Archive for ◊ April, 2015 ◊

• Tuesday, April 21st, 2015


OK, OK, I get it. 150,00 words – about the length of 2 1/2 non-fiction books, along with 800 photos, of woodworking techniques, tools, resources, jigs, and thoughts on the craft over the past 6 1/2 years, and what is by far the most popular post on this blog?

A joke. Yes, the recent April fool’s post featuring the profound research of the nonexistent Dr. Insane(o). OK, so that’s what you want. My webhost actually had to warn me about bandwidth overuse.

Seriously, this doesn’t bother me a bit. On the contrary, I am, as always, very grateful for the large readership of Heartwood. That post points up the value of laughter and the dangers in taking our woodworking and ourselves overly seriously. That some readers swallowed it whole only unmasks the wishful thinking to which all of us woodworkers are subject. It naturally arises from pursuing a craft that is more difficult than we might like to admit.

While I’m on the subject though, hey, a few more comments now and then would be nice. I’m of course interested in your thoughts on the posts but remember so are other readers.

Anyway, thanks again for reading and here’s a true classic to put a smile on your face. Yes, “They’ll be standin’ in lines for those old honky-tonk monkeyshines.”


Category: Ideas  | 4 Comments
• Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

drill stops


Of course, the best drill stop is on a drill press but the topic here is drill stops for hand drilling, which for most of us means with a portable electric drill, corded or cordless. So, let’s look at the candidates.

The most common store bought drill stop is a round metal collar with a single setscrew that tightens against the drill bit. These are cheap and not bad, but I’d stop short of calling them good. Most of them tend to tilt as the screw is tightened and all of them can damage the flutes of the bit. If you jiggle or turn the collar to direct the point of the setscrew toward the bottom of a flute and then tighten the screw carefully and firmly, they can stay put and perform decently. Fuller makes a version of these that is longer than the others.

Another type of stop uses a setscrew to close the metal collar’s diameter to bind it by friction against the drill bit. I’ve found that the metal is too stiff to reliably close down snugly against the bit, or on the other hand, that the inside diameter is too close to that of the drill bit so the collar is too hard to get on or off the bit. They’re borderline acceptable; I wouldn’t call them good.

Some of the stops used in conjunction with a countersink are pretty good and some of the Forstner bit stops seem good but those are other matters.

An utter failure is the red plastic stop that twists on and supposedly tightens against the drill bit. I have found them totally unreliable – they easily slip. Sorry, I wouldn’t use them in a hundred years on any project of importance.

Now let’s look at what I think most of us use: masking tape. Wrap some blue tape tightly around the drill bit and squish it in against the flutes. Then fold over the last bit of length so it forms a little flag that sweeps away the drilling dust on the work piece to signal that you are at full depth, and later to make the tape easier to remove.

In any careful work, I put a mark on the drill bit at the bottom of the tape with a Sharpie. Then, as I’m drilling successive holes, I check repeatedly to see if there is a gap between the mark and the tape, which would indicate that the tape has slipped. Alternatively, I keep checking with a ruler.

What about for very careful work, especially drilling many holes, such as in carcase dowelling? For this, remove all doubt and make a dedicated wooden collar drill stop as James Krenov recommended.

drill stop

Work out the required length according to the desired depth of the hole and the length of the drill bit. Use a drill press to bore into the end grain of an over-wide squared block then saw off the stop itself. Chamfer the long corners for safety so they won’t hack at your fingers. If you cut the cross section of the stop to size before drilling, it will register less accurately against the drill press table and the drilling is likely to be dangerous.

making a drill stop

The cutting depth can be fine tuned by adjusting the amount of the drill shank inside the chuck – assuming it is good chuck. This type of drill stop has never let me down. It’s worth the extra effort. By the way, dentists understand this.

So, yes, there is a good drill stop, but you have to make it.

• Wednesday, April 01st, 2015

A new steel developed at the Japanese Institute of Engineering and Metallurgy holds tremendous practical promise for all who use sharp blades, including busy woodworkers. Though not yet ready as a marketable product, it appears to have the potential to be a complete game changer. Here’s the details.

The key feature of this steel is its ability to, in effect, self sharpen. By combining sophisticated powdered metal technology with several unconventional alloying elements, the researchers have been able to produce a unique grain structure in the steel. Whereas a sharp edge in any conventional steel wears by “dropout” of iron, alloy, and carbide grains, which leaves behind a degraded surface and edge, the newly developed steel product wears in an entirely different manner.

The grain structure in the outer few microns of this steel gets compressed just before it wears. When metal wears away, it does so in minute thin “flakes,” leaving behind a surface – and a cutting edge – that is as polished and keen as it was before the wearing process started.

In fact, once properly sharpened, the edge actually becomes slightly sharper as it wears in this unique manner. It is as if the wood that is being cut by the blade’s edge acts as a very slow sharpening “stone”. There is a limit to how long this process can persist simply because the volume of steel near the edge is gradually depleted.

However, in personal communication with Dr. I. N. Sano, the lead scientist on the project, he predicts the sharpened edge of a smoothing plane would be expected to last through about one year of regular use in a typical hand-tool-based woodshop! Dr. Sano remarks that, “Woodworkers are going to be amazed at not only how long a cutting edge in this steel can last but how it actually improves with use. The traditional routine of continually resharpening plane blades and chisels is going to become a relic of the past.”

The details can be found in the latest issue of the Institute’s bimonthly journal but a full English translation is not available at this time. A brief introduction is reproduced below, with permission.



The development group estimates that the new steel product will be available to tool makers by the end of this year. After a bit more tweaking, it is expected to have very favorable working characteristics for blade formation. I will keep readers posted with new information on this wonderful innovation that really has the potential to change the way we all work in our woodshops.

Sano-san has informed me of a single drawback to the new steel. It will only be produced on a single calendar day each year, namely today, which is named in honor of all those who believe that high quality woodworking is easy, quick, and every step is a sure thing every time.

Category: Resources  | 14 Comments