Archive for the Category ◊ Product reviews ◊

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 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:
• Tuesday, December 20th, 2016

inlay banding

Here is another product that I think you will appreciate knowing about, which I alluded to in the previous post. It is inlay banding made in North Carolina by Matt Furjanic, sold on his website Inlay Banding.

This is beautiful material made with precision from highly select, solid hardwoods. Only some of the narrow outer stripes are made from veneers. Most of the bandings are about 1 mm (3/64″) thick – enough to work with as real wood instead of as curled up, long potato chips like some other bandings. Lengths are generally 36″.

These bandings consist of all face-grain wood, not end grain, so they look great and finish beautifully and predictably. This also makes them easy to work with. They glue well into the slot and pleasantly scrape flush to the surrounding wood. By the way, scraping works much better than sanding for flushing, especially for banding containing ebony, which tends to muddy the lighter woods if sanded.

They come in a wide selection of patterns, mostly low-key. These will enhance your projects and not be obtrusively glitzy.

I knocked together a long plywood box to safely store the bandings in my shop:

storage box for inlay banding

Matt also sells guitar bandings, stringing and stock for line-and-berry work, federal shaded fans, and very select thin stock for making your own inlay materials. He also does custom work, and sells some great looking boxes, which, of course, feature inlay bandings.

This is the best inlay banding material I have found. This review is unsolicited and uncompensated. The last paragraph of another post explains why I present these reviews.

One more thing. Some woodworkers may balk at including woodwork made by someone else in their pieces. This makes no sense to me. Virtually all of our work contains elements made by someone else, such as hinges, handles, locks, other hardware, and glass. And don’t forget the finishing materials. It is how you use these materials that counts. Even aside from this, we have had lots of help, starting with the guys who cut down the tree, drove the trucks, milled the log, and so forth. I am happy to add expertly-made inlay such as this to my work.

Author:
• 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.

Author:
• 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).

Author:
• Sunday, September 11th, 2016

Veritas slow adjuster

Another thoughtful refinement from Veritas, this adjuster advances the blade in smaller increments than their standard adjusters. It’s a hit.

Veritas bevel-up (BU) planes use a Norris-style adjustment system, which means that one adjuster controls both blade depth and lateral alignment. In a lesser quality tool, this system could be balky but the design and execution by Veritas makes theirs function very smoothly.

Now, just for fun, the lead screw of the slow adjuster has 58 threads per inch by my count, which translates to .0172″ of linear blade advancement per turn of the knob. The increase in depth of cut produced per unit of linear advancement of the blade is represented by the sine of the blade’s bed angle, 12° in this case.

.0172″ x sin12° = .0172″ x .2079 = .0036″ depth of cut increase per one turn of knob

This works out to .0009″ or about 1 thou change in shaving thickness per quarter turn of the knob.

Veritas bevel-up smoother

This may sound like too tentative an approach but in practice this exceptionally smooth mechanism is not only precise but also pleasant to use. I am usually using the BU smoother for difficult wood where small differences in cutting depth really matter. I suggest Lee Valley use the slow adjuster as standard in their BU smoothing planes, or at least offer it as an initial option.

The Veritas bevel-up jack plane, on the other hand, is used for tasks that require less precision in the cutting depth, so there I prefer the original, quicker adjuster.

With the Norris adjuster, side set screws that control the blade registration near the mouth, lack of a chipbreaker, and an easily adjustable mouth opening, you can practically set up a Veritas bevel-up plane with your eyes closed.

Just as a reminder, if the handle and knob on my BU smoother do not look like the Veritas versions, it is because they are not. They are wonderful retrofits made by Bill Rittner of Hardware City Tools.

Author:
• Thursday, September 01st, 2016

drawer lock chisels

Well, I painted myself into a corner and now a half-mortise lock must be installed in an already assembled box in tight quarters and on a schedule.

No problem: just call Lie-Nielsen Toolworks. The nice folks there put a set of their drawer lock chisels on their way to me that same day. Thanks to Chris Becksvoort for his excellent design of these handy tools.

The chisels have square, raised corners (ends, really) so the hammer or mallet makes true, solid contact and the force of the blow is properly directed. My Glen-Drake #4 brass mallet came in very handy for this work, supplying more umph in a small space than the side of a hammer.

drawer lock chisels and Glen-Drake mallet

The chisels in the pair are mirror images of each other. In use, it soon becomes apparent why this is helpful. The larger edge, 1/2″ wide, is parallel to the length of the tool, while the 1/4″ edge at the other end is perpendicular to it. Again, only an experienced, thoughtful woodworker would know to incorporate these design features, which turn out to be so right in the hands of the user.

Yes, they are are fairly tedious to sharpen – the 1/4″ edge is like sharpening a hand router blade – but they do come well ground, which mitigates the task. The steel is A2. O1 would be easier to sharpen but I don’t know how it tolerates being struck and how it responds in the manufacturing process. Lie-Nielsen must have good reasons for their choice.

drawer lock chisels and half-mortise lock

These chisels probably would have come in handy long before my recent purchase but I bet they will soon come in handy again. Woodworkers are fortunate to have wonderful tools like this available to us.

Author:
• Monday, June 13th, 2016

Woodturners Wonders lamp

Good lighting is one of the most under-appreciated assets for fine woodworking, especially handwork at the bench. It is a shame to see an elaborately equipped shop with nothing more than fluorescent ceiling lights illuminating the workbench.

Basically, the properties of lighting are intensity, distance from source to the object, angle of incidence, and quality, which includes the color cast (color temperature). Without delving into technical detail, for detailed tasks such as hand cutting joinery, you want a strong light that is adjustable for distance and angle, and has a pleasing whiteness.

The Super Nova lamp from Woodturners Wonders delivers big time on all counts. It was developed by woodturner and inventive guy Ken Rizza for use with a lathe but is just as useful for general woodworking. The three LEDs in the lamp head together use 9 watts of power to generate 870 lumens.

This is a heavy-duty lamp. The 30″ flexible stainless steel neck, covered with a black flexible, non-reflective shroud, holds its adjustment in any position. This is the key to the effectiveness of a lamp like this – the light can be adjusted to the exact location and direction desired and it stays put. The heavy rectangular base houses a switchable magnet that holds with 286 pounds of force! The base is large enough to easily accommodate a clamp to secure it to a wooden surface.

Below is not trick photography. The base is holding unyieldingly to the even the 2mm sheet steel of the bandsaw cover, while the neck does not sag a bit when fully extended. Wow!

Woodturners Wonders lamp

The LEDs are rated for 50,000 hours life (8 hours/day every day for more than 17 years). The lamp is equipped with a generous 9-foot cord. Unfortunately it ends with the obligatory transformer but at least this one is small and light. A minor complaint is that I wish the switch button was placed on the back of the lamp head instead of on the side of it because I tend to switch the lamp off when grabbing the head to adjust it.

This bad boy lamp is not cheap at a regular price of $159 (look for sales) but a good light is one of the most important tools in the shop. It is by far the best lamp for detailed bench work that I have ever used or seen. Several cheaper “good” task lamps have frustrated me over the years. I cannot at this time attest to its durability but it certainly seems sturdy and does carry a two-year warranty. Smaller models are available.

I suggest trying a top quality task light in your shop. You may be surprised what you have been missing as you experience the improved visual feedback for detailed handwork, and using a raking light for surfacing and finishing.

This review is unsolicited and uncompensated. I have no affiliation with Woodturners Wonders.

Author:
• Sunday, June 12th, 2016

Sensgard Zem hearing protectors

These Sensgard Zem hearing protectors are the best I have ever used. Before elaborating, I will explain the problems I have had with some other protectors.

I do not like stuffing things into my ear canals. This includes foam plugs that are first compressed with the fingers, which are often dirty, then jammed in where they are uncomfortable and then tend to work their way loose. Various silicon, latex, or high tech torpedoes that are also held in the ear canal much as a cork is held in a wine bottle are also unwelcome in my ears.

Bulky, cumbersome earmuffs are at the other end of the range of options. I have top-quality Peltor muffs but even with their soft padding, they squeeze the temples of my eyeglasses uncomfortably against my skull. It isn’t long before I decide the noise is more tolerable than the headache.

Finally, all problems are solved with Zem hearing protectors by Sensgard. The replaceable foam cuffs of these extremely lightweight protectors comfortably skirt the entrance to the ear canal. The acoustic chambers (the arms) vault my eyeglass temples – no more skull aches. They go on and off in a snap, and when not in use, hang around the neck or fold compactly for storage.

Sensgard

Sensgard Zem

All these advantages would be enough but here is the best part: the noise reduction is phenomenal. I powered up my DW735 thickness planer, measured 100 dB(A) at 2 feet under no load, and then put on the Sensgards. I was flabbergasted at the dramatic but even, pleasant noise diminishment. The nominal NRR (Noise Reduction Rating) is 31 but they are far more superior to my Peltor model, listed at 28, than the numbers might suggest.

I actually had to accustom myself to remaining alert to the ferocity of woodshop machinery while enjoying the auditory peace. Yet, I could adequately hear important shop sounds such as speech.

More information about the Zem technology is available on the Sensgard website. I have the NRR31 model in easy-to-find lime green. Put them on according to the simple package instructions; that makes a big difference. I found the lowest price on Amazon. Extra foam cuffs are good to have.

Sensgard extra foam cuffs

[This review is unsolicited and uncompensated. I have no connection with Sensgard.]

Author:
• Saturday, January 30th, 2016

Corradi rasps

These Corradi rasps are the ones I reach for most often. Several years ago, I wrote on choosing and using rasps, highlighting the excellence of hand-cut rasps, specifically the Auriou brand, based on the feel and feedback they provide.

In this regard, for a 10″ cabinet rasp in the finest grain, I still prefer the Auriou #13. However, I’ve come to prefer the Corradi rasps in the coarse and medium ranges. Furthermore, I don’t think there is a big difference between the finest Corradi #10 and its close equivalent, the Auriou #13. Practically, I tend to save the Auriou for the most sensitive work, much like a carefully tuned smoothing plane.

The Corradi rasps have uniform, densely packed, machine-cut teeth with a surface hardness of Rc 65-66, which the manufacturer claims is harder than the best hand-cut rasps at Rc 59-60. In my experience, which is not controlled testing, the Corradi rasps have indeed maintained their sharpness better than the Aurious.

The swirl pattern of the teeth produces a very smooth cutting action, though again, just slightly lacking the superb feedback of the Auriou in the finest grain models. In the medium and coarse grains, I prefer the consistent smoothness of the Corradis. I do, however, wish the Corradi cabinet rasps were shaped to a point like the Aurious.

Heresy, some may say, but I’m only telling you what the wood and my hands have told me. These comments, unsolicited and uncompensated, are only meant to help readers make their own choices.

Corradi 5, 8, 10 grain

My set of Corradi 10″ half-round cabinet rasps consists of the “Gold” #10 and #8, and the Cabinet #5, from right to left in the photo above. This set is an excellent value at a current total price of $134. By comparison, a single 10″ half-round Auriou #9 costs from $110 – $135, and the finer grains cost still more.

For reference, in 10″ rasps, I estimate the Corradi #10 about the equivalent of the Auriou #13, though the latter is probably a trace finer. Either allows a very easy transition to scraping or sanding.

At the coarse end, the Corradi #5 is about equivalent to an old Nicholson #49 (below, at left and right, respectively), but broader and better. (The Auriou #9 approximates a Nicholson #50.) Looking at the photo above, it seems like a fairly large jump from the Corradi #5 to the #8 but in practice the transition works well.

Corradi 5 grain vs Nicholson #49

The three 10″ half-round Corradis – #5, 8, and 10 – plus an inexpensive Shinto double-sided “saw” rasp and a cheap Surform Shaver, with the modification described in an earlier post, form a versatile basic set. I wish Corradi made “ironing” rasps in the form I described in a recent post.

Aside from cabinet rasps, I like the Corradi Gold 6″ #10 flat (“hand”) rasp with one safe edge for smaller scale work such as rounding over tenons. The 4″ Auriou half-round #14 remains the finest rasp in my drawer.

Rasps are often underestimated but high quality versions, skillfully employed, are capable of sensitive, refined work.