Smartphones – how handy are these things? Not only can you listen to music, take decent photos, have a GPS, a phone, text and play games, but you can also find them very handy in the shop.
In this installment of ShopNotes, I’ll review several of them, and give you the real-world lowdown on the good, the bad and the ugly. This is by no means a comprehensive review of all the apps out there, but ones that I have used.
At $3.99, more expensive, as apps go, but still it’s $3.99. An excellent app, it will help you calculate wood movement according to the species you select (“Pumpkin Ash”?). You can also calculate board feet, and how much that board will cost, nice when you are trying to price out a project. The Compare feature lets you compare the specific gravity (how dense), hardness and shrinkage rate of two woods you select. A decimal to fraction convertor is something I wouldn’t use often, but that’s in there; a calculator to help you mix certain pound cuts of shellac; a squareness calculator tells how many degrees out of square something is by inputting three measurement of a right triangle. Finally, a brief Species feature gives you some basic info about a wide variety of woods – unfortunately no typical example pics of the wood.
$1.99. An app with a gorgeous interface, and some promising features, yet has limited use. There are 5 tools in this Carpenter tool kit: a plumb bob, surface level, bubble level bar, steel protractor, and a steel ruler. Of these, the latter two are really not that helpful if you are looking for reasonable precision, as you would be in woodworking, but might be ok for rough carpentry. Having said that, the plumb and bubble levels work very precisely. As you can imagine, you have to first zero them out on something perfectly flat and plumb, but after that, you’re good. Now, you might be wondering why you’d need a level in woodworking. Well, one use would be for tilting your table saw blade to a precise angle – within 1/10th of a degree. The table itself you’d use a the zero reference, and just hold the iPhone against the blade and tilt away. Also, handy for tilting the table, and using the blade as a zero reference, such as on a bandsaw, or drill press. It won’t be as easy to use as the $34.95 Wixey WR300 Digital Angle Gauge (because of magnets on that tool), but you’re not shelling out $35 either, and you can make do.
Fraction Calculator (iTunes)
I’m having a hard time finding a fraction calculator that is dead simple and made for woodworkers only. FractionCalc (as the app is titled), at 99 cents, is OK, but just not intuitive enough, for being an Apple app. This is a simple calculator that includes a fraction input key to enter and perform arithmetic as fractions, rather than decimal. It also features some basic decimal functions (simply enter a decimal point with a number and it switches to decimal mode). To enter a fraction, enter your number as two or three parts separated by the fraction key (a b/c). It has an annoying clacking sound effect for each keystroke, and it annoys me when it will return a fraction result in 64ths, or even 32nds. I don’t know about you, but I can’t cut something THAT close, so returning a result like 13/64ths is useless to me. I understand that the developer doesn’t want to round up or down, so that we cut too short or too long, but maybe they could give us the option of, say, rounding up to the nearest 16th? That way, we might have a slightly long piece, but that can be trimmed off easily enough.
A better calculator is this one, WoodworkerCalc. A bit more intuitive, and with more features, at the same price of 99 cents.The inch and fraction entry is easy to master, BUT, there is no entry for feet and inches. Therefore, if you have to divided 17 feet, 8 5/16 inches by 5, you better know what 17 feet is inches. I’m not that swift, I don’t know. A nice feature is a “tape” that keeps track of your entries, so that you can see possible data entry errors, or, rounding errors. As the developer states:
When working in fractions, there are inevitable round-off errors. These errors may be inconsequential but can sometimes accumulate to generate large, noticeable layout problems.
For example, if a headboard design requires 19 evenly spaced spindles across a length of 58 7/16”, the spacing is 3 1/16”. If you layout those 19 spindles spaced 3 1/16” apart, the last one will be off by 1/4” due to the rounding error. When doing layout such as this, a woodworker needs to know the cumulative error. This allow the error to be distributed in an acceptable way.
So, that is helpful, to let you know that there is going to be a problem ahead of time, and take appropriate action. Tapes can also be saved, but I had trouble re-loading the tape. A triangle calculator is also included, so you might be able to calculate an angle, if you know three sides, for example. A board foot calculator is nice, for getting an idea of the price of that nice Walnut slab you’re thinking of buying while at the lumber yard, and in the Options area, you can set levels of fractional precision.
At $1.99, the best calculator, in my opinion, so far. Entering feet, inches and fractions is easy. You can set your smallest unit of measurement, such as 16th. That’s pretty much all you can do with this app. If the author could jump off on this, and also add a board foot calculator, maybe even a wood movement calculator, it would be killer. If you just want a calculator, jump for this one.
THE ULTIMATE APP! So, what would a great woodworking app look like? Well, I like the calculator of INCHcalc, though I would like a history tape to go with it, just to verify my entries were correct (before I cut that $200 piece of Thuya burl), and alert me as to rounding errors. Let me select what level of precision I want – 16ths, 32nds, etc. I want a board foot calculator too, one that will take multiple entries and add them up for me, so when I get to the register, I have a good idea what these 5 pieces or lumber are going to cost me. Throw a wood movement calculator in there as well – even if it’s just for the top 50 most used species of wood. And make the interface very pleasing!
That would be a good start!