Archive for the Category ◊ Jigs and Fixtures ◊

• Sunday, December 18th, 2016

Very Super Cool table saw fence

How cool is this table saw fence? The answer is in its name: Very Super Cool.

The Saw Stop cabinet saw that has been in my shop since 2005 is still a great machine but the Biesemeyer-style fence that came with it has never measured up in quality. The fence’s travel and locking mechanisms are very good but the fence face is simply not straight enough for the precision I demand and which the saw is otherwise fully capable of delivering.

The relatively flexible MDF-plastic laminate fence face is tightened against the painted metal fence body, which is not machined. This has frustrated my many attempts at shimming to create a true, flat fence.

True, the work piece bridges hollows to some extent but there are still inaccuracies and unpredictable effects at the beginning and end of the cut, depending on the length of the board. Bottom line, the results were wanting.

Enter the VerySuperCool fence. Its prime and great virtue is the incredibly flat and true one-piece, machined, aluminum extrusion fence, 40x80mm in section. Testing with my two-foot Starrett straightedge, both faces were flat everywhere within one thou. Amazingly, the faces are also parallel within one thou, which comes in handy for using the fence on either side of the blade, or for a jig that slides over the whole fence.

Very Super Cool aluminum extrusion

Now I can trust that when I ride a work piece with a nice straight edge against the fence, the cut edge will be just as nicely straight. What a relief.

The fence slides wonderfully smoothly and locks without creeping as the handle is tightened. The hairline cursor is easy to read accurately if you want to cut to an absolute dimension or repeat it.

The set up procedure is eminently logical. The maker walks you through the details with very understandable You Tube videos available via his website. The result is a fence parallel to the blade and square to the table that is adjusted to lock solidly.

The slots in the extrusion can be used with a variety of manufactured and shop-made add-ons, limited only by your ingenuity. Below is shown a simple end stop for cutoffs attached with bolts and T-nuts, using no clamps.

Very Super Cool T-nuts

The VerySuperCools Tools fence was developed and is made in the USA by Allan Little. The personal attention and service I experienced were just what one would expect from a small independent company like this one.

This review is unsolicited and uncompensated. I write this sort of review for two reasons. First, I want to present my experience with beneficial excellent products that may be unfamiliar to my fellow woodworkers. Second, I am in awe of the work of inventive entrepreneurs like Allan Little, Mark Harrell, Ken Rizza, Tico Vogt, Kevin Glen-Drake, and Bob Zajicek, all of whom make products I have reviewed on this blog. I want to support them and urge you also do so. They help make the world go around and America great.

• Tuesday, November 29th, 2016

woodworking jigs

The previous post reminds me to catalog the Wall of Boards in my shop, as this may be a helpful reference for readers.

The most essential is the shooting board on the lower right. I cannot imagine working without at least a basic shooting board. Of course, it is used for long grain as well as end grain shooting. Go to this post for a few tips on shooting.

shooting board

On the upper left is the least essential of the boards, but still quiet handy, the sanding shooting board, used with the Veritas Shooting Sander. It can save the day for small parts, thin pieces, and cantankerous wood.

shooting sander

Speaking of shooting boards, Tico Vogt’s Super Chute remains a staple in my shop. (It is stored on another wall.) I attached two cleats, shown in the second photo below, that allow it to be clamped in the tail vise of my workbench. This keeps the Super Chute super steady and allows me to put my weight behind the plane when needed.

Super Chute

Super Chute attachment

By the way, the incline does matter. The skew reduces resistance in the cut, despite the assertions of some, and this is especially helpful when working endgrain. The ramp also results in wider distribution of wear on the blade edge, saving some trips to the sharpening bench.

The jig for trimming tenon shoulders is on the upper right, and the planing stop board is on the lower left.

For those in the early stages of learning woodworking (and we’re all in some stage of learning), using jigs such as these will be an empowering step up in your work.

• Monday, November 14th, 2016

lumber rack

This upgrade of the main lumber storage rack in my shop has worked out well. Manufactured by Slacan Industries, based in Canada, it is designed to hold underground cable but is sold to woodworkers by Woodcraft and Lee Valley as a lumber rack.

The formed-steel brackets, U-shaped in cross section, are available in 10″, 14″, and 18″ lengths. They freely insert at 1 1/2″ intervals into the rolled-steel channel wall straps, which come in 55″ and 24″ lengths.

The versatility of this rack is the main reason I chose it. The movable brackets of different lengths make it easy to adjust the rack as storage needs change. It is now easy to create room to store wood by category or to make a pile with spacers between boards.

This thing is mega beefy – all parts are made from 3/16″-thick steel. Fuhgeddaboudit: a single 18″ bracket is rated by Slacan to support a 300-pound load applied one inch from the outer end!

What you cannot forget about is properly installing the rack. I consulted a structural engineer to make sure the wall studs could safely hold the anticipated load of lumber in the way I would set up the rack.

lumber rack

I have limited room in my small shop so there are two 55″ straps spaced 16″ apart on studs, plus a 24″ strap for the upper two or three levels that are more heavily loaded. I attached the straps to the studs with Simpson StrongTie 1/2″ x 3 1/2″ structural screws (#SDS25312), using 1/8″-thick x 1 1/2″-diameter washers to bridge the large bracket-insertion cutouts; there are no dedicated mounting holes in the 55″ straps (and those on the 24″ straps are large).

lumber rack parts

The galvanized finish on the straps and brackets is rough. I used a bastard-cut mill file to quickly ease the top surfaces of the brackets and their connection tabs.

I bought the rack from Woodcraft on sale as a set, which had a few more parts than I needed but was still cheaper than buying individual parts. With more storage capacity, I now have to resist buying beautiful wood that I don’t need (yet).

• Sunday, September 18th, 2016

jig for trimming tenon shoulders

This simple jig gives greater control for trimming tenon shoulders and eliminates breakout of end grain at the back edge of the rail as the plane exits. I have been using it in my shop for many years.

A tenon shoulder is correctively trimmed with a shoulder plane used on its side and registered against the cheek and the shoulder of the tenon itself. The correction usually involves just a few critical strokes of the plane.

trimming tenon shoulders

The jig easily installs in the tail vise, clamps the rail quickly and firmly, provides the essential support at the back edge to eliminate spelching, and allows planing without obstruction. Two earlier steps in forming the tenon, sawing the shoulder and trimming the tenon cheek, can also be done on this jig by simply clamping the rail so the shoulder line is positioned a bit beyond the backstop.

The jig is easily made from 3/4″ MDF. The base is 15″ wide x 9″ deep. The main portion of the backstop is 13″ x 2 1/2″, laterally centered on the base and attached with glue and screws.

A 500-pound capacity, 6 1/2″-long toggle clamp with a large retrofit foot pad is screwed to the midpoint of the backstop. The depth and outward projection of the pad are adjusted according to the thickness and width, respectively, of the work piece rail. Other types of quick-set clamps could also be used.

tenon jig

Key features are the hardwood caps on the backstop. These are 2 1/2″ in the long grain direction and 1/2″ wide, and simply screwed to the ends of the MDF. Countersink, or better, counterbore, the screws deeply enough to keep them out of the path of the plane blade. Note that I have marked a line at the depth of the screw heads and drawn pictures of the screws in red as reminders of their presence. I would hate to run a plane blade into them.

By the way, I am right-handed and never use the left side of the jig but it is useful for lefthanders at classes and demonstrations.

tenon shoulder

For securing the jig in the workbench, a 1 1/2″-wide strip of MDF is glued and screwed to the front of the base where it will butt against the front of the bench. Further, a 4 1/4″ x 1 3/8″ x 3/4″ plywood cleat is glued and screwed to the base and front stop. The cleat fits into the tail vise, which is then tightened to secure the jig.

tenon jig cleat

To trim a tenon shoulder, align it with, or very near, the edge of the hardwood backstop cap. Plane the shoulder and continue the stroke through the cap as needed. Of course, the cap gets slowly depleted over time, as shown here, but it is easily replaced.

jig detail

I think you will find this jig increases your comfort and control in the precision job of trimming tenon shoulders.

• Monday, January 25th, 2016

reference constructions

When designing and making a particular joint or subassembly, an actual sample of it is a great aid to spatial thinking. I keep a bunch of these brain helpers in the shop, including various mortise and tenon configurations, sliding dovetails, a section of a web frame, some curved legs, and, of course, a drawer or two. Most are unglued to permit study.

In the design phase of a project, when considering proportions, thicknesses, and surface relationships, the models help in a way that drawings cannot. Later, they are useful when strategizing construction methods. They are particularly helpful if it’s been a while since I last incorporated such an assembly into a piece.

A reference model does not have to be very neat or even complete. Most likely it will be one section of an assembly or the critical parts that are just enough to direct your thinking. I often write notes and dimensions on the reference models, especially if there’s something that I’m not likely to notice later. Basically, give yourself all the help you can; woodworking is hard enough already.

Accumulate the models from practice joints, experiments, or extras from a past project. It’s amazing how some in my shop of have aged and then jog my memory when needed. “Oh, that’s how that frame went together,” or whatever, in some project from the past. A piece that you completed long ago may be unavailable to you now but even if it is, you can’t disassemble it.

Since virtually all of my woodwork is one-of-a-kind, the reference models serve as brain assistants, not formulas. I benefit from my former efforts but I’m still thinking things through as they pertain to the project at hand. I really enjoy that combination!

If accumulating reference constructions is not a woodworking habit of yours, consider giving it a try. I think you’ll find it pays off.

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• Friday, July 31st, 2015

dowel former

The otherwise excellent square hole punches from Lee Valley have a practical problem that I detailed on this blog more than two years ago, along with a suggested solution.

In brief, the punches work beautifully to square the upper section of a round hole in applications such as a pegged mortise and tenon joint. The punches are sized from 3/16″ to 1/2″ in 1/16″ increments. Each requires boring a round hole 3/64″ less than the width of the punch and thus the use of unusually sized dowel pegs.

Lee Valley square hole punches

For example, a 13/64″ hole is used with the 1/4″ punch. After forming the square portion, the round hole could reasonably be enlarged to 7/32″ but anything further would risk damaging the edges of the square. So, here’s the problem: how to obtain round pegs in diameters such as 13/64″, 7/32″, and so forth. Even Lee Valley, despite my suggestion, does not supply the equipment to make such dowels.

There are methods demonstrated on the internet for making dowels using a portable power drill and clever shop-made cutters, but I prefer a simple dowel-former plate to make these short pegs. This is easily made from a piece of unhardened weldable steel, 1/4″ x 1 1/2″ x 5″, from the local hardware store. Rough-shaped stock is pounded through the holes to form the dowels.


Use a drill press to bore two holes for each diameter, one for rough cutting and the other for finish cutting. The roughing holes are on the right side of the plate in the photo at top. Relieve the diameter of all holes by reaming from the exit end using a General #130 6° tapered reamer, going to full depth for the roughing holes and about 1/2 depth for the finishing holes.

Deeply score the sidewalls of the roughing holes with a 2/0 blade in a fret saw and a 4″ double extra slim saw file. Use a small sharpening stone to cleanly remove the burr and create a sharp edge on the entry side of the holes. Use a countersink bit to lightly chamfer only the exit side of all holes.


Start by making stock from straight-grained wood, ideally riven, to a width slightly more than 1/64″ larger than the hole diameter. Trim the corners to make an approximately octagonal cross section. I prefer to use a small handplane for this step.

Directions for using this type of plate usually recommend whittling an approximate taper on the blank to ease its entry into the hole. However, I’ve found the forming cutting goes much smoother and more balanced with a nicely centered blunt entry point formed on the blank with a pencil sharpener or dowel pointer.

Place the former hole over a dog hole in the workbench top. Use the roughing hole first, followed by the finishing hole. Pound the wood blank with a mallet, taking care to keep the blank perpendicular. Proceed until the blank is nearly flush with the plate, then use a narrower peg to tap it the rest of the way though. A piece of blue tape under the dog hole will catch the dowel, saving the frustration of looking for it on the floor.

shop-made dowel former

shop-made dowel former

I have found that the two-stage process produces smoother cutting and better dowels. The photo below shows, from left to right, a piece of shaped stock, rough dowels formed by the first step, and straight, smooth finished dowels in cherry, bubinga, and red oak.

shop-made dowel pegs

Ideally, this tool would be made of hardened tool steel like a genuine Veritas or Lie-Nielsen but that is beyond what I can accomplish in my shop. However, the shop-made version is inexpensive, easy to make, has any hole size you want, solves the problem with the square chisels, and works surprisingly well.

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• 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.

• Saturday, February 01st, 2014


These practical Japanese toolboxes with characteristically clean design and clever functioning are based mostly on Toshio Odate’s article in the October 1995 issue of American Woodworker magazine, pages 58-59, available online.

Overall dimensions of my version are 32 1/2″ long, 13 1/2″ wide, and 10 3/8″ high. The primary wood is quartersawn Douglas fir, obtained as dimensional 1-by stock. The tight grain reminds me of the raked sand in a Japanese zen garden.


The sides and ends are assembled much like Odate’s but using deep thread screws instead of nails. The lower edge of the end “handle” is undercut with a 15° bevel to help the four fingers grab it reliably for lifting the box while the thumb comes over the top end piece. I added a like-sized piece below it onto the main end piece for extra rigidity.

The bottom is 3/8 Baltic birch plywood fit into a rabbet, glued, screwed, and nailed. I preferred the plywood to avoid seasonal dimensional conflict posed by a solid wood bottom fixed cross grain to the end pieces. True, nails allow some give but the modern material avoids the risk of splits and is strong. Eight hard plastic feet will minimize abrasion wear on the bottom as the boxes are inevitably slid on hard floors.


For the top, I similarly went modern with cherry veneered 3/4″ plywood. I found it by chance on sale but I like its looks with the Doug fir. The plywood allows a tighter tolerance between the top and the sides than would be possible to maintain with solid wood. The sliding-lock top is based on the traditional version as described by Odate, but with a very clever wedge lock described by George Snyder in an article on the Woodcraft blog. (Thanks to Wilbur Pan for the link.)



I added contoured undercuts on both edges of both top battens to make the top easier to handle for insertion and removal.


I’ve had the Odate article bookmarked on my web browser for years, so I’m glad I finally got around to building these boxes. The decision to use plywood for the top and bottom, and the wedge lock for the top resolved my reservations with the traditional design as presented by Odate. Then, finding the beautiful Doug fir got me building.

These toolboxes will no doubt see plenty of rugged use but with their bombproof construction they should be up to the job. They were fun to build.

• Tuesday, December 10th, 2013


The review of router tables and lifts in the Fine Woodworking Tools and Shops issue (#237, Winter 2014) prompted me to again think about the subject. I have to admit, after reading about all the nifty gadgets, I was tempted to complicate matters and foul up my happily working simple system, which is described here, here, and here.


I recently added a T-track system instead of F-clamps to lock the fence in place, and a while ago upgraded to heavy-duty locking casters, but otherwise the setup is the same. There is no removable plate, no router lift, no above-table height adjuster, no fence microadjuster, no miter gauge track, no above-table bit removal, and no insert rings. No shoes, no shirt, no problems.

So, how does this home grown model “Easy 2” stack up against the models reviewed in FW? Let’s look:

Price: At a total cost of about $180, which includes the extra Bosch base, the Easy 2 is $470 less than the “Best Value” and $920 less than the “Best Overall” system in the review.

Flatness: The E2 has an intended crown of .003″ over the full length of the table, and, owing to the lack of an insert ring, a deviation of less than .001″ in the critical area around the bit opening. This beats all the models tested with the possible exception of the Festool, which has a .002″ dip. I agree with the author that a slight crown is preferable to a dip. I disagree, however, that a dip as high as .030″ is acceptable for quality work.

The Big Easy achieves this fine accuracy by employing the wonderful flatness tolerance of stock MDF plus shims. Here is the undercarriage of the table with supports across the width of the table near the router base, along with blue tape shims, aka “microadjustments.”


Fence: The E2’s continuous fence is flat and square within .001″. A split-fence attachment is easily installed and removed with finger knobs.

Here is a rear view of the fence locking system:


Dust collection: With simple fittings available from Rockler, the E2 is probably as efficient as all of the tested models except the two with enclosures.

Bit height adjustment: The Bosch microadjustment dial easily allows at least .004″ adjustments with no discernible backlash using a dial that can be zeroed out at any time. Each of the easily visible increments on the black dial is equal to the thickness of a typical sheet of paper.


I do not have a device to measure vertical alignment as described in the article, but this is not likely to be a significant issue because the router base, which has been flattened on a granite surface plate using sandpaper, attaches directly to the MDF that is manufactured to excellent tolerances of flatness and thickness.

It is necessary to squat to reach under the table to attach the router motor and to make height adjustments. I do not mind a bit, but for those who prefer to avoid the latter, Bosch makes the router base usable with a simple hex key to allow height adjustments from above.

My intent is not to disparage the fine products reviewed in the article, but rather to demonstrate that there is a different, simpler way for those who might prefer. This router table system works – it allows me to build what I want.


[By the way, I disavow the detail in the plan drawing of the shop on page 58-59 of the same issue, which shows the woodworker’s router table with an insert plate and an insert ring. He also doesn’t own a two-wheel grinder and he wouldn’t lay a plane on its side. Nice shop though.]

• Tuesday, August 13th, 2013


It pays to have a wide repertoire of options to hold wood in place while working on it. Here is a very simple, albeit unoriginal, device that can be used in conjunction with many of the other methods discussed elsewhere on this blog.

The idea for these planing stops came to me from a version made by Veritas. The adjustable feature of the Veritas is nifty, but I have an inhibition about forcefully pushing my planes toward large pieces of metal, even aluminum. The shop-made version is super-simple, super-cheap, and wooden.


These are made from 15″ x 1 3/4″ x 7/32″ poplar with 1 /1/2″-long pieces of 3/4″ dowel attached with brass screws, deeply countersunk. I spaced the dowels to accommodate the holes in my workbench. If I had great forethought several years ago when boring those holes, each pair in both directions would be separated by a constant distance. As it is, I had to make three planing stops, each with a different dowel spacing, to make full use of the hole patterns. This is not a problem because I want to have a few stops in any case.

The low profile of these stops allows their use with thin workpieces but is still sufficient to secure thicker boards.

For planing along the length of a board, two dogs usually suffice to secure the wood. However, vigorous planing with the scrub or jack, working diagonally or directly across the board, tends to dislodge it. A third stop is very helpful in these cases. Similar situations often arise in random orbit sanding, routing, and carving. Workpieces that have curved edges, live-edge boards, finished drawers, and wide panels also can thwart the simple two-dog work holding system.

The photos above are at the right side of the bench with the tail vise and wooden bench dogs. (The blue Record holdfast hole is not involved in this system.)

Below is the hole pattern on the left side of the bench. Following are some of many possible configurations of planing stops, Veritas Bench Pups, and bench end stops.


Here the planing stop is set up as a simple end stop, assisted by a single Pup:


Here, Pups in the front vise and the two stops at the end of the bench work with the planing stop:


Yet another variation, to put work further outward:


With all of this gear, something can probably be worked out to manage just about any work piece on the bench top:



Before settling on this version, I experimented building an adjustable version using different types of screws with the heads projecting from the tops of the dowels. The heads would then run in a T-slot in the stop piece. This would make the dowel positions adjustable like the Veritas version.

It became too finicky for my taste, especially since I wanted to keep the stops less than 1/4″ thick so they could be used for panels and other thin work pieces. The adjustable design can be done using a thicker stop piece. Readers may want to give it a try, but I like the thin and simple version.