Monthly Archives: August 2012

Shortcut To Experience

I don’t think there is any better teacher than experience. The only problem with experience is that it takes time. Lot’s of time. There are, however, ways to bypass that huge time drag and gain from experience quickly. You’re not necessarily getting experience, but you are learning from experience which is the next best option. How do you gain or learn from experience? You learn from those who have already paid their dues.

This week I’m writing about Popular Woodworking Magazine’s Woodworking in America (WIA) conferences. At the bottom of this post is a short video that sums up my thoughts on the conferences,  just what you stand to gain if you attend and why you should be there. Between here and there, I’ll briefly describe the sessions at WIA in which I share my experience.

In “Finishes That Pop” – the title really says it all – I’ll discuss the steps needed to bring a great finish to your project. There are so many areas of woodworking in which small missteps add up to a major disaster. Finishing is at the top of that list. In more than twenty years of furniture construction, I have experienced more finish faux pas than one could expect. (I will never say I have seen it all because there is always something new around the corner.) As a result, I have picked up a number of finishing tips and tricks. For example, did you know that there are times when you should final sand using #120-grit sandpaper, that wood coloration is best done with a good soaking instead of a controlled wipe or that on certain hardwoods applying a coat of oil is great while on others you are simply wasting your time? And just how many coats of oil/varnish does it take to build the right sheen? That’s just the beginning. In the sessions we’ll discuss much more.

In the “The Mighty Dovetail” we’ll examine what has become the joint of all woodworking joints. Today, unlike centuries back, you are judged on how well you cut and fit this joint. That’s a shame because this joint has uses that do not – read that again, please – do not require you to spend huge amounts of time making exact cuts. In fact, After I walk through how to hand-cut this popular joint, I’ll share where you can take a few shortcuts, show to create this joint using a jigsaw and demonstrate how to speed up your process without jeopardizing a hand-cut look. Then we’ll spend time learning where, in building furniture, dovetails are a great choice and some areas to avoid altogether. If you are a dovetail devotee or newbie, this session will open your eyes.

I have often said that if you know case construction (as in dovetails discussed above) and you can build a drawer and door,  you have all the tools needed to produce any piece of furniture. In “Doors: Types, Tips & Techniques” we’ll discuss all things door, including mortise-and-tenon joinery, mitered sticking and creating raised panels. I’ll share my techniques for producing door panels of all kinds, and the best angle to tilt your table saw to produce a perfect fit into a frame groove. I’ll even talk about hand planes and raised panels, too. In addition, I’ll share the technique and the story on why I learned to construct glass-door frames so they were rabbeted for glass right off the table saw – no more frame assembly then routing the rabbet.

These are just my classes at Woodworking in America. There are so many other presenters that I know you’ll come away from these conferences a better woodworker. (Click here to register for a conference, or both conferences, or to read about other presenters and classes.) And as you’ll see in the video below, that is what this is all about. I hope to see you there.

Build Something Great!



Filed under Design, Finish Techniques, Joinery, Shop Tips

Re-saw Revamped

Over the past few weeks, I think I have changed more of my woodworking techniques than I had in the past several years. Last week I shared my newest technique to hog away dovetail waste. Today I am writing about re-sawing lumber using a band saw. As I ran into a need for thin lumber for a series of bottle dividers for a project I’m building, I decided to try a different technique.

In the past, I used my favorite woodworking jig for any re-saw work. (Read about it, here.) I would set the fence at the natural cutting angle of my band saw, then slice the lumber into the desired thickness – without setting the appropriate angle, my saw would seldom cut straight.

With this new jig, I no longer need to find any cutting angle. The jig is easy to build and set, but this technique does require the operator to keep the cut aligned.

The jig consists of a piece of wood that has an “almost point” on one edge – I cut a 30-degree angle from both faces, but left the smallest section (1/16″) square at the center – attached to a plywood platform that is easy to clamp in place. To set the jig, position the point away from your blade at whatever thickness you need, then clamp it in place. I use a small C-clamp. The height of your jig is arbitrary however, I find that a taller jig better allows me to keep my workpiece vertical to my blade throughout the cut.

To prepare your stock, use a marking gauge to set a scribeline along one edge of your board. (I reinforced the scribe with a pencil to account for poor eyesight.) In this scenario I was looking to simply rip the stock in half, but you could just as easily setup to cut multiple pieces.

The actual cut is dependent on you. That is, you not only need to feed the stock at an acceptable rate for your saw and blade, you also need to keep the scribed line at the blade as you cut. With a sharp blade this should be easy, but if your blade is dull or loosely tensioned you could be in for a constant swerving and a less-than-stellar cut.

As you begin to cut, nudge the stock to your jig. Your workpiece is held straight and the cut is positioned at your layout. Slowly push your board along the cut making slight adjustments to keep saw blade at the cut line. As you near the end of  the cut, make sure you do not locate a finger, hand or other body part directly in line with the blade. I like to reach beyond the blade to grasp the workpiece and pull it through the last couple inches of the cut.

I found this technique easier to set up at the desired thickness and way faster overall because you do not need to find any particular cutting angle before making your cut. That’s “plug and play.”

Build Something Great!




Filed under Jigs, Power Tools, Shop Tips

Dovetail Evolution

If you have ever attended one of my woodworking classes or a seminar on joinery, you probably have been bored to tears by my dovetail story. Or you laughed out loud. Just as my mind has, my dovetail work has evolved. As I began building furniture, I knew that I would have to dovetail if I had any hope of selling my work.

My first dovetail chapter included an old Sears template guide that produced perfectly sized, perfectly shaped dovetails with identically sized pins and tails – the kind used on kitchen cabinets. Ugh! Phase two brought about a better dovetail jig. With it, I decided that half-blind pins and tails were too difficult to set up, so I built drawer fronts from 1/2″-thick  stock then applied a 1/4″-thick shaped drawer front (kitchen cabinet construction was still in my blood). That process worked until a customer noticed the half-ass technique and verbally chastised me during the delivery. After a bit more trouble with fingers moving, I gave up jigs and succumbed to hand-cut pins and tails. I defined each pin and tail with a dovetail saw cut, then chop out waste with a chisel.

After some considerable hand-cut experience, I remembered that I was in business to make a profit. Hand-cut dovetails are period correct, but the process is slow when every minute has to earn dollars. As I discovered a way to cut the pins using my band saw and an angled platform as shown the photo above, my dovetails evolved again. I could power-cut the pins, but continued to chop away waste using my chisels. My tail boards were produced using the same techniques, but without an angled platform.

This method of dovetails produced perfect angled cuts that detracted, at least to my eye, from the hand-cut look I wanted. It was time for another evolution. This time I decided to hand-cut the pins and tails, but use a power tool to hog away the waste as depicted in the opening photo. This provides a hand-cut look – I am sawing the actual pins and tails – as the angles and the width of pins and tails different. It also provides a time savings due to the quick removal of waste when creating pins – waste between the tails is either nibbled away while at my band saw, or it is chopped out using chisels and a mallet.

If you’re not quite clear on this technique, below is a short video. You tell me, is this still a hand-cut dovetail joint, or is this a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Leave a comment below.

Build Something Great!



Filed under Joinery, Power Tools, Routers, Shop Tips

Know Your Combination Square

Photo from the BCTW site

If you read this blog weekly, you know that I am not a hand-tool aficionado,  but I do enjoy, work with and appreciate quality tools. One of my favorite hand tools is my Bridge City Tool Works CS-6 combination square. (It’s a tool I have to keep close tabs on huh, Dave.)

While teaching a class at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking (CVSW) last month, one of the students brought in a combination square with which I was not familiar. (Surprised?) As you can see in the photo below, what caught my attention was the slotted blade – what I considered as normal for these tools is a grooved blade. As I played with the square, I realized that the blade would not slide out of the handle, but would pivot.

I disassembled the square to take a look at the mechanism used to hold the blade. The lock pin on this square is different from new combination squares in that it has a hook at its end instead of a nub (located about mid-shaft) that fits into a groove. The hook feeds through the round cutout at one end of the blade slot – which is also where the blade is set to pivot. As you tighten the nut, the hook slips into the cast body to hold the blade from falling free. Just as with today’s combination squares, a tight nut secures the blade.

I went to the Internet in search of information. I found a Stanley catalog from 1953 that showed a square similar to the one the student had at CVSW. The information lead me to believe this was a Stanley #21 combination square. (A #22 square has the grooved blade.) As I looked at the catalog page I noticed a slight variation in body design from the cataloged tool and the one I saw at CVSW. In the photo below, the square on the left is an antique #21 found at Jim Bode Tools and is now part of my tool inventory. The one on the right is a new square found at

To me the body of the square from class looks exactly like the body of the new square. I doubt the school square is a Frankenstein tool with a new body assembled to an older blade and lock pin, so I am left to assume the slotted blade square from class is a newer version of a #21 combination square. This is where I turn to you. If you have additional information on a Stanley #21 combination square, please use the comment section below to add to my knowledge.

Build Something Great!


In my search, I also found a Stanley #21 combination square that has a 9″ blade. Below is a photo of this tool from Jon Zimmers Antique Tools.


Filed under Hand Tools, Shop Tool