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.


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.


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.


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.


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″.


About as basic as they can get.

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


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).


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.


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.




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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

Have a great weekend, everyone.


A Short Time Ago, in an Apartment Pretty Close By

Last weekend weekend, I cut dadoes. Two, to be precise.  Of the stopped variety.  To install the drawer runners in the dovetailed plant stand.


All dado bottoms flattened with a Veritas router plane.

There was a time when I would not have hesitated to strap a parallel guide clamp on the work and plunge-router the whole thing. A time not too long ago. A time I do not miss one bit.

The dado on the above right was cut with a 1 1/4 inch chisel.  After marking and chopping to depth one side, I then scribed the other side of the dado against the mating piece.  Knowing the vertical chisel chops would compress the fibers and move the knifewall, I intentionally marked the other side of the dado a bit narrow (1/64 or so).  The end result was a wonderfully fitting joint.


No reinforcement yet.  Only friction.

The dado on the right, however, was cut differently.  At the time of day (about 6am Eastern), I couldn’t be chopping with a chisel.  I live in an apartment, after all.  So instead, I scribed deeper and deeper knifewalls with the marking knife to get to depth.  This meant that, without the compression from the vertical chisel chops, the narrower scribe line on the other side of the dado was never compensated for.  I ended up planing the mating piece to fit the dado.  It’s still a very snug joint, just with a different approach.

I have since glued in the runners into place, with a bead of hide glue along the long grain bottom of the dado.  While I suspect this will be enough, I will also reinforce with some nails or buttons.  The drawer is almost done too; I’m merely figuring out the best way to fit the drawer bottom (without a plow plane).

Then it’s time for assembly.



More Routine Maintenance

Last night, I had a nightmare that all my chisels had rusted over and bellied.  So this morning, during my breakfast of mini-bagel and green tea, I made sure they had not.  I actually only got through 1/4-5/8, and will do the rest tonight.


Screw you, subconscious.

I love my 3×8 diamond plates for grinding and sharpening, but they are not ideal for lapping and flattening.  When I need something perfectly flat, I turn instead to the machinist’s granite slab pictured above and adhesive-backed sandpaper of various coarseness.

For flattening chisels or plane irons, I typically use 80 grit, 120 grit and 220 grit sandpaper.  I care more about flatness than mirror polish, so any additional polishing done on the diamond plates in the course of sharpening.  For plane soles, I might go up to 320 grit (which is overkill for everything but a smoothing plane, I know).

I’ve experimented with sanding belts and spray adhesive in the past, but I’m never happy with the adhesion, and certainly loathe the mineral-spirits cleanup of the spray adhesive.  With adhesive-backed sandpaper, I just need a scraper and a spritz of Simple Green cleaner.  The grit on the sanding belts definitely lasts longer, but it’s a small price to pay.


A Very, Very Serviceable Prototype

For more almost a week now, I’ve been mulling over the plan for using veneer press screws and some reclaimed red oak to create a moxon-style vise.  I was rather resigned to chopping out recesses for the collets by hand, until I had an idea.  The collets themselves are a little over 1 inch in diameter, with some ridges that increase the overall width to just over 1 1/8 inches.  So using a 1 1/8 inch forstner bit (the same one used for the 1 1/4 inch wooden screw threading kit from J&J Beall), I drilled a “mortise” all the way through the back vice chop and drove the collets into place with a mallet.


Nice and flush(ish)!

There are some gaps on the inside of the mortise, which I will likely fill with epoxy to seat the collets permanently into the back chop.  For now, though, some No. 8 screws do the trick to lock the collets in place while I finish the vise.


The roundover is more out of habit than necessity.

I then threaded the press screws through the collets and used the sharp tips on the ends to transfer the hole locations to the front chop.  The holes in the front chop are 3/4 inch, while the screws themselves are just over 11/16, so I will wrap the screws with some electrical tape to tighten up the fit on the front chop.  Then it was time to test fit.


Surprisingly quick to come together.

The last component to the moxon vise is a set of spacers which glue to the outside of the front chop.  They prevent the spinning handles from rubbing against the front chop.  I had some scrap 1/2 inch oak left over from the medium tool chest drawer runners which came in handy.

Glued down, though I may add screws as belt-and-suspenders.

Glued down, though I may add screws as belt-and-suspenders.

And that’s it.  After the glue dries, I will round over the exit holes on the spacers, break the corners all over and chamfer the top of the front chop.  I hear the chamfer creates clearance for handsaw cuts. Then I will test out the vise doing vise things.

The amazing part is that the entire vise build (other than driving to/from my thickness planer and glue drying time) only took about 3 hours of shop time.  That includes stock preparation.  Very doable overall, and not bad for a first attempt.

The finished build (pre-chamfer).

The finished vise (pre-chamfer).


Free-Hand Sharpening Follow-up

While free-hand sharpening the iron on my No. 5 1/2 jack plane, something occurred to me. The depth adjust on that particular plane has always been tight. No matter how well-oiled the screw or how deep or shallow the frog set, advancing the iron for a deep cut becomes finger-crushing work.

Then, when I was looking for a link to the ruler trick for my previous post, it dawned on me. The bevel on the iron was entirely hand sharpened to about 35 degrees. Meaning the heel of the bevel stuck out further than the factory grinding. Meaning it was butting up against the throat.

So I slapped the iron into a honing guide at 25° and ground the heel of the bevel back down. Now the plane advances smoothly and I didn’t even have to resharpen the edge, as it was well clear of the grinding.


Like so

So I guess now I have a hybrid approach for plane iron sharpening. First grind to 25° by guide, then free-hand hone the cutting edge at 35° or so (30° for bevel up tools).


On Freehand Sharpening

Edge sharpening has always been a weak spot for me.  While I took to saw sharpening very quickly, my chisels and plane blades were never been perfect.  I used micro bevels and wide-wheeled guides and even tried the ruler trick, to no avail.  My edges were sub-par and short-lived and almost always out of square.  So I gave up on all of that and went in a different direction.

It’s no secret that Paul Sellers has been a great influence on me over these past few years.  I consider his YouTube channel to be the best free resource for a woodworker just starting out in the craft.  Paul advocates freehand sharpening and none of that micro bevel nonsense.

I already had the diamond plates, so I figured I’d give it a try.  And it’s worked for me thus far.


Scary sharp, indeed.

I started with my chisels (easier to correct if I made the edge worse) and instantly noticed that the “macro camber” approach of freehand sharpening lends itself to a stronger, longer-lasting edge.  Since then, I’ve freehand sharpened both my No. 4 1/2 smoothing plane (pictured above) and my general purpose No. 4 and gotten instant results.

No more fussing with stop blocks or fumbling with guides means I just spritz some window cleaner on a diamond stone and work until I feel the burr.  Freehand sharpening has actually decreased my sharpening time.

Maybe I’m just bad with guides and sharpening jigs.  Or maybe this is just the next step in hand-tool only woodworking.