Archive for ◊ June, 2017 ◊

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• Friday, June 30th, 2017

sensing wood moisture content

Can you really sense, with any practical utility, the moisture content of wood simply by touching it? Yes. Let’s take a look.

An object feels hot or cool to the touch of your hand because of the flow of heat between your hand and the object. For example, an object feels relatively cool because it is drawing heat from your hand.

Remember how mom or dad could tell if you had even a bit of a fever just by touching your forehead?

Consider wood. The heat flow depends on several factors. The variable that we want to isolate is the moisture content (MC) of the wood. Wetter wood will draw heat from your hand faster and thus feel slightly cooler.

We want to keep these other factors constant:

  • The wood species – density is the key. Denser wood will transfer heat faster.
  • Surface texture. The greater contact of a smooth surface will transfer heat faster than a roughsawn surface. To a lesser extent, a diffuse porous wood such as cherry transfers heat faster than a ring porous wood such as oak.
  • The temperature of the wood, especially relative to your skin temperature, of course, affects heat flow. Heat energy flows from the warmer object, usually your hand, to the cooler object, usually the wood.
  • The surrounding temperature and moisture conditions will likely affect your perception of hot and cool.

Those four other factors are constant in the typical situation of sorting through boards at the lumber dealer – a particular species, roughsawn, at the temperature and surrounding conditions on that day.

So, can you sense differences in MC based on how cool or warm the wood feels to the touch of your hand? I think I can. No, I cannot tell the difference between 8% and 10%, but with the aid of a pinless moisture meter, I have shown myself that I can tell the difference between, say, 8% and 14%, and even closer than that. Every time? No, but reliably enough that I can use my sense of touch to quickly sort through boards of one species at the lumber dealer and help me make choices. Larger differences are more apparent. This also can alert me to certain situations, such as a poorly stored 10/4 board that is much wetter on one side than the other.

The differences I am sensing are relative, not absolute, but that is what I am concerned with as I sort through the piles. It is even possible to “calibrate” my hand for absolute measurements for a particular pile of wood by taking a couple of readings with a pinless moisture meter, and correlating that with what I feel, but I wouldn’t rely on that and it is not what I need.

I am not suggesting you discard your moisture meter. I also understand that the “measurement” is shallow. And I’m not going to put my lips on the wood; that’s weird. Yet, with some awareness and very little practice, you can get a pretty good sense of the relative moisture content of boards just with your hands.

What’s your sense of this?

Category: Wood  | 4 Comments
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• Thursday, June 29th, 2017

router mortise jig

Now let’s work through the elements of the jig. The top photo again shows an overall view with a leg blank in place.

Basic construction:

The jig is built on a piece of plywood about 5″ wide and 39″ long. Screwed down along one edge is a double-width T track with the groove placed up at the outer edge. The wide T-track allows the sliding stops to be far enough away from the leg blank to make room for the router fence. (See previous post.)

Workpiece registration:

The side of the leg blank registers against the track, and the end registers against the moveable tab stop that you can see sticking out sideways from the track in the photo below. (It is dark wood – wenge – with a brass knob.)

router mortise jig

Clamping the workpiece:

Two toggle clamps are mounted on 1 7/8″ square x 5″ moveable blocks, which are secured in the track with T bolts. These clamps provide lots of holding power and can be positioned away from the routing action.

For use in addition to, or instead of, the toggle clamps, there is a wedge system, seen in the photo below. This consists of three 5/8″ square x 1″ blocks, distributed along the length of the plywood, that are bolted to the plywood but free to rotate. Wedges, 5/8″-thick x 8″-long with a 1:7 slope, secure the workpiece.

router mortise jig

Stops for limiting the length of the mortise/haunch:

These are 3/4″ x 2 1/2″ x 2 1/2″ blocks that position in the T track and lock down with T bolts and star knobs. You can see them at the sides of the photo below.

router mortise jig

At the right of the photo below, the router fence jig meets the stop to define the bottom of the mortise.

router mortise jig

At the left of the photo below, the router plate jig meets the stop to define the bottom of the haunch (the limit of the full-depth mortise).

router mortise jig

In the photo below, the left-side stop has been moved out of the way create the haunch all the way to the end of the leg. In practice, you would rout this first. Then you would move the left-side stop into place to define the top of the full-depth mortise, as seen just above. That location is “remembered” by the little maple stop with the brass knob.

router mortise jig

In summary:

  • Understood in its separate elements, the jig is not difficult to make.
  • In practice, the whole thing is very intuitive to set up from mortises marked out in the traditional manner on one leg only.
  • The mortising work moves along quickly.
  • The jig can handle most common leg blank sizes that you will use to prepare the joinery before cutting the shape of the leg.
  • It can also be used with rail and stile work but workpieces thinner than about 1 1/4″ will need to be paired with thicker wood to better support the router. The jig was designed mainly for mortising table legs.

[Skip this paragraph if you want; it will be apparent when you work with the jig. Depending on the circumstances and personal preferences, you can rout four corresponding mortises with the leg registered at one end of the jig, retain the router fence setting, and then reset the mortise jig to register the legs at the opposite end of the jig to make the other four mortises. Alternatively, you can retain the mortise jig settings and reset the router fence.]

Author:
• Thursday, June 29th, 2017

router mortise jig

Here is a very direct approach to mortising with a router that works especially well for mortising legs.

The system starts with an auxiliary router base plate that rests on top of the squared leg blank and has two adjustable fences that hug the sides of the blank to eliminate side play. I have been using the one shown here, made from acrylic, since I bought it from Woodhaven more than 25 years ago.

router mortise jig

Though it is no longer available from Woodhaven, it does not seem difficult to make a similar version from plywood, perhaps lining the fences with adhesive UHMW plastic. The base is about 10″ wide and 8″ deep. Each fence is an L-shaped construction. The long arm of the L has two slots, in which slide bolts that pierce the base and are tightened to fix the fence position. The short (1″) arm of the L rides along the side of the leg blank.

It probably would be good enough to substitute the L fence with just a flat piece of plywood, though the height of the fence is added insurance against tipping. Alternatively, you could slot the base and use simple hardwood strips for the fences. I trimmed the fences to ensure that no part of them extends beyond the base plate, so it is only the base plate that will meet the stops that define the mortise length, as you will see later.

The idea is nothing more than a double-sided router fence.

router mortise jig

So, that’s simple enough. Now we need two more elements. First, is a way to reliably register the workpiece in place, and then clamp it there. Second, we need stops to define the ends of the mortise (and a haunch, if required). To make the jig adjustable for different layouts, these stops must adjust independently from the workpiece-registration element and clamps.

Below is an overall view. It is really simpler than it might look at first. Trust me, I hate complicated jigs – I’ll break down this one for you in upcoming posts.

router mortise jig

By the way, the plunge router is an Elu 3338, vintage about 1990 and still mortising strong. It is very similar to the current DeWalt DW625, though the Elu was made in Switzerland.

Category: Jigs and Fixtures | Tags:  | Comments off
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• Saturday, June 24th, 2017

edge joint failure

Many of us woodworkers have a habit of casting our judgmental eyes on woodwork we encounter anywhere, at anytime. Imagine if we were hair stylists. Recently, I noticed the condition of the tables in a certain non-chain pizza shop, which happens to serve the best pizza I have ever tasted. Great pizza joint, bad edge joints.

Only a year old, the joint in the tables are failing. Because we do not want this to happen in our work, we ought to ask why. It is not enough to point out that the exposed end grain produces more and faster moisture content cycling at the ends of the tabletop than toward the middle, which produces greater stress at the ends during the dry months.

bad edge joint

The situation requires more explanation. If the joint lines were truly as strong as the wood itself, the failures would not occur almost exclusively at the joint lines. Those joints are, in fact, weak spots – they were not made well. Furthermore, even if they were intact, they do not look good.

There are many reasons to consider. Because I do not want this to happen to your work, or mine, I direct your attention to a series of three full-length articles I have written for Furniture and Cabinetmaking magazine. They really constitute a book chapter on the subject, and I think you will find they cover the topic thoroughly. The first is in the current issue, July 2017 (issue #259). The second and third will be in F&C August (#260), available any day now, and October (#262).

Much of it is from the series on this blog but I have refined everything and added more useful material, along with all new photos. I think you will find the photos supporting the explanation of the all-important matter of wood selection to be particularly useful.

If you are not familiar with Furniture and Cabinetmaking magazine, I suggest give it a look. Produced in the UK, it is full of high quality content, beautifully presented. A single copy off the newsstand here in the US is pricey but the digital version is a good value at $36.99 for one year of 13 issues from PocketMags. You can also get small bundles of any selection of back issues.

And then put aside any fear that anything you make will end up like those tables in the pizza joint.

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