The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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Washington desk day 1.

I woke up on Sunday morning feeling a little under the weather. My back was a little stiff, I had a headache, and I didn’t sleep very well on top of it. I almost put my Washington’s Desk project on hold, but I knew that if I didn’t get started I probably never would. So I cleared out the garage and got to work.

The plan was to mill up enough material for the desk top, the breadboard ends, the legs, as well as cleats for the desktop underside and the cross stretcher. So I chose 3 boards, two 6 footers and one 4 footer (all of the boards were 12 inches wide by 1 inch thick). To mill down those boards I used my Ryobi surface planer. For the record, this isn’t what I consider a great or even good tool. I purchased it almost 14 years ago while doing a kitchen remodel. It does the job, but it is loud and messy. Nonetheless, I had to work with the tools I have, so I checked the blades, and they were reasonably sharp, so I started milling.

What made this such an arduous process was the collection of the shavings. Because I rarely use power tools, I don’t have a dust collector or even a large shop vac. The shop vac I do have is perfectly fine for cleaning out a car or keeping a workbench clear, but it is not made for large scale work. But once again I had to use what was available, and it was not fun. Initially, I was hoping to finish up with two boards just over 7/8” thick for the top and one board just over ¾” thick for the legs. But, I underestimated the amount of material I needed to remove. The boards I was working with were very rough sawn, as in just a shade beyond still having bark. So I had to remove nearly ¼” of material just to get down to usable boards that were flat. And it also meant a lot of starting and stopping to empty out the shop vac. I was actually sore from the constant bending over to pick up the shavings, which I did at the very least fifty times. In the end, I filled up an entire lawn bag with shavings.

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The desktop boards after the initial milling.

 

After the boards were milled I used the table saw to trim the two boards for the desk top to rough width and length (as well as getting rid of planer snipe). I then aligned the boards for a nice grain pattern (at least to my eye), and trimmed the boards to very near final size. To join the boards I decided to match-plane them.

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The set up for match planing

Match planing works well, especially if your plane is set properly. I used a strange sequence: jointer plane first, a couple of passes with a jack plane set to take gossamer thin shavings, jointer again, and then one final pass with the jack. I’m not sure how other woodworkers match-plane, but when I am able to take a full width, full length shaving from both boards I call it joined. And in a surprisingly short time the boards were ready to be glued. I am very happy with the joint, as it was air tight, and the top is thankfully nice and flat. It will take a good amount of plane work and sanding, and probably some scraping as well (there are a few funky grain spots) to get the top ready for finish, but I should have a top ¾ thick when all is said and done, which is a bit less than I wanted, but hardly the end of the world.

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A surprisingly small amount of shavings

At that point, I decided to call it a day. There was a lot, and I mean a lot, of clean up to do. In fact, I spent nearly as much time setting up and cleaning up as I did woodworking. This coming weekend I am hoping to get the legs sawn to finish length and width, the breadboard ends ready, and with a little luck I may possibly have the entire base and desk top ready for assembly. I was a little worried over laying out the legs, but I figured out a simple solution that I will detail in my next post.

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The panel glued-up.

 

 

 

 

 

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Washington Monument

Do we ever reach an age where we become too old for heroes? And I don’t just mean every day heroes such as firemen, policemen, and teachers (not that they aren’t important), but legendary heroes such as King Arthur or Babe Ruth. Maybe you all have, but I haven’t.

Growing up in Philadelphia, stories about the American Revolution were pretty much second nature for me. Some of my earliest memories revolve around Valley Forge Park, the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin, and the Liberty Bell. The battles of Brandywine and Germantown were fought basically at my back door, so it was just a normal part of growing up, for me, to learn as much as I could about the War for Independence.

However, of all the legendary names from the War for Independence that I can spout off automatically, George Washington stands atop the list.

As a child, Washington was a mythical figure, a larger than life titan, a legendary demi-god who descended from Heaven, led America to a glorious victory, and rode off into immortality in a chariot of fire. As I grew older, my hobby of researching the American Revolution turned more towards the battles and tactics of the time. I loved the political intrigue, the clandestine spy operations with code names and invisible ink, and the sacrifices of the common soldier. Yet, I always found myself coming back the Washington, even if in passing.

Fast forward into married adulthood. Four years ago my family was going through a difficult time. A very close family member had become ill, I was not feeling so hot myself, and it was quite frankly very difficult on all of us, in particular my wife. Living so close to Valley Forge National Park, I found myself there often, taking long walks just to ease my mind. And though I had been to VFP many times, and though I had known the story of the park since before I could read, the park was still to me in many ways a place of legend, in much the same way that George Washington had become a legendary figure. But it was during those walks that began to look around, and not just inwardly. I found myself reading the many marker stones and inscribed monuments to those who served there; I spoke to park rangers and historians, I attended park events, and soon after I found myself once again engrossed in history. It saved me.

I read at least 50 or more books on the Revolution. I volunteered at the park whenever possible (and still do to this day). I took it upon myself to become a steward of history, learning whatever I could whenever I could. And in doing so I came to admire George Washington more and more, not just for his war time exploits, but as the leader of a new nation.

I don’t know how many books I’ve read just on Washington to be honest. I now count 22 on the book shelf right behind me, and at least that many more in my Kindle reader. A few of those books were little more than fluff pieces, but the majority of them are true in-depth studies, and just as I chose those books specifically to de-mystify the legend and learn more about the man, instead his legend grew in my eyes and I now hold him in greater esteem more than ever. He was far from perfect, and I am not implying that he was; he had faults like all of us do; I am only doing my utmost to understand the man in context to the era he lived in, and I found perhaps the greatest leader of men the world saw in the entire millennium.

So this is a woodworking blog, right, and not an ode to historical figure? Why then post a fanboy crush diary entry on George Washington and his ragtag band of rebels? Glad you asked.

A few weeks back I went with my family to the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. It was a geek-out heaven for me, and among the thousands of artifacts were some of George Washington’s personal belongings. Of course, there were also replicas, and among those was a desk that was believed to be similar to the furniture that would have been used by the officers, and perhaps Washington himself, during the American Revolution. I made the decision right then and there to build one for myself.

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Washington’s campaign desk?

It just so happens that I have been planning for the past year to dedicate a section of our family room to my love of history. I have collected dozens if not hundreds of historical artifacts on the era: artwork, newspapers, broadsides, books, lamps, and tools. Admittedly, most of those artifacts are replicas, but they are of high quality. As of last month it was my plan to restore a desk which belonged to my father-in-law’s family and use that to house and display some of my collection. Though I still plan on restoring that desk, I have decided to make the “Washington” desk my centerpiece.

Even better news is that in doing some more research, I’ve found that most of Washington’s campaign furniture was made from walnut, which I thankfully have plenty to use ( I had planned on using it regardless). I’ve recently consulted with my first and best woodworking mentor, his excellency Chuck Bender, on some of the construction details, and he was, of course, a huge help.

With any luck I am hoping to not only have the final measurements down, but the material milled and the desktop panel glued up this weekend. The top I will make using breadboard ends. The legs may be a bit of a challenge in that I don’t plan on making them foldable because I have no intention of moving this desk throughout the colonies. So I may make those using a ship lap joint, which is a joint I’ve generally only made perpendicular. Otherwise, I plan on staying pretty much true to the photo.

I’m hoping this turns out well, because even though it may not be my most ambitious project, I can already guarantee that it will be my favorite thus far. George Washington has inspired me for much of my life, even more so as an adult than as a child, and I cannot think of a better way to adorn my home and continue my research than to create a piece of furniture inspired by the man himself.

 

Amish Furniture Styles: Mission vs Shaker

Amish furniture has been present in North America since 1737 when the first Amish families arrived from the Netherlands. As more Amish settled in America and applied their gift of wood craftsmanship, they soon made a name for themselves as master furniture makers. It wasn’t until 1774 that the arrival of Shakers from England began to change the way the Amish designed their furniture.

The Shaker brought with them a style of furniture that was simple, unadorned and visually appealing to the way of life the Amish chose to live. Amish furniture makers adopted this new style, aptly named Shaker style, and began to craft this type of furniture. The long history of the Shaker style amongst the Amish communities is reason why this particular design is most often associated as the classic Amish furniture type. However, there is another type to consider.

The second style of Amish furniture is Mission style. Mission furniture was adopted by the Amish in 1898 and appealed to craftsmen that wanted that heavier, dark look in their work. This style was adapted from the furniture commonly found in Spanish missions. Despite being so heavy looking, overall the designs of Mission furniture are very simple, similar to why the Shaker style is so beloved.

While both Shaker and Mission style furniture are made by Amish craftsmen, and they’re both very similar in terms of simplicity, there are some significant differences between the two. If you plan on investing in something like an Amish living room furniture it is important you understand what sets these two styles apart from one another.

Features of Classic Shaker Furniture:

Tapering and Turnings

In effort to keep furniture as light as possible tapering and turning of furniture, especially the legs, was done. Tapering is the graduation of the wood piece to a small size while turning is the removal of excess material, often on the inside part of table and chair legs. When tapering is done it is very gentle and gradual, not ornately or sharply tapered.

Wooden Drawer Pulls and Knobs

Shaker style is most often finished with wooden drawer pulls and knobs. This maintained the overall simple, understated look for the furniture. It also allows the craftsman to use one product for the entire piece of furniture.

Plain Wood Finish

Majority of Shaker furniture is made of light colored woods like pine, maple or cherry. These were sealed and finished but never stained dark. The purpose of this is to allow the quality of the wood to speak for itself without relying on a heavy stain to show the beauty.

Hidden Joinery

The Amish are not prideful and do not do work to appeal to the ego, which is the main reason why their furniture is fairly basic. Joinery requires meticulous skill and is often hidden from sight. For example, a half-blind dovetail will be used on drawers, which could only be seen when open.

Graduated Drawers

If you’re purchasing a dresser, buffet or some other type of Shaker furniture with drawers you’ll notice that, more often than not, the drawers are graduated. This means the drawer at the bottom will be the largest while the drawer on top will be the smallest. This design is practical and also looks appealing.

Features of Classic Mission Furniture:

Thick Wood Stained Dark

Oak is one of the more common types of wood used for Mission furniture, but regardless of wood type Mission work tends to consist of thick pieces. Mission furniture is also stained dark, varying from a rich brown to a deep stain close to black. This really makes the furniture stand out and look even stronger.

Exposed Joinery

Rather than having hidden joints Mission furniture tends to really showcase the joinery. The mortise and tenon joint technique is very common with Mission furniture, and for good reason. This joint is incredibly strong and also very beautiful to look at.

Straight Lines

Most Mission furniture relies on straight lines, with very little tapering or curvature present. This is an even more simplistic design than Shaker, though it requires just as much skill to design.

Parallel Slats

Since Mission furniture is thicker the use of parallel slats on open portions of furniture, such as the back of a couch or chair, to make it lighter. Slats are very popular and highly requested on custom Mission furniture.

Leather

While not exceedingly common, some Amish to incorporate the use of leather into their Mission furniture. This was done in the Spanish style and has been carried over in some shops. Most often you will see leather touches on chair seats or perhaps even on a headboard.

Choosing a Style

Shaker furniture is the epitome of Amish craftsmanship. It retains the very original designs of tapers, all-wood construction, and plain wood. In a way Shaker furniture settles more into the room and is more neutral. Mission style furniture is bold and stunning, easily becoming the statement pieces in the room. The use of hardware is more traditional of what most Americans are accustomed to in their furniture.

Both Shaker and Mission style furniture are beautiful as well as equally appealing to anyone that appreciates minimalistic, handcrafted furnishings. Choosing to go with Amish-made furniture is a guarantee of quality, expertise and traditional design.

Sharp is King.

Over the weekend I finished up the weather station project I’ve been working on as well as made a small “wallet” for some combination plane blades. Though, I’m happy to have finished those projects, I’d like to share with you a very minor (but oh so major) change I made to my sharpening system.

First things first, a few weeks back I made a weather station for the instrument kit I purchased from Lee Valley some time ago. Those of you who read the post may recall that I used walnut for the base and a piece of scrap pine to hold the weather instruments. The scrap pine was just an experiment to test the appearance of the piece; I liked what I saw, so I decided to go ahead and use cherry as the contrasting wood. Because I already had the pine template, cutting the cherry to size and boring out the dowel holes was a matter of minutes. The only time consuming part was planing the board smooth from its rough state, which took around 10 minutes to complete both sides.

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The weather station with its scrap pine ‘template’

Otherwise, it may be worth noting that I attempted to bore out the 2 1/2″ diameter hole with an adjustable boring bit and brace, but it was simply too much material for me to hog out. Instead, I once again used a hole saw, but with an electric drill rather than a drill press, as my drill press has been having issues. I did not want to use the hole saw again because I felt the holes were a touch too large for a snug fit, but in the end it worked out just fine.

To complete the finish I coated it with linseed oil, wiped off the excess and let it dry overnight. I added a second coat in the morning and let it dry for around 4 hours or so, then added two coats of wax. I have to admit that it turned out fairly nice, and my wife actually wants to hang it in the living room, so I’m happy with the end result.

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The finished weather station. I will take another photo when it is hanging in its future home.

The other project I completed was a basic wallet to hold the smaller blades for a Record combination plane. The project was basically a way to pass the time while the second coat of linseed oil was drying. I used a scrap piece of 1/4 inch plywood and a couple of pine cut offs. It was really a very basic, down and dirty project. I’m happy to report that the fit is nice, and I coated the inside of the wallet with wax to not only smooth it out, but also for added protection.

blade wallet

But the real revelation has been my sharpening “system”.

On paper, my sharpening system may seem complicated. It’s not. I have two water stones, a DMT duosharp diamond stone, a leather strop, sandpaper, a hand cranked grinder, and a low-speed power grinder. For nearly all of my sharpening, the water stones and a leather strop are the only requirements.

If I have to do any heavy grinding I use sand paper and/or the DMT stone. If it’s real bad I will use the power grinder (or if I am trying to reset the bevel). As an added note, I personally don’t believe that power grinders are completely necessary. They certainly save time, but you can work without one. In fact, I admit that the only reason I have one is because it was purchased using a gift card that I received through my work, where our vendors offer those cards as incentives to take their online training modules. As far as the hand cranked grinder is concerned, it was given to me by a friend, but it does work rather well if need be.

The reason I bring up my sharpening method is because I’ve been making an effort to sharpen a few tools every time I woodwork. In this case, I sharpened a 3/8 in chisel, the iron from my block plane, and the 1/4″ plow iron from the combination plane. What has been remarkable lately are my results. For the past few months I’ve been getting beyond razor sharp tools. Perhaps I’ve just become a better sharpener through experience, but I don’t think that is entirely the case.

Going back to the water stones. For many years I’ve used a 1000g and an 8000g Norton. I’ve always had good results with the 8000g stone, but the 1000g stone always seemed to give me trouble. I felt that it was slower than it should have been, and it seemed to wear unevenly no matter how carefully I tried to keep that from happening. So a few months ago I happened to drop the 1000g stone (a Freudian slip?) and it broke in 3 pieces. Rather than try to epoxy it back together, I purchased an 800g King stone.

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800g King water stone. This is an internet stock photo and not a photo of mine, which is bathing in a plastic container.

I can’t tell you exactly why I purchased the King brand, probably because it was inexpensive, but I can tell you that since I’ve been using that stone for the initial honing the sharpness of my tools has improved beyond dramatically. The King stone cuts very quickly, and builds up slurry far faster than the Norton ever did, it has worn evenly and it seems much easier to flatten ( I use the DMT stone to true up my water stones) That all being said, I still use the Norton 8000g stone and it has always worked well.

The first tool I sharpened using the King stone was my marking knife. I’ve never been a great knife sharpener, but I can tell you that after 5 minutes with my regular method (800g, 8000g, strop) I was using that knife to fruit ninja paper out of mid air. When I say I could have shaved my face with it I am not exaggerating.

Since, I’ve been going down the line, sharpening a few chisels and/or plane irons at a time, as well as other tools like my router plane and coffin smoother. In fact, I believe the only I have left to finish using the King stone are the jack plane iron and my 1 1/4 in chisel. That being said, I’ve only sharpened 2 of the combination plane blades thus far, but my 8 chisels and 4 bench planes are basically finished up, and I couldn’t be happier with the results.

So maybe it’s the stone, or maybe I’ve improved and the actual stone has nothing to do with it, but I don’t think that is completely the case. Nonetheless, since I’ve been using the King stone, sharpening has been faster and easier, and the results speak for themselves. Some people treat sharpening as some sort of religious experience; I’ve never felt that way about it. Sharpening has always been a means to an end for me, and for once getting to that end has been far faster and more enjoyable than it ever has been.

****As sort of a post-disclaimer, I was not paid or compensated in any way to write this post. I am just doing it because I’ve found the King stone to be an excellent value****

Dutch Resistance

Like nearly every other woodworker on the planet, I built a “Dutch” tool chest a few years back; in fact, I built two. I enjoyed both projects, and it was a good chance to work on several different skills: dovetail joinery, dado joinery, mortise and tenon joinery, joinery, joinery, joinery.

One of those chests I gave to my dad, the other I kept. For quite a while my chest was in my garage with most of my woodworking tools placed inside it. It sometimes sat on my bench, or under it, or under my feet. I bumped into it quite often, every now and again I would trip over it; I bent over countless times to get stuff out of it. Eventually, I smartened up, hung a cabinet and some tool racks on the walls near my work area, and put my Dutch tool chest in the attic.

Here is the plain truth that nobody wants to hear: working out of that chests sucked. It wasn’t a size issue; the chest was easily large enough to hold the bulk of my woodworking tools. It is a simple matter of logistics, too much bending over, reaching, stretching, dropping, knuckle banging nonsense.

I found the best way to work out of the chest was to put it on my workbench so that everything was at eye level. The problem there was it got in the way too much. Of course, I could put it back on the floor after I got everything out, but then all of that stuff was on the bench too. And who feels like picking up and putting down a 100 pound + tool chest four or five times? Not me.

I’ve seen videos where the woodworker removed all of the tools he/or she needed at the beginning of the project and put them on the bench. I suppose that works, but then all of the stuff is on the bench and in the way (unless you have a recessed tool tray, but they are bad news, right?)

Okay, I’m complaining, so what solution am I offering? The same one that has been around forever: mount your tools on a wall rack and store them in a wall hung cabinet.
Everything is at eye level, out of the way, easy to see and easy to reach. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: since I’ve mounted my tools on the wall I’ve become a more efficient woodworker. AND, my back feels a whole lot better.

So here is my expert advice: If, for some reason, you travel a lot with your woodworking tools, make a tool chest for transportation. And if you are like the overwhelming majority of amateur woodworkers with tools that very rarely leave your work area, mount your stuff on the wall over your bench. Nothing bad is going to happen to your stuff if it’s out in the open. I live in a high humidity area and I’ve had very few rust issues. Keep your tools oiled (as you should be doing anyway) and they’ll be just fine.

So why rehash a topic I know I’ve already covered? Well, a few weeks ago I was getting some things out of the attic and I saw my tool chest sitting on the floor. It still looked pretty good, and it will certainly still hold tools, so I brought it down the stairs, dusted it off, and sold it for a few bucks.

I mentioned a few posts back that I had sold off some tools (mostly duplicates) and how I surprisingly had no sentimental attachment to any of them. But when I sold my Dutch tool chest I very nearly backed out of the deal. My second thoughts didn’t stem from the sell cost, I was just very reluctant to let go of something I had built myself.

I’m hardly a great woodworker, but I put a lot of time and effort into my projects. For whatever it’s worth, and for all of it’s shortcomings, I thought that my tool chest looked great when I finished it. When I brought it down the attic stairs and briefly back into my garage, it seemed to “fit the scene”. But then I remembered why I put it into the attic in the first place, so I put sentimentality aside and did what I know was the right thing to do. And though I pride myself on being a person who makes the right decisions, the right decision in this instance wasn’t an easy one to make.

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Dutch Tool Box

Weather report.

For the first time in a long, long time I was a “power tool woodworker” on Sunday afternoon. There was nothing momentous about this occasion, it just so happened, to happen.

To set the scene, several years ago (I don’t remember exactly when), I purchased a weather instrument kit from Lee Valley because it was on sale and because they were offering free shipping. I’ve always enjoyed the appearance of vintage weather stations and I thought it would be a nice idea to make one. So like all new project ideas, I planned on starting that one ASAP, and the kit was promptly placed in a cabinet in my garage where it sat untouched for around 24 months give or take.

In the meanwhile, I’ve managed to build up quite a stash of walnut, cherry, and ash, along with the prerequisite pine and poplar, and coincidentally I happened to see one of those weather stations at a museum recently, so I thought it would be a good idea to finally make my own version.

The original plan was simple: a walnut slab cornered and chamfered with a basic finish applied. So I used broke out the table saw to cross-cut and rip the slab to finish size. The news is all good; the saw cut smoothly and there was no hint of bogging or binding, and this on a 1 inch thick x 13 inch wide slab of well-seasoned walnut. I then laid out the corners and cut the first one with a hand saw. Of course I had to clean up that cut with a block plane, and then it dawned on me to use the table saw to cut the other corners. Why not? What was the worst that could happen?

Nothing happened, it took all of 2 minutes for the cuts to be made.

I then needed to plane the board smooth, as it was a true in-the-rough board. I used a jack plane first just to get the bulk of the work done, and I then went to my Stanley #4. For whatever reason, it didn’t seem to be producing the results that I wanted, so I decided to turn to my coffin smoother, which is a tool that I painstakingly and lovingly restored myself with many hours of labor (thank you Graham Haydon). The plane performed above and beyond expectations and it should have, considering I spent hours on the sharpening alone.

Lastly, I chamfered the edges with a block plane. Everything went so quickly I had myself a wacky idea: how about adding another panel, inset and raised above the walnut, in a lighter wood such as cherry. I had several nice pieces of cherry that would work, but rather than taking the risk of ruining them (in the sense that it wouldn’t look all that great) I decided to use a piece of scrap pine for a test run. So I went back to the table saw and quickly made the cuts. I then had to cut out the holes for the weather pieces, which required a 2 1/2 inch hole. My largest forstner bit is 2 1/8 inches, so I used a hole saw instead, and in the drill-press it worked just fine.

The most difficult part was accurately drilling two holes for dowels which would align the two boards. I used a combination square to set the reveal, taped the board securely with painters tape, and started the drilling. My plan was to use the scrap pine as a template, so I drilled through that board and around ½ inch into the walnut. Lastly, I quickly planed and chamfered the pine, screwed in two temporary spacers on the walnut, and installed the panel. (once the cherry is installed the dowels will not be seen)

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All in all I like the look, though I do think it will look even better with a cherry panel instead of the scrap pine. When I removed the pine to apply a finish, it split a touch, not that it matters because it was only a temp solution, and I should have no trouble using it as a template for the cherry. The project came in at just about 2 hours, and I’m estimating that replacing the pine with cherry will probably be a 45 minute affair. I would have finished right then and there but the day was already getting long. Truthfully, I think maple would look even better but I don’t have a suitable maple board to use.

Regardless, it was a fun little project, and I think it will look great in the area I have set aside for it. Not to get ahead of myself, but this is the first in hopefully a series of projects to create my own little “dream” office area, complete with old manuscripts, candle holders, writing desks, and quill pens. Yeah, I’m a history geek; I admit it.

A little bit jumpy.

Before I get into the topic of this post, I would like to preface it by saying that I have been working with and around machinery for most of my adult life. That list includes construction equipment, printing presses, pipe benders, wire pulling machines, fork lifts and earth movers. Of course this list also includes power tools for woodworking. All of the equipment I listed could and can seriously injure or even kill.

Lately, while woodworking, I have been exclusively using hand tools. This has not been a philosophical decision. The projects I have been working on are generally small, and because my daughter has been with me ( I will not use a power tool with her in the vicinity), and because I could just as easily crosscut a few boards by hand, I have been avoiding the table saw. But over the past weekend I broke out the table saw for the first time in quite a while, and truth be told it may be a long while before I break it out again.

Last year my father-in-law brought me some hickory and ash logs from his property in upstate Pennsylvania, so I split them into smaller pieces and set them aside to dry. When inspecting them on Saturday I deemed them dry enough to use, so I decided to further prep the wood (namely the hickory) into smaller billets to be used as handle stock for some antique farm and logging tools that I have been attempting to restore. This prep work consisted of a lot of sawing and hatchet work, and I don’t recommend it if you are working under any kind of time frame because it is a long and arduous process despite what anybody will tell you. Regardless. I ended up with four “sticks” roughly 2 ½ feet long and 2 or so inches square. I planed them down mainly to get a flat reference face (this wood will be shaped into contoured handles, so there is no need to start off with a perfectly square board), and rather than spending another hour rip sawing and cross cutting, I decided to use the table saw to get all of the wood to uniform size. That is when things got weird.

The first thing I wanted to do was cross cut the boards to uniform width. I have an Osborne EB-3 miter gauge, which I feel is a top of the line product, and it has never given me any real trouble. It is accurate, and safe, and I feel comfortable using it. The blade on the saw is new and sharp. So I set the blade height, and decided on an off-cut of around 2 inches just to be sure to remove any funky end wood. So I began a process I have completed thousands of times…My first off cut shot across my garage like a rifle shot. I turned off the saw, checked the blade height-which was right where it is supposed to be-and got back to work. The second off cut, which was the other side of the same board, did not shoot across the garage again, but it wanted to. Instead, it seemed to “tug” the board into the blade slightly, and I believe the only thing that kept the board from being pulled laterally any further was the fact that my miter gauge is lined with 60 grit sand paper just for the purpose of keeping the wood from shifting. At this point, I unplug the saw and check the blade-it is tight and sharp; I check the miter gauge and it is 90 degrees to the blade (not that it should have mattered in the least but I checked anyway) I even checked the voltage at the receptacle that the saw is plugged into-121 volts. So I chalked up the missile launches to the dense hickory board and began again.
The next 3 boards yielded generally the same results: flying wood, pulling boards, and overall chaos. After the boards were sawn to length I was planning on ripping them to width as well, but by then I was becoming worried. I have always had a very healthy respect for all machinery and I am always very cautious when using it, because I’ve witnessed several gory incidents as well as surviving a few near-misses myself. But this was the first time that I can ever recall being afraid to use a table saw.

At this point I decided on some more detective work. I went back to the blade, which is a brand new 40t combination blade, a Diablo from the Depot. While I don’t consider the Diablo blades anything special, I have used them in the past many times without incident. Nevertheless I doublechecked it, and found no wobble, the teeth were nice and sharp, and as I said before, the height was set where I always set it, with the gullets approximately 1/8 of an inch above the cut. Hickory is a hard wood, very hard, so I decided to cross cut a piece of scrap pine to see the results, and while it did not shoot across the room or bog, something definitely did not feel quite right. So I re-checked the Hickory; there were no wild grain patterns or large checks, and while the boards likely have more moisture content than a kiln dried board you may find in a lumber yard or home center, they were definitely not openly wet or even damp.

However, one area of concern did crop up, and that was the throat plate on my table saw. The plate is wider than it should be, and perhaps an offcut just a few inches long will dip, even slightly, due to lack of support, causing it to touch the revolving blade, possibly shooting it back? I have always wanted to make or purchase a zero clearance throat plate, but because I use the table saw so little I haven’t considered it much lately. So to test this theory out I cross cut a scrap board so that much of the off-cut would be supported by the table and the results were improved, though I still seemed to feel a slight tug that I had honestly never noticed before until that day.

Here’s the thing, not too long ago I came to the conclusion that I am probably going to sell my table saw. I don’t use it much, but more importantly it takes up a lot of space. At the same time a table saw can be a useful tool to have around. I know that I can work without it, but I also know that there are times it will be greatly missed, in particular on those days when I need to cut a few dozen dados. I’m not sold on the notion of “all handwork, all the time.” Once again, I have nothing against it, I just don’t have the free time for it; I woodwork for fun, not as a crusade. Yet, I haven’t really used the table saw in earnest this entire year, and we are heading into September. Either way, for the first time in my life I did not feel comfortable using a familiar tool. It’s worth the $25 investment to add a zero-clearance throat plate, but that may not be the issue, and that issue may be a problem with the saw that I cannot necessarily identify without a true expert checking it out for me.

If I add a new throat plate and I still don’t notice a difference I can only see two options: sell the saw and put the money toward a band-saw, or sell the saw and put the money towards a Sawstop Saw. For the record, this is not a commercial for Sawstop. I’ve used a Sawstop saw a handful of times and I think highly of them. I don’t know if they do any more to stop kickback on crosscuts than any other saw will, but I do know that if that kick back causes my hand to slip, or jerk, or what have you, and my hand happens to touch the blade in doing so, I have a far better chance of not sustaining a serious injury. Yet, even if I sell my saw and get top dollar for it, the money raised would still be less than half of what I need. I can get a nice bandsaw for half the cost of a Sawstop, and bandsaws, in my opinion, are a far safer option, perhaps the safest option of all when it comes to sawing wood with a motor.

When it comes down to it, I’m not a kid anymore, and I’m not a professional woodworker. Maybe my months long lay-off from the table saw has me somewhat gun shy. Maybe my reflexes aren’t what they used to be, and I have definitely had some issues with my hands and fingers, so maybe that is the problem. Whatever the case may be, I was honestly rattled this past weekend, and that is no way to woodwork, and until I figure it out, the power switch to that table saw is remaining in the “off” position.

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