Archive for the Category ◊ Techniques ◊

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• Monday, April 30th, 2018

winding sticks

As with any tool, especially a simple one, winding sticks must be used correctly to gain their full value.

The setup

Place the darker stick on the near end of the board or surface in question, and the white stick parallel to it on far end. Shine diffuse light on the far stick to improve the visual contrast between it and the darker near stick.

As much as possible, ensure that the sticks are placed on unambiguous surfaces. The assessment will not be meaningful if, for example, one of the sticks is placed on the convex side of a cupped board, seated on one side of the “hill.”

The vision

Understanding some basic optics can help you use winding sticks with ease and precision that you may not have thought possible. On this, I can speak with special expertise, but here are the basics that matter.

Regardless of the optical status of your eyes, it is impossible to simultaneously maintain a clear focus on the near and far stick, unless they are both within the “depth of field.” Think of depth of field as simply the range – how close to how far – where things are in acceptably clear focus.

You want both sticks in focus (i.e., within the depth of field) so you can compare their top edges. Therefore, you want to make that depth of field large. Just as with a camera, do this by using a small viewing aperture (i.e. the hole you look through), and/or don’t position yourself too close to the nearest object (in this case, the near stick).

Viewing technique #1 – at least do this

Position yourself at least a couple of feet back from the near stick. This will give you a better chance to get both sticks within your eye’s depth of field. (For many reasons, this varies from person to person, and with viewing conditions.) Experiment, but avoid getting right up to the near stick.

Viewing technique #2 – this is the cool one

Artificially make your viewing aperture very small by viewing the sticks through pinholes. This is usually described in other sources as viewing through a single pinhole. This does not work well because your view is not wide enough to see the full width of the sticks, forcing you to move your head side to side to see them. The inevitable inaccuracy in this movement will degrade the assessment of twist.

Instead, use a trick that I have been using for decades, and also published ten years ago in Woodworking magazine (an excellent publication that has long since folded).

Cleanly drill a row of about seven 3/64″ holes, 5/32″ apart on center, in a 3 1/2″ x 2″ rectangle of 1/64″-thick brass, or similar clean-drilling material. Round the corners of the piece for safety. The completed tool looks like this:

pinholes for winding sticks

Get your face to the level of the sticks. Hold the row of holes horizontally up to your eye, and sight the sticks. The rectangular shape of the tool will help you orient the row correctly. Both sticks will be in clear focus, and you can view their full widths. It is quite surprising once you see it.

I simulated the eye’s view with photographic technique in the photo at the top of this post. Note the thin white line of the far stick peeking up just above the black line of the near stick. The sticks are a few feet apart. (The cherry board in the back is there just to block out the visual confusion of the shop background.) The photo below is of just the left side of the sticks in a magnified but not resharpened view:

Accuracy and utility

Using the pinhole technique is easy and quick. It is very helpful for woodworking where accuracy is important, and, I think it is essential for assessing reference surfaces such as jointer tables.

You can test your system for accuracy by placing thin shims under one stick, near its end. Depending on your setup, you’ll probably be able to detect a difference between one side of the sticks and the other side of .006″, maybe better.

The approach to winding sticks that I’ve described in this and the previous post is a good example of using a simple tool well.

Category: Techniques  | 5 Comments
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• Saturday, April 28th, 2018

winding sticks

Twisted boards and twisted work surfaces can thwart accurate woodworking as surely as twisted logic.

You can test small pieces for twist, such as a small door frame, by simply placing it on a verifiably flat surface such as your table saw top, jointer bed, or workbench. Press or tap on diagonally opposite corners, and look and listen for rocking.

Of course, those reference work surfaces must first be vetted. And that method is impractical for larger pieces. You cannot reliably detect twist with only a single straightedge, and so you need winding sticks in the shop. These are simply two sticks, one placed at the near end of a board, the other at the far end. You position yourself back from the near stick and sight along the top edges of the sticks to see whether they are in the same plane, and thus detect any twist in the surface of the board.

Let’s explore this essential tool, starting with building it.

I prefer to keep this tool simple and functional, without adornment. You can find many variations, such as those with elegant inlay or cute little windows. If you want to gussy them up, go for it, but keep the fundamental requirements in mind.

The geometric requirements are simple: two sticks with straight top and bottom edges. With the two bottom edges aligned, the two top edges must be parallel. (Technically, the top and bottom edges of each stick do not have to be parallel to each other, but you probably will make them that way.)

2 – 2 1/2″ is a decent width for the sticks, and they should be thick enough – say 3/4″ – to stand on edge reasonably stably. Chamfer the top edges to about 3/32″-thick for easier sighting. Stable, quartersawn wood is a good material.

For length, 12″ is too short – it won’t adequately magnify the twist error. Much beyond about two feet long and it gets harder to scan your sight side-to-side to the ends. My 21″ winding sticks work well for my mostly small to medium-sized furniture making. They used to be longer. If you work with big slabs, make big winding sticks.

Long ago, I made what I thought would be a quick version, but I have been using them ever since. I simply ripped 3/4″ MDF, and with a little tweaking, brought the edges straight and parallel to less than .002″ tolerance.

This is a visual tool, so it is necessary to create obvious contrast between the two sticks at their top edges. I painted one white to use as the far stick, and used a Sharpie marker to blacken the area around the top edge of the near stick. If you want to use holly and walnut inlay, enjoy.

Some woodworkers prefer to mark incrementally spaced lines, say 1/16″ -1/8″ apart, on each end on the rear stick near its top edge. The idea is to quantify the twist error. I prefer to leave the rear stick unmarked and work more intuitively. I also find that the clean white background avoids the visual confusion of the lines. I suggest experimenting to see what you prefer.

In the next post, I’ll cover methods of use, including a nifty trick, refined in a way that I don’t think you’ll read about from other sources.

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• Saturday, March 31st, 2018

glue up

Gluing up is the culmination of lots of work. It’s also exciting in that the piece is beginning to take shape and look like itself. However, it carries with it a potentially intimidating finality, and the process is strictly time limited.

And so gluing up can generate considerable anxiety. The usual recommendation is to check things with a “dry glue up,” but I suggest to expand upon that and think of a “rehearsal.”

This is the time to leave nothing to chance – summon your inner control freak. I cannot think of everything in advance for a unique project at hand, and I doubt you will be able to either. That’s why a Glue Up Rehearsal is essential to ensure success.

Hide glue aficionados will point out its extended open and closed times, and potential for reversibility, but still, there are limitations.

As you rehearse the process, you will fashion answers to questions and dilemmas such as the following. How exactly will you apply and spread the glue? How will you support the parts for this? Can you finish the glue application before there is any chance of it skinning over before the parts are joined? You dripped a big blob of glue – what, exactly, will you wipe it up with?

A big question: would things go better if the assembly were glued up in stages rather than all at once?

post and rail glue up

What is a convenient opening to preset the clamps? In what order will you apply the clamps? How will you keep the parts aligned? How will you support the pieces in the intermediate stages of the glue up? Will the all of the clamp handles be accessible for tightening? Will you have visual access to see if the joints are closing satisfactorily? Do you need a hand light?

Another big question: how will you assess alignment and squareness, and how will you make corrections as needed?

How will you deal with squeeze out, and when? How and where will you move the assembly after clamping?

It is almost always worth it to build special support structures if they will facilitate the process. The unconventional leg-and-apron assembly in the top photo required a two-stage assembly and special support structures to ensure that all my previous hard work would pay off in a good assembly.

And so forth. The point is that there are surely more questions than one is likely to think of. A rehearsal, albeit a dry rehearsal, along with thought and experience, will cause these issues to become apparent so you can prepare for them.

Glue up is game time, but you want no doubt as to the outcome. Rehearse victory.

Category: Techniques  | 4 Comments
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• Saturday, February 10th, 2018

ruler trick

A strip of 0.020″-thick plastic shim stock, about 1/2″-wide and the full length of the stone, facilitates the Ruler Trick. The plastic is the same thickness and width as the 6″ steel ruler I had been using, but the blade slides on it more smoothly, and it allows use of the full length of the stone.

I lightly and uniformly scuffed the bottom of the plastic with 80-grit sandpaper, stroking perpendicular to the direction of the blade motion used in executing the ruler trick. I used fine sandpaper to soften the corners of the long edges of the plastic where the top meets the sides. This preparation, plus the low friction of steel on plastic, makes this plastic “ruler” surprisingly stable on the stone.

The Ruler Trick, taught by David Charlesworth, removes the “wear bevel” of a plane blade with greater speed and accuracy than by working the back of the blade fully flat against the stone. In other words, it helps in the necessary task of accurately creating two planes of steel that meet at a sharp edge. It is useful for nearly all plane blades but particularly valuable, almost essential, for bevel-up blades.

With the blade elevated on one side of the stone by 0.020″ and the edge reaching 2″ across the stone from the inner edge of the plastic “ruler,” an angle of only about 1/2° is created on the “flat” side of the blade. [tan-1 (0.020/2) = 0.57°] This amount has no significant effect on the bevel angle of the blade, nor on the attack and clearance angles of bevel-up and bevel-down planes. The facet is very narrow, perhaps 1/32″-wide, created with just a few strokes on only the finest stone.

[Addendum, February 14, 2018, updated: I received the April, 2018 (#238) electronic issue of Popular Woodworking magazine today, and note in the “Tricks of the Trade” section on page 12, a reader contributed essentially the same “trick” to the magazine as I have described here on my blog. He used plastic from a milk jug. His trick also appeared in the November 2016 PW.

The PW contributor obviously came up with the idea independently of my writing. I do believe I also came up with the idea independently, but now I think it’s possible that I was influenced by what I probably saw earlier in the November 2016 issue. I really am not sure. Therefore, I credit Jonathan White, the PW contributor, for the idea.]

Category: Techniques  | 8 Comments
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• Tuesday, October 31st, 2017

Domino joints

The Domino sure makes joinery easy: fast layout, cutting parts directly to length, mortises in a flash, no fussy trimming of tenon shoulders, and no trips to the sharpening bench. This may come at a price, however, if you fall into the seductive trap of machine woodworking, which is letting the limitations of the machine govern too much of the aesthetic and structural design.

Let’s look at some possible frame or rail joints made by the Domino DF 500. The photo above shows the “tenon” half of the joint where the long grain of the Domino matches that of the frame member. The two on the left are fine by me. The third from the left is marginally acceptable. The one on the far right is awful.

A little arithmetic backs up what I think most of us would intuitively see as a waste of potential glue area in that last joint. The flat width of the Domino is 13.7mm, or 0.54″, irrespective of its thickness. With a tenon insertion of about 1″ (half the length of the 50mm Domino), we get a total effective glue area of about 1/2 square inch x 2 (for both sides of the tenon) = 1 square inch. I don’t count the rounded areas because they are not good glue surfaces.

At the other extreme, since the rail is 1 ⅞” wide, a slip joint or full tenon would give about 7 square inches of effective glue area! The demands of the design might not need all of that, but giving away 86% of the potential glue area is too much to sacrifice for convenience. I want my work to last.

How can we increase the glue area, at least somewhat, and retain the convenience and speed of the machine? As an example, in the photo below, on the right, the same 1 ⅞”-wide piece has two slightly overlapping Domino mortises. I simply trimmed the Dominos on their inner edges with a block plane to make them fit.

Domino joints

The piece on the left (the marginally acceptable one in the top photo), as another example, has two mortises that overlap a lot to make one wide mortise, wider than widest setting on the machine. It would be easier to make a loose tenon for this than to divide Dominos.

To get the Domino machine to chain together small mortises into a neat, continuous mortise that has no steps in the walls (photo below), the fence must be exactly parallel to the motion of the bit.

Domino joint

My Domino DF 500 – yes my $800 Domino – did not meet this level of accuracy. The machine cannot be adjusted for this, so I carefully shimmed the fence. That was complicated because the shims have to essentially create a new fence surface that is at a very slight angle to the original one.

I had sent sample mortised pieces to Festool but they told me it was within tolerance. Well, it was not within what I tolerate in my work. This is not a tool review, it is simply an account of my experience with the machine I bought.

Domino accuracy

The general point of all of this is to take charge of your woodworking machines, and not let them lull you into woodworking that you know is second-rate.

Category: Techniques  | 7 Comments
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• Saturday, September 30th, 2017

wedged mortise and tenon

The usual directive is to flare the end grain mortise walls and wedge the tenons against those walls, as in the photo above. With the opposite configuration, which has the side grain mortise walls flared, there is reasonable concern that the wedges might exert pressure across the grain of the mortised board sufficient to split it.

However, there is another important way to consider this joint.

In the conventional configuration (photo above) with a well-fit joint, strength is created by the glue bond of the long grain-to-long grain interfaces, which are not wedged. In the long grain-to-end grain interfaces, which are deficient as glue surfaces, strength is created by the mechanical action of the wedges. Thus, all four interfaces contribute to the strength of the joint.

In the opposite configuration (as in the photo below), the wedges apply some “clamping” pressure for the long grain interfaces, but I would contend that is largely superfluous. At the same time, the long grain-to-end grain interfaces are mostly wasted as strength components.

Therefore, to maximize the strength of this type of joint, the conventional wedge configuration is better. In all cases, I think it is best to clamp across the joint and then insert the wedges.

Now, realistically, splitting is not likely in the opposite configuration with judicious wedging, especially if the joint is not too near the edge of the board. And the multiple mortise and tenon joint is probably more than strong enough in either configuration for its typical applications. Still, it is a labor intensive joint and one therefore tends to minimize the number of tenons, so it pays to get the most strength from each one.

The whole point here is to think about what is actually going on in the design of the joint, and make rational choices.

You can find step-by-step instruction on making this joint in my article, Making Multiple Through-Mortise-and-Tenon Joints, in the August 2008 issue (#170) of Popular Woodworking magazine. By the way, an important aspect of my method is to not use a fully housed tenon board as is often advised.

We should not be too definitive about these matters because each piece has different requirements for strength and appearance, and other factors inevitably influence both. Interestingly, in the same issue of PW, Bob Lang uses dual M&Ts to join shelves to the sides of a bookcase, using an approach very different from mine. Yet, I’d bet his bookcase is still going strong.

[Photo of the “opposite” configuration courtesy of Mark Ketelsen.]

Category: Techniques  | 2 Comments
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• Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

woodworking skills

How would you reply if someone asked you, “Are you a good woodworker?” I think most of us seriously involved in the craft eventually ask ourselves this question. So, what might comprise a test of fundamental furniture making skills?

Here is what I suggest as a basic skill set for making furniture and accessories. It obviously does not encompass all of woodworking, nor does it include specialized techniques. As such it does not include skills, some of which you will eventually want to add, such as carving, turning, wood bending techniques, resawing, veneering, and finishing. And, of course, everyone will be able to cite exceptions and omissions.

The “test” recognizes that good work can be accomplished with both hand tools and machines, but also that principles of hand tool woodworking form a solid basis for learning and understanding the craft.

1 Wood:

  • Assess several boards of wood regarding grain orientation, defects, seasoning, and fitness for various uses.
  • Demonstrate an in-depth understanding of a few favorite species.

2 Stock preparation:

  • Using only hand tools, foursquare a rough 4/4 board, say 6-8″ wide by 18-24″ long to 3/4″ thick. The product should be sized to a snug fit between standards in length and width (fit by shooting).
  • Smooth the surface to an excellent appearance without applied finish.
  • Do another board with the aid of machinery.

3 Joinery: Make the following joints, demonstrating knowledge and skill in the critical aspects of joint design, strength, and appearance. You can use hand tools and machines, as long as the method does not reduce the quality of the outcome.

  • Use edge-to-edge joints to make a three-board panel, 12-18″ wide and 24-30″ long.
  • Make a three-shouldered blind mortise-and-tenon post-and-rail joint.
  • Make a through-dovetail joint with at least four tails.
  • Make a frame mortise-and-tenon joint of your choice.

4 Additional skills:

  • The tools for the test will be provided in good working condition but the “instructor” will randomly throw in a tool that will require minor tune up, so you will have to know how to assess all of them.
  • Starting with the factory grind, sharpen a 2″ plane blade according to its application (e.g. in a smoothing plane), a 1/2″ bench chisel, and a card scraper.
  • Layout, cut, fair, and smooth a reversing curve in 8/4 stock, 18-30″ long.

5 Basic constructions: All of the above skills are academic if you cannot integrate them to produce the fundamental constructions of woodworking. Again, you can use hand tools and machines, as long as the method does not reduce the quality of the outcome.

  • Build a dovetailed box/carcase in solid wood ­– just the four sides will do.
  • Build a post and rail frame – a “table” with straight legs and no top will do.
  • Build a frame-and-panel door.

These are just raw basic constructions but the results must be neat, flat, true, and square. You must demonstrate the ability to control tolerances. Within reason, the size of the constructions is up to you but the precision will be scrutinized commensurate with the size. (Hint: smaller is not necessarily easier.)

A few more things:

  • The test is timed only if you make money from woodworking; otherwise, within reason, it’s not.
  • You have to be able to design what you want to build, or at least be able to follow plans.
  • You can do the test in your mind if you want, but don’t cheat!
  • You automatically fail if you don’t enjoy every bit of it.

You’ve arrived.

Category: Techniques  | 3 Comments
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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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• Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

Tormek SE-77

For those not familiar with the Tormek grinder, the SE-77 jig, an upgrade over the older SVH-60, holds the blade and slides onto the guide bar, where it rotates to present the blade edge to the grindstone in a very consistent manner. The niftiest features of the SE-77 are its ability to reliably put a controlled amount of camber on a plane blade, and to microadjust the lateral angle of the blade edge to the stone.

The SE-77 has a sturdy build. The left clamp screw slides to adjust the width between the two clamp screws. This more securely holds a wide range of blade widths. There is an end stop on the right side that squarely registers the right side of the blade into the jig, which is useful for blades with parallel sides.

The pair of small thumbscrews, shown in the foreground of the photo below, controls the two special functions of the jig.

Tormek SE-77

To microadjust the lateral angle of the blade edge against the stone, you back off one of the screws and advance the other the same amount. This is much more reliable than shifting and reclamping the blade in the jig.

To camber the blade edge, you loosen both microadjust screws. This creates a pendulum motion about the small stem. (See the photo: the small stem has a brass washer and external snap ring on its end.) With this pendulum motion, you can guide a controlled amount of camber onto the blade edge. The system works very well, though you do have to blend a gradual arc. A too-heavy touch can create a shallow V-point edge instead of a nice smooth camber.

Another welcome feature of the SE-77 is the design of the lower jaw of the blade clamp, which gives a good grip on Japanese chisels (hallelujah!), even onto the shank.

At $66, the SE-77 is not cheap. Having used the Tormek for a many years for grinding – very little on the leather honing wheel – this new jig has been a worthwhile upgrade.

Dear readers, I hope this series on blade camber has been helpful. As always, what I write is born of “the sawdust and shavings of my shop.” These are the techniques and approaches that work for me as I make things. I welcome your ideas and comments.

Rob

Category: Techniques | Tags:  | 6 Comments
Author:
• Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

skewing effect

Creating the camber

There doesn’t have to be high art in producing the camber. On a coarse diamond stone, I start by leaning the blade to the left and slightly raising the right side. It is important not to overdo this. I then gradually reduce the lean, keeping aware of the approximate number of strokes, and blend the camber through the middle. Then I repeat this on the opposite side.

On the Tormek grinder with the older SVH-60 blade holder, I would lean on the slightly flexible guide bar to create some camber. The newer SE-77, which I will cover in the next post, is more controlled. The camber can be refined on a medium stone. Mild camber, such as in a high-angle, bevel-down smoother, can also be refined when honing the secondary bevel.

It is easy to underestimate the amount of camber by just looking at it without a straightedge reference, so I check the camber by holding a small, wide aluminum square (straightedge) against the edge and observe it against mild backlighting. Eventually, one can reliably relate the appearance to the performance on wood. Again, I do not measure it, nor recommend that as a habit.

cambered plane iron

If you overdo the camber, the nose of the blade will dull first, so when you go back to the stones to clean up the secondary bevel, some of the camber will automatically be reduced.

Skewing the plane

Skewing the plane at a typical angle used routinely has no significant effect on the camber function. However, an extreme skew angle, such as the 45° shown in the top photo, or even 60°, can occasionally be used to advantage to get the plane to pull a shaving from an isolated area, such as to correct a bit of tearout.

This is really just playing with how the plane sole bears on the surface contour of the board. The full camber depth is retained but is effectively spread over a shorter length of blade. (The plane stroke is still about parallel to the length of the board.) With some trial and error, you may be able to get the blade to “reach down” into a localized area.

Camber the chipbreaker too?

Very small differences, on the order of .1mm/.004″, in the setback of the chipbreaker may affect planing performance, at least according to this Japanese experiment. Should the chipbreaker therefore have a camber that matches the blade to create a consistent setback? With a straight-edged chipbreaker on a cambered blade, is there a difference in the shaving characteristic or wood surface across the width of the blade that cannot be explained by the difference in shaving thickness?

In theory, maybe so, but I have only rarely encountered advice to camber the chipbreaker. It also seems like too much trouble, so I don’t do it. Maybe it would help for a highly tuned smoothing plane. Any ideas, readers?

chip breaker setting

Next: the Tormek SE-77 jig

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