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• Thursday, March 31st, 2022
glue squeeze-out

The real problem with glue squeeze-out is not taking the matter seriously. If you pretend that when it appears, squeeze-out is really a surprise, you are likely to waste time and get poor results. It is more efficient to anticipate and manage it as a legitimate part of your joinery and glue up plan.

In many cases, such as edge-to-edge joinery (above), squeeze-out is functional. Consider that too little glue and just the right amount of glue look about the same when the joint is assembled. A modest squeeze-out ensures that you have not used too little glue. (It’s that one-sided tolerance thing again.)

Edge joints are easy to manage. I wait until the squeeze-out is rubbery, and then gently scrape away most of it. The remainder is removed when surfacing the panel after the glue is cured. I never use a wet cloth to wipe away excess glue in careful work. That spreads the glue and helps it soak into the wood. Unless the glue is very diluted by this process, it can interfere with finishing.

It is important to think through how and where the glue will be pushed as the joint goes together, and then how you will deal with the excess. Each situation is different. Where there is good access on the outside surfaces of a joint, such as carcase dovetails, I let the glue go where it wants, knowing that I will later scrape away the glue and create a wood surface that is unadulterated by the glue.  

The inside surfaces are a different matter. Removing glue from the inside corners could be a pain, or a big pain if there is excessive glue that has soaked down into the wood fibers, and maybe even a royal pain if the wood is cherry, for example, and will be getting an oil finish. 

My favorite solution is to simply line the inside surfaces adjacent to the joint with 3M #2080EL blue tape. This takes little time. I set the tape very close to the joint line but make sure to avoid putting the tape where it would prevent the joint from fully closing – it only takes a bit to mess up the glue up. 

What about the outside of a dovetailed drawer joint? If you plan to plane or scrape away a substantial amount of excess glue, especially if it has seeped into the end grain or the side grain of a coarsely textured wood, that may change the fit of the drawer, depending on your drawer fitting technique. Consider that clamps may thwart access to the squeeze-out when it is in its rubbery stage and easy to remove. 

I do not have a universal approach to this, but it usually is fine to gauge the glue to minimize squeeze-out, plane down the sides, and just barely touch the end-grain of the pins. I find Lee Valley 2002GF glue to be a big help here because it does not seep into the grain if it is not pressed upon. And, all of this depends on the wood species and finish. 

For mortise-and-tenon work, I try to avoid external squeeze-out all together. I am generous with the glue in the mortise. I do think the best practice is to put glue on the tenons, just enough to ensure the glue wets the surface. I use a very thin coat, but because this can quickly skin over, I work fast and it is the last step before bringing the joints together. I usually leave about 1/8 inch extra at the bottom of the mortise for the excess glue inside the joint. 

In frame and panel work, I pay attention to the corners to anticipate where the glue might squeeze out. This is part of planning the joinery. I don’t want to make a mess there and inadvertently seize the panel at the corners in its groove. Sometimes I wax the corners of the panel if there is little room for error.

Another approach to squeeze-out in general is described in detail by Michael Fortune in Fine Woodworking, issue #232, April 2013. He uses a non-silicone wax applied sparingly around the joint where squeeze-out is anticipated. Glue will not stick to it and so is easily removed. Later, the wax is removed with alcohol. This works for sure but it does take work. I think it is best for awkward areas and especially with shellac or oil finishes for which a little remaining wax will not interfere with adhesion. 

The point is to think it through – squeeze-out is part of woodworking. 

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Author:
• Sunday, February 27th, 2022
marking gauge

I built this gauge to incorporate specific features that I like and could not find in combination in commercially available models. 

This is a hefty tool with a Honduras rosewood (old stock) fence 4 1/2″ x 2 3/4″ x 7/8″. The contoured top edge is similar to my Japanese cutting gauge that has always felt comfortable in my hand. The lower part of the fence gives plenty of area to register on even thick stock, and is protected from wear by two 3/8″ x 1/16″ inlaid brass strips.

In use, my thumb is on top of the fence, with the muscle at the base of the thumb on the lower part of the contour, while the other fingers are below the stem where they can exert pressure on the fence where it meets the workpiece. I like they way the tool handles.  

The stem is about 11/16″ thick and 7″ long. It is shaped to go through a matching mortise in the fence that has three sides of a rectangle and a point on the fourth side – like a house. This wedge action makes the stem lock very securely with only modest pressure from the locking screw. Note that the peak on the length of the stem is cut back a bit to prevent it from bottoming out in the mortise. 

A feature that I strongly prefer in any gauge (with the exception of a mortise gauge) is the scribing point at the very end of the stem where I can see what it is doing. Here I used a simple half-point scriber from an old gauge. It is secured in a groove with a pan-head screw threaded into the wood.

marking gauge

The other end of the stem is set up with a groove and a tiny bolt that threads into an embedded nut. It holds the excellent Hamilton fingernail shaped knife, which works nicely as a cutting gauge. It also works well along the grain but there I more often like the heavier mark of the half-point scriber. This is two gauges in one. 

The locking screw is a 1/4-20 brass thumbscrew that travels through a bronze bushing and threads through an embedded cylindrical nut that is placed about 3/4 of the way along the route of the screw. I like the thumbscrew at the front of the gauge where it is fully out of the way when marking. The locking screw meets a 5/16″ x 1/16″ brass wear strip embedded into the stem. There is no loose metal button pad to get lost.

On the back of the fence, I sealed the hole for the cylindrical nut with a wooden plug. The locking system works very well but in retrospect I think it would have been easier to make or find a brass cylindrical nut, and simply leave one or both ends of it showing.

Overall, I’m pleased with the function, accuracy, and appearance of the result. As usual with any tool making, I suppose I could make another one in a third of the time and with no regrets, but I only need one. 

Author:
• Friday, January 14th, 2022
Veritas Bevel-Up #1

This is the Veritas Bevel-Up #1 plane, which I have been using for a year now. With a 1 7/32″-wide blade, it is indeed small but it works legitimately as a seriously useful plane. An ancillary tool, not a necessity, still I reach for it a lot more than I expected, so I want to share its merits with readers.  

This plane excels for small or concentrated work where its maneuverability and the vision of the work that it affords are significant advantages. In fact, even large projects involve plenty of detail work, such as a leveling touch-up at the shoulder of an assembled mortise and tenon, and fitting small components, especially those involving angles and round-overs. 

What makes this plane worthwhile for me is the feel. While there is some crossover in function with a block plane, this plane is different. Getting both hands in non-cramped positions on the handles of the BU#1 away from the sole affords feedback and control that I really appreciate. I can readily feel the tilt, and I like the excellent visual clearance. I also find that it handles significantly better than the Stanley style (bevel-down) #1.

I keep the BU#1 tuned about like a smoother with the blades mildly cambered. Because there is little momentum behind this small plane, it is particularly important to keep the blades sharp, especially if using a high attack angle. 

Veritas Bevel-Up #1

This plane has a 15° bed so you can sharpen with a secondary bevel of 30° for a good all-round attack angle of 45°. It is also useful to keep a second blade sharpened to 40° or 45° for a 55° or 60° attack, respectively, to use as a touch up plane on difficult grain. The short sole helps in this function. By the way, I would prefer a 20° bed but I’ve covered that issue at length elsewhere

Other features that I like are Veritas’ Norris-style combination adjuster with set screws near the front of the blade to make responsive lateral adjustments, and the adjustable front sole plate with a retainer set screw to easily regulate the width of the mouth. The sole of the BU#1 that I first received was slightly but significantly concave along its length but Lee Valley, being the great company that they are, exchanged it without bother. I slightly touched up the sole of the replacement, just because I’m picky. 

The BU#1 does not suffer from the unfortunate handle design that plagues most other Veritas planes. (They can be replacedtalk to Bill Rittner.) It has only a mild curve but this works well for this plane; it feels right and comfortable to me. 

My usual disclaimer: This review is unsolicited and uncompensated. My goal is only to point out good tools so you can make great stuff.

Author:
• Wednesday, January 05th, 2022
glue flexibility

Wood, and thus wooden joints, moves with moisture changes, and since we put pieces of wood together with glue, it is worthwhile to consider if the glue itself flexes. In other words, how elastic, or stiff and brittle, is the glue itself? 

Here, I want to look at differences among PVA glues, which in almost all discussions get lumped together without attention to significant differences among them in the property of flexibility. Here is a nice simple demonstration.

As background, we know that at one extreme, urea formaldehyde glue such as Unibond 800 forms a rock-hard, extremely strong, rigid glue line making it the best choice for bent laminations. Hide glue also forms a quite hard, rigid glue line. PVAs are, in general, more flexible.

I spread four different glues into approximately one-inch discs on a birch plywood scrap, and then let them dry thoroughly for several days (photo above). From left to right:

Titebond Liquid Hide Glue

Titebond Original PVA

Titebond III PVA

Lee Valley 2002 GF PVA

The Lee Valley glue is a PVA that is claimed to have gap filling properties. I have had good results over many years with this product. Titebond III is touted for its water resistance and as a good all-round wood glue. 

Working on the discs on the plywood, I could not dig my thumbnail into the surface of the hide glue. Even pushing as hard as I could, I could not make a mark. The surface also cracked as it dried. 

The Titebond Original was the second hardest, taking a lot of pressure to make just a trace of marks. Titebond III was clearly the softest of the four; it was easy to dent with my thumbnail. The Lee Valley 2002 GF was intermediate between the other two PVAs.

I also spread discs on a piece of silicone “tape” (non-adhesive wrapping). After they dried for several days, I gently lifted the discs away, which had almost no adhesion to the silicone. I then curled and snapped them (photo below).

glue flexibility

The results were consistent with the thumbnail test. The hide glue was the most brittle but Titebond Original was a pretty close second place. 2002 GF was intermediate; it could snap or curl depending on how I deformed it. Most interesting, Titebond III did not snap at all. No matter how I deformed it, it was quite flexible and only curled.

The simple point here is to show that there are distinct differences in flexibility among PVA glues. How you use that information is another matter. Depending on the type of joint, its dimensions, the wood properties, and the intended use of the piece, you may want more or less glue flexibility. 

Also, this is a separate issue from the strength of the glue bond. There are also several other properties of glue to take into account when choosing among them. 

Now this is obviously not a scientific test. However, I trust my observations in the shop and watching how pieces fare over the years as much as I trust some of the elaborate tests in woodworking magazines. My personal take away is this confirms what I noticed about Titebond III, which is that it is quite flexible, and so I’ve learned to avoid it in certain situations. Titebond Original is a better choice when you want a more rigid glue line and water resistance is not important. 

Category: Techniques  | 3 Comments
Author:
• Friday, December 31st, 2021
wall cabinet

[32″h x 20″w x 8″d] The curved sides of this cabinet started on the bandsaw, of course, but then I used the #20 compass plane, the RP rasp, and scrapers. The best tool for final truing of the curves was a simple purpose-built sanding shave. This is just a 14″-long stick, about 1″ x 2″, with the working wide face planed a bit convex, to which is attached PSA sandpaper. 

With all the tools on which we spend a small fortune, almost every project necessitates a shop-made tool to save the day. 

The dowel joinery went well. I have plenty of experience with it. Well, except for one section where I used too much glue and paid the price correcting a squeeze-out mess. Think! It is so much easier to avoid than to correct mistakes.

Just clamp the carcase together, right? No. The curved sides required specially shaped clamp blocks. It was so easy to draw that nice curve on paper . . .

For the door frame joints, I choose regular mortise-and-tenons rather than slip joints, which look cool but are a major pain to clamp. I routed the mortises and then carefully set up the bandsaw to make the tenons within a shaving or two (or none) with the rabbet block plane. It’s all about making a precise kerf-width-thick gauge.

stiles and rails

There’s a limit to masochism, or maybe not. The unconventional arrangement of the door frame rails and stiles made the final fitting of the doors more difficult. This was, however, a key design element of the piece so it was worth the trouble. The step at the junctions of the inner rail and stile on each door was another pain. A bigger pain would have been to try to assemble the door pieces in the wrong (impossible) order.

After a lot of mulling over, I decided to use magnetic catches. I should have embedded the fixed magnets in the fixed shelf but I made a separate little block for them, which could be removed and replaced if everything did not work out. The catches work nicely but I should not have chickened out on the design.

See the convex front edge of the sides? That feature made everything more difficult, especially the final fit of the doors. Does it matter? Yea, I think so; I like the look. It’s just a matter of deciding if it is worth it.

The problem with one-of-a-kind work is that you never experience all the issues and see the end point until you’re done. Yes, I would have done some things differently if I were to make this again. But I’m not going to.

The top panels are opalescent art glass. I learned a lot about art glass and glass cutting tools and techniques for this project. I installed the glass with strips that are screwed in place, not nailed as Krenov did. 

From the start, I planned to use Z-clips to hang the cabinet. These are essentially metal French cleat hangers but take up only 1/4″ of depth in the back of the cabinet. They must be accounted for when forming the rabbet for the back panel, including some consideration for walls not being perfectly flat. 

Virtually every project requires learning about a new material, technique, finish, or design element. I enjoy that. 

The spalted big-leaf maple panels were a nice find, and they bookmatched well for spalted wood. Like most well spalted material, there were some soft areas that needed hardening. Protective Coatings PC-Petrifier works well with minimal darkening.

For the hinges, bright or even brushed brass just would not look right, and the antiquing on the hinges that I bought proved to be delicate, so I blackened them for good with a solution from Rockler

I could go through a dozen or more other special issues with this piece but you get the idea. The truth is that there is a lot of thought, time, trouble, and – is suffering too strong a word? – in making these things.

Are these details worth it? How about the specialized tools, finding the right wood, correcting mistakes, refining the design (over and over), finding the way out of construction problems, and on and on?

Only the maker can answer these questions. That’s the privilege – and the joy – that comes with making things. Best wishes for you and your projects. 

Category: Ideas  | 6 Comments
Author:
• Tuesday, November 30th, 2021
resawn sapele

Even at this point, I often make small refinements in the design, mostly to make the proportions look good. I also may add features, such as edge treatments. This is small stuff that I do sweat. I am aiming for a certain peace and balance that will make the piece of furniture be interesting at several levels, and ironically, even fascinating.

However, all of this has to be put into the language of wood. The goal is to make something out of wood, not to just make a nice looking drawing on paper. Sometimes as I gradually get the oversized components out of the rough stock, the wood itself will suggest subtle alterations in the design, so it’s back to the drawing board yet again. 

I think of the wood early on in the design process. In fact, I really do not even think of a design in the abstract at all, but instead see it from the beginning as being in a particular wood or at least narrowed to a few possibilities for the wood.

So there is an ongoing interplay among the drawings, the wood, and my imagination.

Now, when the mental dust has settled and sawdust will take its place, I want the wood to be reliable. Oh, and you know where that goes, fellow woodworkers. Recall the words with which the late Professor Bruce Hoadley began his seminal book, Understanding Wood, “Wood comes from trees.” Its essential characteristics make it for good trees; it did not evolve for woodworking projects. 

And so the gorgeous boards of quartersawn sapele that I took home for this project were destined to drive me nuts. I wrote about this a while ago in the post “Weird wood stresses stress me.” 

This was an unusual, hopefully uniquely frustrating situation with the wood. The point here is that once we have settled on a design that drives us, that answers the question “Is it worth it?” strongly in the affirmative, uncertainty still lurks, starting with the first bite of the saw’s teeth into the rough lumber. 

The recipients of our best work do not, in all likelihood, have any idea of this, especially if they are used to veneered particleboard ready-to-assemble “things” (see how civil I’m being). Still, as I pointed out in the first part of this series, these matters are not, and should not be, their problems. 

Yet they are out problems, fellow woodworkers, and indeed we can usually solve them. So, I am not whining but once in a while, it is worth mentioning them, just among us. This is the uncool reality that is infrequently shared in print, but we ought to be able to say, “Oh, you too? That happens to you too?”

Next in this series: construction, detours, and, gasp, mistakes!

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• Saturday, October 30th, 2021
cabinet design

Something easy to draw on paper may not be so easy to execute in wood. Though we can and should try to stretch our technical limits to meet the demands of a compelling design, it may be impossible or at least unwise to attempt certain things in wood. Sometimes even an innocent curve on paper has the potential to foul up a construction.

Deviating from established construction methods is fine but there are reasons they are tried and true, so you better know what you are doing and have a sound plan if you diverge from tradition.

With those points in mind, the “hook” for this piece is the curved sides. I knew I was asking for trouble. Whenever there is a major asymmetry in wood removal on opposite sides of a board, the built-in stresses can manifest unpredictably. If the wood has been in storage through many seasons of changing humidity, the stresses seem to reduce themselves, but for recently harvested and kiln-dried wood, there are inevitably some case hardening stresses lurking. The thinnest points of the 8-inch-deep sides are about 1/2 inch less than the thickest points. The sides come out of 8/4 stock. 

But wait, I’m the wood guy, I know how to work around this! Well, dream on wood guy, the wood does not care that you’re the supposed wood guy.

The wood had its own plans as I was to find out. 

The case construction is carcase dowelling, and the techniques I use have proven sound in projects going back more than 20 years. So I felt confident there and similarly for the frame-and-panel construction of the doors and back.

However, the other hook for this piece is the layout of the door stiles and rails. The center stiles do not reach to the top and bottom like the hinge stiles. They are also, along with the middle rails, slightly thinner than the other frame members to create small steps at the joints.

It would have been easier to take the usual approach where the center stiles go all the way to the top and bottom like the hinge stiles. That way, the doors would be easier to assemble and trim to a final fit. But that’s not the way I wanted it. Still, my scheme here is not too unusual and quite doable. 

Other things that required careful thought are the doors overlapping the top and bottom of the carcase, which precludes using a nice Krenov-style door catch, and hanging with Z Clips, which are essentially thin metallic French cleats. 

So, in summary, I felt my design was exciting but brought about some challenges and doubts. Doubts for sure. But remembering the late Wendell Castle’s advice, “If you’re always hitting the target, it’s too close,” I was ready to go.

Now, about the wood . . .

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Author:
• Thursday, September 30th, 2021
design stage

This will be a series of posts that I have wanted to write for a long time. It will be what is rarely written – a real accounting of a maker’s thoughts from the first idea for a piece through its completion. I will relate my ambitions, joys, frustrations, doubts, successes, failures, and more – all unvarnished and “from the shavings and sawdust of my shop” – in building the piece that started with the sketch above.

Now, why would I want to do that and why might you care?

Magazine articles and books almost always present a sanitized version of the construction steps, and reasonably so. The reader needs a clear layout of the building process so it can be understood and employed, not a replay of a woodworking psychiatric session.

Moreover, when the finished piece is presented to viewers, interested and sensitive observers are generally best served when the piece is mostly left to speak for itself with little or no verbal accompaniment. Questions can come later. That the joints were hard to fit or the wood tore out on the thickness planer are my problems, not theirs, and I have to solve them so they can enjoy the piece.

Yet, Heartwood readers know that I have long emphasized that high-end woodworking is not fast or easy and pretensions to such fantasies by woodworking media are counterproductive. I also think that high quality woodworking, especially one-of-a-kind pieces, are largely underappreciated and not well understood. If that were so, they would probably be in greater demand and fetch higher prices.

So, this is some honest talk for woodworkers. Most of us work alone and all of us encounter doubts and difficulty with the craft. Sharing that can bolster our faith and energy in making things. This can also benefit those who have to put up with our passions or just want some inside baseball about the craft of making really nice stuff from wood. 

I will cover: 

  • Design, starting with the sketches above
  • Wood and materials
  • Construction plans, problems, and detours

The first question, however, is posed in the title. From the outset, a maker has to be convinced that the object is worth building. The concept must be strong, clear, and compelling. The energy has to be there. The plan to execute it must be sound. That’s right, the plan, but as boxing great Mike Tyson has been quoted, “Everybody has a plan until they get hit in the mouth.”

Here we go.

Category: Ideas  | Tags:  | 3 Comments