Archive for ◊ February, 2015 ◊

• Saturday, February 28th, 2015

expansion washers

These are so eminently practical that it seems they should have been around for a century but it has been just several years since Lee Valley started manufacturing Chris Becksvoort’s clever idea. Since then, I’ve been using them whenever there is a need for a substantially long slot to accommodate the movement of a screw caused by dimensional changes in wood related to humidity.

One of the most common uses is for screws that go through cross grain support pieces and secure a table top. Another is at the back of drawer runners that are cross grain to the sides of a case.

The washers come in two sizes, designated #10 and #14, and both are thoughtfully made to convenient dimensions. The #10s shown here are slightly less than 1/2″ wide and 1″ long, with a slot slightly greater than 3/16″ wide. They are 3/64″ thick.

It is possible to rout slots for these but I find it easier to simply drill two 1/2″ holes with their centers 1/2″ apart using a Forstner bit in the drill press. Pare away the remaining web with a 1/2″ chisel. Next, without changing the fence setting, drill 3/16″ through holes on the same two centers. Then drill overlapping holes in between and gradually drill away the waste to form the slot.

The finished slots, and the washer and screw in place are shown below.

expansion washers

expansion washers

expansion washersFor this type of assembly, I prefer square drive, hardened, deep-thread, washer head screws, #8 in this case, available from McFeely’s. (Technically, this is a combo drive head but who in his right mind, given the choice, would use a Phillips driver instead of a square driver.) Of course, the depth of the large slot must be worked out according to the thickness of the stretcher or runner, the thickness of the piece that the screw will bind to, and the length of the screw. The view from the other side is shown below.

expansion washers

True, the same slot construction can be done without the washer and in fact, those that I have so made have functioned well for many years. And there are other good approaches to this issue. However, when sizable dimensional swings must be accounted for, it has always been too careful a setup done with some doubt about the possibility of the screw head binding. Perhaps if it was socked down too tightly in dry wood, I’ve wondered, it might get stuck in the swell of wood around it and not slide.

These washers make things simple and remove any doubts. The screw head will not catch on the metal washer. The construction is clean and sure. Thanks to Chris and Lee Valley for this handy hardware item that should be in routine use.

Category: Techniques  | 4 Comments
• Saturday, February 21st, 2015

mortise and tenon

The glue line of a properly constructed mortise and tenon joint will almost never break from external load. Other things might break but not that.

To get a good sense of this, let’s think about what’s going on in just a small joint with a tenon 3″ wide by 1″ long. There are 6 square inches of glue surface, which is equal to that in an 8″-long edge joint between ¾”-thick boards. Now imagine trying to break that edge joint, not in tension as in hammering down on the unsupported joint line, but in shear! The wood will break, the glue line will not.

The mortise and tenon joint is strong because even in a fairly small joint there is plenty of glue line and it is stressed in shear. So if you’ve fit that decently, don’t worry; it is very unlikely to break. The tenon shoulders transfer much of the stress to that glue line. (By the way, the glue line of a half-lap joint can be stressed in tension if, for example, a frame undergoes severe twisting forces.)

The tenon itself is stressed mostly in tension and compression along the grain, which are also quite strong. So don’t worry there either, because a reasonably sized tenon is also very unlikely to break.

Furthermore, for the purpose of strength, there is no point in fitting the tenon tight to both ends of the mortise. That does not make the joint strong.

If something is going to break, it is most likely to be the wood of the stile or leg, which can succumb to stress in tension across the grain. This is especially so if the joint is designed with injudicious distribution of wood among the components.

Thus, make sure the stile or leg will be strong around the joint. In general, the walls of the mortise ought to be at least as strong as the tenon. And though it seems less popular lately, a haunch is a good idea when joining an apron at the top of a leg.

Also, hygroscopic cycle changes in the wood will stress every mortise and tenon but don’t let this be any more than it must. Don’t let a tenon and excess glue bottom out in the mortise and don’t jam a tenon to each end of the mortise (see above). Placing a peg too far from the shoulder will tend to make hygroscopic movement eventually produce a gap at the shoulder, though placing it too close to the shoulder will make the mortise wall more liable to break.

Inspecting old broken or cracked furniture and other wood structures, wherever you can find them, and thinking about why the failures occurred, is one of the most useful habits a woodworker can have. I’ve been doing this for several decades – I suppose because I would rather not have the same things happen to anything I make.

Category: Techniques  | 3 Comments