Author:
• Sunday, September 04th, 2022
Preppin' Weapon sanding blocks

This is, hands down, the best hand-sanding block I have used. What I like best is that the substantial weight, the thoughtfully designed contours, and the 7 3/4″ x 2 3/4″ dimensions combine to give it a purchase in my hands that resembles a small wooden smoothing plane. This feel, plus the outright effectiveness of the tool, actually raise the dignity of sanding. 

grip on Preppin' Weapon

It is also very practical. It is fast and easy to clamp strips of 2 3/4″-wide paper, which are produced by three tears across the width of standard 9″ x 11″ sheets. (Here’s how to make that easy.) The clamps grab a strip near its ends so there is minimal waste. You can install multiple sheets and tear them away in succession but I prefer the feel with a single layer of paper. Now is a good time to restate my opinion that 3M is the clear winner in sheets for hand sanding. 

Long accustomed to my cork blocks, I bought the Preppin’ Weapons on a whim, but for all but small-scale work, I now favor them over the corks. I suggest buy different color Preppin’ Weapons to code the installed sandpaper and make jobs move along faster. 

Now for an idea or perhaps a bit of insight into some of what happens at the sandpaper-wood interface. We know that a smoothing plane blade with a straight edge and square corners will promptly produce “gutter” marks on the wood surface, which are slight steps across the width of the board. To eliminate this problem, we sharpen the blade with a very slight curve (camber). This actually makes imperceptible waves that pretty much cancel each other with successive passes of the plane as the peaks of the waves are shaved away. Note that the depth of the blade camber is coordinated with the anticipated shaving thickness. The result is a surface that is, for all practical purposes, nice and flat.

Similarly, imagine a hard block of steel used as a sanding block, especially with substantial pressure. Of course, no one would use that. It would create tiny gutters or steps, and the process of erasing them would just produce new ones. 

Preppin' Weapon pad

The cushion, or resilience, of the bottom surface of a sanding block – cork, rubber, or foam – solves this. With variable hand pressure, we must be producing miniscule waves (probably variably oriented) that get evened out with successive strokes, leaving an essentially flat surface. We never see steps. We intuitively use a little more pressure with coarser paper, inducing more flex in the sanding pad, analogous to coarser plane shavings. Finer sandpaper and less pressure give more shallow waves and ultimately we end up with a nice flat surface.

Coordinated with the area of the contact surface, the flex of the 5/32″ foam pad on the base of the Preppin’ Weapon is just right for producing a smooth and true surface.

This tool gets everything right.

Category: Tools and Shop  | 2 Comments
Author:
• Tuesday, August 23rd, 2022
workbench from h.s.

In fact, the first and only. It has sat, at least until now, for more than 50 years right in the spot in my late parents’ house where I completed it as a high school kid. 

It is nothing special, really, and certainly not nearly as functional as the good old Ulmia, a “real” workbench, that I have been using for about 40 years. Its construction mostly follows a design by John Capotosto that was published in the now defunct Mechanix Illustrated magazine in the May 1971 issue. [Old guys, you may recall that magazine, then a competitor of Popular Mechanics, and if you do, you surely remember “Mimi,” who, in various persons, graced every issue among the ads for cigarettes and automobile gear.] 

At the time, my only power tool was a Sears jigsaw, though I longed for a tablesaw, which is another story. The mostly hand-me-down hand tools that I had were marginally serviceable. It is also, hmm . . . possible, that some local construction sites were relieved of some, perhaps excess, 2-by lumber lying around. 

then

So, why does it matter? I liked then, and now, and for as long as I can remember, to build things – to make stuff. I can still recall the strong feeling then of wanting to build that bench after seeing the article in the magazine. I knew I could do it. Moreover, after all the lumps and bumps of the ensuing years of life, I am still glad that I made it. 

So, I suppose that is my message to you, fellow woodworkers and especially to nascent woodworkers. If you have that deep urge calling to you to Build It – I think you know what I mean – and you possibly can, then Go Build It. Sure, things get in the way, I know, but remember too, that “it’s always something.” So, do the best you can and build it. 

You will very likely be glad for a long time.

workbench from then
old workbench
Category: Ideas  | Leave a Comment
Author:
• Sunday, July 31st, 2022
Daitei chisels

What are the best hand tool and the best power tool in your shop? Just considering this question will give you pause to ponder what really makes a tool great. The answers will help guide you in what tools to buy and what tools to employ in a project. 

For me, the best hand tools in my shop are my full set of blue steel “suminagashi” (or “mokume”) Japanese bench chisels made by Teiichirou (Teijiro) Okukbo in Yoita, Niigata, Japan under the brand name Daitei. A few are pictured above. 

I suppose it is possible (e.g. Tasai) but it is hard to imagine a better chisel than these. They can be made hair-popping sharp, they are the easiest tools to sharpen that I own, and the durability of the edges is astounding. The ergonomics are just right for me, and their beauty is inspiring. “Eleven” stars.

Other candidates were: my Bad Axe backsaws and Lie-Nielsen #4 and #7 planes. These are full of intelligent, functional features and the accuracy parameters are excellent. Honorable mentions: Starrett straightedges because of their core accuracy that forms the basis for accuracy in the whole shop.

A sports team coach knows that when a job needs to get done in crunch time, he’ll go to his best athlete. That player has the composition, inherent abilities, and playing smarts to find a way to get the job done, often in a manner no one expects.

Similarly, a good woodworking tool must start with a great design, usually time-proven but allowing for smart innovation. Then, the execution must be top quality. You do not want a tool that contains frustrating design or construction flaws for which you must constantly compensate.

With that great tool in hand, your confidence is uplifted. You find ways to get things done well that you maybe did not even expect. The bottom line: that tool helps you become a better craftsman. When at all possible, those are the tools to buy and put to work.

So, the best power tool in my shop is the Byrd Shelix carbide spiral cutterhead that I installed in my DW735 thickness planer. The design is about perfect. The rows of cutters are in a true spiral (helix) pattern, and each cutting edge is cambered. Each cutter can be reset or replaced to make use of its four edges. Along with the outstanding qualities of the DW735, the Shelix allows me options in stock preparation that no conventional cutterhead comes close to matching. 

Shelix cutterhead
DW735

Just like a coach, these great tools allow me to form a better game plan, execute it well, and very often go beyond what I could otherwise do. These tools do not drag me down, and do not need to be questioned and compensated for. I become a better craftsman and I do better work

That is the test of a great tool. I suggest keep this in mind the next time you open a tool catalog or visit your favorite drool tool store. 

Author:
• Thursday, June 30th, 2022
Elu collet

I often prefer solid carbide center-cutting upcut spiral end mills for router mortising, especially for 5/16″ mortise widths. They come in longer cutting lengths and longer overall lengths than comparable diameter spiral router bits, and they cut smoothly and cleanly. 

The cutting and shank diameters are the same for end mills. This is especially an issue for 5/16″ bits. I do not like to use router collet bushings to reduce the collet diameter. The inserts are not as flexible as a high quality collet itself and so I think they do not grip the bit as reliably as the regular collet alone. A slipping bit is a bad day, so I do not want to place my trust in the bushing set up if I don’t have to. 

That said, for what it’s worth, I think the best bushings, if that’s what you want to use, are from Infinity Tools, pictured below. I do not like versions with fewer slots because they do not seem to be as flexible. 

collet bushings

DeWalt (for my old Elu, which is essentially the same as the current DW625) and Bosch (for my 1617EVS) do not make dedicated 5/16″ collets, as far as I know. 

There is, however, an ideal solution available! Elaire Corporation makes a wide range of router collets diameters for many routers, including DeWalt and Bosch. These are made in Ohio, and the specs and quality meet or exceed the OEM parts, in my experience. 

Check out their selection here. Prices are reasonable. 

Problem solved. Go mortise.

end mill ready to mortise

[Usual disclaimer: This review is unsolicited and uncompensated. I have no proprietary interest in Elaire.] 

Author:
• Sunday, May 29th, 2022

sandpaper cutter

I made this handy sandpaper cutter many years ago but have not until now fully described it here. This post lays out the details if you would like to build your own. I make no claims to originality for this but I have not seen one incorporating all of these features.

By the way, cutting sandpaper with a scissors will quickly destroy the blades, and creasing and tearing sandpaper is slow and awkward especially in coarse grits.

The base is 3/4″ plywood, 13 1/2″ x 6 5/8″. The cutter is a 12″ 14-tpi hacksaw blade. Use a pliers and metal vise to make a small L-shaped kink along the length just inside each end hole to give the blade a slight lift that will make it easier to slip the sandpaper underneath.

Secure it with pan head screws parallel to the edge of the base, then carefully make marks to indicate the location of the teeth. Remove the blade. Draw a line at the marks. It too should be parallel to the edge of the base. 

sandpaper cutter detail

Use cyanoacrylate glue to attach a 1/4″ plywood handle to the hacksaw blade. This makes it much easier to give the blade teeth good purchase on the sandpaper, which gives a straighter, faster, and cleaner cut. 

sandpaper cutter measurer

Use the table saw (alternatively, a router or hand tools) to make 1/8″ grooves, 5/16″ deep, at strategic locations, to house a snug fitting 11/16″-wide slat. [Tip: rip the slat from the edge of a board. On most boards, this will produce a slight bow in the cutoff, which will help it stay in the grooves without being an overly tight fit in thickness.] 

The key measurements are from the teeth of the cutter to the near edge of the grooves/wall of the slat. Below are the dimensions I use, based on standard 11″ x 9″ sandpaper sheets. I drew little visual aids on the base. 

5 1/2″ = half of the length

4 1/2″ = half of the width

3 2/3″ = 1/3 of the length – This produces strips for the cork blocks that I use. 

2 3/4″ = 1/4 of the length – This produces strips for Preppin’ Weapon sanding blocks. 

The line (no groove because there is no room) at 3″ is for my Singely sanding drum. The line for 2 1/2″ strips is for some of my shopmade cork sanding blocks and is the same as PSA sandpaper rolls.  

sandpaper sizing

Reattach the cutter. I added an eye hook for hanging and a larger hook to easily grab the jig from its storage location low down on the wall near my bench. 

To use this nifty jig, slide the sanding sheet, grit side down, under the cutter and against the slat, which is placed in the desired groove. [For the infrequently used dimensions marked with a line only, just bring the edge of the sheet to the line.] Hold the blade down using the handle as shown, and tear. The job goes very quickly.

sandpaper cutter in use

This is an easy jig to make and I think you’ll enjoy the ease with which it handles an otherwise annoying job.

Author:
• Saturday, May 28th, 2022
David Charlesworth's books

David Charlesworth passed away on May 22. There is an announcement on his website.

Though I never met David, I learned a great deal from his three books and many videos. The books, now out of print, are compilations of wonderful articles that he wrote for Furniture and Cabinetmaking magazine. 

To honor the memory of this great teacher, I want to tell you the main thing, so valuable, that I learned from him, which goes beyond the many specific skills he presented. It was his acutely thoughtful, insightful approach to woodworking. He showed how things could be done with direction and precision. 

David stopped the brain clutter and calmly focused on what was really going on with a plane blade, a joint, or a construction process. With his friendly, humble bearing, evident in writing and videos, he inspired us to do the same. 

Focus, think it through, and try – you can do it. Plan. Create with calm energy and at the same time, stay open to new skills and methods.  

For me, and for so many others, these were his gifts. Thank you, David Charlesworth. Rest in peace.

Category: Ideas  | Leave a Comment
Author:
• Saturday, April 30th, 2022
Record holdfast

The Record #146 holdfast has generated some inquiries over the years, so I’ll address the topic in this post. I bought mine nearly 40 years ago, and while still a good tool, I would not recommend it now because there are better choices. 

I like the Gramercy holdfasts, which I have been using more than the Record for more than 10 years now. They fit in simple 3/4″ holes that you drill directly into the bench top. They cost only $39.95 per pair. I suggest buying the pair because it is helpful to use them together when you want a very secure hold to resist lateral force on the work piece. And you will certainly want more than one of these holes in your bench top because they can be used for many other holding tools, most notably Veritas products including Bench Pups, Wonder Pups, planing stops (I made my own out of wood), and their own holdfast.

If you do want to use the Record, you have to decide where to place the metal collar that it requires. This collar allows you to place lots of pressure on the work if you need it, making this the strongest holdfast I’ve seen. The collar is not really too obtrusive (I don’t recall having rammed a cutting edge into it) but it would not be there if I was setting up a bench now. Happily, I installed only one, those many years ago, and the location has worked out well. 

This collar placement allows a work piece to be held where I can chop dovetails over the right leg structure of the bench. It also can work in conjunction with the tail vise and dog system on the right side of the bench. The pad of the holdfast reaches close enough to the front and to the right side of the bench for practical purposes, and still extends about two feet from the right edge of the bench.

Record holdfast placement
Author:
• Saturday, April 30th, 2022
Hammer A3-31 infeed adjustment bolts

Lots of information can be found on this website about jointer-planer combination machines and the Hammer A3-31 in particular. I have received many inquiries, especially regarding setup and adjustment of the Hammer. One thing that I have not covered in detail is how to make the infeed and outfeed tables parallel to each other along their lengths. This is quite doable but not simple. 

Let us first set the context. As described in detail here, there are several logical steps to adjusting the jointer. In summary:

1. Start by verifying the flatness of the tables.

2. The width of the outfeed table is then made parallel to the cutterblock

3. The arc of the cutting blades must be consistently adjusted relative to the outfeed table. Here is a practical and accurate method applicable to most machines.

And here are the nuts and bolts on the A3-31.

4. The infeed table and outfeed table are then made parallel across their widths by adjusting the infeed table. Step 4 here describes the details, including for the Hammer. 

5. And now for the tricky part. The infeed and outfeed tables must be made parallel along their lengths.

For reasons similar to wanting a hand jointer plane to have a flat sole, so should the machine tables be adjusted. In my opinion, this adjustment should be done with a one-sided tolerance. Aim for the tables to be parallel, but a trace of convexity, like the letter “A,” is OK, but there should be no valley, like the letter “V.”

So, how is this done on the A3-31? In those earlier posts, I referred to “geometry” without presenting the details. You could work hit-or-miss to make the adjustment, but with four points of adjustment involved, it would probably be unnerving and cause you to give up, and then tolerate using a poorly adjusted jointer, which will in turn wreak all sorts of ugly havoc on your ensuing work. So, really, it is worth deciphering my geometric method. It works. 

I attached my handwritten notes, made years ago. Click on the little picture below for a full-size version. 

The front-side adjustment bolts are shown in the photo at the top of this post. 

The hinge-side adjustment screws are found under this plate:

Hammer A3-31 back plate

The pencils are pointing to them: 

Hammer A3-31 hinge-side set screws

These bolts must be both be loosened to allow the set screws to move: 

Hammer A3-31 hinge-side bolts

The method starts with placing a straightedge to extend the full length of the infeed table with a sufficient amount to also have a good register on the outfeed table. The infeed table starts low and then is adjusted upward to the first touch on the straight edge. If you have done all the previous work as described above, the place of the touch will tell you how the tables are aligned. In my machine, the tables were delivered tilted toward each other, like a “V,” so the first touch of the straightedge was at the outer end of the infeed table.  

Measure the gap as shown in my notes. Note then that I have simply diagrammed similar triangles among the straightedge-table and the pairs of adjustment screws, and calculated the amount of adjustment to be made at the appropriate screws. I then converted that into how much to turn each screw based on the thread pitch. 

OK, I think you can see why I did not include this in my original set of posts! It is a bit painful. I like math so I admit to a bit of joy in working this out, but for those A3-31 owners not so disposed, contact me and I’ll try to help. 

Thankfully, the machine holds its adjustments very well.