where winding sticks would be helpful.
Winding sticks are used to help show where boards are warped or twisted and the way they work is simply to set them up on a board which is lying on a flat surface, then sight down the tops of the 2 sticks. If they line up perfectly, the board is flat, if the sticks are uneven, then the board is warped.

Oddly enough, it is boards that are only slightly warped that are the hardest to determine and this is where winding sticks really shine. Boards that are wildly warped are pretty easy to see, it's the ones that "look" flat that can be challenging ones to work with.

In the past winging sticks were useful to a woodworker or carpenter who was hand planing boards to make them flat, and that really hasn't changed, only now we often use machinery to make boards flat, and winding sticks are still useful in ...

... helping us make flat, straight boards.

Of course the purpose of having nice straight flat boards to work with is that it make our woodworking easier and our joints and boards line up more evenly taking some of those frustrations out of working with wood.

What I have learned to love about winding sticks is it makes look more closely at the wood. Not the grain, but how the wood is constructed, how it can move and just reading the grain structures better. Winding sticks force us to take out time to "read" each board to determine it's best use and how we can best work with that board to make it conform to work for us.

As it says in the video, you can purchase winding sticks from various sources or you can make your own. Probably the most stable winding sticks I have seen are those aluminum one sold through Lee Valley, but there is also a host of people selling natural wood winding sticks that use a variety of contrasting woods. Of course the contrasting woods are nice when sighting as it is easier to distinguish between them.

In my case, I use plain and simple MDF. I often have a few chunks of this lying around and all it takes is a couple of 2-1/2" x 16" x 3/4" pieces of MDF to make your own, very stable, winding sticks. All you need to do is make sure they are very flat on the bottom, a factory edge would be best, then set your table saw blade and and angle of about 12 degrees, and skim off one side of each board leaving a full 3/4" at the bottom and the top at more like 1/4". This make the sticks more stable with less of a tendency to tip over. 

The whole point in using winding sticks is to help determine the best use of a board in terms of making it flat, or of where the cuts might be most advantageous. I always have a set handy to my table saw, it only takes a second to set a board on the flat surface of the saw and just check to see if it is warped, or by how much. A quick, easy to use tool that could soon become your best friend in the workshop.

Copyright - Colin Knecht


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