Category Archives: How-to

Cut that circle

You know, there are times when I grow tired of my day job, especially when it pulls me away from the shop. Last week, I was in Orlando teaching some basic public information officer classes, and once I got back, Tropical Storm Erika decided she wanted to cause a little mischief here in the Tampa Bay area. So, my posts didn’t really happen.

The top glue up partial

However, I’m back with a vengeance building the table top for the front room. As you might have guessed, the next step with the build is to glue together the pieces that were to become the top. This was easy, because I was going to do it in stages. First, the outside parts got glued up, making it easy to break the assembly in to easy to manage pieces.

The full topåç

Once they were done, I brought the middle board and the two outside assemblies together to make the solid top. This way, I had a lot fewer joints to juggle during assembly, and allowed me to move through the assembly at my own leisurely pace.


With the pieces together, the next step was to cut the rough shape out. Since this is a bigger assembly, I opted to bring the tool to the wood and chose my jigsaw. Armed with a high-quality blade, this sucker can do a great job with the cuts and brought the piece down to rough shape.

dowel pivot

From there, I turned the assembly over face down and inserted a 1/4″ dowel into a hole I had drilled earlier squarely in the middle of the assembly. This way, I could use it as a pivot point for my router.

Round with the router

The trammel I went with was decidedly low-tech – a piece of 1/4″ plywood cut long enough to hold my router with a pivot hole drilled the radius I wanted. With a 3/8″ straight cutting bit in the router, I started it up, plunged it about 1/4″ into the board and made a pass.

cut away the excess

With a track identified, I went back to my jigsaw and cut away any excess wood outside of the router bit track. This way, the bit would simply be trimming the wood away, instead of boring into it and compacting cuttings into the groove.

The circle

With just a little bit more routing, I ended up with a pretty sweet looking circle that I had to touch up with my belt sander to ensure everything looked its best.

Now, of course, comes the unenviable task of sweeping up all of those router trimmings. Perhaps it might be time to think about getting a router with some better dust collection … you know, the holidays are coming up. Maybe I have to drop a hint to my jolly old monkey…

The tale of the tape

So, I have this coworker back at the office who had a little ‘issue’ with a shelf in his pantry. It seems that some kind of wood-eating insect had gotten into the plywood shelf and did what it does so well, eating through the plies of the shelf.

He cut off a piece and brought it to me in my office, and asked if I could take it back to my shop, cut a new shelf for him and bring it back. I told him no thanks, I really wasn’t looking for something to get into my prized wood stash and turn it into sawdust.  But, I told him, if he microwaved the piece for – say – four minutes, I think whatever was living inside would be an ex-wood-eating insect, and I would be able to tackle the job.

a chunk of the shelf

So, he gave me the chunk of wood. It was a very simple piece, just a strip of 3/4″ plywood with the edge taped and some type of ‘golden’ stain applied to it. Oh, and my friend had drilled the hole in the front edge, it wasn’t the work of that bug.

It was an easy job to cut the plywood to size for the body of the shelf, but how was I going to match the edge banding? I could go buy a roll of edge tape, but where is the sport in that?

The set upI set up my table saw to do something I had never tried before. I cut an extra strip of plywood about one inch wide, turned it on edge then used my Infinity thin strip ripping jig to set up a cut that would just skim off the face veneer of the ply.

Look, Ma!  It's edging tape!

Using a push stick to keep my hands out of the way, I guided the piece past the blade, and ended up with a strip of face veneer that was – obviously – a perfect match of the plywood I was working with.

taped in place

From there, it was an easy job to apply a thin, even film of glue and the edge tape, holding it in place with some blue painter’s tape. I made sure that the edge banding extended past both sides of the plywood, so there would be some to sand down to perfect the coverage.

Toit like a toiger

Once the glue was dry, I used some 180 grit sandpaper to gently remove the excess edge banding. I do have to perfect my technique a little bit, but I think it looked pretty darned good. Plus, I mean, it was going to be inside a pantry, right?Ready for finishing

Once I got it sanded and scraped to my satisfaction, I wiped on a coat of that golden oak Danish oil I had used to tint it as closely as possible to the original, then brought it outside and applied six coats of lacquer from a spray can – which is a really quick and easy way to put on a nice finish. I finally sanded the piece with some 320 grit paper, and waxed it so the surface was nice and smooth.

My guess is that this will be the nicest looking shelf in the pantry.

Get my drift?

As I have said before, band saws kind of have a mind of their own. And, when the blade you are using starts to get dull, it’s time to shell out a little bit of dough and pick up a new one.

Since every blade is a little bit different, setting up your fence for drift is something that you have to do when changing the blade. It takes a little time, but it’s not an impossible task. It uses a few materials and takes a little bit of time. This is the process I followed on my Laguna.

A straight line

The first thing I had to do was to mark a straight line down the face of a board parallel with one of the edges. I did this on a piece of southern yellow pine using a combination square and a pencil. This is going to be your reference line to work from.

Rip that board!

Push your fence away from the board, and freehand that board through, following the line carefully. Because the bandsaw pulls down toward the table, there’s very little chance of a  kickback, unlike at a table saw. Once you get about halfway down the edge, stop the saw, and do not move the board. That’s important, because that’s the angle your blade wants to drift, or cut off of square. I have seen some bandsaw pros – like Michael Fortune – advise that drift can be eliminated. And, when Michael wants to come to my shop and show me how that process works, I’ll make him dinner and give him plenty of beers. Until then…

Now, loosen your bandsaw fence’s contact at the point where it rides on the front rail. The Laguna uses an allen wrench for this purpose, but you should check your manufacturer’s guidelines to find out how to do that on your saw.

The pine cut

Once I got that locked in, I decided to test on the board I was working on. The results were pretty darned spectacular. But, that’s pine. What about something harder, like this block of Ash I had sitting around?

Nice ash!

Wow. That’s a clean cut that will require very little sanding. Hmm, I have a few boards that I need to cut up for some projects… with the new blade on the saw, I think it will be easy to tackle.

A big piece of steel

At the end of January, I joined several members of the St. Petersburg Woodcrafters guild at Heritage Village, where we demonstrated some traditional woodworking techniques.

Tom and AndyOne of the things we were trying was cutting some three-sided tenons (basically, deep notches) using hand tools. Andy Gibson, the guy who put a new handle on my rip saw, was slicing and dicing with the best of them as he cut the two sides of the notch. But, to slice out the bottom of them, he was using a mortising chisel I had purchased a few years ago. Andy whacked the heck out of it as he cut into the wood, and remarked, “Dude, why don’t you sharpen your tools?”

Which got me wondering – have I ever sharpened my mortising chisels?  The answer is a resounding no.

Sharpen that chisel

So, my first thought was to turn to my Tormek with the standard straight-edge guide – the regular method for sharpening bench chisels. But, there is a slight problem…

Cross sectionsYou see, mortising chisels are so much thicker than bench chisels. They are designed to be banged on with a mallet, driven into the cut. So, they have to be much tougher to take that beating. Which means, of course, they don’t fit in to the square edge jig.


So, I started reading through the guide for my Tormek, and I thought it would be a good idea to use the universal platform for this. It is basically a piece you can adjust to any angles and clamp on the guide bar.

The platform

And, this worked OK. It was difficult to keep total control over the chisel, and I spent a lot of time concentrating on holding the bevel against the wheel and holding the chisel as straight as possible.

The results were OK, but not spectacular. My bevel ended up faceted, and I was afraid that my grip could have shifted during the session, leaving me with a non-square tip.

I will have to do some more research on this, but I’m sure that as versatile as this tool is, there is going to be a solution…

Got this one pegged

Once people in your circles start to know you woodwork, from time to time, you get requests for some small jobs. Can I cut some things down to size? Can I drill a few holes into a board?  And, can I stretch the length of a piece of butcher block to fit a particular dimension in a new kitchen?

That last request came from a good friend who was the proud recipient of chunk of quartersawn white oak butcher block that was a grand total of 1 inch too short for the dedicated place. So, basically, I had to add a pair of strips to the sides. Yes, they had to go cross-grain, but the saving grace about this block is that the strips are quartersawn, which should limit the amount of cross-grain expansion.

The block ready to get the edges

So, I cut the strips from a larger piece and milled it straight and true – making half-inch thick strips.  I set four clamps up under the piece and glued the pieces in place with some Gorilla Glue yellow glue. It is a II rated yellow glue, which should be more than sufficient for kitchen use.

Miller Dowels

I wanted to use something else besides just the glue to hold the strips to the edge. I thought about just using screws, but I wanted to try something different – maybe just wood. I had always looked at the Miller Dowel system for joinery and wondered just how well they worked. Well, gosh, this would be the time to pick up a set and use it.

The Miller Dowel 1x bit

The set works around two components. First, there is a special stepped bit that works closely with the dowels in the set.

A Miller dowel

Those dowels are really kind of interesting.  They are tapered, and there is a section that has a set of grooves cut into it. They come in a variety of species, and I went with the birch. That’s what they had at the store.

The system works very easily. With the piece in the clamps, I measured where I wanted to put the holes, then I chucked the bit into my drill. The bit fed nicely and cut quickly, leaving me with six holes ready to go.  The instructions said to smear glue on the ridged part, and I took that to heart, putting enough on to coat the dowel.

Glued dowel


The next step was to tap the dowels into the holes once they were glued up. They didn’t push in too deeply, with finger pressure, but with a few taps of my hammer, they set right to the bottom. There was no play at all. It was good….

The end of the dowel

Once the glue dried, it was a simple matter to trim the dowels flush with the board, then to sand everything flush.  I took the time to plane the strips down to size and then sand the edges flush with the board. Once that was done, it was easy to run the random orbit sander over the surface of the butcher block to get everything nice and smooth.

The final product...

The end result? Gosh, I hope he likes it!


The saw gets ripped – part two

So, now that Andy Gibson has sharpened the blade of my old Disston rip saw, the next thing he wanted to do was to build a new handle for it. I mean, come on, he’s an artist. So, once he got to that, here’s how he made things happen:

Just about everyone has a saw hanging around that could use a new handle. If you are a flat worker the idea of carving a handle can be scary, to say the least. Don’t be scared to make a new handle for that old saw. After all, what do you have to loose?

The tools I used to make this handle include a band saw, scroll saw, a few common drill bits, a few rasps and files, and sand paper. Yes, there is no escaping the sanding.

The first thing to do is select your piece of wood. I chose a piece of cherry, but many other hardwoods will do. It was an off cut that has been hanging around the shop for a while. Start with a piece at least 1 full inch thick for most saws. The piece I had was 8/4 thick, and I ripped then planed it to get started. The old handle was 7/8” thick, and I like to start a little thick. It’s easier to bring the thickness down after the initial shaping than to try to add thickness. I would say it is best to work with a piece of Quarter sawn stock, but this is not a hard and fast rule… In fact the piece I used ranges from rift at the top and flat sawn at the bottom of the handle. Just position your handle so that it has as much long grain running through the thin parts of the handle as possible.

Tracing out the saw handle

I used the original handle for the saw as a template for the new. I simply laid the old handle on top of the blank and carefully traced the shape. Take your time, because all the curves make this a little tricky. You may need to trace it a few times to get it just right. The horns on the original were long since gone, so I got my French curves out and drew them back in going by eye and also looking at a picture of the original I found on line. I used a brad point bit to mark the location of the bolt holes. This is possibly the most difficult part if the task, as you want these holes to be right on so they match up to the holes in the saw plate.

Cutting out the handle

Now it’s time to cut the handle. I use my band saw with a ¼” blade to cut out the handle. In the past I have used a bow saw to do this, and you could use a scroll saw or even a coping saw to do this job. Now you have to remove the part inside the handle. For this, I used a scroll saw. Take your time  cutting out the handle; the smoother your cuts, the easier it will be to remove the saw marks.

The next step is to make the slot for the saw plate to slide into. I did this with a large back saw and a rip panel saw. I marked the center of the handle with my marking gauge, and marked the base of the cut. Take your time cutting the slot. You could use a smaller, finer toothed saw such as a dovetail saw to score the cut around the handle, then finish with the larger saw. Try to use a saw that will cut a kerf the same width as the saw plate you are making the handle for. For me, this was my rip panel saw. Be careful not to force the saw plate into too narrow a kerf, as it will split and crack your new handle.

The handle is fitted

Drilling for the hardware is the part of handle making I least like. You need bits to fit your hardware, but the closest I had was a 1” and 5/8” forstner bit and brad points to drill out for the shaft of the blots. With the centers of the holes marked, start with the largest bits and move to smaller. First I drill the counter sinks for the heads of the bolts, then I drilled a small hole through the handle and used it as my center point to drill the countersink on the other side of the saw.  Then I drilled the hole for the threaded shaft of the bolt, and finally used a step drill to drill the larger hole for the nut side of the saw bolts. Now we can check the fit. Hopefully the holes all line up.

Now is the time to fine tune the thickness of the handle. I left mine a bit thick for the bolts so I used a Stanley #4 hand plane and planed it down to the thickness on each side I needed… this ended up being right around 7/8” and finally I deepened the countersink for the bolt heads with the fostner bit.

Now it’s time to shape that handle. This is the easiest part in my opinion, but the part that most likely scares the first time shaper. There is one tool I would recommend you think about getting – a saw handle makers rasp from tools for working wood. I use this rasp for a lot of shaping, not just saw handles. Along with this rasp I use an old Nicholson #50 that belonged to my grandfather.

Preparing to shape the handle

Where to start? Take a pencil in your hand, use your finger as a fence and draw a line around all the faces to be shaped about 3/8” in on both sides of the handle. Grab your coarse rasp and start cutting at a 45* angle until your get to your pencil line. You may need to switch to the saw handle makers rasp, because it is curved and gives more room when shaping the inside of the handle. It is also safe on the back so you don’t chew into the other side of the handle. Once you are down to the line you can start rounding everything. Your hand and eye will tell you when you have it right. It’s that simple. A word of warning; be careful when clamping the handle in your vise, if you only clamp where you cut the kerf for the saw plate you can crack the cheeks or even break them clean off. Try to clamp over areas of solid wood. It’s a pain in the butt, but much better then starting over.

Now it’s time to sand, sand and sand some more. I started with 120 grit,  but 80 is a good point also. If you have a half round and rat tail file, you may want to use them before sanding to get rid of the rasp marks. Files are also great for working the flat areas on the outside of the handle to remove the saw marks. Now just sand till you are happy with the finish of the wood… I sanded to 220 then I polished the handle with 0000 steel wool.

The last step is to fit the top edge of the handle to the top edge of the saw plate. I leave this edge about 1/16” tall so I can sand the top edge till it perfectly follows the top of the saw plate. I used my stationary belt sander for this, but a block plane and a sanding block will do the same job.

The saw in its newfound glory

I used a finish on this handle called Odie’s Oil. It is rapidly becoming one of my favorite finishes. It is all natural with no chemicals and smells good to boot. It is an oil and wax based finish originally developed for floors, and is super easy to apply. Simply rub on a thin coat, it goes a long way, wait a half hour or so and buff it all off. Wait a few hours and apply another coat in the same manner. I did 3 coats on this handle.

That’s it! Tom, I hope you enjoy your new saw handle.

Thanks, Andy, I think I will.  Now, I need to build a low saw bench so I can start using this baby on a regular basis!


The saw gets ripped – part one

One of the benefits of being an officer in the St. Petersburg Woodcrafters Guild is that I get to meet so many awesome local woodworkers who I would have never had the opportunity to meet otherwise.

Case in point – Andy Gibson. This guy is a young up and comer who builds ukeleles (and, now guitars, but that’s another post for another day), workbenches, and also has a penchant for sharpening old hand saws and returning them to fighting shape.  I asked Andy if he could sharpen my old Disston No. 7 rip saw, and he said he would be happy to sharpen it for me. Not only is the saw sharp, I also have a two-part post that he wrote for your reading pleasure.  Without any further ado, here’s part one – the sharpening.  Take it away, Andy!

A lot of woodworkers love to use their hand saws but for some reason think that there is a black art to sharpening that hand saw. I don’t think there is and hopefully at the end of this article you won’t either. I think a lot of this fear of sharpening started because most of the hand saws we start with are neglected and poorly sharpened to begin with… so let’s get started.

In order to sharpen a hand saw you will need a few tools; a flat file, a triangle file of proper size, a sharpening stone, a saw set, a couple wood scraps, and some form of saw vise.

Andy's saw vise

Let’s start with the vise. I made my own, but many antique versions can be had at flea markets and the like… all you really need are a couple flat boards you can use to clamp the saw blade and keep it steady for sharpening…

The saw teeth

The first step in sharpening is to get all the teeth in line… when you are done you will want all the teeth tips to be the same height. That way all the teeth shave off wood. If half the teeth are short only the tall ones will cut and the saw will cut slowly and more roughly. Take the flat file and a square scrap of wood as a guide and file down the teeth running from heel to toe until you get a small flat on the top of each tooth… if the saw is badly “jointed” you may have to do this in step in multiple steps.

Gauging the teeth

Once the teeth are jointed you can take your triangle file and start cutting your teeth… Wait! you need a guide. A rip saws teeth “rake” typically 8* meaning that they lean back at 8* off of 90* take you other scrap of wood and drill a hole in it slightly smaller than the tip of your file and draw your 8* line on it, then press your file into the hole making sure the file side is in line with you 8* line… now you have a guide for your file, just keep that piece of wood level as you sharpen and you file will cut the proper rake into the teeth.

A guide for your saw file

I always start filing at the heel and work forward… you can mark the flat tips of the teeth with a Sharpie marker to more easily see your progress. Your goal here is to use you file to just remove that flat you made while jointing the saw. When filing the teeth you are cutting more material away from the back of the tooth, not the face (another way to say this is you are removing more material from the hill side of the tooth then the cliff side) Once you have filed to the proper angle and removed the flat you are sharp… if your saw was badly out of joint, you still have low teeth… so go back and re joint the saw. If you had to make more strokes on some teeth then others to get rid of the flat, it is a good idea to re joint and re file. The reason it’s better to do the jointing and shaping of the teeth in steps is so you don’t joint too much of the teeth away and get irregular teeth. On Toms saw I jointed the saw 3 times. If you have a tooth that has a big flat after jointing file on the back side of that tooth until you have almost removed the flat, then move to the next tooth. Take your time. If your file begins to squeak or skid across the metal as you file, your file is dull and it is time to rotate to a fresh side… files wear out. When the file is dull, it’s time to move on. Saw plates are hard steel so on a saw in poor shape you can easily use all 3 sides of the file and in some cases even need a second file to get all the reshaping and sharpening done.

You need to pick the right triangle file for your saw… you want a file that has sides that are roughly twice as tall as the teeth on the saw your sharpening. It the file is to big it will cut to round of a gullet (the space between teeth). If the file is too small you will dull unevenly. I know that Tools for Working Wood offers a guide to selection the right file for the tooth count of your saw.

The saw set in action

Once you have the saw filed to your satisfaction and all the teeth are in line and nicely pointy with no flats, it is time to set the teeth… my favorite saw set is a vintage Stanly 42x, however the 42x is no longer available new and you would have to find one either on eBay or at flea markets of from old tool suppliers. There are some decent new sets being sold by companies such as Lee Valley and Tools for working wood that work well. In fact for small toothed saws this is really the only set available. Look closely at your saw and set the teeth in the same direction that they were set before. You may want to mark a couple teeth at the heel of the saw so you know which way they are leaning, especially if you are going to be doing a good deal of filing. Don’t try to set the teeth in the wrong direction because there is a good chance the tooth will snap off.  I would say to err on the side of less set, it is easier to add set then to take it away. Once you have all your teeth set, I take my triangle file and make one last light pass over each tooth.

Everybody must get stoned

It’s now time to stone the saw. Take the saw and lay the plate flat on your bench and run your sharpening stone lightly from heel to toe one or two times. This will remove any burrs from filing and remove a small amount of set. This step also polishes the tip of the tooth and makes the tip that much sharper.

Testing... testing.. one two three

It’s now time for a test cut. I try to follow a straight line. If the saw drifts in one direction, it has too much se on that side. Take the stone and make one pass on the side that the saw drifts toward, then make another test cut. If the saw tracts straight’ you’re done. If the saw still drifts make another pass with the stone. If the saw binds in the cut you may need to add more set, readjust your saw set and reset, file, and stone your saw.  That’s it! As with anything, it may take a little practice to get it right, but the more saws you sharpen the better and faster you will get.

A few final thoughts on sharpening. I personally always file from one side of the saw. Some people say to file every other tooth then flip the saw and file the teeth you skipped. This may have merit on a crosscut saw but is not necessary on a rip saw. I even file my cross cut saws from one side, that way I don’t have to make a different guide and my filing always comes out more Consistent. I don’t worry about making a burr on the teeth, I stone my saws after filing to remove any burr and it has never been an issue for me. Filing a cross cut saw is very similar to filing a rip accept you hold the fill at 15* off of 90* to the plate… on a rip saw you file straight across (90*).  You typically also add a little rake on a cross cut, say 12* as opposed to 8* on a rip saw.

On Wednesday, Andy will share his secrets on how to make a brand new saw handle for an old saw.