Techniques

Low Bench Leg Joinery

I’ve been making low benches (both workbenches and general furniture) for a while now and I’d like to talk about the various ways to join the legs to the top. In my experience, some are better or worse than others, depending on several factors, including: (i) the purpose of the finished piece, (ii) the thickness of the benchtop, (iii) the materials used, and (iv) the tools available.

Let’s discuss several choices to join the legs to the top (I swear this is not a clip show):

First, we have cylindrical through tenons. The tenon can be hand carved, turned on a lathe or made with a round tenon cutter (like for rustic joinery). The mortise is bored with a large auger bit or some other boring bit.

And secured with wedges.

Next, we have conical through tenons. The tenon is hand carved with a drawknife or plane and then typically refined with a special tapered tenon cutter. The mortise is bored with a smaller bit and enlarged with a tapered reamer.

Also secured with wedges, but this is a more informative shot.

In addition, we have rectilinear through tenons, which can be cut with regular edge tools. The tenon is sawed to shape with an angled shoulder. The mortise is chopped out with a chisel. No boring tools needed.

This joint needs wedges, too. Seeing a pattern, yet?

Finally, legs can be joined with notched lap joints. The tenon is sawed at an angle with a birds mouth shoulder. The mortise is just a dado in the side of the top. Also no boring tools needed.

But instead of wedges, you need metal fasteners.

There is also the tapered sliding dovetail used on Roy Underhill’s Timber Bench, but that’s outside the scope of this article.

Let’s take these in order. This is just my opinion based on experience; others may have their own takes.

Round Tenons

Pros:

  • Relatively easy to cut: You just need an augur/boring bit of appropriate diameter (and a bit of skill to follow an angle) to cut the tenon. For the tenon, either use a lathe or log joinery tenon cutter or employ a few common hand tools (saws, chisels, spokeshave, rasps, sand paper) to round off the tenon and taper the shoulder.
  • Strong: Full thickness tenons, glued and secured with wedges, form a secure and durable joint.

Cons:

  • Hard to correct: If you mess up the angle or wallow out the mortise too much, you’re stuck with it. There is no correcting after the fact.
  • Limited sizes available: If you want a 2″ round tenon, you need to find a 2″ boring bit to cut the mortise. And a drill or brace that can use the damn thing without releasing the blue smoke (or tearing a UCL).
  • Certain materials work better: Leg stock needs to be bone dry, otherwise the tenon may shrink and need to be re-wedged in the future. Also, ideally, the wedges are made of something even harder than the legs. Finally, 2x dimensional lumber may not be thick enough for a sturdy leg.
  • Cosmetics: To me, full size round tenons just look off. If the angles are done right (so the exit holes are proper circles and not wallowed out ovals) and you use a contrasting wood for the wedges, they can be beautiful. But there are too many variables for me.

Tapered Tenons

Pros:

  • Relatively easy to cut: Same as above, except you need a tapered reamer to make the tapered mortise and typically want a matching tapered tenon cutter to refine the tenon (both are generally available from the usual woodworking suppliers).
  • Self-tightening: As you put weight on the legs, the tapered tenon will seat even further into the joint. The leg stock should still be bone dry, but as long as your legs are made of something equal to or harder than the top, the joint can sort itself out over time.
  • Easy to correct: Unlike the cylindrical tenon, where you are stuck with the hole you bored (including any wonky angles), you can correct the angles using the tapered reamer. Just take it slow and check often.

Cons:

  • Less strong: The tapered tenon has less material making contact with the top and the wedge is not full width, so for a low workbench or a sitting bench for more than one person, you may need to add a cross rail to each pair of legs stabilize things.
  • Requires specialized equipment: As noted above, you need at least one piece of special equipment (a tapered reamer) to make the mortise. Refining the tapered tenon without the tapered tenon cutter is doable but takes some practice.

Rectilinear Through Tenons

Pros:

  • Easy to cut: No specialized tools needed. A chisel, a mallet, a bevel gauge (or a block of wood cut to the right angle), and some patience will give you a clean and precise hole (that you can further refine with a file or rasp). I like to bore out most of the waste with an augur bit and pare down to lines, but this is ultimately just a square or rectangular mortise.
  • Strong: Of all the joints described, this one has the most material forming the tenon.
  • Customizable: You’re only limited by the size of the stock (not the size of the boring tool), so this joint can be used for everything from a footstool to a full size standing workbench. I would imagine this is the joint used in the workbench shown in Plate IX, Figure 68 of the marquetry entry in Diderot’s Encyclopedie.
  • Cosmetics: Rectangular tenons wedged at 90 degrees or square tenons wedged at 45 degrees are very pleasing to my eye. I think they look the best of all of the through tenons.

Cons:

  • Complex layout: Unlike cylindrical or conical tenons, you have to actually lay out both sides of the mortise. This requires carrying compound angles around to the other face. You’ll need to not only S4S the top but also square the ends.
  • Harder to correct: If you overshoot your lines, the only option is to make the tenon larger (which is easy if you overshoot side to side, but much harder front to back).

Notched Lap Joints

Pros:

  • Simple to cut: This joint can be cut with one saw and one chisel. Even the compound angled version is not particular difficult to work out. There is a reason why saw benches are the quintessential intro woodworking course.
  • Any material works: 2x dimensional softwood lumber from the home center is perfectly acceptable for the legs. Using thinner material for the top (such as 2x dimensional softwood lumber) does not materially weaken the joint, either.
  • Versatile: When using a narrower than ideal top, this joint can be used on the back legs to extend the footprint to a stable depth.

Cons:

  • Weak without reinforcement: As an external joint, glue alone is unlikely to be enough for a lasting joint. Metal fasteners and gussets are required to keep this joint together long term.
  • Legs protrude beyond the top: Another drawback to the external joint, the legs will likely be in the way for some sawing and other operations. You can fix this by laminating on boards after the legs are attached, making a de facto rectilinear through tenon.
  • Cosmetics: This is generally not a furniture grade joint. There are certain instances where it can be attractive. But most often, you’ll be using this joint for workshop stuff.

So what do you think? Did I miss anything in the pros and cons lists? Have I ruined everything forever?

I mean, yeah. Of course I have. But maybe not because of this article.

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Maximizing Usable Tool Storage Space

*Editors note: This is James’ first attempt at a long-form woodworking article. He is aware it is a departure from his usual format and tone.

There is an idiom, often attributed to either Benjamin Franklin or the anonymous Shaker craftsman, that goes, “A place for everything, [and] everything in its place”. I doubt Old Richard Scary actually came up with the phrase. I also doubt the Shakers would disagree with the notion. After all, if you can be one thing, you should be efficient. And for those of us who have small shops, this is more than just an aesthetic; it’s a way of life.

There are, as far as I can tell, there are two main approaches to tool storage in woodworking (although I would imagine these concepts apply to all crafts and shops). The first, just keep it open and pile everything in, works fine for things like full size, stationary English floor chests with banks of sliding tills and ample room for everything. The other, divide it up and create slots for individual tools (sometimes called “French Fitting” [double capitalization intended], which is the term I will use for the rest of this article), excels in chests that will travel or where space (read: organization) is at a premium. I prefer a hybrid of those approaches, but skewed heavily toward the latter.

A full size Dutch Tool Chest is a mix of both French Fitting and Pile In organization.

When there is a place for everything, and everything is in its place, the tool you need is more likely to be easily findable and at hand. In addition, the tool is likely to remain set, tuned and sharp, having been protected from jostling against its neighbors. This is especially true for chests that get moved around, loading in and out of the car or dumped on the lawn for some sunshine woodworking. But even for stationary chests that live inside the shop, there is a level of French Fitting that I believe benefits everyone. It goes without saying that this is a handtool-focused approach. I only use a few machines, and each of them directly complements my handtool-first approach. If you are a machines-only woodworker, please feel free to keep reading. But this article might not have as much utility for you.

In my workshop (which is a 12×13 bedroom), I work out of a large Dutch tool chest (a “DTC”) in the Schwarz design from 2013. The chest lives to the left of the leg vise, pretty centered on the left wall of the room. In the main compartment of the chest (the “Well”), each of the primary tools (e.g., bench planes, back saws, hand saws, chisels, and other frequent-use tools) lives in a rack or a divided till and no other tool fits on that slot. A tool comes out, does its job, and goes back to its home. Directly below the Well is a drawer that holds longer, more fragile tools (e.g., rasps, paring chisels), as well as other small tools that wouldn’t fit nicely into the main well. This drawer is not French Fitted. And, honestly, it gets pretty cluttered.

The rest of the chest is two open compartments where tools are just piled in. The middle compartment holds tool rolls with augur bits, plane and joinery floats and gouges, plus the boring tools (braces and eggbeater drill). The bottom compartment holds a quarter set of hollows and rounds and my joinery planes, plus some drill and driver bits and sharpening slips (and a hammer that doesn’t fit anywhere else). A few odds and ends are strategically stashed throughout the chest.

But, like I said, that chest doesn’t ever move. When I woodwork outside or get called to a buddy’s house to fix something, I ask so much more of the tool chest I bring with me into the wild. That chest must not only hold (and organize) everything I need to do the job, but it must also keep everything secure and safe through the bumps and bruises of lugging it around. So let’s talk about French Fitting a DTC-style traveling tool chest.

Everything begins with this.

Chisels and Other Handled Tools

When I begin planning tool storage in any tool chest, it starts first with a rack for chisels and other handled tools that attaches to an inner wall of the chest (the back wall, for a DTC). Christopher Schwarz has covered this topic in depth previously, but in my experience, starting with 1/2″ holes at 1 3/8″ centers does the trick. I like a 1 3/8″ x 1 3/8″ pine board for the rack. Although many tools will fit into the 1/2″ holes, a good portion of the holes must be elongated to fit, among other things, wider chisels. So a drill press is your friend here. Map out your strategy for this and pay attention to the width of the tool above the rack. For example, two marking gauges side by side will probably crowd each other even with 1 3/8″ spacing. So maybe find something with a narrower handle to put in between them to space things out. I like my chisels on the right side of the rack; others prefer the left side. Just don’t put them in the middle, though (for reasons that will be come clear in a bit).

I like to put an awl to the left of dividers so the adjustment bar can tuck away.

Before I hang the rack to the inside wall of the DTC, I need two measurements. The first is how much below the top of the rack the largest chisel (in this case, 1″) will hang. Add 1″ to that and you get a rough height for the gap from the floor of the well to the underside of the rack. That extra inch should ensure both that your largest chisel will never hit the floor of the Well and also there is clearance for other, longer tools (e.g., a sliding bevel or brad awl). The second measurement is how much space that leaves to the top of the chest. If there is not enough clearance for the tallest tool in the rack, lower the rack until it the largest chisel doesn’t dig into the floor of the well but there is still clearance for the chest lid to close. Now affix this rack to the back wall of the chest with countersunk screws. I like to drive two from outside of the chest about 1″ from the ends of the rack, and one from the inside of the chest centered between the narrow chisel and the next tool to its left. This rack carries a lot of weight so attaching from both sides helps distribute the pressure.

Saws and Combination Square

After the tool rack is attached, it’s time to make the saw till. When traveling, I carry three saws: a 12 TPI rip cut back saw (the Veritas ones are pretty nice and very durable), an 11 TPI rip cut panel saw (it also crosscuts) and a 6 TPI rip cut panel saw. The saw till I prefer is U-shaped and joined at the corners with either dovetails, finger joints or rabbets and nails. Pine is just fine here (and for eveything else), although any wood will work.

The saw till has slots cut with the saws that it will hold (3/4″ on center spacing works great for most saws) and its height is just whatever will friction fit below the tool rack (it adds even more support to prevent the tool rack from sagging). Remember to leave at least 2″ beneath the lowest slot and (at least for the backsaws) don’t make the slots so deep that the saw teeth don’t bite into the till itself. If there is room, I also add a 1/8″ slot for a combination square.

For this saw till, you can can just make ends and screw them in place from the outside of the chest and from the underneath. But I find a bridge in the middle makes the saw till easier to affix (and remove, if needed). Regardless, space the ends based on the saw plate of your shortest saw; an overall width of 2 inches less than the length of the saw plate should work for most saws. When you screw it in place, it should be roughly centered and tuck under the back till just 1/8″ or so. If done right, this saw till has the added benefit of also supporting the middle of the tool rack, which can sag over time.

This is a spare saw till that I had handy. It holds 2 panel saws and 3 backsaws in a full size tool chest.

General Small Tools

The tool rack and the saw till have now created 3 zones of tool storage. The front of the well is for planes and other large items (more on that in a moment). And on each side of the saw till (remember, you left at least 2″ beneath the saws) there is now a great place for general storage. I fill these zones with H-shaped semi boxes that are flush to the front of the saw till. The top of the H is a dead zone that protects the edges of the chisels and other edge tools as they hang down below the tool rack. We’ll call these the “general tills”.

These general tills are just friction fit into the spaces on each side of the saw till and will get closed off later. These general tills are a great place for things like nail punches, drill driver bits and other small items that don’t have edges to protect and can be piled in. You can also use the now-closed-in area below the rack and between the ends of the saw till for specialty storage. I keep my small router plane and dovetail guide there (both are tools I rarely use while outside or on site) that won’t damage anything if they rattle around a little bit.

Plane Till

We’ve now come to the most important part of the operation: the plane till. This is entirely based on the bench planes (and other items) you’ll have in the chest. In the case of my traveling tool set, I use a No. 5 1/2 and a No. 3, which (conveniently) fit in a single row of plane storage, so the second row in the plane till can be for other things. In a full size tool chest, you’ll probably need both rows for planes (I use a No. 7, No. 5 and No. 4 in my main DTC, for example). In fact, the length of these two planes, plus dividers, dictates the overall length of the tool chest itself.

Rabbets and nails are the order of the day when making the saw till. I used to dovetail these, but it’s too easy to undercut a baseline and get a bad fit lengthwise. If I used a table saw, I’d probably make these out of 1/4″ stock all around and just brad nail everything together after cutting VERY shallow rabbets. But with hand tools, 1/2″ stock feels better all around (except for the thin middle dividers).

When locating the divide between compartments that will hold planes, I find an extra 1/8″ of length all around works well for getting Bailey-pattern planes in and out of the plane till. For instance, a No. 5 1/2 is 15″ long and 2 3/4″ wide, so the compartment ends up being 15 1/8″ long and 2 7/8″ (or a hair under) wide. Don’t make them too tight, though; the difference between “secure” and “difficult to remove” is basically 1/16″ in each direction. Just FYI, the knob on smaller planes (like the No.3) extends past the toe. I learned that the hard way.

The recesses on the front board are clearance for the fall front locks.

Aside from ensuring your planes sit snugly, the only other critical measurement here is ensuring the ends of the plane till take up whatever space is left between the front wall and the general tills, thereby locking everything in place. If you do have to build up part of the till to fit a smaller plane, glue that spacer to the plane till. That makes a pretty meaty strip for boring some more 1/2″ holes for extra general tool storage (when I get around to it, my nail punches and marking knife will live there). Just make sure the spacer is the same height as the rest of the plane till.

Notice the filler piece to account for a No. 3 being so much narrower than a No. 5 1/2. It will get some 1/2″ holes for more storage.

The last part of the plane till is (to use a Rex Krueger term) the “key”. It fits into the space between the general tills and the plane till and closes off the second row of the plane till. But don’t glue it to either the plane till or the general tills. As long as the fit is reasonably tight, it will lock everything in place but still allow you to pull the tills out if needed. I like like to add a couple of spacers to the back of the key, which complete the general till box and keep the general tills from pinching in on each other.

All things being equal, the Well should now be perfectly organized for the tools to be kept in there. There is space on the walls for pouches and magnets and whatnot to hold additional tools; just be sure not to obstruct anything coming in or out. You’ll probably need to remove a saw or two to reach the less commonly-used tools (like that block plane on the left side), but that’s just how traveling tool chests work. Success means striking a balance of security and accessibility.

Yes, it’s tight. But everything is where it needs to be.

With a little bit of thought, though, it’s possible to easily store everything you need for meaningful woodworking while also keeping your tools safe from the bumps and bruises of moving the chest around. All the same principles apply to shop storage, if you are so inclined (and I would posit that the edge tool rack and saw till are important for ANY type of tool chest, even with banks of sliding tills for everything).

This is all just a suggestion, of course. Use whatever organization method fits your style of work and tool set. I just want your tools to be safe, secure and ready when you need them.

And that’s it for now. Next week, we’ll examine in more detail the “just keep it open and pile it in” method. Natch.

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Batchin’ ’em Out

If you’ve been here more than once, you know I’m a hand tool guy. To be clear, I do have power tools that complement primarily hand tool work. My lunchbox thickness planer does the donkey work once there is a tried and true reference face and a squared reference edge off the jointer plane. A double bevel compound miter saw quickly cuts stock to rough length. And you can pry my benchtop hollow chisel mortiser from my cold, dead hands. I also have a small drill press (that at this point is used exclusively for accurate drawboring), a collection of battery-powered DIY tools (a drill driver, a circular saw and a random orbital sander), and a trim router kit for when I’ve truly given up on things.

But doing hand work efficiently is more than just leveraging power when, as and if it makes sense. When there are multiple parts to cut (there always are), it helps to think like a one-person assembly line. Each step in the assembly line is a repeated task. Sure, variety is a the spice of life. But just like a blade and fence setup at the table saw, you want to set it once, do all the cuts, then move on. It’s the same thing for body mechanics at the workbench.

So let’s talk about tapered octagon legs by hand.

The first two tapers on each piece (on opposite sides) go pretty quickly in the face vise. If you work to opposite sides, the other profile is still square and therefore easily held in the vise (in my case, a leg vise). Do that eight times.

If you have a twin screw vise that can hold tapers securely, great. Stay at the face vise. But I don’t, so I move to the tail vise. Pinched between the dogs, the legs sit flush to the bench on the tapers I had just planed to make a square taper on all faces. Do that eight times.

And then you have this.

Now lay out the octagon(s). If you have a lathe and will taper across the entire length, you’re nearly done at the workbench. But I don’t have a lathe and I like to start the taper where the round tenon ends, so in addition to the octagon at the foot, I also lay out an octagon on the top where the tenon will go. A cradle jig that goes in the tail vise holds the work and I taper from square down to octagon at the foot and also from square down to an octagon at the top. Do that thirty-two times (16 long tapers and 16 short tapers).

And you end up with something like this.

That short taper makes it easier to center the round tenon cutter I have for my drill driver, btw. I use a 1 1/2″ tenon cutter, but that’s just a rough cut. With chisel, spokeshave and rasp I take that round tenon down to 1 3/8″ to ensure it’s centered on the blank (it rarely is straight off the tenon cutter). It also helps to bore a 1 3/8″ hole in some hardwood (or at least wood that is harder than your blank) with the bit you’ll use for the mortise to test the fit now and again. Do this four times.

Almost done now! Yes, that’s a Mets colored Nalgene. #LFGM

Finally, I go back to the corners (where they were tapered from square to octagon) and plane in the full tapered octagon from the tenon to the foot. I find taking the facets down evenly first (so the facet is parallel from the tenon to the foot), and then incrementally increasing the facet width at the top near the tenon by counting strokes, works best. Again, if you taper the full length, this step is unnecessary.

The finished leg.

It goes without saying, but I did one leg first to work out the process and then batched out the other three with the process described above. Are they perfect? Of course not. But we are not machines (and should not strive to be machines). And I enjoy the hand made aesthetic far more than machine-wrought perfection.

Okay, I lied. I made a second one to test the process. I’m actually at step 2 for the other two legs.

There is a great rhythm one can get into when batching out parts at the bench. Hehe, batching.

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Headlight Fluid

Working with unprepared stock is usually no fun. I prefer to work from rough lumber purchased from the yard (because it’s both more economical than pre-surfaced stock and there is more variety available). But for things where 3/4″ white pine will suffice, it’s hard to beat the home center common boards. Spend an hour digging through the pile and you’re bound to find clear, straight grain stock. And if you don’t, come back in a week and try again.

But even the clearest, straightest grain stock tends to cup and twist once it’s been in the shop for a week. Re-flattening can take it down to 5/8″ thickness or even less (depending how severe the cupping is), and it adds time and aggravation to the process.

But what if cupping and twist didn’t matter? If you’re just gluing and nailing something together, couldn’t you instead flatten the boards with some clamping cauls and go to town? The answer is, of course, “yes”. And that’s the approach I took when knocking together a quick Japanese-style toolbox for a recent trip out of town (don’t worry; I quarantined both before and after).

Like so?

We modern woodworkers get hung up on perfection, sometimes. To us, everything needs to be piston fit and machinist flat, even when it really doesn’t matter. But, in reality, only some surfaces need to be perfect. Our forebears knew this (just look at the hidden surfaces in any period masterwork). If the wood is going to restrained, it doesn’t really need to be perfect in the first place.

And so, once glued and nailed, and then reinforced with floorboards and gussets, also nailed on (and maybe even glued), any wayboard boards on this toolbox will be restrained from future movement. Might it blow apart in the future from some unforeseen stress? Maybe. But probably not.

Thing thing is solid as a rock.

And, in any event, if it does, it’s just some home center common grade white pine 1×12’s joined with glue and nails. I can always knock it apart and add some dados to keep things more in alignment.

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Keeping it Together

Fair warning: this post is actually a “how to” on a method for reinforcing a joint where you’re joining two boards at a right angle by screwing through the face grain of one board into the end-grain of the mating board.  If that interests you, please proceed.

I recently built a “The Naked Woodworker” workbench, partly for the intellectual exercise of it and partly because my brother needed a workbench for his recently-expanded garage.  I have mostly good things to say about the design and the ease of construction.  I was able to put the entire bench together in less than 12 hours time of shop time stretched over two days (one long, one short).  Had I let the wood acclimate a bit more before construction, I bet could have done the whole thing in a single day.

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This was about 6 total shop hours in.

The bench is mostly glued and screwed together, but there are two joints where boards are joined at right angles with just screws through the face grain of one board into the end grain of the mating board.  One such place is the top rails of the leg assemblies (seen above).  The other is the number of bearers stretched between the aprons to which the top is eventually screwed down.

Screws into end grain, especially late growth softwood, is not the strongest joint.  In an abundance of caution, I sized all the end grain and glued it as best I could.  But it was still a bit shaky in places.  So when using up the last bits of construction lumber to make a shop fixture, there were a couple of places where screws into end-grain just wouldn’t cut it.  Instead, I utilized a 3/4″ oak dowel like a bench bolt to give something for the screw to bite into.

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I’ve been using my 18 gauge brad nailer more, these days.

Please note, I cannot take credit for this technique.  I learned it from a Popular Woodworking video on making a quick and dirty first workbench.  It shows up in the first half of the linked video.

First, bore a hole to match the dowel (3/4″ in this case) and glue it in place with the rings perpendicular to the direction the screw will penetrate.  While not critical, this will reduce the likelihood of the dowel splitting and weakening the joint.  Anything over 1″ is probably enough.  I went the full 1.5″ that my drill guide could handle.

This hole is 1 5/8″ on center, meaning there is a full 1 1/4″ of material for the dowel to lock against.

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The boards cupped a bit after planing.  More stable stock would not have needed this screw.

Next, drill a pilot hole for the screw, all the way through the dowel.  For cleanliness, I first countersank the hole, then finished it off with a long drill bit.  Red oak is tough, even for self-drilling deck screws.  Better not to risk it.  An extra long bit lets you sight to ensure the pilot hole passes through the dowel.

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Luckily, this extra long bit (the only one I own) was perfect for the screws in use.

Finally, drive the screw and flush up the dowel.  I use a flush trim saw and either a chisel or a plane, depending on how much material remains after sawing.

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Never to be seen again once the top is attached.

If done right, this joint is tremendously strong (at least compared to screwing into end grain alone).  Bench bolts are not terribly expensive, but oak dowel and screws are undoubtedly cheaper.  And, to be fair, this method requires less prep and fuss.

And less prep and fuss is what shop fixtures are all about.

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Rethinking my Life Choices

A funny thing happened on the way to the workshop the other day.  I had four, 8/4 White Oak boards to laminate into a tabletop for the new compact Nicholson Workbench.  At over 20″ wide, the lamination would be far too wide for my lunchbox thickness planer.  And I needed as much thickness as possible for the final lamination so the workbench top would be as stout as possible.  So keeping everything aligned through the various glue-ups was paramount.

So I turned to something that cannot by any stretch be classified as a hand tool.  A self-centering dowel jig.

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I absolutely adore this thing.

Using dowels for alignment actually serves two purposes.  First, it does the aforementioned aligning so any minor bowing along the length of a single board does not otherwise ruin the straightness of the glue-up.  Second, it reinforces the glue joint so if the glue fails, the entire thing doesn’t just fall to pieces.  It’s not as good as dominoes, obviously, but it’s also way cheaper.

Now I like to think that with a jointer plane and some car I can have a joint that will never fail.  And it probably won’t.  But the peace of mind of the reinforcing dowels is nice to have.  It matters more for larger timbers, though.

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And spiral dowels are cheap.

The most important thing, though, is to make sure your dowel holes align.  This is more about keeping track of how you’re flipping the boards than anything.  Otherwise, you’ll use your extra dowels to fill in erroneously-bored holes.  And that’s no fun.

Trust me.

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Short Cuts Make Long Delays

For an upcoming project, I need perfectly flat, perfectly straight stock.  But I only need 1/2″ thickness out of 3/4″ boards.  So I’m taking the laziest possible approach: skip planing.  But because the boards start off too thin for true skip-planing, I am pulling a page from the planing sled handbook and using blue tape to fill the hollows.

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If I had a super power, it would be “cutting corners”.

Each outside edge is planed perfectly straight and without twist, and the blue tape will ensure the board rides to the planer table evenly and without pressing flat.  Thereby, one side of the board will be made perfectly flat.  With the tape then be removed, the board can be flipped end over end and sent back through the planer for perfectly parallel faces.

Speaking of parallel faces, I apparently left my winding sticks at my parents house, hanging off my old workbench.  I needed some for the above skip-planing.  So I made some out of scrap 3/4″.

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About as basic as they can get.

At 1.5″ x 15″, I’m sure they will get re-purposed for actual furniture.

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Engage the Forward Stabilizers

I’ve been a bit under the weather, so not much has gotten done in the workshop.  That’s not all bad, though.  It gave a Douglas Fir post, which I bought to be the top rails on the Japanese-style Saw Horses, more time to acclimate.  A good thing, too: it was sopping wet when purchased, as though left out in the rain for a day or two before the pallet was brought to the rack.

Over the last couple of weeks of drying, the two 36″ lengths that will become the top rails stayed quite straight.  There was barely any twist either.  What did happen, though, was some severe checking on the ends and on one face.  It makes me think the wood was greener than it should have been (or was left out in the rain for a very long time).

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This is what happens when wood dries too fast.

None of the checks were structural, nor very deep.  Not even the long check down the face grain seen in the above picture.  That does not mean, however, that they shouldn’t be stabilized.  There will after all be mortises within a couple inches of each end.

My strong preference for stabilizing end grain checking (and knots, for that matter) has always been thin viscosity cyanoacrylate glue.  Like the Ents at Isengard, I just keep pouring CA glue into the checks until the gaps are filled and the bubbling stops.  Then I give it about five minutes to set before I seal it up with spray activator.

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It looks gross, but it works.

I will let those sit for a day or two to fully harden inside, then I’ll square up the ends with a chop saw.  The end result should be pristine end grain and clean glue lines in the stabilized checks.

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A Rare How-To

If you follow me on Twitter, you may know that I spent most of #blizzard2016 hand-cutting mitered half lap joints for a cherry side table.  The finished piece will have eight such joints, and although I’m only about halfway through the first of two frames, I’d like to reflect a bit on the process.

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The goal is to have four each of these.

First off, some defined terms.  For the duration of this post, I will refer to the lower piece in the picture above (the E-G piece) as the “Angled Piece”.  The upper piece in the picture (the E-F piece) will henceforth be known as the “Recessed Piece”.  I’m sure they have proper names that have no relevance to what I’m about to say.

On each Angled Piece, there are three cuts to make.  The first two apply to all lap joints: a shoulder crosscut and a cheek rip cut.  The third is unique to the mitered half lap: a 45° miter cut across the face. My preferred order is (i) cheek, (ii) shoulder, (iii) miter, but whatever you do, always make the cheek rip BEFORE you cut the miter.   Otherwise, you will lose your guiding kerf on the rest of the rip as you get to full depth.

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Don’t be a hero.  Start with the easy cut.

Once all three cuts are made, and after the cheek is flat and parallel to the face (whether off the saw or by router plane), it’s time to square the shoulder to the reference edge by paring down to the knife line.  Then is the most critical step: true the miter to 45° using the same reference edge to which the shoulder was squared.

When I cut the first joint, I thought to just straighten the miter, transfer the mark to the Recessed Piece and leave well enough alone.  After all, it doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to be consistent.  Since my shoulder was square, this would have worked fine, assuming I sawed perfectly and my full knife line was intact.  But alas, the saw jumped out of the kerf and took part of my knife line with it.  So fitting the joint became trial and error angle finding with a shoulder plane.

If you instead true the miter to 45°, go ahead and still use the Angled Piece to transfer the mark to the Recessed Piece (it’s easier than using a combination square).  But if you saw less than perfectly, you can always fall back on just truing the mitered recess to 45°.  With a straight edge on the Recessed Piece and a square shoulder on the Angled Piece, everything will come together perfectly either way.

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Like this, but without half an hour of shoulder planing.

One more thing: depending on how much material you remove from the miter on the Angled Piece getting it to 45°, you may need a couple passes on the shoulder to bring it back in plane with the end of the miter.  Otherwise, your inside corners won’t meet right at the miter.

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The Clamp I Use Most

Apartment woodworking is mostly about making due.  But that can be said about much of woodworking.  And finding the right tool for the job is important regardless of square footage.

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The clamp I use the most is not a clamp at all.

I’ve talked about alternative clamping styles before.  I’ve even showcased the machinists granite slab as a clamping apparatus before.  The reality is, sometimes a heavy, flat rock is much easier than an actual clamp.

When (for example) I need to glue back down some face grain that split while cutting a dado, I could use a parallel jaw clamp.  Or I could just put a big rock on top of it.  More times than not, I opt for the latter.  Because if I’ve done my job and my joints are square, weight is as good as mechanical clamping pressure.

Speaking of dadoes, these are for a three-board sushi tray from leftover pine.  If the sizing is okay (about 7″ x 15″), I will likely make a couple more from a tougher wood.

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No stopped dadoes, this time.  My masochism knows some bounds.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

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