Author:
• Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

woodworking skills

How would you reply if someone asked you, “Are you a good woodworker?” I think most of us seriously involved in the craft eventually ask ourselves this question. So, what might comprise a test of fundamental furniture making skills?

Here is what I suggest as a basic skill set for making furniture and accessories. It obviously does not encompass all of woodworking, nor does it include specialized techniques. As such it does not include skills, some of which you will eventually want to add, such as carving, turning, wood bending techniques, resawing, veneering, and finishing. And, of course, everyone will be able to cite exceptions and omissions.

The “test” recognizes that good work can be accomplished with both hand tools and machines, but also that principles of hand tool woodworking form a solid basis for learning and understanding the craft.

1 Wood:

  • Assess several boards of wood regarding grain orientation, defects, seasoning, and fitness for various uses.
  • Demonstrate an in-depth understanding of a few favorite species.

2 Stock preparation:

  • Using only hand tools, foursquare a rough 4/4 board, say 6-8″ wide by 18-24″ long to 3/4″ thick. The product should be sized to a snug fit between standards in length and width (fit by shooting).
  • Smooth the surface to an excellent appearance without applied finish.
  • Do another board with the aid of machinery.

3 Joinery: Make the following joints, demonstrating knowledge and skill in the critical aspects of joint design, strength, and appearance. You can use hand tools and machines, as long as the method does not reduce the quality of the outcome.

  • Use edge-to-edge joints to make a three-board panel, 12-18″ wide and 24-30″ long.
  • Make a three-shouldered blind mortise-and-tenon post-and-rail joint.
  • Make a through-dovetail joint with at least four tails.
  • Make a frame mortise-and-tenon joint of your choice.

4 Additional skills:

  • The tools for the test will be provided in good working condition but the “instructor” will randomly throw in a tool that will require minor tune up, so you will have to know how to assess all of them.
  • Starting with the factory grind, sharpen a 2″ plane blade according to its application (e.g. in a smoothing plane), a 1/2″ bench chisel, and a card scraper.
  • Layout, cut, fair, and smooth a reversing curve in 8/4 stock, 18-30″ long.

5 Basic constructions: All of the above skills are academic if you cannot integrate them to produce the fundamental constructions of woodworking. Again, you can use hand tools and machines, as long as the method does not reduce the quality of the outcome.

  • Build a dovetailed box/carcase in solid wood ­– just the four sides will do.
  • Build a post and rail frame – a “table” with straight legs and no top will do.
  • Build a frame-and-panel door.

These are just raw basic constructions but the results must be neat, flat, true, and square. You must demonstrate the ability to control tolerances. Within reason, the size of the constructions is up to you but the precision will be scrutinized commensurate with the size. (Hint: smaller is not necessarily easier.)

A few more things:

  • The test is timed only if you make money from woodworking; otherwise, within reason, it’s not.
  • You have to be able to design what you want to build, or at least be able to follow plans.
  • You can do the test in your mind if you want, but don’t cheat!
  • You automatically fail if you don’t enjoy every bit of it.

You’ve arrived.

Category: Techniques  | 2 Comments
Author:
• Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

Pat Warner

The passing of Pat Warner, July 28, 2017, should not go without tribute. His contributions to the techniques of woodworking is among the finest of our time based on his unsurpassed knowledge of the use of one of our most versatile woodworking tools, the router. He was truly an expert’s expert.

Especially remarkable were his profound insights into the precision tolerances involved in tooling and work processes, as well as his ability to manage them in the shop. His hands-on inventiveness produced an impressive array of precision tools and jigs. His writings, full of intelligence and clarity, include four books, numerous articles, and the resources on his website.

I never met the man but his generosity and kindness were evident in the assistance he provided to me by phone. There was no doubt I was taking in the advice of a rare master craftsman. For countless woodworkers, our approach to not only the use of the router, but to small-shop machine woodworking in general, owes greatly to Pat Warner.

Category: Ideas  | 4 Comments
Author:
• Friday, August 25th, 2017

mortise jig wedge clamps

In two earlier posts, I presented a router mortise jig. As writing is a good occasion to rethink matters, I have upgraded the clamping system on the jig. What’s more, this general design for a wedge clamp system can be applied to other shop jigs and fixtures to increase their holding range.

The mechanical advantage produced by the humble wedge is a wonderful earthly thing. I used larger blocks that rotate on an off-center pivot to accommodate a much greater range of workpiece width. The plywood base of the jig is also wider than the original to allow for this, and thicker at 3/4″ for greater strength. The blocks and wedges are 5/8″ thick.

Each block is 2 1/2″ square. The center of the pivot hole is 1/2″ from one edge, and 1″, 1 1/2″, and 2″ from the three other edges. Thus, there are four different rotational positions to create a large range of clamping width capacity.

Below, the block is in position to clamp the widest workpieces.

wedge clamps

The wedge is 8 ¼” long with a 1:7 slope. This produces slightly more than 1/2″ range of clamping width, which spans the difference from one block position to the next.

Below, the block is in position for the second-to-narrowest clamping capacity.

wedge clamps

A 1/4-20 x 1 1/2″ hex bolt, unthreaded in the 5/8″ nearest its head, enters from the bottom of the base with the head recessed in a counterbore. It is secured above the block with a nylon-insert lock nut, which is tightened to allow free but firm rotation of the block.

The wedge clamps work so well that they may obviate the need for the toggle clamps. The wedge system particularly makes the jig better for mortising frame members. Because these are narrower than leg blanks, they are best clamped in a pair to increase the seating width for the base of the router jig.

Author:
• Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017

DeWalt XL trigger clamp

Of all the squeezy clamps that I have tried out in a store or used in the shop, this is the first one that I can reach for with confidence.

The tightening handle is big and comfortable, making it pleasant to apply the rated 600 pounds of force. The bar is a sturdy I beam. The release trigger is readily accessible and has a nice curve onto which I can hook my finger, making it easy to release the clamp pressure. And my fingers do not get bumped in the process. Most of the other clamps of this type that I have tried out have an annoyingly uncomfortable release.

What I like most are the large rectangular pads, which are almost like those of a parallel bar clamp. The throat depth is about 3 3/4″. The pad material is just right – soft enough to protect the work but not squishy. The fixed jaw can be easily reversed to use the clamp as a spreader.

Squeezy clamps are wonderfully handy for bench work, but have a tendency to shift the workpiece alignment when used for assembly. This is inevitable if you squeeze down the force in one fell swoop.

I suggest the following technique to avoid workpiece shifting. Gradually pump in the jaw contact while maintaining the workpiece alignment with the other hand, readjusting it if necessary. As you take up the toe-in of the jaws (which is mostly in the moveable jaw) and build just a little bit of pressure, the clamp itself will stabilize. This is the key moment because then, and only then, can you bull down the force and the workpiece will remain stable. I usually find it best to hold the fixed jaw against the workpiece and advance the moveable jaw into contact.

You can find them at the orange palace and elsewhere.

This review is unsolicited and uncompensated.

Author:
• Tuesday, August 15th, 2017

DW735

Commenting on a recent post, a reader asked:

Do you typically use your DeWalt 735 for planing, and your Hammer A3-31 for jointing? I am starting to look at combo jointer-planer units, and would be interested in knowing if you typically use separate machines for these two functions. You mentioned in a previous article you have a Byrd Shelix cutterhead on the DeWalt and straight knives on the A3-31.

My reply follows-up on, and reinforces the large amount of material on this blog regarding jointer-planer combo machines, the Hammer A3-31 in particular, the Byrd Shelix spiral cutterhead on the DW735, and options for the first machine a woodworker should buy. Thanks for asking!

Hammer A3-31

The big factor is the wood. For easy-going boards – tame species, not rowed, no curl/blister/birds eye, etc. – I will usually go ahead with the thicknessing on the A3-31 because it is already up and running, and I know the results will be good. For figured wood, I will definitely go to the Shelix because it performs magnificently for that. For very hard or abrasive species, even without figure, I prefer the Shelix to save wear on the straight blades in the A3-31.

Byrd Shelix on the DW735

A couple of other factors also come into play. The DW735 has a longer snipe than the A3-31, though the depth of both is very small. Snipe can be avoided altogether with continuous feeding, but that can be awkward in a one-person shop.

Also, a tiny bit of thickness cannot be removed well on the final pass with big planers because the impressions created by the metal pawls will often not be entirely removed by the shallow depth of cut. Sometimes I do want to remove just a very small amount such as for matching another piece that I’ve messed up. I can remove as little as I want on the final pass with the 735 because the rubber rollers do not create impressions (assuming they are reasonably clean).

As for width, the A3-31 cuts 31cm wide (hence its name), about 12.2 inches. I want every bit of that. A wide jointer is a wonderful thing in the shop!

I installed the Shelix in the DW735 about one year before I bought the A3-31. Then I did not want to spend the extra money for a second segmented spiral cutterhead, this time on the A3-31. I expected to use the 735 with the Shelix for almost all of my thicknessing, but in time I have come to use the A3-31 with its straight blades for plenty of my thicknessing too.

I think for most of us, shop equipment evolves with our resources rather than follows a master plan. I am content with my current setup. However, if I were to start fresh and buy one machine, it would be an A3-31 with their “Silent Power” spiral cutterhead.

For an option that is less expensive than a big jointer-planer combination machine, but is still highly versatile, start with a good portable thickness planer as your first machine in the shop. I still recommend the DW735. Then apply the following process:

Jackplane and/or scrub plane a rough surface on one side of a board. It should have no cup, twist, bow, or flex. It will not be pretty, but it only needs to register on the planer bed. Draw pencil lines every few inches across the opposite side of the board, including close to the ends.

Send the board through the planer with the worked side down on the bed. Take the passes necessary to remove the pencil lines, indicating that the blades have touched all of that surface. Then, flip the board and clean up the side that you worked with the hand plane. Then joint an edge by hand, rip to width, and clean up with a hand plane.

I do not recommend a 6-inch jointer as a fundamental tool for a serious furniture maker. It is limiting from the start and will very likely be obsolete later. On the other hand, wouldn’t it be nice to have a 16-inch Felder jointer-planer with a spiral cutterhead? Yes, yes it would.

Category: Tools and Shop  | One Comment
Author:
• Sunday, August 13th, 2017

A2 steel chipping

Before making my point, here is a synopsis of the differences between A2 and O1 blades, as I understand them, and have experienced in using them. Better however, you should also read a much more learned discussion by the Man of Steel himself, Ron Hock.

In general, for comparable quality blades:

  • O1 is finer grain steel and can be brought to a sharper edge than can A2. It is not a big difference but may be important depending on the application. Some dispute this; perhaps O1 only seems to get sharper because it is easier to sharpen, and because of this next point.
  • Due to the difference in grain size, the honing angle for A2 should be a few degrees higher than for O1.
  • A2 is more difficult to sharpen than O1, both in speed and in feel on the stone. However, both are well within the range of a basically skilled sharpener.
  • Owing primarily to its tough chromium carbide particles, an edge in A2 is more durable than in O1. However, that is not the whole story because . . .
  • They may dull differently. The O1 edge is likely to slowly and simply round over, while A2 may chip. Ron explains that chipping occurs when oversized chromium carbide particles in A2 steel pop out of the edge.

This last point is the one I would like to explore, specifically with regard to differences among A2 blades. We would expect some differences among manufacturers because they vary in their formulas and processes. However, I suspect there can also be significant variations in edge behavior – the tendency to chip – among blades of a given brand, and even within a single blade.

I want slow and steady dulling wherein the edge simply rounds over increasingly. I do not want precipitous edge break down – chipping. It is unwelcome, though I suppose tolerable, in a jack plane, but downright infuriating in a smoothing plane. Everything is going fine until, ugh, those little ridges suddenly appear on the wood surface that I am trying to finish plane to otherworldly exquisiteness. And so, a certain Bad A2 Blade (pictured above) has been banished from my shop. It got those hideous chips as I planed not teak, but affable poplar, and only for several minutes.

I have sharpened this blade exactly the same (same stones, 33° secondary bevel) as other A2 blades which hardly ever chip in typical use. Even more annoyingly, the bad blade has behaved worse after some sharpenings than after others. I would think 33° is high enough for the grain structure of A2, and anyway, going a bit higher gave little or no better results.

Perhaps chipping is not a problem with any blades of one or more brands, and thus the problem could be avoided simply by choosing a good brand. Interestingly, I have two other A2 blades of the same brand as the Bad Blade that do not have this tendency to chip. I also have two Hock A2 blades that give me no such problems, and I had another blade of another brand that exhibited a milder but still troublesome tendency to chip.

This is not a tool test, so I cannot fairly generalize from this sample size as to which brand, if any, is best in this respect. I can only relate my experience. There is some test evidence that Hock A2 blades are indeed better in avoiding chipping, but this is based on testing a single blade. I wonder if one of the magazines might explore the issue using adequate sample sizes to account for potential variability within, as well as among, brands.

Which brings me to my main point: There seems to be considerable inconsistency among A2 plane blades – among brands, within at least some brands, and perhaps even within individual blades. To me, this uncertainty is a disadvantage of the A2 genre as a whole. That is not to dismiss A2 altogether, but simply to recognize this among its disadvantages

So, for my bevel-down smoothing plane, it’s O1. A2 is just not worth it in that role; the uncertainty plus its inherent disadvantages outweigh its advantages. By the way, PMV-11 is another matter for another day, but I do currently use it in my bevel-up planes. And the Hock A2 in my good old bevel-down jack is going to stay there because the edge is wonderfully durable and it does not chip.

Category: Tools and Shop  | 8 Comments
Author:
• Tuesday, August 01st, 2017

Woodturner's Wonders CBN wheel for Tormek

I was pretty much content with my Tormek for grinding tools for 16 years. It sacrificed speed for relaxed and reliable grinding with excellent jigs, especially the SE-77. Though that tradeoff suits me, I like woodworking a lot more than sharpening, so a faster pace at the grindstone was always welcome. Thus I was drawn to try a CBN grinding wheel available from Woodturner’s Wonders.

After working with a CBN wheel for several months, I am completely sold. The main reasons are simple: It is much faster than the Tormek OEM wheel, and it never needs dressing. For my sharpening system, detailed in an earlier post, the 200-grit wheel works extremely well.

I can grind the primary bevel out to the edge, such as for completely reshaping the edge, with no worry about drawing the temper, even using the wheel dry. From there, I will usually do a bit of work on the 45µ DMT DiaSharp stone, and progress from there. If I stop grinding the primary bevel short of the edge, I may go directly to the 9µ DiaSharp, or touch up on the 45µ, depending on what I am dealing with. In any case, I then move from the 9µ, to the 3µ DiaSharp, and finish with the 0.5µ Gukomyo. Creating even substantial camber on a plane blade using the CBN wheel, particularly with the SE-77 jig, is so easy that it feels like cheating.

Woodturners Wonders sells these Tormek replacement wheels, called “Tornado Waterless CBN Wheels,” in grits from 200 to 1200. Depending on your sharpening system, you may want to consider the finer grits. Of course, finer grits are slower but leave shallower scratches. I found the 600 to be slower than I wanted, but it still beat the Tormek OEM wheel.

CBN wheel for Tormek

The Tornado wheel is two inches wide, flat and true, 10″ in diameter, with one-inch sidewalls. If I were a piece of tool steel, I’d wave a white flag at first sight of this thing. CBN, cubic boron nitride, is a crystal lattice of boron and nitrogen molecules, with a hardness near that of diamond, but with superior chemical and thermal stability, which increases its durability. Ken Rizza of Woodturner’s Wonders, the same guy who sells this great lamp, also sells a wide variety of other CBN wheels for regular bench grinders, including radius-edge wheels.

By the way, fellow Tormek users, I do not miss the touted dual-nature (220/1000-grit) of the Tormek OEM wheel, which is achieved by using the grading stone. I have always found this to be of marginal benefit and just not worth the hassle. Incidentally, the Tormek leather honing wheel does not get much use in my shop; it is not part of my main sharpening system.

The Tornado wheel can be used dry on the Tormek. Aggressive sharpening will produce some heat but I have not found this significant because the work is done so quickly. However, I prefer to use a little water to reduce the spread of the steel dust, including into the air. I just wipe off the accumulated steel dust on the tool itself.

[UPDATE: Based on Ken Rizza’s comment (see below), I did some more experimenting and found that just two or three light spritzes of water on the wheel is sufficient to keep the steel dust contained. I’m done grinding before this small amount of water evaporates a few minutes later, leaving the stone dry. I will not use water in the trough at all. To emphasize, heat build-up on the tool is not an issue and is not the reason I use the water.]

One more thing. If your Tormek wheel, like mine, has been on since the pre-smart phone era, it may be tough to get off. The folks at Tormek advise us to remove the stone with the shaft, use penetrating oil on both sides of the shaft, and let it work in overnight. Tap the shaft with a mallet. Repeat. It may take days. Don’t ask me how I got the wheel off my Tormek because it wasn’t pretty.

This review of the WTW CBN wheel is unsolicited and uncompensated. I just want you to have great tools . . . so you can make great stuff from wood.

Author:
• Monday, July 31st, 2017

small woodworking shop

Here’s a question just for fun. In the past 30-40 years, which advance in tooling has made the biggest practical change in small shop furniture making? An individual tool, a type of tool, or a major upgrade in a tool category, hand or power, all qualify.

The answer will depend on the definition of “small shop.” What I have in mind is what I most relate to, which is the one-person shop making high-end furniture and accessories. Such a shop produces one-of-a-kind pieces or very few repeats, and may be an amateur at home, or a professional, whose furniture making is only part of his income.

OK, with that in mind, drum roll . . . my vote is for the Ryobi AP-10 portable thickness planer, which was first made in about 1985 or 1986, as best I recall. This humble machine, which I owned back then, was the first lightweight, portable, low-cost way to easily and quickly thickness large quantities of wood. The Ryobi begot improved competing models, such as the much later DeWalt DW735.

For the small production shop, I am guessing CNC, along with CAD, has made the biggest difference. For shops of any size, the overall improvement and proliferation of carbide-tipped tooling – router and shaper bits, table saw blades, bandsaw blades, jointer/planer cutters, etc. – may be the biggest advance.

To impart the touch of quality that is only possible with hand tools, we must, of course, acknowledge the roles of first, Lie-Nielsen, and then, Lee Valley/Veritas. More than with vintage tools, new Mercedes-quality handplanes became readily available and indeed, the standard, which elevated everyone’s work. As a tool category, this may be the most significant advance. The same evolution occurred in Western hand saws, culminating, in my opinion, in the Bad Axe line.

Other tool categories that came to mind in thinking about this include: greatly improved tool batteries for cordless tools, the wider availability of high quality steel-frame bandsaws sized for the small shop, the wider availability of wide over-under jointer-planers, and the availability of excellent Japanese hand tools. For individual tools, the biscuit joiner, Saw Stop table saws, and Japanese waterstones deserve some notice but I would not consider these pivotal.

Oh, and there is one more “tool” that, come to think of it, probably has made the biggest difference of all: information! Books, magazine, video/Internet, classes, and so forth have tremendously advanced the joy of good woodworking.

It’s all good. We are fortunate.

Category: Tools and Shop  | 8 Comments
Author:
• Saturday, July 29th, 2017

best woodworking books

Hell yeah. I just viewed a video (ironically) in which Mark Spagnuolo, the Wood Whisperer, delivers in his usual engaging manner, an excellent perspective on the role of books in learning woodworking. YouTube, he advises, is best used as a supplement to books. Mark is a prolific video producer, so his admonition to continue to use books as the pillar of learning woodworking carries a lot of weight. I agree wholeheartedly.

Explaining a woodworking concept by talking it through in a class or video is quite different than explaining it in writing. I may perform a process in the shop, maybe for countless times over many years, and later work through it in my mind to prepare to write about it. Then however, writing about it demands particular precision and clarity, even if accompanied by step photos such as for a magazine article. There is no video to help. The reader benefits from what is hopefully a honed and polished written product.

Similarly, reading and video watching are also different. Of course, video has the obvious advantage of seeing a process happen. Reading, however, gives you a chance to pace your mind, and to make sense of the material and absorb it. In particular, the breadth of a book allows you to see relationships among the material that you are unlikely to realize by only viewing videos.

So then, here are my favorite woodworking books. I have mentioned most of these elsewhere in this blog, but I hope this summary is helpful for readers.

1- The Krenov trilogy: A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook, The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking, Impractical Cabinetmaker. JK was a unique inspiring voice for so many woodworkers.

2- Woodwork Joints, Charles Hayward. Ounce for ounce, in paperback, maybe the best woodworking book of all time.

3- Understanding Wood, Bruce Hoadley. How can you even get near a piece of wood without this knowledge?

4- Understanding Wood Finishing, Bob Flexner. I still say that Flexner is the best explainer in all of woodworking.

5- The Perfect Edge, Ron Hock. There is good competition but I think this is the best book on sharpening.

6- Illustrated Cabinetmaking, Bill Hylton. When you have an idea for a project but you’re wondering, “How do I build that?” consult this encyclopedic review of construction options.

7- Wood, Eric Meier. As good a reason as you’ll find for printed books to continue to exist! Informative and joyful.

The following are out of print, as far as I know, but you can probably find used copies available:

8- Working in Wood, Ernest Scott. It has its imperfections, but this was an enormous help to me more than 35 years ago, along with Hayward’s book. I still find them helpful.

9- Designing Furniture, Seth Stem. Despite using mostly ugly examples, this book teaches design very systematically and well.

10- Making Joints, Ian Kirby. A marvelously clear thinker and explainer. Kirby is an underappreciated author in the woodworking world, in my opinion.

11- In a category of its own, not only because it is available free online, is The US Forest Products Laboratory’s Wood Handbook. Visit the US Forest Products Laboratory site and enter “wood handbook” in the search box.

Also, let’s not forget the magazines. They remain excellent sources of high-quality information.

Oh, and blogs too.

Category: Resources  | 2 Comments
Author:
• Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

woodworking ideas

Uh oh, I was just thinkin’ again.

Yes, yes already, I understand the merits of hand tool woodworking (read here). Yet, we must acknowledge that pure hand tool woodworking is almost non-existent. Rather, we just have different points at which we decide that the work is best done, for whatever reasons, by putting aside machines and taking over with hand tools. For some, that point is after the wood leaves the sawmill; for others it is when the final chamfers are added. Really, there is a spectrum of approaches to woodworking that gives all woodworkers a great deal in common: we build stuff.

Router spindle locks are a ridiculous idea. Two opposing wrenches produce more torque with more comfort and safety. Some routers with spindle locks also have flats on the spindle on which you can use a second wrench in conjunction with the one for the collet nut. Manufacturers, including the one that makes yellow tools, please, stop the madness.

I’m pretty sure that you have a project in mind that is coming from your soul. It will challenge you, and give you great joy. Please, please, build that as soon as you can. And stop making another box for your chisels, or whatever.

If someone was to ask me for suggestions for getting a set of sharpening equipment from scratch, I now think I would be remiss by not recommending diamond stones for the bulk of the work. Add a CBN grinding wheel to speed the grunt work, finish off with a very fine ceramic finish stone, and you are very good to go.

Anyone of any demographic group, including women, is welcome by me, and, I believe, by the overwhelming majority of woodworkers, to come aboard and work wood. Those currently in the minority should not be discouraged by the very few fools who will only accept the historically typical demographics of woodworkers, nor by the reactions of others that are not ill-intended but come simply from not having updated one’s habits. Moreover, those currently in the minority do not need special enclaves for those in their category. Neither is coddling needed; just welcoming. Just work wood! You and the world await what you build. Now go ahead, tell me that it’s not that simple. OK, perhaps not, but I do think it does ultimately come down to just that.

Having had the Domino joiner for nine years now, my trust in the system has gone down, not up. Sorry Festool enthusiasts, the same goes for Festool in general.

Until you understand the following rule, to which I can think of no exception, you will not fully comprehend shop safety with power or hand tools. A tool edge, given the opportunity, will always move the work piece (or part of it) instead of cutting it. As examples, that is the essence of kickback on a table saw, and a drill bit or router bit grabbing the workpiece. The edge needs to be sharp, yes, but its mechanical options must be limited by the tool design, your setups, and your actions.

Believe it or not, if you need some decent red oak, maple, poplar, and even walnut, and are buying a small enough quantity so that a higher unit price doesn’t hurt too much, the Home Depot is a pretty good, convenient option. And they have no idea that the random curly board that you might find is a great buy.

Creative work is ultimately an exercise of free will to make something – a unique information set – that transcends oneself. Where does that free will come from, if not a gift from God?

Category: Ideas  | 11 Comments