Archive for the Category ◊ Tools and Shop ◊

Author:
• Sunday, July 15th, 2018

my woodshop

Looking back at photos of my shop as it was 16 years ago (below), I was struck by the differences from now (above). For example, all of the major machines have been upgraded, and I had yet to install most of the shopmade workbench features that now seem essential. Just as interesting, however, is the persistence of effective shop systems. For example, my sharpening bench is essentially unchanged, even in its location alongside the workbench, despite the whole shop being in a different location.

Now to my advice: Let your shop evolve.

By all means, sure, take your best shot at the initial set up, using your resources of space, money, time, and knowledge. But don’t get seized with paralysis by analysis, especially from drooling over dream shops in magazines.

There is no dream shop. There’s your shop, and you need to set it up and start building things in it as soon as possible.

In time, it will become evident what works and what changes are needed, based on what you build, your style of working, and the available resources. At any time, it is impossible to think through every contingency. Better to get going, and let it evolve.

In this way, you will have something better than a dream shop. You will, with persistence and some luck, have a real shop – your shop – and it will be right for you because it will change with you.

My first “shop” after leaving the home of my youth, was a Workmate in a hallway, tools stored in cardboard boxes, and wood stored in a stairwell. Yet I built. Check out Fine Woodworking #237 (Tools and Shops, Winter 2014) for the layout of my humble shop many years later. Of course, however, some features have evolved since then. The photo here at the top is more recent.

We’re all, always, setting up shop – because we woodworkers love to build things.

Category: Tools and Shop  | 4 Comments
Author:
• Sunday, April 22nd, 2018

shop space

I think we would all welcome more shop space but realistically most of us contend with making better use of the space we have. Here’s another tip for that.

For combined machine and hand tool woodworking, shop space is usually governed primarily by the major machines, and then by wood storage, and the workbench. For the table saw, bandsaw, jointer/planer, and router table the required space includes not only the machine itself but, even more, the ranges of the infeed and outfeed. Manipulating these ranges can produce more functional shop space.

Coordinating the different heights of the machine tables is one trick to help. I covered that in a previous post. However, sometimes that can be difficult, so think also of the angle of the tables. Tiny differences there can pay off.

This is what you have to do when your shop is only 200 square feet.

During a recent bandsaw tune-up, I re-shimmed the table on the trunnion assembly. Oops, that made the bandsaw table just at the same height as the nearby table saw top. There was no infeed clearance for using the bandsaw in its usual location.

shop space

No problem. A pair of wooden shims, only about 1mm thick, placed on one side of the bandsaw base, tilted the machine enough (less than 0.2°!) so that the infeeding wood safely clears the table saw, plus some allowance for bowed boards. In the photo at the top, the straightedge is flat on the bandsaw table in the right of the photo, but notice in the left of the photo that it clears the table saw surface.

The only interference that this arrangement causes with table saw work is very wide ripping, on the order of 24″, which I rarely do, but all my machines are on wheel bases, so they can be moved to allow those jobs too.

Category: Tools and Shop  | 8 Comments
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• Friday, February 16th, 2018

3M sandpaper

Sanding doesn’t get a lot of respect in the woodworking world, perhaps because it is a rather boring job, and hand planing seems, by contrast, so refined. Nonetheless, sanding is an important step in building many projects, so it pays to take advantage of technological advancements.

3M’s Pro Grade Precision sanding sheets seem to cut faster than any others that I have tried. I can really sense the sharpness of the “proprietary, precision-shaped ceramic mineral” abrasive biting the wood. Of course, this is not a controlled test, but it is enough to make me reach for these sheets first. 3M’s labeling is a bit confusing – this product is an upgrade from their “Pro Grade” paper, which uses aluminum oxide abrasive.

I had reported earlier that I didn’t find the grippy backing of 3M’s sanding sheets particularly helpful, but my experience since then has shown me different. The “No-Slip Grip” backing does grip rectangular cork blocks better than regular paper backing, and makes sanding easier. Even better, it holds very well in the slots of the shop-made, all-cork curved blocks that have become a staple among my tools for curved work. This backing is also significantly more durable than paper backing.

I continue to find 3M’s remarkable Ultra Flexible Sanding Sheets (on the left in the photo above) to be wonderful for working detailed curves. The durability of the film backing and the grit itself far exceed that of paper-backed sanding sheets for this work. They are available in 100, 150, 220, and 320-grit, and in 4 1/2″-wide, 7″-long sheets and 10 1/2-foot rolls.

3M sanding sponges

I previously reported that I hadn’t found any sanding sponges to be useful. I’m still not a big fan, but 3M’s Pro Grade Precision “ultra flexible, dust channeling” sponges are pretty good for smoothing in some sculptural work. An important distinction, sanding sponges do not afford the tactile control, nor do they have the moxie of rasps for shaping. They also break down too fast for their cost. Their main advantage is they are easy to hold as you smoosh them over irregular shapes. Of the two types shown, the larger diamond pattern has been more durable.

You can find all of these products at home center stores. As usual, I relate only my direct shop experience with tools, unsolicited and uncompensated. I just want to help you make things.

Category: Tools and Shop | Tags:  | One Comment
Author:
• Sunday, February 11th, 2018

brass plane iron adjustment hammer

This modified brass hammer is superb for adjusting plane blades. It shares the functional advantages of a small Japanese octagonal steel hammer, but the brass is kinder to blades.

I created the quasi-octagonal shape from the original cylindrical head of a Grace USA 8-ounce brass hammer using an 80-grit belt on the Ridgid oscillating vertical belt sander. There was no need to remove the head from the handle. I dressed the corners with a mill file, and then finished everywhere with a medium-grit SandFlex block.

I crowned one face (shown) for use on the body of a wooden plane. I left the other face flat. A tiny engraved circle on each side of the hammer indicates the crowned face.

The flat sides allow better access and contact of the hammer face to parts such as wooden wedges, the sides of a plane blade, and the chipbreaker of a Japanese plane. The small diagonally-oriented sides permit access to small blades in tight areas such as in a small shoulder plane.

I like this hammer better than any of the cylindrical or square hammers sold for the same purpose. It also retains its general use when a lightweight, soft-metal hammer is needed. You can find the Grace hammer for less than $20.

The modified brass hammer is shown below, along with a steel Japanese hammer.

plane iron adjustment hammers

Category: Tools and Shop  | 2 Comments
Author:
• Saturday, December 30th, 2017

Kinex squares

Kinex squares are a fantastic value. Not well known to U.S. woodworkers, Kinex’s website states, “Swiss quality made in the Czech Republic.” Their tools are made to German DIN standards for accuracy. That’s the Deutsches Institut für Normung, which just sounds accurate to my ears.

Their all-steel “Precision Universal Squares,” which are designed much like a regular try square, are available in DIN 875/1 or the even stricter DIN 875/0. Each square comes with its own signed inspection certificate.

As examples, a 150mm (6″ blade) square in the DIN 875/1 standard has a deviation-from-right-angle tolerance of .018mm (.0007″) and costs $15.99 on Amazon, sold by Taylor Toolworks. The 150mm DIN 875/0 has a tolerance of .008mm (.0003″ – about a quarter thou!) and costs only $19.99. You can also order Kinex tools directly from Taylor Toolworks.

The handy 100mm x 70mm square (model #4026-02-010, DIN 875/0) that I bought is nicely balanced, and well finished with all edges relieved. There was a tiny nick on the blade and a tiny burr at the end of the blade, both of which I easily removed with a fine diamond touch-up hone. There were also a few insignificant surface scratches.

I cannot truly assess this level of accuracy in my shop but testing against my Starrett showed virtually light-blocking consistency in all parameters. I’m happy because, as someone quipped in an article that I read somewhere, long ago, “I like to be the only one adding inaccuracy to my work.”

Kinex makes other models of squares – flat, stand up, knife-edge, large, and lightweight – and an extensive line of other precision tools. As far as I know, Kinex squares are not sold by any traditional or online woodworking stores in the U.S. except Taylor Toolworks. Kinex has an online store but shipping is from Europe.

As usual, this review is unsolicited and uncompensated. I have no relationship with Kinex or its distributors.

Category: Tools and Shop  | 4 Comments
Author:
• Thursday, November 30th, 2017

Record #146 holdfast

Some readers have asked about the blue ring in the top of my workbench. It is the collar for the Record Bench Holdfast #146 (Marples M146).

The #146 is an excellent tool. It holds more firmly than any other holdfast that I’ve tried, due to the grip of the notched stem in the collar, as well as the heavy threaded clamp screw. The maximum reach at its lowest height is 6 5/8″ to the center of the aggressively textured clamp pad, while the maximum holding height is about 10 1/4″.

The downside of the design is having a metal collar in your benchtop, which could present a hazard to sharp tools, even though it is slightly recessed below the bench surface. Despite this, I cannot recall ever crashing a tool edge into it. Still, you would not want to have many of these collars in your benchtop. The placement of my one collar has served well, particularly for chopping dovetails over the right front leg of the bench.

Record #146 holdfast collar

In the photos, you can see some of the several 3/4″ holes used for shop-made low bench stops, Veritas Bench Pups, Wonder Pups, and Bench Anchors. These holes also accommodate the two excellent Gramercy holdfasts that I also use, which greatly expand the range for holding down workpieces. With all of these options and more, this old Ulmia can hold just about anything I ask of it.

As far as I know, the #146 has long been out of production, as has the slightly smaller version, the #145. Old ones can surely be found from time to time on EBay and vintage tool websites, and they are likely to be in very serviceable condition because it is an almost indestructible tool. I bought mine new about 35 years ago.

Author:
• Tuesday, August 15th, 2017

DW735

Commenting on a recent post, a reader asked:

Do you typically use your DeWalt 735 for planing, and your Hammer A3-31 for jointing? I am starting to look at combo jointer-planer units, and would be interested in knowing if you typically use separate machines for these two functions. You mentioned in a previous article you have a Byrd Shelix cutterhead on the DeWalt and straight knives on the A3-31.

My reply follows-up on, and reinforces the large amount of material on this blog regarding jointer-planer combo machines, the Hammer A3-31 in particular, the Byrd Shelix spiral cutterhead on the DW735, and options for the first machine a woodworker should buy. Thanks for asking!

Hammer A3-31

The big factor is the wood. For easy-going boards – tame species, not rowed, no curl/blister/birds eye, etc. – I will usually go ahead with the thicknessing on the A3-31 because it is already up and running, and I know the results will be good. For figured wood, I will definitely go to the Shelix because it performs magnificently for that. For very hard or abrasive species, even without figure, I prefer the Shelix to save wear on the straight blades in the A3-31.

Byrd Shelix on the DW735

A couple of other factors also come into play. The DW735 has a longer snipe than the A3-31, though the depth of both is very small. Snipe can be avoided altogether with continuous feeding, but that can be awkward in a one-person shop.

Also, a tiny bit of thickness cannot be removed well on the final pass with big planers because the impressions created by the metal pawls will often not be entirely removed by the shallow depth of cut. Sometimes I do want to remove just a very small amount such as for matching another piece that I’ve messed up. I can remove as little as I want on the final pass with the 735 because the rubber rollers do not create impressions (assuming they are reasonably clean).

As for width, the A3-31 cuts 31cm wide (hence its name), about 12.2 inches. I want every bit of that. A wide jointer is a wonderful thing in the shop!

I installed the Shelix in the DW735 about one year before I bought the A3-31. Then I did not want to spend the extra money for a second segmented spiral cutterhead, this time on the A3-31. I expected to use the 735 with the Shelix for almost all of my thicknessing, but in time I have come to use the A3-31 with its straight blades for plenty of my thicknessing too.

I think for most of us, shop equipment evolves with our resources rather than follows a master plan. I am content with my current setup. However, if I were to start fresh and buy one machine, it would be an A3-31 with their “Silent Power” spiral cutterhead.

For an option that is less expensive than a big jointer-planer combination machine, but is still highly versatile, start with a good portable thickness planer as your first machine in the shop. I still recommend the DW735. Then apply the following process:

Jackplane and/or scrub plane a rough surface on one side of a board. It should have no cup, twist, bow, or flex. It will not be pretty, but it only needs to register on the planer bed. Draw pencil lines every few inches across the opposite side of the board, including close to the ends.

Send the board through the planer with the worked side down on the bed. Take the passes necessary to remove the pencil lines, indicating that the blades have touched all of that surface. Then, flip the board and clean up the side that you worked with the hand plane. Then joint an edge by hand, rip to width, and clean up with a hand plane.

I do not recommend a 6-inch jointer as a fundamental tool for a serious furniture maker. It is limiting from the start and will very likely be obsolete later. On the other hand, wouldn’t it be nice to have a 16-inch Felder jointer-planer with a spiral cutterhead? Yes, yes it would.

Category: Tools and Shop  | One Comment
Author:
• Sunday, August 13th, 2017

A2 steel chipping

Before making my point, here is a synopsis of the differences between A2 and O1 blades, as I understand them, and have experienced in using them. Better however, you should also read a much more learned discussion by the Man of Steel himself, Ron Hock.

In general, for comparable quality blades:

  • O1 is finer grain steel and can be brought to a sharper edge than can A2. It is not a big difference but may be important depending on the application. Some dispute this; perhaps O1 only seems to get sharper because it is easier to sharpen, and because of this next point.
  • Due to the difference in grain size, the honing angle for A2 should be a few degrees higher than for O1.
  • A2 is more difficult to sharpen than O1, both in speed and in feel on the stone. However, both are well within the range of a basically skilled sharpener.
  • Owing primarily to its tough chromium carbide particles, an edge in A2 is more durable than in O1. However, that is not the whole story because . . .
  • They may dull differently. The O1 edge is likely to slowly and simply round over, while A2 may chip. Ron explains that chipping occurs when oversized chromium carbide particles in A2 steel pop out of the edge.

This last point is the one I would like to explore, specifically with regard to differences among A2 blades. We would expect some differences among manufacturers because they vary in their formulas and processes. However, I suspect there can also be significant variations in edge behavior – the tendency to chip – among blades of a given brand, and even within a single blade.

I want slow and steady dulling wherein the edge simply rounds over increasingly. I do not want precipitous edge break down – chipping. It is unwelcome, though I suppose tolerable, in a jack plane, but downright infuriating in a smoothing plane. Everything is going fine until, ugh, those little ridges suddenly appear on the wood surface that I am trying to finish plane to otherworldly exquisiteness. And so, a certain Bad A2 Blade (pictured above) has been banished from my shop. It got those hideous chips as I planed not teak, but affable poplar, and only for several minutes.

I have sharpened this blade exactly the same (same stones, 33° secondary bevel) as other A2 blades which hardly ever chip in typical use. Even more annoyingly, the bad blade has behaved worse after some sharpenings than after others. I would think 33° is high enough for the grain structure of A2, and anyway, going a bit higher gave little or no better results.

Perhaps chipping is not a problem with any blades of one or more brands, and thus the problem could be avoided simply by choosing a good brand. Interestingly, I have two other A2 blades of the same brand as the Bad Blade that do not have this tendency to chip. I also have two Hock A2 blades that give me no such problems, and I had another blade of another brand that exhibited a milder but still troublesome tendency to chip.

This is not a tool test, so I cannot fairly generalize from this sample size as to which brand, if any, is best in this respect. I can only relate my experience. There is some test evidence that Hock A2 blades are indeed better in avoiding chipping, but this is based on testing a single blade. I wonder if one of the magazines might explore the issue using adequate sample sizes to account for potential variability within, as well as among, brands.

Which brings me to my main point: There seems to be considerable inconsistency among A2 plane blades – among brands, within at least some brands, and perhaps even within individual blades. To me, this uncertainty is a disadvantage of the A2 genre as a whole. That is not to dismiss A2 altogether, but simply to recognize this among its disadvantages

So, for my bevel-down smoothing plane, it’s O1. A2 is just not worth it in that role; the uncertainty plus its inherent disadvantages outweigh its advantages. By the way, PMV-11 is another matter for another day, but I do currently use it in my bevel-up planes. And the Hock A2 in my good old bevel-down jack is going to stay there because the edge is wonderfully durable and it does not chip.

Category: Tools and Shop  | 8 Comments
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:
• Monday, July 31st, 2017

small woodworking shop

Here’s a question just for fun. In the past 30-40 years, which advance in tooling has made the biggest practical change in small shop furniture making? An individual tool, a type of tool, or a major upgrade in a tool category, hand or power, all qualify.

The answer will depend on the definition of “small shop.” What I have in mind is what I most relate to, which is the one-person shop making high-end furniture and accessories. Such a shop produces one-of-a-kind pieces or very few repeats, and may be an amateur at home, or a professional, whose furniture making is only part of his income.

OK, with that in mind, drum roll . . . my vote is for the Ryobi AP-10 portable thickness planer, which was first made in about 1985 or 1986, as best I recall. This humble machine, which I owned back then, was the first lightweight, portable, low-cost way to easily and quickly thickness large quantities of wood. The Ryobi begot improved competing models, such as the much later DeWalt DW735.

For the small production shop, I am guessing CNC, along with CAD, has made the biggest difference. For shops of any size, the overall improvement and proliferation of carbide-tipped tooling – router and shaper bits, table saw blades, bandsaw blades, jointer/planer cutters, etc. – may be the biggest advance.

To impart the touch of quality that is only possible with hand tools, we must, of course, acknowledge the roles of first, Lie-Nielsen, and then, Lee Valley/Veritas. More than with vintage tools, new Mercedes-quality handplanes became readily available and indeed, the standard, which elevated everyone’s work. As a tool category, this may be the most significant advance. The same evolution occurred in Western hand saws, culminating, in my opinion, in the Bad Axe line.

Other tool categories that came to mind in thinking about this include: greatly improved tool batteries for cordless tools, the wider availability of high quality steel-frame bandsaws sized for the small shop, the wider availability of wide over-under jointer-planers, and the availability of excellent Japanese hand tools. For individual tools, the biscuit joiner, Saw Stop table saws, and Japanese waterstones deserve some notice but I would not consider these pivotal.

Oh, and there is one more “tool” that, come to think of it, probably has made the biggest difference of all: information! Books, magazine, video/Internet, classes, and so forth have tremendously advanced the joy of good woodworking.

It’s all good. We are fortunate.

Category: Tools and Shop  | 8 Comments