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Archive for the ‘Shop Talk’ Category

Sometimes you do whatever it takes to keep a project flat and square during a glue-up.

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As I discussed in Episode 52, I’m currently building a doll wardrobe as a Christmas present for my daughter.  I’m using 3/4” birch plywood for the main carcass, and 1/2” birch plywood for the interior dividers.  The interior dividers will be housed in stopped dados.

My original plan was to use a plywood-sized router bit and an edge guide to cut the stopped dados.  Unfortunately, my test cuts showed that even my plywood bits provided a very loose fit for my 1/2” plywood.  My fallback in situations like this is usually a dado stack on the table saw, but that doesn’t work in this case because the dados are stopped.  I had to find another alternative.

A quick Google search and a few hours in the shop provided me with the perfect solution:  an adjustable dado jig.

This jig allows me to cut perfect-fitting dados for any work-piece using only a handheld router and a 3/8” straight bit.  The jig has three basic components:  A fence to register the jig against the work-piece, a fixed router support, and an adjustable router support.

Using the jig is really easy.  First, take the work-piece that you need to fit into a dado and place it between the two router supports.  Move the adjustable half until the work-piece is held snugly in the jig and tighten down the wing-nuts.  Now place the jig on the board that you plan to cut the dado in and clamp it down.  The fence holds the jig square to the board.  On my jig, I drew a square on the fence that is calibrated to be precisely perpendicular.  Now you’re ready to cut the dado.  Notice the runners on both sides of the jig.  Run the router along one runner and then back along the other runner.  This gives you a dado that will fit your work-piece exactly.

There are two important facts to note.  First, notice the arrows that I have drawn on the fixed router support.  I have a corresponding arrow drawn on my router base.  When using this jig, the arrow on my router must always point at the runner with the arrows drawn on it.  This ensures that the router is used in the same orientation every time, which eliminates any slop that might be introduced by a router bit that is not exactly centered in the router base.  Second, this jig is calibrated to work with one specific router bit.  In my case, that’s a 3/8” straight bit.  That bit must always be used.

This jig is by no means original.  You can find plans for similar jigs all over the internet.  It’s a handy tool to have in your arsenal, though, and it’s an elegant solution to a tricky problem.

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In a perfect world, new tools would come ready-to-use right out of the box.  Unfortunately, the world isn’t perfect, however, so when you bring a brand new chisel or plane iron home, you need to do some sharpening.  I do not consider myself an expert at sharpening, but I am able to get consistently sharp edges on my tools using a few basic tools and skills.  If you are new to sharpening, I highly recommend Leonard Lee’s book The Complete Guide to Sharpening.

There’s a lot of different ways to put a sharp edge on a tool.  I mainly use waterstones.  The picture below shows the basic tools I use for sharpening my chisels and plane irons:

  • 1000 / 4000 grit combination Norton waterstone
  • 8000 grit Norton waterstone
  • Veritas Mk II honing guide
  • A plastic tub of water
  • A spray bottle filled with water
  • A old rag for wiping down the blade, as needed

The tools needed for sharpening

Some people store their stones in water.  I don’t do this; it’s just a personal preference.  Therefore, before I start my sharpening session, I drop my 1000 / 4000 grit combination stone into a tub of water.  When it stops bubbling, I pull it out.  It only takes five minutes or so to saturate the stone with water.

Soaking a stone

An 8000 grit waterstone does not need to be soaked.  I just spray the surface down and I’m good to go.

Spraying the 8000 grit stone

When you take a brand new chisel out of the box, it’s almost always coated in lacquer.  You must remove this lacquer before sharpening the blade.  If you don’t, you’ll clog your waterstones up with gunk.  I pour some lacquer thinner onto a rag and wipe the blade down.  This dissolves the lacquer, and I can usually rub it off with a little elbow grease.  Once the lacquer is gone, it’s time to start sharpening.

A sharp edge is simply the intersection of two flat surfaces.  In the case of a chisel, those two surfaces are the back and the bevel.  Both surfaces will require your attention, but you should start by flattening the back.  I start by rubbing the back of the chisel in a figure-eight pattern on my 1000 grit stone.

1000 grit stone

I spend the most time on the coarse grit stone, because this is where the back actually gets flattened.  I know I’m done when I have at least 1/4″ of evenly scratched surface at the edge of the blade.

Scratch pattern after 1000 grit stone

Once that back is flat, I polish it on the 4000 and then the 8000 grit stones.

4000 grit stone

8000 grit stone

This process leaves me with a very flat, very polished back.  Nice!  Now, it’s time to turn my attention to the bevel.

Ooooh.... shiny!

I love my Veritas Mk. II honing guide.  Some folks prefer to freehand sharpen, but I find the honing guide gives me accurate repeatable results.  The Veritas Mk. II has two components:  the actual honing guide (the black portion) and the registration jig (the silver piece).

Honing guide and registration jig

I start by sliding the registration jig onto the honing guide and setting it to the proper position using the built-in scale.  I am sharpening a 5/8″ chisel, so I set the jig to 5/8″.  I tighten down the registration jig to hold it in place.

Set the width of the chisel

Next, I set the registration jig to the appropriate bevel angle.  For general-purpose bench chisels, I always use a 25 degree bevel.

Set the angle

Now it’s time to insert the chisel into the honing guide.  The registration jig automatically centers the blade in the guide, squares the blade up, and sets it at the appropriate angle.  I tighten down the blade and remove the registration jig.

Inserting the chisel

Once again, I start with my coarsest stone and work my way up to 8000 grit.  When honing the bevel, I am careful to use the entire stone.  If I were to only use the center, I would quickly wear a groove.

Honing the bevel

Honing the bevel creates a small wire edge.  You probably won’t be able to see it with your naked eye, but you can feel it by running your finger along the chisel’s edge on the back side of the blade.  I remove the wire edge in between grits by giving the back of the chisel a few strokes on the 8000 grit stone.  Do not use the 1000 or 4000 grit stones to remove the wire edge!  Once you’ve polished the back of the chisel to 8000 grit, that surface should only touch the 8000 grit stone… otherwise you’ll have to re-polish the back of the chisel.

Removing the wire edge

And here is the bevel honed to 8000 grit.

Oooooh.... shiny!

If you want, you could stop at this point.  The chisel is sharp and will perform well.  I like to take it one step further, however, by creating a micro-bevel along the edge.  This makes future honing sessions fast and easy.

My honing guide has a knob attached to the roller.  I keep this knob set to the 12 o’clock position when honing the primary bevel.

For honing the primary bevel

Turning the knob to the 6 o’clock position increases the bevel angle by 2 degrees, which allows me to easily create a micro-bevel on the edge.

For honing the secondary bevel

To create the micro-bevel, I follow the same procedure that I used for honing the primary bevel.  The micro-bevel only needs 2 or 3 strokes per grit; it only takes a minute or two.  Again, just like when I honed the primary bevel, I remove the wire edge in between grits.

If you look closely at this picture, you can see a black line along the edge of the chisel.  That is the polished micro-bevel.  This chisel is now sharp and ready for action!

The micro bevel

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It’s amazing how quickly scrap wood and offcuts accumulate.  In order to keep some semblance of control and order in my shop, I came up with a simple two-stage process for managing and storing my scraps.

Stage 1 of my system starts at the table saw.  As you can see in the picture below, I have a large box that sits under the left extension wing on my saw.  This box is always empty at the start of a new project.  As I work on the project, all offcuts and scraps get thrown into this box.  I positioned this box next to my table saw because that is the tool that produces the majority of my offcuts; you could really put it anywhere in the shop.  In fact, it has long been a tradition in hand-tool shops to keep a barrel at the end of the workbench to catch shavings and scraps.  This is the exact same idea.

There are a couple of benefits to initially keeping all of my scraps from a particular project in one place.  First, it keeps the floor clean and eliminates tripping hazards.  But, most importantly, when I need a small piece of wood for the current project or a shim to level a board I am running on my planer sled, I always know where to look.  I am guaranteed to find scrap wood in that box that will match the color and grain pattern of the wood on my project.  This might sound like a minor point to you, but if you toss all your current cherry scraps in a common bin with the scraps from previous projects, trying to find a small piece of wood that matches up can be pretty frustrating.  The frustration level goes through the roof if you use the shop floor for “storing” your scraps.

When I finish a project, I clean out this bin.   Sizable scrap wood gets saved, everything else gets thrown out.

Stage 2 of my system is stored on my lumber rack.  In the pictures below, you can see that I have three green bins on the top shelf.  One bin holds softwood scraps, one bin holds hardwood scraps, and one bin holds plywood scraps.  The “keepers” that I clear out of the box at my table saw at the end of a project get sorted into these three bins.  Using three bins instead of one helps me to find the usable scraps quickly.

My two-stage system works for me, but it might not be right for everyone. It is important, however, that you come up with some sort of a system which meshes well with the way you work. Having a scrap management system will increase your efficiency and decrease your frustration. At the very least, it will be easier for you to find some good wood chips for smoking your barbecue.

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For quite a while now, I have been storing my hand tools in drawers. I really dislike this arrangement. When I need a tool, I end up rummaging through 3 drawers before I find it. Tools rattle around in the drawers, which can damage the cutting edges. And I can’t tell at a glance when something is missing.

I had a couple of hours of shop time this afternoon, so I decided to remedy my hand tool storage issues. This past winter, I rearranged by whole shop, and I created a wall that is (well, will be) dedicated to hand tools. My (soon-to-be) new workbench is up against this wall, and my intention has always been to build some sort of hand tool storage there. Well, here it is. I still need to devise a storage solution for my hand planes.

Clearly, this storage solution was inspired by Bob Lang’s article in the Autumn 2007 issue of Woodworking magazine. I had to tweak it quite a bit, however, since I am not installing it across a window. I built it out of some scrap maple and cherry that I had on my lumber rack and it only took me a couple of hours to make on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Both racks leave me with some room to grow.

The picture below gives you a better perspective. The 4×4 laying across the workbench base gives an approximation of the final height of the bench. Hopefully, I’ll get around to finishing that workbench sometime soon. I’ll probably build a simple shelving unit for my hand planes that I’ll mount to the wall to the right of these racks.

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I own a 6 inch jointer.  I will pause for a moment while all of you that own 8+ inch jointers laugh and mock me.

OK, now that we have that out of the way, let’s continue.  Because of my jointer’s limited capacity, jointing boards that are wider than 6 inches can be a problem.  Now, some people solve this problem by ripping the boards down to less than 6 inches, jointing them, and gluing them back together.  This method works, but I have two fundamental issues with it:

  1. This sounds like a lot of work, and I am a very lazy.
  2. It’s just a crime to rip down a beautiful board to meet the limitations of your power tools.

My jointer may be limited to 6″ wide boards, but my lunchbox planer can handle boards up to 13″ wide.  Putting your 13″ planer to work flattening boards is easier than you think… all you need is a simple jig called a planer sled.

If you listened to episode 21, you know about my preference for jigs that are built with scrap laying around the shop in 15 minutes or less.  Why?  See #1 above.  I’m proud to inform you that my planer sled meets both of these criteria.  Here’s a picture:

Pretty simple, huh?  It is essentially a scrap piece of melamine with a fence made from scrap cherry screwed to the end.  When constructing your sled, there are two things you need to watch out for.  First, make sure that the base of your sled is flat.  Notice there are no gaps when my sled is lying on a flat reference surface (my table saw):

And second, make sure that the screws you use to attach the fence to the sled are countersunk below the surface.  If they aren’t, you run the risk of damaging your planer knives if you accidentally nick them.  You could glue the fence down instead, but I like to have the option of replacing it with little effort.

So how do you use it?  Let’s walk through the process of flattening a board.  Here is the rough-sawn plank I am starting out with.  It’s a 4/4 cherry board about 8″ wide and approximately 8′ long.

I always start by cutting my furniture parts down to rough length.  It is much easier to work with these shorter boards than it is to muscle an 8′ long plank around the shop.

Laying one of the boards on my reference surface, you can see how out-of-flat it is.

Before putting this board on the sled and running it through the planer, you need to ensure that it will be absolutely stable.  Push down on each corner of the board and observe the result.  If the board moves up and down, then you need to shim it.  I use thin offcuts from my table saw that are usually laying in a pile on the floor.

At this point, the board is absolutely stable.  I can push down on any part of the board and it will not move.  I bend the shims upward to break off the excess (wear your safety glasses) and secure them to the board.  So how do you secure the shims to the board?  You could use hot glue or some other fancy-schmancy method, but in my shop, I use good old blue painter’s tape.

Once the shims are secured, flip the board back over and double check that it is still stable on your reference surface.  If everything looks good, it’s time to put that planer sled to work.  Put the board on the sled with the leading edge pushed up against the fence.  Needless to say, make sure the tape side is down.

At this point, you’re ready to go.  The flat bed of the sled acts as the reference surface for the planer knives when you run the board through the machine.  The knives cut a surface on the top of the board that is parallel to the flat bed of the planer sled.  The planer’s rollers pull the board tight against the sled’s fence, which ensures that the sled moves smoothly through the machine along with the board.  Here’s a picture of the board after it’s first pass through the planer.  The board was cupped, and you can see how the knives flattened the high spot down the center.

Keep running the board and sled through the planer.  Once the top side of the board is flat, you can take it off the sled, remove the shims and flip it over.  Now, use the flattened side of the board as the reference surface and run it through the planer to flatten the other side of the board.  Here’s the board after I’m done machining it flat and to it’s rough thickness.

I still prefer using my jointer to flatten one side of a board whenever possible, but when I end up with a board that is too wide, this method works well for me.  And it sure is nice to preserve the grain patterns of the wood.  Ripping the board in half and gluing it back up will never look this nice.

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In Episode 16, I discussed the importance of keeping a detailed inventory of your shop to assist you in purchasing the correct amount of insurance, and also to provide you with a record of your losses if the unthinkable happens and you need to make a claim. Now, you could simply use some paper and a pencil to make your inventory. This method can be inconvenient, however, if you lose your hand-written inventory, need multiple copies of your inventory, want an electronic copy of your inventory, etc.

We are fortunate that independent software developers all over the world are working hard to provide us with software tools to make this task less daunting. I just completed an exhaustive (i.e. 30 minute) search of the internet for applicable software applications, and I have listed links to a subset of my findings below. I have not tried all of these programs personally, and I am not advocating any specific software application. I did limit selections, however, to affordable programs that received positive feedback from users online. One of the applications listed below is freeware and the others offer inexpensive shareware licenses ($20-$30). Any one of these programs should make documenting your shop a painless process. If none of these strike your fancy, an internet search will turn up hundreds more.

Going off on a major tangent….

While I was searching for good home inventory programs on the internet, I was continuously amazed at some of the things people have written software to track or manage. If any of you are interested in the unexplained, you might want to check out these handy programs.

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