tips and tricks

Silly Little Details

I’m at a wedding this weekend and have workbench separation anxiety. So for the next few days, I’ll continue building an ash sitting bench in my mind. As of right now, I’ve got everything planed to proper dimensions and the top mortises cut in the front legs. It’s slow going, given everything else I’ve got going on.

I don’t cut many mortise and tenon joints. Not as many as I do dovetails, anyway. So it may be lack of skill on my part, but my mortises never seem to be completely parallel. To compensate, though, I cut my tenons fat: to tighter than piston-fit. This allows me to ease the mortise walls to bring the joint into parallel while still keeping an overall tight fit on the joint.

After all, what’s the point of making the stock straight and square (tried and true?) if the joint is crooked?


Saw Till, Part Deux

I should have mentioned it in my previous post, but it is no accident the new saw till is made from 3/4″ pine.  I didn’t want to waste time and materials on a hardwood version until I confirm it worked within the space.  And working within the space seems to be the most important part of the Dutch tool chest.


Next up: red oak.

The saw till debacle brings up a larger point about the importance of spacing.  I did not measure my own chisel handles (Narex, which are about 1 3/8″ wide) before spacing the 1/2″ holes in the tool rack.  I took Chris Schwarz at face value on the 1 1/8″ spacing, and I have since suffered for it.  My chisels only fit the rack when turned 90°.  Live and learn.


What proper spacing looks like.  

The lesson is this: trust, but verify.


I Think I Figured It Out (Thank You!)

Thanks to everyone who gave me suggestions about why a leg wasn’t seated squarely in its joint.  After quadruple checking my combination square for squareness (it is), it turns out the culprit was human error.

First, the shoulder isn’t perfectly seated after all.  The mortise canted ever so slightly inward, but the toothed underside of the benchtop hid the minute gap between the slab and the shoulder of the mortise.  I corrected  this (with a bit of paring inside the mortise) and the joint still (thankfully) fits very snugly.  The canted mortise was about 75% of the problem.

Second, there is a very slight hollow where I was resting my square.  It must be left over from traversing the underside of the benchtop.  It runs down a couple thou toward the mortise, which doesn’t really show with a long straightedge across the whole width.  But with a small machinist’s square, it’s plain as day.  Not worth fussing over, I think.

Oh well.  At least I got blog two posts out of it.



Small Victories

Sometimes I get a little impatient in my woodworking.  Case in point, a random dovetailed pine box I had always meant to section off for nail and screw storage.  Instead, it’s become a rabbeted and nailed box.


Most of one, anyway.

But I started nailing it together before I cut the rabbets for the dividers.  Lucky for me, I had a stroke of genius: make a single shelf (for a drawer) and hang it on the wall.  And what do you know, it not only fits console game cases on the bottom shelf, but the drawer will be large enough to hold console game controllers.


Amazing how that works out.

Since I had already nailed on two sides before I started cutting the rabbets, I couldn’t use a chisel other than in the vertical position.  My solution: use a block plane blade.  Surprisingly, the joint fits tight enough for the application.

I will post some pictures of the finished project when I’m done.


Why I Can’t Have Anything Nice

I’m pondering a new feature on A weekly “Things I Learned This Week” segment. Cautionary tales for the small space woodworker.

This week’s entry: when driving nails into unsupported face grain, pre-drill as deep as you can.

For the new travel tool chest, I nailed on the rot strips (instead of screwing them on like I would normally). The nails (Tremont fine finish) are about 1/4″ shorter than the combined thickness of the rot strips and the floorboards, prior to setting. Wanting the nails to bite hard, I only pre-drilled the rot strips themselves and not the floorboards. Fine finish nails taper dramatically, so it should have worked.


And it looks fantastic from this angle.

What actually happened was each nail pushed fibers up and through the floorboards, splintering the face grain. Not a structural issue, but an annoying cosmetic blemish.

As a result, the tool chest floor is getting an adhesive-backed cork lining.  They say the sign of a good woodworker is not the absence of mistakes, but the ability to hide the mistakes made.

As an alternative to further pre-drilling, I may next time drive the rot strips first, before attaching the floorboards to the carcase. That should eliminate any unsupported fibers and give me the fastening power I’m after.


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.


Let There Be Light! (Part Deux)

When the electrical failed in the external workroom at my parents’ house where I keep my thickness planer, my choices were clear: learn electrician stuff or build an improvised lighting rig.  No stranger to DIY illumination solutions, I chose the latter.


Not bad, for using only what was on hand.

I had nearly forgotten about these LED floodlights. Each is 15W and approximately 1.5lbs. They aren’t great for directional lighting (they’re meant for use with a diffuser), but the four together provide enough illumination to thickness plane and rummage around without tripping over myself.

The board holding them together is a scrap of 1/2″ x 3″ red oak, with six 1/4″ holes drilled through it to accept the four lights and two threaded eyes (leftovers from the original arbor rig in my apartment).  I thought about using a scrap 2×4, but that seemed overkill and I didn’t have one available in my apartment, anyway.  If the board does sag over time, I can always replace it with something more rigid.


The essence of apartment woodworking, all in one camera frame.

The line is 3/8″ marine rope from the boating center.  Whatever line I don’t use for hanging this rig will go back to its original purpose: a stay for the lid on the traveling tool tote.  Lastly, the power cords are bound together with some hook and loop zip ties and run to a one-to-four power cord splitter.

I love these little DIY rigs because they solve real problems with the minimum of materials.  Plus I get to play gaffer and pretend like I know movie stuff.  Best of all, I should be able to see again while I’m thickness planing.

I’ll take a picture on site over the weekend and post it to twitter.


The “Right” Way

I made a ton of progress this weekend on both the new workbench (which will henceforth be known as the Stent Panel Workbench) and the traveling tool tote.  And I did it all through cut corners, quick fixes and general expedience.

First, I laminated another leg for the workbench.  But this time, I did it all at once.  The tenon board fit so tightly, it made sense just to build the leg around the fitted joint.  Even though the tenon board itself is slightly out of square with the underside of the table top, I can flush it to shoulder boards (which I know are square) and everything will be fine.


The back legs are only three laminations.

While the glue was drying, I added a rack to the back of the tool tote.  A small scrap of cherry was almost perfectly sized to make spacers for the oak strip, so the rack is two-toned.  And I don’t care one bit.


Jointer plane, smoothing plane and router plane, if you were wondering.

I also added a simple panel saw till to the front of the chest.  It’s best practice to screw in the till (one through the tongue and one from under the floorboard), but that was really annoying last time.  So instead, I skipped the screws and glued it in place (with hide glue).  I worked really hard to make the carcass square and plumb, and my reward is less fussing with slotted screws in tight spaces.


I’m not even adding a backsaw till.  They can live in the sliding tray.

Finally, I fit the bottom for the sliding tray.  After shooting to length, I noticed a very slight twist overall. Rather than play about, I sent it through the thickness planer for an extra pass and will rely on the tray carcass (made from 5/8″ quartersawn pine) to bring it perfectly in wind.


I did not cut corners when shooting to length, though; it’s absolutely perfect.

Even without the organizers, the tool tote really shined today.  It’s manageable when fully loaded, but would benefit from some rubber casters.

All in all, not bad for a single day in the shop.


Reflections on a Theme

The internet contains a wealth of information on how to properly laminate a workbench.  Some are better than others, but something useful can be gleaned from all.  Let me add to that wealth with a few reflections on a topic: grain direction in the laminated bench top.  I know workbenches are supposed to be tools, not furniture, but this isn’t just about optics.   Minimizing tear-out serves both structuring and aesthetic purposes.

Perhaps because I rely heavily on a thickness planer after S2S’ing boards by hand, I am conscious of grain direction at all times.  I keep a charcoal pencil handy and every board, in addition to face and edge marks, gets two arrows, each indicating grain direction on the reference face and reference edge.  This allows me to quickly orient the boards, flip them end-over-end, and pass them through the machine for tear-out-free thicknessing.


Every board.  Every time.

Minimizing tear-out on face grain will increase the overall glue surface and, therefore, increase the overall strength of the laminated bench top.  But, ultimately, those faces are hidden in the glue up and will never be dressed again.  What is most critical when laminating a benchtop is aligning the edge grain direction of the entire slab.


All of this grain runs in the direction of the giant black arrow.

I have a specific reason for this assertion: the edge grain surfaces will be dressed many times through out the life of the workbench.  Taking a few minutes to orient the edge grain direction during the glue up means less work both (i) when initially flattening the bench top during construction and (ii) when re-flattening the bench top from time to time.  And over the life of a workbench, that will add up to quite a bit of time and energy saved.  And you might possibly save yourself some awful splinters down the road.

Plus, it will look nice.  After all, your workbench may one day be someone’s antique dining room table, right?


Some [Non-]Mechanical Assistance

I’m not always kind to my Work Sharp 3000 sharpening system.  It’s a temperamental machine, in my experience. But seeing as I somehow let some of my chisels get a bit out of shape, the Work Sharp has spent a fair time on my bench lately.


In all its glory.

For those unfamiliar with the product, the Work Sharp spins a tempered glass disc covered with adhesive-backed abrasive paper on each face (see above).  With the disc spinning, the top face is typically used for flattening, while an adjustable tool rest permits bevel-grinding and sharpening on the underside (up to 2″ wide).  Though great for bevels, I’ve found it nearly impossible to evenly flatten on the top face while the disc is spinning.  But the discs are very flat, which is what I’d like to talk about today.

For flattening, I typically use a machinist’s granite slab with adhesive-backed sandpaper.  The setup is admittedly much better for planes than for chisels and the granite slab can be cumbersome in use.  For example, I can only adhere a few different grits at a time (which range only from 80 to 320).  Also, changing sandpaper often leaves adhesive residue that needs to be scraped away (or worse, removed with mineral spirits).  So instead, I’ve been using the Work Sharp discs for re-flattening my chisels, but off the machine.

To begin with, there are more grits available than with adhesive-backed sandpaper (WS goes from 80 grit to 3000 and above) and each of grit is available at all times because I own 5 glass discs.  Plus each disc is naturally non-skid on the benchtop, having abrasive paper on both sides.  In addition, because each disc is barely over a chisel-length in diameter, I can work the chisel from all angles use every square inch of abrasive on the discs (unlike my granite slab, where large swathes of fresh grit are wasted).  Finally, the abrasive on the WS discs lasts much longer than ordinary sandpaper and can be easily cleaned with a crepe block while spinning on the machine.

And the results have been more than satisfactory, especially for my purposes.


Polished to 1000 grit only.  I already own enough mirrors and my chisels are for chopping.

I’m not recommending anyone go out and buy a Work Sharp 3000 (and certainly don’t blow $100 on extra glass discs just because they are nice surfaces for flattening).  But small-space woodworking is about finding the right tool for the job from what’s available.  And in this case, something I had on hand works better than anything else.