Author:
• Sunday, April 22nd, 2018

shop space

I think we would all welcome more shop space but realistically most of us contend with making better use of the space we have. Here’s another tip for that.

For combined machine and hand tool woodworking, shop space is usually governed primarily by the major machines, and then by wood storage, and the workbench. For the table saw, bandsaw, jointer/planer, and router table the required space includes not only the machine itself but, even more, the ranges of the infeed and outfeed. Manipulating these ranges can produce more functional shop space.

Coordinating the different heights of the machine tables is one trick to help. I covered that in a previous post. However, sometimes that can be difficult, so think also of the angle of the tables. Tiny differences there can pay off.

This is what you have to do when your shop is only 200 square feet.

During a recent bandsaw tune-up, I re-shimmed the table on the trunnion assembly. Oops, that made the bandsaw table just at the same height as the nearby table saw top. There was no infeed clearance for using the bandsaw in its usual location.

shop space

No problem. A pair of wooden shims, only about 1mm thick, placed on one side of the bandsaw base, tilted the machine enough (less than 0.2°!) so that the infeeding wood safely clears the table saw, plus some allowance for bowed boards. In the photo at the top, the straightedge is flat on the bandsaw table in the right of the photo, but notice in the left of the photo that it clears the table saw surface.

The only interference that this arrangement causes with table saw work is very wide ripping, on the order of 24″, which I rarely do, but all my machines are on wheel bases, so they can be moved to allow those jobs too.

Category: Tools and Shop  | 4 Comments
Author:
• Saturday, March 31st, 2018

glue up

Gluing up is the culmination of lots of work. It’s also exciting in that the piece is beginning to take shape and look like itself. However, it carries with it a potentially intimidating finality, and the process is strictly time limited.

And so gluing up can generate considerable anxiety. The usual recommendation is to check things with a “dry glue up,” but I suggest to expand upon that and think of a “rehearsal.”

This is the time to leave nothing to chance – summon your inner control freak. I cannot think of everything in advance for a unique project at hand, and I doubt you will be able to either. That’s why a Glue Up Rehearsal is essential to ensure success.

Hide glue aficionados will point out its extended open and closed times, and potential for reversibility, but still, there are limitations.

As you rehearse the process, you will fashion answers to questions and dilemmas such as the following. How exactly will you apply and spread the glue? How will you support the parts for this? Can you finish the glue application before there is any chance of it skinning over before the parts are joined? You dripped a big blob of glue – what, exactly, will you wipe it up with?

A big question: would things go better if the assembly were glued up in stages rather than all at once?

post and rail glue up

What is a convenient opening to preset the clamps? In what order will you apply the clamps? How will you keep the parts aligned? How will you support the pieces in the intermediate stages of the glue up? Will the all of the clamp handles be accessible for tightening? Will you have visual access to see if the joints are closing satisfactorily? Do you need a hand light?

Another big question: how will you assess alignment and squareness, and how will you make corrections as needed?

How will you deal with squeeze out, and when? How and where will you move the assembly after clamping?

It is almost always worth it to build special support structures if they will facilitate the process. The unconventional leg-and-apron assembly in the top photo required a two-stage assembly and special support structures to ensure that all my previous hard work would pay off in a good assembly.

And so forth. The point is that there are surely more questions than one is likely to think of. A rehearsal, albeit a dry rehearsal, along with thought and experience, will cause these issues to become apparent so you can prepare for them.

Glue up is game time, but you want no doubt as to the outcome. Rehearse victory.

Category: Techniques  | 4 Comments
Author:
• Wednesday, February 28th, 2018

drafting cabinet

Groundbreaking furniture artist and craftsman Wendell Castle passed away last month at 85. Woodworkers are probably most familiar with his stacked-laminated wooden tables and chairs, but whether working in plastic, bronze, or wood, his immense design vocabulary produced so much for us to explore.

I do not possess design talent anywhere close to the same universe that this man had, and only some of his work actually appeals to me. The late Sam Maloof’s description of himself as a “woodworker” resonates with me more. Nonetheless, I find Castle’s outlook inspiring.

In an interview conducted by the late Neil Lamens, discussing his intense approach to design, I recall Castle saying something that stuck with me: “If you’re always hitting the target, it’s too close.”

Wow. That says so much.

Creative design is not easy, nor should it be. It is not about making something new and different for the sake of “different,” but rather it is trying hard to get out what you want to say and what you want to make – what you really, very much want to be there. This is true even for those of us who are more in tune with the subtle grace of James Krenov’s work than the bold statements of Castle’s work.

Moreover, Castle’s thought is reassuring. If a design that seemed promising, and has even gone on to be refined and built, did not quite hit the mark I hoped for, I can take heart knowing that much has been gained in the attempt.

The work and inspiration of Wendell Castle will live long and wide.

Category: Ideas  | One Comment
Author:
• Friday, February 16th, 2018

3M sandpaper

Sanding doesn’t get a lot of respect in the woodworking world, perhaps because it is a rather boring job, and hand planing seems, by contrast, so refined. Nonetheless, sanding is an important step in building many projects, so it pays to take advantage of technological advancements.

3M’s Pro Grade Precision sanding sheets seem to cut faster than any others that I have tried. I can really sense the sharpness of the “proprietary, precision-shaped ceramic mineral” abrasive biting the wood. Of course, this is not a controlled test, but it is enough to make me reach for these sheets first. 3M’s labeling is a bit confusing – this product is an upgrade from their “Pro Grade” paper, which uses aluminum oxide abrasive.

I had reported earlier that I didn’t find the grippy backing of 3M’s sanding sheets particularly helpful, but my experience since then has shown me different. The “No-Slip Grip” backing does grip rectangular cork blocks better than regular paper backing, and makes sanding easier. Even better, it holds very well in the slots of the shop-made, all-cork curved blocks that have become a staple among my tools for curved work. This backing is also significantly more durable than paper backing.

I continue to find 3M’s remarkable Ultra Flexible Sanding Sheets (on the left in the photo above) to be wonderful for working detailed curves. The durability of the film backing and the grit itself far exceed that of paper-backed sanding sheets for this work. They are available in 100, 150, 220, and 320-grit, and in 4 1/2″-wide, 7″-long sheets and 10 1/2-foot rolls.

3M sanding sponges

I previously reported that I hadn’t found any sanding sponges to be useful. I’m still not a big fan, but 3M’s Pro Grade Precision “ultra flexible, dust channeling” sponges are pretty good for smoothing in some sculptural work. An important distinction, sanding sponges do not afford the tactile control, nor do they have the moxie of rasps for shaping. They also break down too fast for their cost. Their main advantage is they are easy to hold as you smoosh them over irregular shapes. Of the two types shown, the larger diamond pattern has been more durable.

You can find all of these products at home center stores. As usual, I relate only my direct shop experience with tools, unsolicited and uncompensated. I just want to help you make things.

Category: Tools and Shop | Tags:  | One Comment
Author:
• Sunday, February 11th, 2018

brass plane iron adjustment hammer

This modified brass hammer is superb for adjusting plane blades. It shares the functional advantages of a small Japanese octagonal steel hammer, but the brass is kinder to blades.

I created the quasi-octagonal shape from the original cylindrical head of a Grace USA 8-ounce brass hammer using an 80-grit belt on the Ridgid oscillating vertical belt sander. There was no need to remove the head from the handle. I dressed the corners with a mill file, and then finished everywhere with a medium-grit SandFlex block.

I crowned one face (shown) for use on the body of a wooden plane. I left the other face flat. A tiny engraved circle on each side of the hammer indicates the crowned face.

The flat sides allow better access and contact of the hammer face to parts such as wooden wedges, the sides of a plane blade, and the chipbreaker of a Japanese plane. The small diagonally-oriented sides permit access to small blades in tight areas such as in a small shoulder plane.

I like this hammer better than any of the cylindrical or square hammers sold for the same purpose. It also retains its general use when a lightweight, soft-metal hammer is needed. You can find the Grace hammer for less than $20.

The modified brass hammer is shown below, along with a steel Japanese hammer.

plane iron adjustment hammers

Category: Tools and Shop  | 2 Comments
Author:
• Saturday, February 10th, 2018

ruler trick

A strip of 0.020″-thick plastic shim stock, about 1/2″-wide and the full length of the stone, facilitates the Ruler Trick. The plastic is the same thickness and width as the 6″ steel ruler I had been using, but the blade slides on it more smoothly, and it allows use of the full length of the stone.

I lightly and uniformly scuffed the bottom of the plastic with 80-grit sandpaper, stroking perpendicular to the direction of the blade motion used in executing the ruler trick. I used fine sandpaper to soften the corners of the long edges of the plastic where the top meets the sides. This preparation, plus the low friction of steel on plastic, makes this plastic “ruler” surprisingly stable on the stone.

The Ruler Trick, taught by David Charlesworth, removes the “wear bevel” of a plane blade with greater speed and accuracy than by working the back of the blade fully flat against the stone. In other words, it helps in the necessary task of accurately creating two planes of steel that meet at a sharp edge. It is useful for nearly all plane blades but particularly valuable, almost essential, for bevel-up blades.

With the blade elevated on one side of the stone by 0.020″ and the edge reaching 2″ across the stone from the inner edge of the plastic “ruler,” an angle of only about 1/2° is created on the “flat” side of the blade. [tan-1 (0.020/2) = 0.57°] This amount has no significant effect on the bevel angle of the blade, nor on the attack and clearance angles of bevel-up and bevel-down planes. The facet is very narrow, perhaps 1/32″-wide, created with just a few strokes on only the finest stone.

[Addendum, February 14, 2018, updated: I received the April, 2018 (#238) electronic issue of Popular Woodworking magazine today, and note in the “Tricks of the Trade” section on page 12, a reader contributed essentially the same “trick” to the magazine as I have described here on my blog. He used plastic from a milk jug. His trick also appeared in the November 2016 PW.

The PW contributor obviously came up with the idea independently of my writing. I do believe I also came up with the idea independently, but now I think it’s possible that I was influenced by what I probably saw earlier in the November 2016 issue. I really am not sure. Therefore, I credit Jonathan White, the PW contributor, for the idea.]

Category: Techniques  | 8 Comments
Author:
• Wednesday, January 31st, 2018

tenon shoulder jig

This simple jig makes it easy to produce highly accurate tenon shoulders on the table saw. Admittedly, it is a nicety, not a necessity, but I have been delighted with the consistently excellent results from it.

The special feature is that both edges of the fence are used, in turn, to register the work piece. This allows you to work from a single reference edge of the rail. This is hand-tool style – you do not assume the two edges of the rail are exactly parallel. Yes, they probably are, close enough at least, but I like potential errors to cancel whenever I can. Setting up a jig like this means I only have to be dead on once – when I make the jig.

This means that the edges of the fence must be absolutely parallel to each other. They are, within a thou.

Also, a sled is a generally more accurate way to crosscut on the table saw because the work piece does move against any surface. Of course, the miter slot must be accurately parallel to the blade for this jig, or for any device that slides in the miter slot, to work well.

Making the jig

The overall dimensions of the jig are 21″ x 14″.

build a tenon shoulder jig

Trim the UHMW strip to a snug fit in the miter slot, and then attach it to the 3/4″ MDF base of the sled using screws entering through the top. Locate the runner so that there is a little bit of the base extending to the right beyond the blade. Then, trim the right edge of the sled by sliding the base in the miter slot. The other three edges of the base are not critical; cut them only for a neat appearance.

The fence is 3/4″ MDF, 2 1/2″ wide. Stable, quartersawn hardwood is probably a better choice of material because it is easier to trim straight and square, but I got lucky when ripping this piece of MDF so I used it. Using 1/4″-20 flat-head bolts through the bottom of the base, attach the fence square to the right edge of the base. T nuts make it easier to tune the angle now, or later if needed.

Neatly add PSA 220-grit sand paper to both working edges of the fence. The big knob in the middle helps in maneuvering the sled.

In use

A stop block is easily added to my VSC table saw fence. Mark the reference of edge of the rail. Adjust the blade height. Remember to readjust the blade height if you are making a tenon that is not centered on width of the rail.

Cut one shoulder . . .

cutting tenon shoulders

and then the other, using the same reference edge of the rail.

tenon shoulders on the table saw

You also can make the little “connecting” (edge) shoulders with this jig on the table saw. However, errors can creep in. When the rail is held on its long edge, it can register differently against the stop block than when it is held on its face. This will result in the end shoulder(s) not aligning with the face (main) shoulders. So, I often prefer to do these by hand, which is easy.

As always, there’s more than one good way to get the job done.

Author:
• Sunday, January 28th, 2018

tenon shoulder trimming jig

Tenon shoulders must meet stringent standards to produce a good joint – straight, at the correct angle to the length of the rail (usually 90°), accurately paired on both sides of the joint to meet the surface around the mortise, and in position to make the length of the rail fit the overall structure. Thus, whether produced by machine or by hand, you need a reliable method to tweak tenon shoulders. A shoulder plane has no equal for this task, but it needs a good work setup to make it function well.

This jig meets that need. In 2016, I wrote in detail about the jig that I had been using for many years. I usually use my Clifton 410 small shoulder plane or, for large work, the big Lie-Nielsen. For small work and other delicate adjustments, I like my little Japanese shoulder plane, used on the pull stroke.

To use both styles of planes, the jig should be reversible. Why didn’t I do this a long time ago? I removed the front cleat, and repositioned the bottom cleat, which fits in the tail vise, to the middle of the base.

tenon shoulder jig

Now I can use the jig for push-style shoulder planes:

tenon shoulder trimming

And, by rotating the jig 180° and using the other end of the fence, for pull-style shoulder planes:

Japanese shoulder plane

In either direction, the plane moves toward a hardwood backup piece that prevents spelching at the exit end of the work piece. This replaceable element is secured with deeply countersunk screws. The graphics on the top remind me of the presence and depth of the screw heads.

tenon shoulder trimming jig

After this revision, the jig is reduced in overall size to about 8 1/2″ x 12 1/2″, but that does not matter. It can accommodate even large work pieces by using a scrap of wood under the rail for outboard support. The toggle clamp, along with the self-clamping effect of always working toward the fence, keeps the work piece secure.

The jig is quick and easy to build, and I think you will find it helpful for this exacting task.

Author:
• Saturday, December 30th, 2017

Kinex squares

Kinex squares are a fantastic value. Not well known to U.S. woodworkers, Kinex’s website states, “Swiss quality made in the Czech Republic.” Their tools are made to German DIN standards for accuracy. That’s the Deutsches Institut für Normung, which just sounds accurate to my ears.

Their all-steel “Precision Universal Squares,” which are designed much like a regular try square, are available in DIN 875/1 or the even stricter DIN 875/0. Each square comes with its own signed inspection certificate.

As examples, a 150mm (6″ blade) square in the DIN 875/1 standard has a deviation-from-right-angle tolerance of .018mm (.0007″) and costs $15.99 on Amazon, sold by Taylor Toolworks. The 150mm DIN 875/0 has a tolerance of .008mm (.0003″ – about a quarter thou!) and costs only $19.99. You can also order Kinex tools directly from Taylor Toolworks.

The handy 100mm x 70mm square (model #4026-02-010, DIN 875/0) that I bought is nicely balanced, and well finished with all edges relieved. There was a tiny nick on the blade and a tiny burr at the end of the blade, both of which I easily removed with a fine diamond touch-up hone. There were also a few insignificant surface scratches.

I cannot truly assess this level of accuracy in my shop but testing against my Starrett showed virtually light-blocking consistency in all parameters. I’m happy because, as someone quipped in an article that I read somewhere, long ago, “I like to be the only one adding inaccuracy to my work.”

Kinex makes other models of squares – flat, stand up, knife-edge, large, and lightweight – and an extensive line of other precision tools. As far as I know, Kinex squares are not sold by any traditional or online woodworking stores in the U.S. except Taylor Toolworks. Kinex has an online store but shipping is from Europe.

As usual, this review is unsolicited and uncompensated. I have no relationship with Kinex or its distributors.

Category: Tools and Shop  | 4 Comments
Author:
• Saturday, December 30th, 2017

curved cork sanding block

Customized shaped blocks are a must for properly sanding concave curves. They are a key player on the Tools for Curves team. Cork has the ideal flexibility and resiliency for backing the sandpaper.

Lately, I have been making the blocks entirely from cork. These work better and are easier to make than what I formerly used, which was shaped wooden blocks with a layer of cork added to the working surface. By the way, I have experimented with pink foam board insulation and found it difficult to shape reliably.

To make these all-cork blocks, you need thick stock. It is wonderfully easily to cut with a handsaw or bandsaw, and shape with a moderate-grain rasp. The curve does not always need to be a constant radius – simply draw it freehand and saw. Refine it with the rasp, ensuring that it is just a bit steeper than the steepest section of the work piece.

cork block

Make the thickness of the block to your liking based on how you want to grip the block. The block pictured at the top is about 1 1/2″ thick. You can try to size the block for optimal convenience in cutting the sandpaper from standard 9″x11″ sheets, and to minimize waste, but good function and feel in the hand are the more important factors for me.

Saw kerfs 3/4 -1″ long about 1/2″ from the top face of the block to house the ends of the sandpaper. Hand pressure will naturally keep the paper in place (see below) even in fine grits and more so in coarse grits. No wedges or clips are needed. The chamfers at the beginning of the slots toward the working face are important.

curved cork sanding block

To install the sandpaper:

Enter one end just a little into the slot, then bring the other end around the block and push it almost all the way into its slot. Working back the other way, snug the paper around the block and then push the original end as far as possible into its slot. Make a final tightening of the paper by pressing the paper it against one of the chamfers then use your fingertips to goose the paper even more into the slot.

cork sanding block

The simple design of these blocks along with this paper insertion procedure produce a tighter hold on the sandpaper against the surface of the block than any commercial curved block that I have used (none of which I like).

Finally, the light weight of an all-cork block is an asset not to be underestimated in the countless (ugh!) reciprocation of sanding work.

Find thick cork by searching online. Try “cork blocks” or “cork yoga blocks.” I suggest the Corkstore (Jelenik Cork Group), which currently sells a 9×5″x5″x3.5″ yoga block for $19.25, and 12″x8″x2″ block for $17.10. This is a nice fine grain cork that is easy to shape reliably. Dick’s Sporting Goods sells a 9″x4″x6″ block, so you might be able to find it locally.