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: 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: 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.

Category: Techniques, Tools and Shop  | Tags:  | 9 Comments
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: Techniques  | Tags:  | 2 Comments
Author:
• Sunday, October 20th, 2019
woodshop shoes

Have you given much consideration to your footwear in the shop?

The power input and the control of your tools originate from your stance. If it’s not well placed and reliable, your performance will suffer. You will also fatigue sooner.

Dependable footing is also essential to safety, especially with machine work. There, you cannot afford to compromise.

Our shop floors are usually littered with sawdust and shavings even with a good dust collection system gathering most of the waste from machine work. No matter what type of floor is in your shop, these make it potentially slippery. 

That said, sure, I’ve been known to get a few things done in my jammies and slippers in my home shop. But for serious work, I like low-cut hikers or at least trail-running shoes. Lately, my favorites are these sturdy Red Head Blue Ridge Low Hiking shoes from Bass Pro Shops. They have good support, wonderful grip, and a beefy toe cover. And the camo accents look kinda cool, don’t ya think?

[I have no affiliation with Bass Pro.]

Category: Tools and Shop  | 7 Comments
Author:
• Saturday, October 19th, 2019
Tormek with felt wheel

For a long time, I have not liked the leather honing wheel on the Tormek. I never used it for general sharpening because I prefer stones, but even for knives, gouges, and an occasional touch up of other edges, I find it fragments easily and does not hold the honing compound as well as I would like.

I finally got around to setting up the wheel with felt. It was easy to remove the leather and scrape clean the plastic base of the wheel. 

I got the felt from McMaster. I first tried PSA-backed felt just for the convenience of applying it to the wheel. The hardest available in this style was “Firm” F1. A 3/16″-thick strip proved to be still too soft.

The harderHard” felt is available only in sheets without the PSA backing. I cut the 1/8″-thick, 12″ x 12″ sheets into strips and applied them with 3M General Purpose 45 spray adhesive using simple butt joints to make a continuous layer around the wheel. The S2-20 (durometer 50A) works best. The S2-32 (durometer 80A) is nominally about half as compressible as the S2-20 but the difference does not seem to matter for this purpose. I prefer the texture of the S2-20 as it seems to grab the honing compound better.

Because I use the wheel for fine finishing, I charged it with 0.5 micron diamond. Mineral oil-based paste and water-based spray will both work but I think the paste is better. They cut fast but can get expensive over time. An economical alternative is a stick of Formax “green micro fine honing compound,” which I surmise is also about 0.5 micron, available from Woodcraft. Of course, it cannot cut as fast as diamond but with patience it can still produce an excellent edge. 

My preference is mineral oil-based synthetic diamond paste from Beta Diamond Products. It cuts fast and consistently, and a little bit goes a long way. I find the jar easier to deal with than the syringe. 

Bottom line: the felt replacement works very nicely; I like it a lot better than the leather wheel. It is especially helpful for knives, gouges, and is even handy for quick touch ups of plane blades and chisels. I keep these touch ups very light because I don’t want to round the edge too much, which would interfere the next time I work the edge on stones.

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  | Leave a Comment
Author:
• Saturday, September 28th, 2019
compression wood

Being a woodworker, and thus appropriately obsessed with wood in all its variety, I could not resist grabbing a sample slice of a mildly leaning hemlock tree that was recently taken down on my property. 

On the left side of the slice, which was the underside of the leaning tree, note the darker, wider latewood in the enlarged growth rings. That is “reaction wood,” specifically called “compression wood” in softwood species. 

compression wood

How does this relate to shopping for wood? A board with end grain as outlined in the photo would show signs of trouble:

  • The deduced location of the pith is off-center even with an equal number of annual rings on each side of it.  
  • The width of the annual rings is asymmetric on opposite sides of the pith.
  • The wide annual rings contain that odd looking latewood. This will probably also be noticeable on the face of the board.

The compression wood is abnormally brittle and weak. It also shrinks a lot along its length, whereas normal wood has essentially no such shrinkage. This can result in splits, crooks, and finishing problems. This is a board that you do not want.

These boards are definitely out there lurking in stacks of softwood lumber (hardwoods have their version of reaction wood known as “tension wood”) and they’re just waiting to give you trouble. Leave them behind.

Category: Wood  | 4 Comments
Author:
• Saturday, September 28th, 2019
tablesaw

Oops, I had a SawStop “event.” But it was not my flesh that met the blade. Rather, I foolishly forgot to reset the miter gauge fence when setting up an angled crosscut, and ran the aluminum fence into the blade, and . . . boomp! So, I had to send out the damaged blade for repair along with my spare blade that was damaged 14 years ago when I was setting up the new saw. This, plus buying a new SawStop brake, made for an expensive goof up. All told I’ve lost use of the tablesaw for four weeks.

But, I’m doing just fine, thank you. In fact, the episode has reinforced my longstanding conviction and advice that the tablesaw is not the key machine in the furniture maker’s shop. In my view, that distinction belongs to the bandsaw, especially when it teams up with a good thickness planer, or better yet, a wide jointer-planer combination machine. 

Far from being a hand tool purist, I was happy ripping on the bandsaw with surprisingly little clean up required with a handplane. I also cleaned up lots of 15/16″-thick, 3″/3 1/2″-wide pieces by standing them on edge going through the DW735 planer with the Shelix cutterhead. I made sure the rollers and bed stayed clean, and it went well.

bandsaw

“What about crosscutting,” you say, “that’s not likely to go well on the bandsaw.” Well, using the little miter gauge that came with my bandsaw, the crosscuts are pretty accurate and not too rough even with my all-purpose 3-tpi blade.

Which brings me to another longstanding conviction and advice. And that is the importance of shooting. It was a pleasure to clean up the bandsawn crosscuts cleaner and more accurately than even the tablesaw could do. Shooting is so critical to accurate furniture making that I suggest sparing no effort and tools to set up good systems for end grain and long grain shooting. (I’ll describe my current long grain setup and have some tips in an upcoming post.)

I won’t be selling my tablesaw – it does a lot of tasks efficiently and well. However, I do want to reinforce this advice regarding machines, especially for woodworkers setting up or upgrading their shops:

  • The first machine to buy is a good portable thickness planer. The DW735 has no peer.
  • As soon as you can, buy the best bandsaw you can. Steel frame style, at least 12″ resaw height, preferably something close to 2.5 HP or more.
  • Get a 12″ jointer if you can.
  • And sometime, yes, you’ll probably want a tablesaw. 

Most important, no matter what tools you have, build things.

Category: Tools and Shop  | 10 Comments
Author:
• Wednesday, August 28th, 2019

There has to be a certain level of energy to carry you through a project. You need a good spark to start things off and enough fire to make it through the inevitable difficulties that come along. 

Where do you get this energy to build? Well, there may be secondary motivators – maybe you need to get it built for the money, to fulfill a promise, or you just need the item for its practical use.

At best however, “love and need are one” and sheer creative joy is driving you to build. Maybe it’s the design, and you feel you’re onto to something powerful. Maybe you’re eager for the challenge of a new or refined technique. Maybe the wood itself is so compelling that you can’t wait to build with it. 

In any case, you have a real problem if the fire is not truly there: if you sense the design is only so-so, or the materials are not compelling, and building will be grunt work that you don’t strongly care about. And you lack even secondary motivators. 

Well, in that case, I think it’s best to do something else! 

Make a decision. There’s no point in kidding yourself by further pursuing a project without The Energy. Try a different project. You’ll think of something. It might be better to just buy that bookcase that you were going to build, and instead build a table that you’re excited about. 

I’ve been down this road more times than I care to admit. I’ve found it best to be honest and tough with myself even if that means junking a project in which I’ve already invested considerable hours. Drawings get torn up and wood gets sacrificed. 

If the energy is not in you, it won’t be there in the final piece, and you’ll know it for always. And those who see and use the piece will know it too.

Category: Ideas  | 8 Comments