Archive for ◊ September, 2012 ◊

• Monday, September 24th, 2012

In casework, doweling can be a good choice to join the end grain of one board to the face grain of another across their widths. This method for making cabinets was described and popularized by the late James Krenov in The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking. While noting that dowel joinery opens up many design options where the sides meet the top and bottom of a cabinet, Krenov warns us to use good judgement in selecting it for a piece; though durable, it is not for heavy-duty work.

The joinery in the pieces I have made with this method has remained tight for many years without a hint of problem. Nevertheless, some doubts have lingered in my mind about a joint that involves relatively little side grain gluing surface compared to the gold standards of mortise-and-tenon and dovetail joints. I wanted to see what was really going on inside dowel joints.

To do that, I had to make ’em and break ’em. My qualitative observations, combined with some intuition and educated guessing, are informative enough for my purposes. This is not a joint strength test, nor is it scientific. The photos show typical results.

First, let’s look at the “end-grain side” of the joint where the long grain of the dowel is parallel to the long grain of the board.

Using a DeWalt Pilot Point bit and a Krenov-style jig, 3/8″ holes were bored in poplar in the long-grain direction, deep enough to allow 3/4 inch of dowel insertion plus room for excess glue. Glue was spread only in the holes. After 24 hours, the wood was sawn through the middle of its thickness. Each half was secured in a vise, and each dowel was then hit with a hammer toward the open face to make the connection fail. The photos show the dowels snapped backwards, exposing the half hole.

From left to right,above:

1. A made-in-China (MiC) dowel glued with Titebond III. Fair adhesion – some wood is torn away.

2. A MiC dowel glued with Titebond No-Run No-Drip glue. The bond largely failed as evidenced by the relatively clean surfaces.

3. A Laurier brand dowel, made in Canada, glued with Titebond III. Plenty of wood failure, indicating a good joint. That’s what I’m looking for.

Update Aug 29, 2017: A reader has informed me, based on information directly from Laurier, that Laurier dowels are no longer being manufactured. The owner has retired, and the machinery that makes the dowels is for sale.  A few sizes remain available at

The TB No-Run No-Drip glue is very viscous, and handy in that it doesn’t run down and collect at the bottom of the hole. However, in other tests I found it did not spread well over the Laurier dowels which have less space for the glue in their spiral flutes. There was too much resistance to inserting the dowels, the glue got pushed down, and too much pressure was created. I thought it might work well with the more deeply fluted Chinese-made dowels, and they did go in easier, but TB III still made a better joint with them.

So, for long grain dowel insertion, I’ll go with Laurier dowels and Titebond III. (In other trials, Lee Valley’s 202GF performed similarly to TB III.)

Lee Valley sells the Laurier dowels. Grizzly sells the Chinese-made dowels. To keep myself out of trouble, I emphasize that these are not scientific tests, and my conclusions that I am sharing with you are for my purposes in my shop. These should be regarded as anecdotal findings. Please refer to the manufacturers’ and vendors’ literature and make your own choices.

Of course, there is the other half of the joint to consider – the face grain board. Obviously, the same dowel must be used but it does not have to be the same glue in each half. So, in the next post, we’ll look at side grain insertion of the dowels with various options. This is the part of the joint that creates more doubt for me since much of the dowel surface is bonded to end grain surfaces inside the hole. The results of my tests surprised me.

• Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

Ulmia used to make a small vise that could, among other uses, be held in the workbench tail vise to hold small or thin work pieces. It is Ulmia model #1812 “Hilfs-Spannstock” (auxiliary vise). [Note: one of the vise jaws is stamped “LSP-2816-4” and the other “LSP-2817-4” but I don’t think those are model numbers.] It can be seen in The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking, section 3, where the author, James Krenov, discusses Japanese saws (page 145 in my copy, the 1977 Van Nostrand Reinhold hardcover edition). I use two alternatives, neither quite as elegant as the Ulmia, but handy nonetheless since they hold small pieces of wood that would otherwise be problematic to work on.

The first option is strorebought, quick, easy, and cheap. (How do like it so far?) Pictured above, it is a drill press vise (MSC #56451263, $21.32), 5″ long, with 1 1/2″ wide jaws. I filed the sides of the moveable jaw so it would move freely when clamped in the tail vise, and replaced the steel jaw faces with very thin corkIt is clamped in the tail vise with the jaws projecting enough above the level of the bench top to securely hold the work piece but below the level of the top surface of the work, so as not to interfere with a plane, chisel, scraper, or other tool.

Unlike the Ulmia, the screw feeds through a threaded portion of the base structure, and thus it projects outward as the vise is opened. This is why I chose the 5″ model over the 7 1/2″ model which, though it has a larger capacity, would tend to get in my way. The Ulmia’s moveable jaw is itself threaded underneath, so the knob remains stationary as the jaw is moved in either direction. There are more expensive precision-made drill press vises available but this one does the job just fine.

Below are some examples of what it can hold. The piece of maple in the second photo is less than 1/8″ thick.


The second option is shop-made, fairly quick and easy, but costs next-to-nothing. (How’s that?) It is simply a 4 1/2″ x 2 1/4″ x 1″ block of hardwood with a 3/8″-deep recess with a 1:7 angled border. It is held in the tail vise with some of the recess projecting above the level of the bench top. A tap on a wedge of the appropriate thickness holds the work piece, tightening further as you push a plane on the work piece. Note the removable spacer, held by a screw, which can expand the width capacity of the vise. [My article in the November 2007 Popular Woodworking shows this and many other shop-made workbench accessories.]

 Here it is, set up:

And, in use:

As always, I hope these tips will help you build things in your shop, and have a great time doing it!

• Saturday, September 15th, 2012

It is tempting to judge this saw on its looks, and there it is certainly a winner. Moreover, the range of choices available in the handle wood, saw nuts, and back allow the customized aesthetics of this tool to be especially pleasing. More substantively, the fit and finish are magnificent; there isn’t a hair out of place. My Bad Axe 10″ dovetail saw has a .018″ plate, 16 tpi rip teeth, set about .002 each side, with a mesquite tote, blued steel back, and brass saw nuts.

However, a tool must be ultimately judged by its performance, which simply means how it can help you make things out of wood. I’ve used this saw for about nine months now, and, despite some excellent Western and Japanese alternatives to which I had become accustomed, the Bad Axe has become my clear favorite.

When I pick up this saw and approach the wood, it feels just right in my hand. Though relatively beefy for a dovetail saw, the handle contour, low hang angle, and especially the balance work together to impart eagerness to go at the layout lines. When the saw does bite into the wood, the truly superlative sharpening completes the functional integration. In many side-by-side tests with my other saws, I  have gotten the most consistent accuracy and feel the most confident with the Bad Axe. It is now the saw I reach for.

A bit of relaxed tooth rake toward the toe of the saw helps start the cut. The tooth line is canted about 1/8 from toe to heel. These are both helpful features, though, to find quibbles with the design, my preference would probably be an increase in both of these.

The Bad Axe Tools Works website gives detailed technical information on the saws, and, ultimately, you will have to get one of these saws in your hand to appreciate how well it works.

There is something more important that I want to tell you about this tool. I think of it similarly as my Japanese Daitei chisels and French Auriou rasps. The Bad Axe saw is a tool with a soul, but in this case it is a characteristically American one. This is born of the personal commitment of its maker, Mark Harrell, a man who has spent much of his life serving America. Mark understands saw making history, listens to the input of many woodworkers (disclosure: including me), and is passionate about innovation, refinement, and excellence in producing a saw that you will not mistake for any other. Further, he allows for a range of your choices in saw plate, filing, handle size, and materials.

Yes, the soul of the tool is meaningful and I sense it when I bring the Bad Axe saw to the wood.

• Saturday, September 08th, 2012

I don’t mean to complain but . . .

1. Ulmia used to make a little vise that I’ve only seen in The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking by James Krenov, and months too late on Ebay. It is an Ulmia “Hilfs-Spannstock” (auxiliary vise) model #1812. [Note: One vise jaw is stamped “LSP-2816-4” and the other “LSP-2817-4” but I don’t think those are model numbers.] It can be clamped to the workbench top for holding small work, but, more usefully, can be secured in the tail vise to hold thin, small, and narrow parts. I have a shop-made alternative plus another option to be discussed in a future post.

2. The Lie-Nielsen convex sole block plane gets plenty of use in my shop since almost everything I make involves multiple curves. I like the shallow 27″ radius along its length, but it would be more useful for me if the 3″ radius across its width were shallower. Thus, even better would be a few different models with different radii. The plane is very handy to use but, for my taste, could still could be a bit bigger overall, and would be easier to grasp with grooves on the sides as finger grips.

3. I wish the Lie-Nielsen #2 had an option of a 50° frog as do most of their other bench planes. I think 50° is the best basic go-to angle for bevel-down smoothing planes and would make the handy 7 1/2″-long #2 more valuable.

4. The rose-head countersink with radially-asymmetric flutes that Lee Valley used to make is just about perfect, but as far as I know, has disappeared from their product line.

5. Veritas (Lee Valley) makes saddle squares and other, similar, markers which are very nice except for the annoying cut-away on the inside of the angle which is supposedly to vault saw whiskers. Who has these big saw whiskers and why would you want to preserve them? The cut away causes your layout line to deviate at the corner, often just where you need it most. This type of feature is found on machinist squares to vault metal burrs but is a disadvantage on tools used for marking continuous layout lines on wood.

The above suggestions are made here with great respect for these excellent companies.

6. The old Disston “Stronghold” style file handles are unbeatable. I have a supply in different sizes but, as far as I know, they are no longer manufactured. I wonder if the patent status would permit their manufacture again by some company.

7. I don’t know about you, but my hand gets tired using a coping saw or fret saw, even of the best quality. Because the handle is parallel to the blade, one is forced to use it with a bent wrist. There ought to be some way to rig a handle which is nearly perpendicular to the blade, much like a backsaw. I suspect this would also make it a more accurate tool. Uh oh, I think I just put a bug in my ear.

8. Finally, I request a magic lantern which grants me just these three wishes: an instant sharpening system which requires no time or effort whatsoever, a board stretcher (especially for width), and, most of all, a clock that doesn’t move unless I want it to. I’ll pay for shipping, no problem.

Readers, you undoubtedly have your own lists, and if I thought about it longer, my list could certainly exceed this one. Thanks for reading.

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