Archive for the Category ◊ Techniques ◊

Author:
• Sunday, December 01st, 2019
shooting tips

Another question from a reader: “My trouble in shooting is (I guess) in advancing the wood.  I often find myself in a situation where I’m feel like I’m pushing the wood very firmly against the toe of the plane and still not getting any bite from the blade.  This problem seems to come and go and I have yet to diagnose what I’m doing wrong.”

There are at least two possible reasons for this.

1. The blade may not be sharp enough, causing it to skid on the wood rather than cut it. The whole system (workpiece, plane travel, blade edge) may be deflecting, preventing the blade edge from engaging the wood. 

Of course, end grain is harder to cut than long grain. Paring end grain is how many woodworkers test an edge. However, there is another reason why sharpness is so critical that is peculiar to shooting. 

Planing in the usual manner with a bench plane, we intuitively sense that we can extend the working life of a gradually dulling edge by pressing down harder with the plane. Related to this, we find that it is necessary to advance the blade further (depth of cut adjustment) to get it to take the same shavings as when it was sharper, though with more effort. Eventually, we head back to the sharpening bench.  

Brent Beach offers a technical discussion relevant to this. The basic idea is that the extremely narrow lower wear bevel in a sharp blade has less area against the wood, and so is able to generate more pressure (force per unit area) on the wood than does a dull blade with a wider lower wear bevel. The sharp blade compresses the wood and bites into it.       

In shooting, the plane does not ride on the wood, it rides on the edge of the track, and so you cannot regulate the edge pressure against the wood as you can with ordinary planing. The blade has to be sharp enough to cut without your “help,” so to speak. Actually, I have found myself intuitively trying to shove the workpiece toward the plane as the blade dulls, but that is awkward at best, and tends to produce inaccuracies.  

Furthermore, end grain is less compressible than side grain. 

2. Another possibility is that the fence is set slightly greater than 90°. This will cause the workpiece to register against the sole of the plane near the fence but not reach the sole where the cut begins. It only takes, say, a couple thou of error for this to happen. Furthermore, as an insufficiently sharp blade moves along to eventually meet the workpiece, it might push it away rather than cutting into it. (This is another example of the general principle that a tool, hand or power, given the opportunity, will move the workpiece instead of cutting it, and/or move the tool itself.)

The shooting board fence may start out dead-on at 90°, but if it is not very firmly set, it is easy for it to eventually get pushed to greater than 90° because that is the direction of your force on it in use. 

In summary:

1. Sharp – wicked sharp – is a must for shooting!

2. The shooting setup has to be not only statically accurate, but also dynamically stable in use.

Category: Jigs and Fixtures, Techniques  | Tags:  | 4 Comments
Author:
• Sunday, November 24th, 2019
shooting board

A reader described the following frustration he is experiencing with end grain shooting.

“I have a problem getting perfectly square ends when shooting them on my shooting board.

“I have a homemade plywood shooting board and use a Record 5 1/2 on its side to shoot. I’ve checked everything, and everything is square to each other and the plane is sharp, however when shooting end grain the plane takes more off the near edge (closer to the front) than the back edge. 

“Am I doing something wrong?”

If you are getting this inaccuracy despite having everything set up square and true, the glitch may be in the shooting stroke itself. The blade can grab the workpiece on initial contact and slightly pivot it away from the fence at the opposite end. This can easily happen with wide workpieces. 

But first let’s check a few things with your set up.

The sole of the plane should be flat, at least in the critical areas. Use a very wicked sharp blade with a straight, not cambered, edge, and a fine, even blade projection.

The track edge that the sole of the plane runs against in the shooting board must be straight. Ideally, the shooting board should have a snug channel in which the plane travels to prevent it from deviating during its run. (This will not work with a bench plane with a rounded side hump but not as well as with a dedicated shooter.) Wax the channel and/or use UHMW plastic on the running surface. If your shooting board does not have such a channel, take extra care to hold the plane firmly (without tipping it) against the running edge throughout the shooting stroke. 

The fence must be straight, of course. The best way to square the fence is to place the sole of the plane (with the blade retracted) firmly against the track edge, then place a square against the sole of the plane and the fence. This directly assesses the elements that produce the square edge on the workpiece. The fence has to tolerate considerable pressure in use, so make sure it is fastened securely.

The fence also has to be long enough to register an adequate length of the workpiece so the workpiece does not budge during the planing stroke. I sometimes had problems with my old shooting board that had a fence that was too short. My current shooting board’s fence is 11 1/4″ long. Books often show shooting boards with a fence that is too short for furniture work. 

A grippy glove on the hand holding the wood is a huge help in keeping the workpiece steadily registered and in advancing it after each cut. Otherwise, inaccurate registration can creep in, especially with wide workpieces, and especially as you fatigue. As a diagnostic experiment, try positioning a workpiece just right, then clamping it in place, shoot, and see if you get a square edge. 

In summary, your shooting “machine” must be set up accurately, but also must be dynamically stable in use.

Mystery frustrations like this reader is experiencing afflict all of us woodworkers but are rarely addressed in books and other teaching media where the descriptions are often idealized. Rest assured, however, there are solutions. 

I hope this helps, dear reader, but if you are still stymied, let me know. We’ll get it right.

Category: Jigs and Fixtures, Techniques  | Tags:  | 13 Comments
Author:
• Thursday, November 21st, 2019
Veritas shooting plane

Shooting is a gateway skill to precise hand tool woodworking. So get started by shooting with the planes you have. 

The basic requirements are:

  • Mass. You want substantial momentum to firmly and steadily carry the blade through the cut after you get it started, especially for end grain shooting. 
  • The side of the plane should be square to the sole. If you only have a not-so-great plane, use tape to shim the side. I did this with my old Record jack plane when it was the only one I had. [Please see in the Comments section reader Michael’s germane point and my lengthy reply for more details on the squareness issue.]
  • It helps a lot to have a comfortable, secure grip to consistently apply pressure where it is needed. Dedicated shooting planes have this feature. 
  • The blade must be sharp. Sharp! A dull blade is not only harder to push through the cut, but accuracy will suffer as the plane and the blade itself deviate from a true path. 

For end grain shooting:

Best: a dedicated shooting plane. 

Veritas shooting plane

I use the Veritas shooting plane, and love it. Comfortable and accurate to use, it meets all the requirements above. The adjustable-angle handle properly and comfortably directs pressure, and the 20° skew really eases the blade through the cut. The bevel-up design is easy to set up and adjust, and provides excellent support to the blade close to its edge.

Is it worth spending about $350 dollars on a plane just for shooting? In view of all the other expenses involved in woodworking, yes, it is. (See the first sentence of this post.)

Lie-Nielsen also makes a great shooting plane, which I have had a chance to use briefly. This massive tool uses a bevel-down design and a skewed, Bedrock-style adjustable frog. Personally, I like the Veritas design and features, but both merit consideration. 

I use a straight edge blade for end grain shooting – no camber

Good: a bevel-up bench plane. 

Veritas jack plane

The Veritas BU jack plane is perhaps the most versatile plane of all, and a good shooter. The BU design gives good blade support, and makes it easy to swap dedicated blades for its varied uses. You can get a decent grip on this plane for shooting.

Adequate: a bevel-down bench plane. 

I used a BD jack and jointer for shooting for years. I do not consider these ideal but they can get the job done. Don’t let anyone tell you that you “can’t” cut end grain with a bevel-down plane. Use a sharp blade, and set the chipbreaker close to the edge to reduce deflection.

bevel-down jointer and jack planes

Gripping a bevel-down bench plane for shooting may be a bit awkward for some. With the jack, I squish the base of my thumb behind the side hump and plant four fingers on the lever cap. A grippy glove can help. (So then you’ll have one on both hands.) 

For long grain shooting:

Compared to using a plane with the blade on the bottom (the “regular” way) this is just a matter of different manual mechanics. The plane is not running in a track as in end grain shooting. 

So, a BU or BD bench plane is fine, as long as it has decent mass and stability, the side is square to the sole, and you can get a decent grip. And . . . the blade is sharp.

I like my Lie-Nielsen #9 “iron miter plane,” which I’ve dedicated to long grain shooting, because its beefy, boxy design makes it stable through the stroke, and it handles exceptionally well with the “hot dog” grip. This is a bevel-up design with a 20° bed. (Hmm . . . ) Unfortunately, I don’t see it on their website any more. Veritas sells a somewhat similar plane. 

Lie-Nielsen #9

I keep the #9 set up with a straight edge blade, mostly because it is easier to maintain and works well for the thin stock that I’m usually using when long grain shooting. A mild camber, such as for a jointer plane, is also a good option, especially if you will be long grain shooting thicker stock, or if you are also using the same plane and blade for general tasks.

Author:
• Thursday, October 31st, 2019
long grain shooting

Long grain shooting does not get the attention this valuable technique deserves. A cousin to end grain shooting, it is just as simple in principle but more so in practice. 

We are simply planing straight and square along the long grain edge of a board by laying it flat, elevating it, and using the plane on its side, which must be accurately square to the sole.

In general, this is most useful for workpieces about two feet long or less. This stock is often fairly thin, and may also be narrow. A good example is preparing quartersawn pieces to glue up for small to medium drawer bottoms.

It is difficult to balance a plane on the edge of a workpiece thinner than about 1/2″ held in the front vise. Shooting is a much more stable setup, and still allows a good sense of the nuances along the edge – straight or cambered. (An alternative is to plane two or more boards at once in the front vise.)

All you really have to do is lay the board flat on a support board with the long edge of the workpiece slightly overhanging the edge of the support piece. The sole of the plane is therefore riding only on the work piece, unlike with end grain shooting. In fact, a minimalist setup could be to just place a support board underneath the workpiece, and clamp the pair to the workbench, upon which the side of the plane will ride.

I use a dedicated long grain shooting board (below) that accommodates work up to about 24″ long. (Long time readers may recognize that it has been modified from its former role in end grain shooting.)

shooting board for long grain

This arrangement allows me to reach over the workpiece and plane the edge that is facing away from me, which creates similar body mechanics to the usual way of pushing a plane. The PSA-backed UHMW slick plastic installed on the plane track makes the work easier.

long grain shooting

The workpiece (the curly maple in the above photo) must be controlled in all directions. For lateral control along the length, I use an ad hoc arrangement with a scrap board clamped to the near side of the shooting board. Alternatively, you could make a more elaborate jig with a wider, permanent, adjustable, screw-mounted lateral-control board on the side away from you, and plane the edge facing you. This seems awkward to me.

The end of the workpiece meets the front stop. Ideally, this is a square meeting but that is not essential. Mild downward pressure on the workpiece is supplied by you. You may be able to get away without using the clamp and lateral stop board for small pieces. I find the grippy glove (top photo) makes the work easier for all setups, small or large, clamped or not.

There is no reason to over-complicate this technique. Keep it simple and use it often. 

Next: planes for end grain and long grain shooting.

Category: Jigs and Fixtures, Techniques  | Tags:  | 2 Comments
Author:
• Monday, September 30th, 2019
sharpness tests

Knife Grinders is one very serious bunch of sharpening experts. Located in New South Wales, Down Under, their website is full of interesting information. What particularly caught my interest is their detailed list of sharpening tests that can be done with simple equipment, notably hair. 

I recently posted about the sharpness tests that I use, but these guys have refined things to an ethereal level. Caution here, it bears repeating: the only fully meaningful tests of a sharpened edge are its performance and endurance in its assigned task. We also must consider appropriate edge geometry and endurance.

But check out the Knife Grinder’s list. I like the arm hair shaving gradations on page 1. The hanging hair tests (pages 4-5) are intense. 

Maybe you think this is fetishizing sharpening beyond practical woodworking. OK, maybe it is, but it is nice to know that there are convenient, fairly standardized ways to test how your sharpening procedures are performing. To get scientific, one could get a BESS tester from Edge On Up

You probably have your own sharpness tests but I suggest taking a look at that list. It’s pretty cool. 

Category: Techniques  | Comments off
Author:
• Wednesday, March 06th, 2019
sharpening plane blades

Sharpening is so much at the core of hand tool woodworking, and so here are a few thoughts that build on the previous post on sharpening tests.

1. Can we close the loop and say that the proxy tests are actually validated by the tool’s performance? Based on experience, yes, regarding sharpness, edges perform as the tests predict. The tests are worthwhile.

2. Edge endurance, however, is another matter. There you are relying on the “design” of the edge and the reliability of your sharpening process. The only “test” is over time – seeing how long the edge lasts. For good results, you must match the edge geometry to the steel and the task.

For example, A-2 is a good choice of steel for a jack plane blade but if the bevel angle is too narrow, such as would be good for O-1 steel, the edge will be prone to premature chip-out. 

As another example, a plane blade with a wide bevel angle (e.g. 43°), though correctly employed in a bevel-up plane to create a high attack angle to reduce tearout, will necessarily have a shorter useful working life than narrower edges.

3. Squareness or, as appropriate, the correct skew angle, is, of course, easy to test. By the way, I find that a chisel edge that is just a bit out of square is not a big deal, as is sometimes supposed. There’s also a bit of squareness tolerance in most plane blades.

4. For many woodworkers, the most vexing matter of edge geometry is plane blade camber. For choosing, producing, and assessing camber, I invite readers to visit this series of five posts, which is about as in-depth a treatment of the subject as I think you will find anywhere. 

Stay sharp, amigos.

Category: Techniques  | 5 Comments
Author:
• Sunday, February 24th, 2019
sharp edge

The only fully meaningful tests of a sharpened edge are its performance and endurance in its assigned task. Nonetheless, at the sharpening station it is convenient to use surrogate tests to evaluate the fresh edge. Even with high confidence in your sharpening procedure, it is helpful to ensure the edge meets your expectations before you put it to work. This is especially so for plane blades.

I do two evaluations. Most important, I look at the edge. The irony is that being able to see it means it probably is not good enough. 

Look almost straight on at the edge under a bright light, preferably with magnification, and try to catch a reflection off the edge. I use the large, low-power lens in the articulating art lamp at my bench. Play the blade under the light, searching for a reflection. If it is really sharp, there is none to see. This is difficult to photograph, but the O-1 edge shown above is about as pristine as it gets. The narrow secondary bevel and a few dust particles are visible but the edge is clean and invisible.

Examine all along the edge. It may be fine except for a defective blip that reveals itself by reflecting light. That may be acceptable for a mortise chisel but an unwelcome frustration for a smoothing plane blade going to work on pearwood. Below is a used edge with several obvious blips, even though the rest of the edge is pretty sharp.  

A2 steel chipping

Because the endpoint of this evaluation is a negative observation, and there are probably differing levels of sharpness within that, I like to also have some positive demonstration of the edge’s capability. 

My preferred functional test is to shave hair on my arm. I gently bring the edge up to just a few hairs. For a smoothing plane blade, for example, I want to see those hairs well-nigh pop off with minimal pressure. I find the amount of pressure needed to cut hairs is a good indicator of sharpness. Using hairs growing at different angles or of different stiffness can be even further revealing. With just a little experience, it becomes easy to reliably differentiate high levels of sharpness. After all, we intuitively use this sense all the time when shaving with a manual razor.  

If the edge performs well on the hair test and the sight test does not show defects, I’m happy with it. For easy sharpening jobs such as chisels, sure, it’s often adequate to just trust that my usual sharpening sequence produced a good edge. For almost all plane blades, however, I do test the edge visually and functionally before putting it to work. 

All of this assumes, by the way, that geometry of the edge is satisfactory – squareness, camber, and angles, as appropriate.  

Some woodworkers are comfortable with other tests. A good one is to pare the end grain of a soft wood. Little pressure should be needed to make a very thin, clean slice without collapsing the wood’s vessels. Practice will soon reveal how a very sharp edge acts in this test. 

Another method is to see how low an angle you can engage the edge as you slide it along your fingernail. I don’t like aiming a sharp tool toward my cuticle. The barrel of a plastic disposable pen is a better, safer test surface.

One method that I do not think is useful is to feel the edge by brushing your finger across (not along!) it. Yes, you can tell a really dull edge from a decent one but I do not find this is a good way to differentiate high levels of sharpness needed for woodworking.

Category: Techniques  | 3 Comments
Author:
• Friday, January 18th, 2019
RP rasp by Liogier

This rasp is unique: the toothed surface is flat across its width with a convex curve along its length, and handled at both ends. 

Grasp the handles intuitively – from the sides or over the top – and bring teeth near the leading end into contact with the wood (top photo), then ease the trailing part of the rasp onto the wood (photos below), using a pull or push stroke. Let the sharp teeth do the work; don’t force them into the wood. As you move along the desired curve, you’ll subtly feel more resistance over bumps, less over hollows.

curved rasp

This does not work like a compass plane or spokeshave because they have only one contact point that cuts. The rasp cuts all along its length, encouraging a sweeping motion

RP rasp

Curves are generally best worked in the downhill direction so as to work with the grain, but this can vary. I readily switch from a pull stroke to a push stroke as I work, gently tipping the rasp toward or away from me as needed. This tool encourages working instinctively.

The constant radius of curvature of the rasp makes all of this easy and intuitive. You can use any part of the rasp, changing from push to pull, and always know the curve you are presenting to the wood is constant. (Of course, this does not mean the rasp is restricted to working on curves of constant radius.) In my early designs for this tool, I found I could not work as fluidly with a variable radius. 

The stiffness of the rasp, the tang fit of the handles, and the smooth-cutting sharp teeth, magnificently crafted by Noël Liogier and his team, work together to provide excellent feedback to your hands as the curve takes shape under the tool. You can feel the curve becoming true even before you stop to look at it. 

I think you will be delighted with the performance of this rasp. Liogier sells it for €58, about $66, which is a bargain considering its durability, utility, and the incredible workmanship they put into it.

Category: Techniques, Tools and Shop  | Tags:  | 3 Comments
Author:
• Sunday, December 30th, 2018
clamping

You’ve cut your joints, fitted them individually, and happily found them to be tight and true. Now you dry assemble the frame or carcass, which should include applying the clamps to rehearse the conditions under which the glue will dry. 

Unfortunately, you may well find that despite the rightness of the individual pieces and joints, and having applied the clamp forces in true directions, the assembly is out of square, twisted, or harbors some other seemingly unmerited vileness with which you must now contend. 

What’s going on? Well, I suppose tiny tolerances, wood movement, unnoticed error stacking (and probably the alignment of the planets) have somehow militated against the righteousness of your assembly. As careful as I try to be, I find at least a little bit of this is not the exception but the norm. 

So, the next step is to tweak the clamp placements to true the assembly. For example, you can use pinch rods and recall the rule of the long diagonal.

But how much should you force the assembly into true? Consider that you are probably using several clamps, each capable of perhaps a thousand pounds of force, which can easily bend and twist wood. You may be truing one aspect of the assembly while distorting another, making it impossible, for example, to later get a good sliding fit with a drawer. 

Clamp force can also compress wood, especially on side grain where it meets end grain, which is part of most joints. I think a little bit of this nearly always happens in clamped glue ups and acts as an acceptable correction mechanism. Carried too far, however, I suspect it may show up next year as gaps at the joints because the glue line has some elasticity, especially with PVA glue, and the wood compression may not be fully elastic.  

The point is to not add too much stress to the final assembly by using clamp force as a correction mechanism. As much as possible, the components of the assembly should “want” to go together true, flat, and square. Very small corrections by clamp placement to true the assembly during glue up will likely not cause problems, but overwhelming a fundamentally untrue assembly with clamp force is not a good approach. Neither is making joints so loose that they can be easily forced into any configuration. 

If the assembly requires anything more than gentle correction with clamps, go back and tweak the joints and/or components if possible. As examples, judiciously trimming tenon shoulders will solve many frame constructions. Dovetail assemblies can sometimes be tweaked by planing the inside face of the tail board, or easing overly tight spots in the joint itself. 

Finally, keep in mind that you can also compensate for some imperfections in the glued-up assembly. For example, a slightly twisted frame-and-panel for the back of a cabinet can usually be easily held flat by the cabinet itself without significantly stressing the carcass. On the other hand, a slightly twisted cabinet door or box lid is difficult to fully correct directly, so it is usually easier to plane the front edge of the carcass (preferably before glue up!) to accommodate the twist in the door.  

Every situation is different, but the general principle is: don’t force it much! Try to use good stock preparation and joinery, make judicious corrections as needed, and think through how remaining imperfections might be accommodated. And maybe you’ll find the planets to be aligned in your favor after all.

Category: Techniques  | 2 Comments
Author:
• Monday, June 25th, 2018

perfection?

Accuracy of what?

You square the blade to the table saw surface – the setup. Looks perfect; you swear it does. But the workpiece is what matters – the outcome. So you take some test cuts, only to be swearing again, this time in a different way.

What going on? Well, your thinking is right. It is best to work as directly as possible. Assessing the test cuts is closer to the actual goal, which is to make a square edge on a piece of wood so it will fulfill its role in the project. The squareness of the table saw blade is one step removed from that goal.

Another advantage of relying primarily on outcome is that sometimes the error assessment can be magnified. Testing a crosscut for square is an example. The error can be doubled by pairing two cut ends together, or quadrupled by crosscutting around a rectangle.

In theory, a good setup should yield a predictable outcome. As Yogi Berra said, “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.” Gremlins lurk in the table saw example and in nearly all such matters in the shop. Sometimes decent accuracy can seem impossible to achieve.

The problem is simple (kinda): there are other factors that come into play. You’ve made assumptions. Sometimes these are difficult to measure or account for. For major shop machines and most small power tools, the gremlins can usually be traced to these three key factors:

  • Table/surface flatness. There should be no dishing, no bumps, and no twist. Any defects should hopefully be where they do not matter.
  • Fence flatness. Fences need to be straight, but also without twist.
  • Arbor alignment and runout. The rotating part has to run true.

In the simple table saw example discussed above, perhaps you squared the blade from the left side, but rip cuts performed on the right side are a bit out of square. Check if the table is flat. As another example, imagine the error stacking that can result if jointer tables are twisted and/or bowed.

Looking at that list of three key factors, unfortunately, they are things that you cannot correct easily, if at all.  What’s the answer? Buy the best quality tools you can afford, and check them for good bones. That’s where cheap stuff usually falls short. Of course, other factors come into play but without these basics in order, it will be rough going. Do not be distracted by cute features that are added to make tools sell.

There’s one more issue. When trying to produce accuracy based on outcome assessment, it may be difficult to quantify the adjustments needed to alter that outcome. In other words, how much of a change in the setup will result in how much change in outcome? This happens a lot with the bandsaw. Sometimes trial and error is the best you can do. Sometimes it’s best to make the setup as good as you can and just go with that. An example would be making the table saw slot parallel with the blade.

The main points are:

  • Recognize the difference between setup accuracy and outcome accuracy.
  • Be cognizant of the multiple factors that may affect outcome accuracy.
  • Be aware of the common culprits.

Remember too, you’re going for excellence, not perfection.

Category: Techniques  | 3 Comments