• Friday, January 09th, 2015


Dear Heartwood readers, have I ever asked you for anything? No? Well, here then is my first small request.

As you know, I have been writing for Craftsy, the excellent online video craft instruction site since April. There I’ve posted more than 33,000 words and 260 original photos of genuinely useful woodworking information.

Now Craftsy is honoring their bloggers and I’d appreciate it if you could take a minute to vote for your dear humble scribe, aka me, by clicking here or on the badge at the top of the left sidebar and then scroll down the Craftsy page, which explains it all, and click on the small orange banner. Or go directly to the form, and please enter my Craftsy blog URL: and check the category “Woodworking” and the “Tutorial” and “Photography” boxes.

In my 38 posts so far, you’ll find tutorials on making dovetails (8,000 words and 74 photos!), mortising by hand and with the router, using paring chisels, building a Moxon vise, and more. There’s information on choosing a bandsaw, shooting, various wood species, and more.

Yes, of course, Craftsy creates traffic to their online offerings with all of this. But the online course videos are superb. I recommend my fellow woodworkers to take a look. They’ve added woodworking courses by Jeff Miller, Paul Anthony, Mike Seimsen, and other outstanding instructors.

Thank you,


Category: Resources  | 9 Comments
• Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

For a craft or any pursuit that is meaningful to you, to do it really well, you must grant yourself freedom. And that takes courage.

Category: Ideas  | 4 Comments
• Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

jointer alignment

After the posts on jointer-planer combination machines and the Hammer A3-31, some readers emailed questions about how to align the tables and knives so the jointer does what it is supposed to do – produce flat, straight surfaces on wood.

Here are the steps in tuning jointer tables and knives. The methods of adjustment will, of course, depend on the make and model of your machine, but hopefully this will clarify the overall logic of the process. Methods specific to the A3-31 are entered within brackets.

1. The cutterhead rotates on its axis. This is the reference to which all the other parts must be aligned.

Further, the tables should be flat. Of course, they are not perfect but if they are pretty good – not dished/bumped/twisted more than a few thou – then go with what you have. Some localized imperfections will cancel out with the procedures described here. In any case, practical woodworking, not perfection, is the goal.

2. Check the parallelism of the cutterhead block to the outfeed table. This step is often neglected. Make a wooden holder for a dial indicator as shown in the photo. Alternatively, a feeler gauge and the stock of a square can be used but this is awkward.

jointer alignment

The reading is noted when the tip of the indicator is at the top of the cutterhead circle (i.e. its most retracted reading) at several points across the width. Use the same portion of the circumference of the cutterhead for all of the readings to negate any imperfections in the roundness of the cutterhead.

If the indicator readings are not consistent across the width, the tilt of the outfeed table on its long axis must be adjusted to make it parallel with the cutterhead. My outfeed table is parallel to the cutterhead within half a thou across the full width.

[On the A3-31, the two M12 x 1.75 bolts on the handle side under the outfeed table are adjusted. Calculate the amount of turn required and work from there rather than guessing. You should not have to adjust from the hinge side for this.] Other jointers may require shimming where the table and base castings meet on one side.

3. Adjust the height of the outfeed table relative to the knife arc. The knife arc should be consistent for all three blades and all across the cutterhead. On most jointers, this is adjusted by means of jackscrews in the blade holder. Really you are making the knife arcs consistent with the cutterhead, which previously has been determined to be parallel with the outfeed table. Aim for the top of the knife arc to be a thou or two above the infeed table using the method described in this post.

Hopefully, you are in the range of requiring only small adjustments of a few of the jackscrews. However, if it is way off for all of the knives, the outfeed table should be adjusted as a unit. [For the A3-31, this latter adjustment is found under the left side red plate. Page 33 of the User Manual shows where it is and how to move it.]

At this point, you should have a cutterblock parallel to the outfeed table, three knife arcs also parallel to the outfeed table, and the top of the arcs should be about .001 – .002” above the outfeed table. Only now should you turn your attention to the infeed table.

Note that wear of the knife edges may later require very slight adjustment in the overall height of the outfeed table. However, the parallelism should be retained.

4. Make the infeed table parallel to the outfeed table across their widths. Assess this just at the cutterhead-end of the infeed table. Use the dial indicator jig or place a 12” straightedge on the outfeed table and extend it past the cutterhead just an inch or two over the infeed table.

Adjust the infeed table using the regular depth-of-cut lever to about the shallowest cut. Observe the dial indicator or use a feeler gauge under the straightedge to check across the width of the infeed table for parallelism of the tables. If the tables are out of parallel, it is easiest to retain the outfeed table settings and adjust the tilt of only the infeed table along its long axis.

[On the A3-31, adjust the two M12x1.75 bolts on the handle side under the infeed table. Again, calculate the amount needed and work from there rather than guessing.] Other jointers may require shimming where the table and base castings meet on one side

5. Finally, adjust the infeed table so the infeed table and the outfeed table are parallel along their lengths. Assess this with the longest, best straightedge that you can find. You do not want the tables tipped in toward each other at all (like a V), in my opinion. You want them parallel or, if anything, a trace tipped away from each other (like an A).

It is easiest to retain the outfeed table settings and make the adjustment only on the infeed table. It is tilted on its short axis only by making equal adjustments on both sides of the table so as not to disturb what was accomplished in step 4. Again, the specifics will vary among machines. The intent here is to explain the overall logic.

[To adjust this on the A3-31 you have to work on both sides of the infeed table. On the near side are the M12x1.75 bolts. On the hinge side there are M10x1.5 set screws, accessed under the plate cover. To make a directed adjustment, rather than by trial and error, there is some geometry required. The Hammer manual does not cover this. I’ve done the geometry and it works but to write and diagram it is beyond the intent of this post. Hey Hammer, how about updating that 2005 manual to reflect the current model machine!]

The object of all of this is to get the machine to produce surfaces within the tolerances you need for the work you want to do. That is the answer to the question of how precise these adjustments need to be. Practical woodworking, not perfection, is the goal.

• Monday, December 29th, 2014

Bad Axe Toolworks

I recently had the wonderful experience of attending the two day seminar on saw sharpening and tune up at Bad Axe Tool Works, along with about a half-dozen other enthusiasts, presented by BATW owner and founder Mark Harrell who was assisted by his impressively skilled crew. I learned a lot, starting with the realization of how much there is to learn.

Several key aspects of making a world-class saw stood out.

First, and I think foremost, is hammer setting the teeth. For a very long time I stayed away from even the best available Western backsaws, instead preferring Japanese saws. The best way I can describe the problem that I felt with the Western saws that I tried was an annoying subtle vibration or tension at the bottom of the kerf.

Bad Axe saws are decidedly different. They transmit a palpable sense of resolute ease and smoothness as the saw cuts, which, frankly, raises my confidence as I track a layout line. The teeth undergo sophisticated hammer setting that relieves them of the stress and saw plate distortion induced by merely bending over the spring steel teeth, problems that ultimately transmit unease to the hand of the sawyer.

Second, I learned how the folded sawback does more than merely add weight and stiffness to the saw plate. It almost magically contributes to making the toothline dead straight. In fact, it can be rather easily adjusted if needed to straighten an errant toothline. This is quite different from the saw plate being fixed in a sawback with a milled slot.

Further, all of us were especially grateful to learn that excellent saw sharpening does not have to be complicated. Mark coached us through real deal sharpening techniques that we could bring home and directly use in our shops. What a relief! In particular, we all saw the value of Mark’s “hybrid” sharpening pattern that uses intermediate rake and bevel (fleam) angles to produce a toothline that is remarkably versatile in the shop.

As I thought more about what I learned that weekend, a couple of rough analogies came to mind. In writing and classes on sawing technique, I emphasize how core stabilization and balance are essential for steady ease and control of the distal motion of the hand and saw, somewhat similar to the how tension of the heavy folded sawback produces precision at the toothline.

Producing these saws involves automated steps early in the process with increasing amounts of hand skills that infuse exquisite quality, culminating in sharpening. This is analogous to how most of us make high quality woodwork. We prepare stock with machines but the special quality comes from skilled handwork.

In summary, the seminar brought me to appreciate the depth of understanding and refinement of craft for each element of making the saw, and I could see how it all comes together to produce the saw performance I have been experiencing. And of course, the customization options available from Bad Axe are irresistibly cool.

Without doing controlled side-by-side tests, I have had the opportunity to try at least one backsaw by almost all of the high quality American and Canadian makers. I generally shy away from superlative statements but here goes: these Bad Axe saws are hands down the best. And they are indeed tools with souls.

Bad Axe Toolworks

Above, Mark Harrell is finishing work on my 14″ sash saw and yea, I’m happy.

Category: Resources  | 4 Comments
• Thursday, December 25th, 2014

diamond nagura

In previous posts, I discussed nagura stones in general and presented a rationale for a diamond nagura. Here is a report on the development of a diamond nagura.

Pictured above on the right is a makeshift first attempt produced by cutting down a DMT 1200 diamond stone. The polka dot surface reduces sticking to the finishing stone but improvement is needed.

The other two naguras were made by routing 5/32″ wide x 1/16″ deep channels in 1″-thick ABS plastic, sawing out 2″ square blocks, and applying PSA diamond sheet to the prominent surfaces. The one on the left is 300 grit and the middle one is 1200 grit.

These channeled diamond naguras work much faster that any other nagura I have used and sticking is completely eliminated. The square pattern of channels allows the user to intuitively retain slurry on the stone or sweep some of it away to produce the desired surface ready for sharpening.

So, returning to the rationale for a nagura, at least two definite nagura functions are expedited: the improvement in “feel and ride” of the blade on the finishing stone with the slurry, and “refreshing” the surface of the stone by removing metal and glazing. Removal of defects on natural stones and perhaps even some localized flattening are also facilitated.

Several questions remain:

1. Does the slurry actually cut steel? I don’t know for sure but the slurry and the action of the nagura are still useful for the other reasons stated.

2. Does the diamond nagura crush the grit particles released from the finishing stone to produce finer particles that cut steel either in the slurry or lodged in the stone surface or both? The lodging effect can be somewhat likened to powdered silicon carbide lodging into a steel flattening plate (kanaban).

3. If that is so, does a 1200 grit nagura crush better and produce finer particles than coarser grits do? As I have mentioned in the past, my sense is that the crushing is real, enhances sharpening, and is indeed better with 1200 than with coarser grits.

In any case, the 1200 diamond nagura test model feels much more friendly on the finishing stone than does the 300 version, which feels too scratchy and harsh.

4. Are diamond particles breaking free from the nagura and thus becoming available to score heavy scratches in the tool? A sharpening stone expert alerted me to this possibility with 1200 grit diamond. So far, I have not noticed this in testing with the 1200 model but I did feel it once using the 300, though the latter diamond film is lower quality.

I wonder if DMT’s “Hardcoat Technology,” which they use on their 95 micron/160 mesh diamond Lapping Plate, could be applied to 1200 grit to safeguard against this potential problem.

In summary, progress has been made but there is more work to do.

Category: Tools and Shop | Tags:  | One Comment
• Monday, December 22nd, 2014

Naniwa Chosera 10,000

I still think the Naniwa Chosera 10,000 is a great finishing stone for all the reasons discussed in an earlier post but unfortunately it developed a large crack across the lower area after drying from a sharpening session. Fortunately, the loose area cleanly separated with a light tap with a chisel. I epoxied it in place with System Three T-88 and flattened both faces. The top face is uninterrupted and the stone works fine.

Naniwa Chosera 10,000

So what happened?

Over months of using the stone, I had gravitated to a soaking time of 15 minutes before use, though never longer. Searching the internet produces different recommendations from knowledgeable dealers and users: 15 minutes, at least 10 minutes, 5-10 minutes, no longer than 5 minutes, and some suggest no soaking at all. Everyone agrees that the magnesia binder, which contributes to the excellent feel of these stones in use, will not withstand prolonged soaking. There is also no doubt that the stone should be allowed to air dry slowly and evenly, which I did consistently. There are reports online of hairline cracks and major splits like the one in my stone.

The stone certainly absorbs water and so does not work as nicely in a splash-and-go mode as does a Shapton. As a practical matter, I found that soaking it for, say, 5 minutes is not much better than not soaking at all – it still pretty quickly drinks in the little puddle of water placed on it. This happens a bit slower after a brief presoak but also slows down during the sharpening session even without a presoak.

So, to play it safe and practical, I no longer presoak the stone. I just puddle some water on the surface and work from there, adjusting as necessary. This works out just fine. It’s still a very cool stone to sharpen on and produces excellent results, but I just wanted to give readers a heads up on the potential for cracking and how I chose to deal with it.

By the way, Naniwa now sells the Chosera line as the “Professional Series.”

• Saturday, December 13th, 2014

Marx Pocket Tools

Many woodworkers, knowing the joy that tools can bring, will give gifts of toy tools to young children, their own or those of relatives and friends. As Christmas approaches, here are some thoughts on the matter.

First, toy tools that actually do something are much more exciting than toys that resemble a tool but are capable of nothing. For example, a thing that looks like a power drill but can make only noise soon becomes boring – and boring is bad for kids and everyone else. A toy handsaw that cannot cut anything is likely to be quickly abandoned, while a toy saw that can cut something, even a potato, is much more fun. Within the range of age-appropriate complexity, even a simple active toy beats an elaborate passive one.

Second, toys that have open-ended tasks are more stimulating than those with narrowly defined tasks. For example, something like the classic wooden peg pounding bench is great fun for very little kids. Soon, however, the developing child will probably have a lot more fun with a tool for which he can decide the use instead of being restricted by the design of the toy. A saw that cuts or a set of little wrenches is limited only by imagination. Of course, you must consider safety and the potential for your home to get destroyed.

After all, that feeling of unboundedness and the swell of imagination are what tools are about at all stages of life. I remember somewhere in the early 1960s the now long-defunct Marx toy company made a line of miniature toy tools called Pocket Tools. Does anyone else remember the TV ads, “Uh-oh, dad ran off with his Pocket Tools again”? I carefully considered the capability of each tool in deciding which ones to ask my parents for. I wanted the tool, albeit a toy tool, to do something. The little Marx pipe wrench in the photo above, dear to me, really, really works.

Finally, what about a first real woodworking tool when your little boy or girl is old enough? I suggest a coping saw. Attach an inexpensive portable clamp-on vise to a sturdy table or countertop to secure the wood so both hands can stay on the saw handle. Get some pine wood and a bottle of wood glue and you’ve opened up unlimited possibilities. Spend time together; you are the assistant. Ensure safe work habits.

Merry Christmas/happy holidays to you and yours, dear readers.

Category: Ideas  | One Comment
• Sunday, November 30th, 2014

rack for parallel jaw clamps

(Part 4 of Clamps and clamping)

Here is a rack that is easy to build and will efficiently store parallel-jaw clamps.

Almost all of the racks for this type of clamp that I have seen, including commercial versions, store each clamp facing forward in an individual slot, a design that wastes space and is harder to build. This rack, like most shop-made woodworking fixtures, is likely the progeny of multiple sources but credit should at least be given to Andy Rae, who described such a rack in his book The Complete Illustrated Guide to Furniture and Cabinet Construction (The Taunton Press, 2001). The version that I built adds modifications, particularly some safety features.

As seen in the photos of the rack in my shop, the clamps are stored sideways. Two of the bins have been emptied to show the construction. All of the main components are good quality 3/4″ plywood. The back panel is 8 1/2″ high.

Each bin is made with two support pieces 8 1/2″ in height – same as the panel height. These are glued and screwed to the panel from the back with three or four #10 x 2 1/2″ deep-thread, square-drive, flat-head wood screws. An 8 1/2″ horizontal dimension for these pieces will accommodate five Jet clamps. The jaw of the clamp furthest to the back will actually overlap the back piece. You can work out the horizontal dimension for your brand of clamps and how many you want to store in each bin. The front of each support piece is cut at a 45° angle, 2″ from the corners, as you can see in the photos.

rack for parallel jaw clamps

The distance between the two support pieces should be 1 1/4″ for Jet clamps, which have 1 1/8″ wide bars. The Jet jaws are 1 7/16″ wide. Thus, this spacing is wide enough for easily placing clamps in the bin but narrow enough to prevent clamps from sliding about or falling through.

For added safety, I attached with two screws a 1/2″ thick x 2 1/2″ long hardwood stop on each support piece to extend 3/4″ above the support surface.

rack for parallel jaw clamps

4″ between bins allows plenty of room for the jaws of the Jets. Based on this, adapted for your brand of clamps and the desired number of bins, you can work out a width for the back panel, keeping in mind the extra width at the ends.

Attach the rack to studs with appropriately sized screws or with fasteners suited for the wall in your shop. Use your judgment, keeping in mind that it will bear a lot of weight.

rack for parallel jaw clamps

The rack works best when the clamps are hung by the upper jaw only. The moveable jaw of the Jets has a clutch so it will not move inadvertently. Bessey and others do not use a clutch but instead use a tilt-grab system, which perhaps can slip if you happen to bump the handle, causing the lower jaw to suddenly slide down. It is probably better to store those with the lower jaw all the way down.

After the posts so far on clamping, there have been more inquires regarding clamp racks than clamps. Emails are always welcome but keep in mind that I will respond to inquiries made in comments on the blog and that way more people will share and may contribute to the response. As always, thanks for reading.

• Sunday, November 23rd, 2014

step ladder

More quick tips to bring the total to 65 in eight posts.

Placing and removing heavy boards while reaching overhead to high lumber racks is a danger we do not need. I feel a lot safer on the large platform of this very lightweight stepladder. With a platform height of 21″, it folds flat for storage, securely locks into its open position, and has a top crossbar that you can hold on to. It now comes with a tool tray at the top and taller models are also available.

step ladder

Tongue depressors can be handy glue applicators but only if the rounded ends are sawn flat. It is easy to clamp a bunch together and saw the ends square or, if you like, at an angle. When I need a narrower applicator, it is easy to split one lengthwise with my fingers. For smaller work, the craft picks are good. For small, multiple joints like dovetails, glue up goes faster by filling up one of these little cups with glue and withdrawing blobs rather than repeatedly fussing with the glue bottle.

glue sticks

For vacuuming furniture parts between grits while hand sanding, as well as for certain other intermittent vacuuming tasks, I got tired of over and over reaching for the switch on the shop vac. Now I love this rig made by FastCap. The receiver plugs into the outlet and receives the shop vac plug. The small remote with an unobtrusive yellow button slips into a hook-and-loop collar that can be secured anywhere you prefer near the vac nozzle. The shop vac main unit stays out of the way and the work goes faster.

FastCap vac remote

Most slick varnished wooden tool handles make no sense and are a pain. The hockey stick handle wrap is an excellent remedy, demonstrated here by a real hockey guy. For tool handles, I found it better to precede the raised helical wrap with a base flat layer. The cloth friction tape that I’ve mentioned in other posts works well for this. He saws, he scores!

When you don’t want friction, this spray beeswax is a pleasant, natural alternative and very handy to apply. Thanks to saw maker extraordinaire Mark Harrell of Bad Axe Toolworks for this idea.

spray Bee's wax

Woodworkers need to cut things besides wood, often fairly heavy things like brass shim stock, cork sheet, plastics, and so on. A tough pair of scissors with one lightly serrated blade manages this work without being overwhelmed and slipping like kitchen scissors with smooth blades, and are still fine for light work. These by Fiskars are old but Wiss model #W912 appears similar.

shop scissors

Remember, 65 quick tips in 8 posts can be found in one place, via the Series Topics link list.

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• Friday, November 21st, 2014

Big Gator drill guide

Again emerging from the sawdust and shavings of my shop, here are eight more quick tips that I hope you will find helpful.

Pictured above, the Big Gator drill guide is great for accurate perpendicular drilling when use of a drill press is impractical, which is surprisingly often. There are cheap tools for the same purpose but this one is nicely machined to tight tolerances and feels solid. This model has holes for 1/8″ – 3/8″ in 1/64″ increments and others are available. Big Gator – they must be in Florida right? Nope, Kansas.

Next to it is a mini ratchet driver that takes 1/4″ hex bits. Whew, this tool has saved the day in tight quarters numerous times. I’ve used it not only with short driver bits but also with short hex shank drill bits. You can probably find one at a local hardware store that’s inexpensive enough to buy before the day you need it.

Below, cork sheet is probably the handiest shop material that comes from trees that isn’t wood or paper. Having just the right balance of firmness and resilience, without a slick surface, it is useful for clamp pads, sanding blocks, pads for metal bench dogs, and so forth. Find it in craft/hobby stores in various thicknesses, with or without PSA backing.

cork sheet

When I bought the transfer punch set four years ago, below left, it vaguely seemed useful but I had nothing specific in mind. Time and again since then, however, I’ve realized, “Oh, I have those, this will be easy.” The set includes 3/32″ – 17/32″ in 1/64″ increments. You could use brad point drill bits for the same purpose but these are more suited to the task and most of us don’t have all those sizes in brad point bits. My set runs about .001″ – .0015″ undersized, which works out fine.

shop helpers

Lee Valley sold me again with the feeler gauge set with unusually long 5 1/2″ fingers. I have a standard length set but this is the one I reach for when tuning machines. The extra length usually proves helpful and, unlike most sets, it goes down to .001″.

Gauge blocks are usually more accurate to use than a rule when making settings at the router table, table saw, and bandsaw. There are more complete and clever sets available but I usually get what I need by combining 1/16″, 1/8″, 3/16″, 1/4″, 3/8″, 1/2″, 1″, and 2″. I suppose I could use a metal 1/32″ instead of the caliper-validated piece of wood I use now.

I’m not sure if I’m on board with all of these silicone gluing accessories but I do like the little textured roller and tray. It is just under 2″ wide but really speeds application on moderate-size open areas. Wait until the glue is dried before cleaning and then it’s amazing how it peels off.

silicon glue trays

Accept no look-alikes; Sharpies are awesome! They write on just about anything – router bits, jig hardware, storage units, and on and on. I write lots of notes on jigs, templates, and tools to save head scratching later on. Oh, and be sure to keep at least one handy in the shop in case anyone stops by with an autograph request.

The Metallic Silver Sharpie is a great all-around lumber marker that shows well on planed and rough wood of any species. It doesn’t tend to bleed in like the regular colors. I wish they also made it in the Super size point.


More tips coming soon.

Category: Tools and Shop | Tags:  | 2 Comments