The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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Almost every day.

Since this is the beginning of the official first week of the New Year, I felt it would be a good opportunity to become a better woodworker by practicing making dovetail joinery again.

I had some scrap pine left over from God knows what project that was somewhat junky, too good to throw away but not good enough to use anywhere, so that is what I decided to use. Because dovetailing is a sawing exercise, I began by sawing a perpendicular line, crosscutting two equal length boards to use for the dovetails. I’ve had a lot of practice at that lately so that was no problem. Next step is laying out the pins (I am a ‘pins first’ woodworker)

Some woodworkers don’t use a marking gauge when dovetailing, but I do. In this case I shouldn’t have, and should have used a marking knife instead, because my gauge is dull as sin, and I didn’t bother to sharpen it beforehand. For the layout I use a Veritas 1:6 dovetail marker. Once again, some woodworkers prefer a bevel gauge, or no marker at all, but I think the dedicated marker is the best tool. Firstly, it is consistent, which leads to consistent sawing, which leads to muscle memory. Secondly, the backside of the marker is perpendicular to the angled face, making it a handy tool to mark a sawing line.

I did not lay out a symmetrical pattern, though I really should have. But in this instance it really doesn’t matter greatly, though it is good practice to keep your joints symmetrical. But I was sure to use a very sharp pencil.

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When sawing dovetails, the vertical line is even more important than the angle of the pin. When sawing pins first, that angle means little as long as it is somewhere in the ballpark, but if your saw kerf is not perpendicular to the marking gauge line your dovetail joint will not be square, meaning your drawer, or case, will not be square either. So I was very careful to saw straight, which should be the goal of every woodworker.
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For the second time in as many weeks I once again retrieved some of my chisels from “storage” for use in chopping out the waste. I’m not a fan of the coping saw for this operation. Some woodworkers prefer it, but in my experience you have to use a chisel anyway to fit the joint, so why bother with the extra step?

To mark the tails I use the pin board as a template. Once again you need a sharp pencil. Your dedicated dovetail marking gauge comes in hand once again, as you can use it to judge the angle of your transferred pins.

Once the sawing is finished a little chisel work on any loose bits and that’s that. This being the first set of dovetails I’ve sawn in quite a long time, I’m fairly happy with the results. The fit was nice and snug without being overly tight, and the gaps were minimal. In fact, I would go as far to say if  I had used a sharp marking gauge there would be no gaps at all.

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The tails may be asymmetrical, the board may be ugly, and the line may be ragged, but I’m pleased nonetheless. And though I may not have the time to do this every day, I should be able to spare 15 minutes at least 3 or 4 nights. Now I have to get my saws and that marking gauge sharpened up, and I can guarantee you the results will be much better.

Project Rebirth Update

Though I had a busy day planned today, in particular with a blizzard impending, I managed to get in just a few more minutes with my beading plane, and it was well worth it.

To sharpen the actual bead on the plane iron I decided to give the sandpaper a try. I wrapped a piece of 220 grit around a 3/8 dowel and proceeded to hone. In roughly 5 minutes, I managed to get a nice looking iron. I proceeded to give another practice bead a go, and the results were impressive. The shavings were a lot more even and the bead more crisp. When I get more time, I will hone to a higher grit as well as use the slip stone. All in all, this rehab seems to be going very well.

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For all you new people

I’ve never been to a woodworking tool swap meet. I’d bet that there are quite a few woodworkers who can make the same claim. Unfortunately for me they just aren’t very common in this area. I have been to flea markets and garage sales, and sometimes you can get very lucky and find a few tools at a reasonable price that are in good condition, or in a condition that at the least makes them worth purchasing and saving. But even a more experienced woodworker, one used to owning new or newer tools may not know exactly what to look for, and that, among other reasons, is why I enjoyed The Naked Woodworker DVD.

I purchased the DVD partly out of curiosity, and partly from the recommendation of woodworker Jeff Branch, whose blog I’ve been following for several years. Including shipping, the two discs cost me $27.00, which is less than what I would pay to take my family out to breakfast. The DVD(s) arrived yesterday, and last night I watched the first disc, which focuses on finding used tools worth purchasing and restoring them to working condition, and this morning I watched the second disc, which details the construction of a pair of sawhorses and a woodworking bench. I enjoyed watching both, and I learned more about woodworking because I watched them, which I call a success.

What did I like? Firstly, the host, Mike Siemsen, is a likeable guy; he’s real, he’s a real woodworker, and like all good workers you pick up a few good tips and tricks just by listening to him and watching him work. The discs aren’t overly produced with a lot of annoying music and slick cut scenes, which frankly bug the hell out of me. Secondly, the tool restoration is real, and Siemsen shows real world restoration from old to working tool in real time. It’s quick, painless stuff. For instance, Siemsen shows how to file-sharpen an auger bit. Strangely, I learned how to do that during my electrical courses, and I have a special file that is made just for the task. Siemsen makes mention of the tool, but shows how to sharpen the auger using a basic file that he picked up at the tool swap.

Personally, I was most impressed with the segment on sharpening handsaws. I use just three woodworking saws, and two of them have never been sharpened. It’s not that they don’t need sharpening, but the fact that I am afraid to ruin them in the attempt. Siemsen shows how to joint, sharpen, and re-set an old hand saw using tools he picked up at the swap meet, with plenty of close-up shots that show a lot of detail during the sharpening process. Siemsen demystifies the process and makes it seem much more reachable. For me, it is the clearest instruction on saw sharpening that I’ve ever seen.

Disc two shows the construction of a pair of saw horses and a Nicholson style woodworking bench. Here again, Siemsen shows the entire process and how these essential pieces of shop equipment can be made quickly and effectively. In fact, Siemsen points out that in building the bench and the horses, you also get some good sawing practice in the process, AND, he shows that the joints don’t have to be absolutely perfect, just serviceable. The workbench is particularly impressive, as he builds it with less than $150 in lumber, and without any modifications it is a perfectly good workbench for any style of woodworking. Even more impressive is the manner of construction. Because of the modular nature of the assembly, this bench can be made by an absolute beginner, as well as a seasoned vet, and it could be used by both. Maybe most importantly, the bench can be modified to suit your liking. For instance, the bench is built without vices, which can be expensive. If I were to build the bench (and I just may do that) I would add a leg vice, which can be done for around $50, yet the addition would change the construction process very little. In fact, a leg vice could easily be retrofitted later. This bench is a real workbench, one that could work for a lifetime of woodworking.

These DVDs are marketed towards beginners, and at that they are a great starting off point. But they are also good resources for experienced woodworkers that may just be getting started in hand tools, or an experienced woodworker that is just entering the used tool market, or any woodworker that doesn’t want to spend a few grand building, or purchasing a good woodworking bench. The Naked Woodworker is being offered by Lost Art Press, and there is a link to that site on the resources section of my blog. For under $30 (which includes the cost of shipping-did I mention that?) you get some great tips, and you learn how to truly build up a real woodworking tool kit without breaking your bank account. I, for one, am glad I purchased it.

You know it ain’t easy.

Just like many things in my life lately, my woodworking over the past few days has been disjointed. Before I completed the door for the little built in cabinet I made for the garage, I decided to do a little work on the dado plane I picked up from Ebay.

The first act of restoration was taking the plane apart. Thankfully, everything looked good, though the screws for the depth stop mechanism were definitely not original to the plane. I did a little bit of work on the wedges by laying a sheet of 220 grit sand paper on my workbench and giving both of them a light sanding/flattening. I then cleaned the plane, first with mineral spirits (very lightly), and then some linseed oil, getting it in all the nooks and crannies. While the plane dried I cleaned the depth stop mechanism with Brasso. The turning knob shined up brilliantly, but the screw itself took a little bit of work, as it had many, many years of dust and grime on it. I probably spent a good 15 minutes on the screw alone, and while it is not shiny, I definitely got it clean. Finally, I wiped off the linseed oil and applied a coat of paste wax. Next step was the iron.

Cleaned up plane

Cleaned up plane

Before I did anything, I flattened both the tang on the iron and the knicker using a ballpeen hammer, which was easy enough. I then cleaned the iron with some camellia oil. I spent a good 15 minutes flattening the back with the 1000 grit water stone. The back was reasonably flat to begin with, but I wanted to be certain. To hone the actual bevel itself I used a Veritas honing guide, which works well on skewed irons. That part took around 25 minutes, as I worked very deliberately. I wanted to get it as perfect as possible so future sharpenings would go more smoothly. Happily, I managed to achieve a really nice edge, and the old blade held up beautifully. With that, I called it a job done. I didn’t really touch the knicker other than the tang, as I am not all that sure how to sharpen them.

Sharp iron

Sharp iron

Saturday morning I started and completed the door for my built-in. I ran into a bit of a problem; the boards I set aside for the rails were not really long enough. I was shooting for a one inch long tenon, with a quarter inch stub. After squaring the boards and cutting them to usable size, I only had enough length left for about a 5/8 inch tenon, which I suppose is better than nothing. Either way, there is nothing much to report on that job, as it was basically a small bit of trial and error, measuring, sawing, and some handplaning. In fact, here is a good tip for making a tongue and groove joint on a table saw: Always make the tongue/tenon first, then use the tongue to set the fence of the table saw to make the groove. It takes a bit more work than setting up a dado stack, but at the same time eliminates the trial and error process of setting up a dado stack to begin with.

Finished door with pull

Finished door with pull

The last job of the day was hanging the door. Hanging a door sometimes isn’t easy, but I found a little trick that sometimes helps. Before I assembled the door and glued it, I mortised the hinges into hinge side stile and hung it onto the cabinet. It is much easier dealing with one 2 inch wide board rather than an entire door (this works well on a smaller door, but on a heavier door it may not work as well due to sagging) After I had a nice fit I glued up the door, checked it for square, and let it dry over night. This morning, I installed a pull ring and re-hung the entire door. The fit is nice, but not perfect, but at least the gaps are even, and the door opens and closes smoothly.

With this project finished I probably won’t woodworking much for the rest of the summer. Hopefully if all goes well over the next few weeks I will get started on making my smooth plane. Otherwise, I don’t plan on building any furniture. This project wasn’t very difficult, but that is a relative term. I’ve yet to build anything out of wood that was simple, even if the design itself was. This project was no exception. For what it’s worth it was fun, woodworking usually is, but it definitely wasn’t easy.

I’m selling my table saw

I’m not.

However, I spent about an hour Sunday night reading woodworking blogs. I would say that between 15 and 20 of those blogs were fairly new (all amateur) and many featured a woodworker about to sell his table saw. Now it’s not my place, but I am wondering why.

Don’t misunderstand me, if another woodworker doesn’t want to use a table saw it means little to me. The way I see it, there are a handful of really good reasons to stay away from a table saw: Safety, dusty, noisy (not always, depends on the saw), and they can take up a lot of space. But most of the blogs I read last night seemed to imply that the table saw was keeping them from doing good work. I’m wondering how that conclusion was reached.

It’s been my experience that having a poor tool isn’t all that helpful, but never has one caused me to do bad work. If my work is bad, and sometimes it is, I can’t really ever recall the tool being the blame, in particular if the tool was in working order. Maybe how I used the tool caused some problems, but that is another matter. A dull chisel will do poor work, or a table saw with a defective motor or rip fence, but that isn’t necessarily the fault of the tool.

So I’m hoping that if a woodworker out there reading this blog is also considering selling his table saw because he or she feels it hurts the work being performed, if you don’t mind I would like to hear your thoughts on why. Thanks.

Nowhere Man

When I returned home from work tonight I checked on the dado I cut for my built in cupboard. I’m not exactly sure why I did it, but I did. It was my first hand-sawn dado in some time, but I managed to get a nice fit. It’s not perfect, there was some tear out which was likely caused by my knife line going astray. You can’t see the tear out, though, which is all that really matters. But I would go as far as saying that the dado was nearly perfect, in that the fit wasn’t too tight, and wasn’t loose, and the dado is perpendicular to the case sides with clean lines. It required some light tapping with a mallet to seat it, which is the fit I was attempting to get. So I call it job well done, maybe.

Tight dado

Tight dado

Right side dado

Right side dado

After 4 plus years of woodworking I can’t say how bad or good of a woodworker I am. The problem is, I’m okay with hand tools, and okay with power tools, but not really great with either. I don’t really own enough power tools to be a “power tool woodworker”, and I am not necessarily skilled enough with hand tools to be a “hand tool only woodworker”. So what am I?

I don’t care for labels, in particular when it comes to a hobby. I don’t like terms like “hybrid woodworker” or “blended woodworker”, but there is a time and place for them. I do have a problem with a “blended” approach, and that is the tendency to not focus enough effort on any one method. For instance, I can use the table saw to make a dado, or a hand saw, or I could use an electric router if I had the correct bit and a jig; I’ve used all three. It may seem that the hand sawn method is the most difficult, but that isn’t always true. Yesterday, the table saw would have been the most difficult way to saw my dado, so I did it with a hand saw instead. The table saw would have required test cuts along with some trial and error. I know there are woodworkers out there that can achieve a tight dado on a table saw in no time flat because they’ve done it so often and they are good at it; they know their equipment inside and out. I don’t practice any one method enough to become really great at it because I’m a home woodworker with limitations in both space, equipment, and certain skills I will reluctantly admit.

There is a part of me that would really like to focus on one style of woodworking, not because of any ideology or to prove a point, but just to become really good at one method. But another part of me knows that it just isn’t possible at the moment. With a little more practice, I know I could easily saw all of my dados by hand. But I also know that if I am building a bookcase with 24 dado cuts then sawing and fitting them each by hand will severely limit the already limited time I have to woodwork with, and I could say the same of power operations that require jig building and use.

So it looks like I am sort of stuck in between at least for the time being. I guess it doesn’t matter all that much. I’ve managed to get by for the past 4 years using my own style and I’ve generally enjoyed it. But being on the fence isn’t always the most comfortable place to sit. Maybe it’s time I chose a side. Maybe I need to get off the fence and get going, somewhere. In any case, being somewhere is better than being nowhere.

I’m looking through you.

My vacation is sadly coming to a close. I hadn’t been at the house very often this week, but I did want to dedicate a few hours to woodwork before I went back to real work. So today I decided to start the built in cupboard I had planned for my garage.

For this project I am using home center pine. I don’t plan on painting or staining it, though once the door is finished I may put a coat of linseed oil on it. But as far as material is concerned it is not the best. I had originally planned on making the cupboard around six feet tall and 16 inches wide. It dawned on me this morning that if I make it six feet tall I will have to remove my dart board, which I’ve kind of grown attached to in its current location. So instead I settled on a height of 42 inches. In truth I’m not actually all that worried about dimensions and storage capacity; this is more of an experiment in both woodworking and carpentry.

The first task of the day was ripping a board to 10 1/2″ wide and then cross-cutting it to finished length, which I did on my table saw. I then laid out a dado in the middle of that board. Instead of setting up the dado stack on the table saw, I decided to make the dado with a hand saw, as I felt it a waste of time to go through the trouble of installing and setting up a dado stack to make one cut. I clamped the board to my workbench and used a marking knife and the board I had planned on making the shelf with to mark the dado width. To get the cut started I used the keeper from the Dutch Tool chest as a sawing guide. Once the defining cuts were made I first used a basic hand saw to add more kerfs, but that was tedious, so I used a chisel instead. I then cleaned it out with the same chisel and used the router plane to smooth out the bottom. After I was satisfied with the dado I ripped the board to width, 5 1/4″, on the table saw. It probably would have been a little easier to make the dados after I had ripped it to width, but this method assured that both dados would be perfectly aligned.

Striking a line

Striking a line

sawing guide

sawing guide

Sawing a dado

Sawing a dado

trying to saw accurately

trying to saw accurately

Chopping out a dado

Chopping out a dado

Before I went any further, I pre-drilled some holes in the dado to fasten the shelf. I had planned on using just nails to put the box together, but instead I went with pocket screws. Pocket screws don’t work so well for ninety degree assemblies; they do much better for face frames. I wish I had just used nails, but in the end it was done, though I made it more complicated than it had to be. I also used the liquid hide glue for the first time, and it worked just fine. I liked that it was tacky without being slippery. I then attached the middle shelf to the dado with cut nails, no glue. Before I called it a morning I drilled some holes for adjustable shelves and then cross cut the two shelves to width.

Drilling pilot holes

Drilling pilot holes

I can make a see-through box.

I can make a see-through box.

After I cleaned up I did something that I should have done before anything else, and that was make sure that the box fit between the studs. Happily, it fit perfectly. I only need to add the plywood back to finish the interior of the cupboard. Hopefully next week I will cut out the drywall and install the cupboard in the wall. I will then proceed to the real woodworking portion of this project, and that is making a face frame and a door.

It felt good to get in a little time at the workbench today. If the weather cooperates next weekend, I should have my first project of the summer finished. Most importantly, I will have gotten in some good practice on fitting a door and a face-frame when it comes time to do it for real on the Shaker Enfield Cupboard I plan on making for my next furniture project.

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