Category Archives: Shop Talk

First things first … and this is the last

Nine years ago, I was but a wee lad, bright-eyed and bushy tailed full of vim and vigor. Marc Spagnuolo, my woodworking svengali, asked if I would be interested in writing a few guest posts for him.

Once I started writing three articles a week for him – and he had only asked for maybe one every two weeks or so, he asked me, “Dude, would you want to set up your own blog?”

DSC04270

Oops, I guess I went a little overboard with the writing. And, for the first seven years of this blog, I adhered to my rigid posting schedule of four posts a week. Articles on Monday and Wednesday, the Link of the Week on Friday and the Quick Poll on Sundays.

Believe me, it was a ton of fun, but it was also a ton of work. On average, I was spending anywhere between 12 and 15 hours each week – every week – on the blog to meet my self-imposed deadlines. It was a thrill. I was in demand, asked to speak at – and later serve on  – the board of directors for the local Woodworking Guild. I started attending woodworking meet-ups.

Heck, I even got the attention of sponsors. Companies such as MicroJig, Infinity Cutting Tools, Tormek, Bora Tools, Bell Forest Products. Laguna. Eagle America.

I was asked to join Dyami Plotke and Chris Adkins on the Modern Woodworkers Association podcast, and I have met so many interesting and awesome folks.

Wood Magazine even approached me and had me write a column for their magazine. I was doing online content for Popular Woodworking. It was crazy…

LucyThen, I realized something. It wasn’t all of a sudden, but it had been building over the past year. I am starting to feel a little like Lucy Ricardo, joined by her friend Ethel Mertz on the candy wrapping line. Suddenly, instead of getting all of the candies wrapped beautifully for packaging, I was rushing to just get them out.

Sunday night would roll around and I would look into the shop in terror and panic, realizing I hadn’t done any woodworking, but I had to write SOMETHING.

Basically, I’m discovering that I just can’t maintain this second job, my primary job and my  sanity all at once.

That being said, it pains me to make this announcement. Effective today, I will be putting Tom’s Workbench on an indefinite hiatus.

Does this mean the site is going away?  No. I will continue to maintain it so you can go back and check out the articles I have written. Does this mean I am going to crawl away into a cave and disappear from the face of the planet? Nope. I will still post to Twitter and Google Plus as I finish projects and seek the wealth of advice of the woodworking community.

What it does mean, however, is that I am going to get a little much-needed balance back into my life and spend some of the time I have been writing about woodworking to actually get back into the shop and do some of it. Isn’t that why I have all of those tools in the first place?

In the meantime, please e-mail my Trained Shop Monkey at iggy@tomsworkbench.com if you have any questions, and be sure to get some time for sawdust therapy.

dyami-tom

Trust me, you need it!

NOW it’s time!

No, it wasn’t time when the kids went back to school. Nor was it the time when the carved pumpkins were on the porch. It wasn’t even time when the turkeys lay in the brine, or after those bronzed beauties were pulled from the fryers, ovens or smokers for Thanksgiving. 

2015 Turkeys

Wow, that was impressive.

No, NOW it’s the time for the holiday season to begin in earnest. Which means after a turkey sandwich or two, I had to start stringing up a few sets of lights.

winter wonderland

Oh, and I had to start a little bit of shopping. Now, I was not about to start doing any of the Black Friday madness which took place early the morning after the feast, but I do have to say that the home improvement centers are definitely stepping up their game when it comes to impressing woodworkers.

Formerly the home of just the avid DIY woodworkers, home centers are stepping up their offerings considerably. Take for example that Lowe’s is now carrying many of the Kreg and Bora lines of tools, especially their Portamate Wood Rack – definitely a specialized tool to the woodworking community.

Lumber rack

Add on the folks over at Home Depot carrying a wide array of power tools and high end Bessey Clamps, and if you are looking to drop a few hints to your loved ones, or seeking to buy a woodworking gift for a friend, you might want to consider there.

At more specialized woodworking stores, you can definitely find whatever you seek. From the major 220 volt cabinet saws to paring chisels that can nick off a whisker at a time, there’s a tool for everyone. Here’s a hint if you are looking to buy for someone or make some suggestions – try to think of a particular aspect of your shop work you want to focus on. For instance, we so often overlook safety in our urge to get the shiny tools. Why not spring for something like a MicroJig Grrr-ripper push block?

microjig_grr-ripper_system_01

And, we all know that today is Cyber Monday, when we tell our bosses to take a hike and we get a ton of shopping done at our desks.

cyber-monday

Just kidding. With wi-fi and 4G speeds so darned fast these days, there’s no need to soak up the company’s bandwidth anymore.  The deals you can find online are totally impressive, and you know there are a few places I would recommend you check out for some awesome deals (ahem, Infinity Tools and Bell Forest Products).

Also remember that most online places have wish list features, so be sure to ask your friends for their lists – and put your own items up there – just in case you want to make shopping a little easier for friends and family.

Oh, and if you want a chance to get some awesome goodies for yourself, Iggy and I are still looking for some Last Minute Elf ideas for our ongoing contest.

Just be sure to send an e-mail to Iggy@tomsworkbench.com with a photo of a holiday gift you have built. The idea is something that doesn’t take a lot of time or material, but will make for one happy recipient on the big day.

In the meantime, we’ll post the best ideas on the site the week of December 7 – 11, and we’ll name the winners by random draw or by my hairy woodworking friend throwing banana peels at random entries.

There are those who call me…

One of my favorite movies of all time is Monty Python and the Holy Grail. And, one of my favorite scenes from the movie was when the brave knights on their quest came across the mighty Enchanter.

Who was he?

Well, there were those who called him … Tim. Funny stuff.

It got me thinking of those more serious movies made in the same genre. You know what I’m talking about, the ones where it takes a few moments for the main character’s name to be announced. Like in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy …  Aragorn, son of Arathorn known as Estel, the Strider, became king Ellesar, also known as Telcontar.

aragorn

What a mouthful.

Why bring this up? Well, when it comes to making table saw jigs, you can create them from one of two prestigious lineages. You can get Grove Gliders or Fence Riders.

miter

Groove gliders are the types which use the miter gauge groove to guide their movement. Some are simply screwed to the miter gauge itself, and can be as simple as a board attached to serve as a crosscut guide. Others, well, they can be elaborate  constructions which allow you to cut different kinds of joinery, miters, coves … the works.

MicroJig_ZeroPlay

These jigs really rely on snug, slop free fits in the miter slots to ensure that there is absolutely no play in the jig setup. This can be accomplished using wood or UHMW plastic, or a runner system like MicroJig’s ZeroPlay miter bar guides.

Fence Riders use the rip fence to control the jig. These babies either have some component that straddles the fence, or they have an edge which rides against the fence.

lead-tenon-jig-article

These fence straddlers should be constructed with carefully to allow a snug fit over the fence, yet not bind. It’s a delicate balance, which can usually be helped with some paste wax on the fence and the inside of the jig. It’s also important to allow for some type of clamping, a handle and some way to ensure the face of the jig stays perpendicular to the table saw’s surface.

microdial

Another very familiar Fence Rider are tapering jigs like MicroJig’s Microdial jig. Again, great care needs to be exercised to ensure that there is a safe way to hold and push the jig and material by the blade. The last thing you want to do is get hurt using one of these.

Given their usefulness in the shop, I have a feeling like you might want to invite both jigs to a spot at your round table.

Be sharp

So, this past Tuesday night, I was asked to come to the St. Petersburg Woodcrafters Guild to do a quick talk about sharpening.

Am I an expert on sharpening? Nope.

But, I have spoken with Ron Hock a ton, and I am sponsored by Tormek, so I can fake it until I make it when it comes to the topic.

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First, though, I had to talk a little bit of physics… something I know less of. I used an interesting example that I picked up from one of my high school science teachers.

A 140 pound woman wearing high heels and a 2,500 pound elephant walk onto a beach (Sounds like the start of a bad joke, right?). Which one leaves deeper footprints in the sand?

The answer is the woman, even though she may be about 17 times lighter than the pachyderm. The reason? The force of her weight is concentrated on a much smaller area than the elephant’s foot.

That’s why we sharpen tools. Sharp tools focus the force used to work them onto a smaller point, making it easier for them to sever wood fibers. Pretty simple, no?

chisel

The other thing I mentioned was that steel is basically a carefully controlled mix of carbon and iron with some other elements added to adjust the  properties of the tool. An important part of the process is how quickly the steel is cooled and reheated to relieve stresses and tempter the material. Sharpening methods that generate too much heat can remove the temper, leading to weak tools. Ron Hock gave me a great lesson on this in a 2010 article I posted called Steel Yourself! 

With those basics out of the way, I jumped into business, recounting tales from my 2009 post A Honing Beacon, which talked about the pros and cons of different sharpening media. I went from the cheap and cheerful sandpaper systems to the more expensive diamond stones. Basically, if you get good results from your system, why mess with it?

I also covered the differences between a flat ground bevel and a hollow bevel, which can be obtained by sharpening on a wheel of some type. I posted The Right Grind in 2012 which covered the difference between the two, and what a microbevel is all about.

I also talked about different ways to see how sharp the blade is at the end, something I mentioned in a post called How Sharp? that I did in 2012. From creating woodworker pattern baldness to slicing sheets of printer paper, there are some tried and true methods to verify that you indeed have sharp tools.

I even went into detail on stropping back in 2012 with my article Strop! In the name of love. Stropping is that final step that puts the razor edge on tools, making them a real pleasure to work with.

While it was great to talk about sharpening, it was even better to be in front of the Guild again, sharing a little bit of what I know about sharpening and helping folks understand this important part of the craft again.

Hold your top

An interesting thought occurred to me during the summer of coffee tables. Namely, how do you attach a table top to a table base?

One hand clapping?

Oh, this sounds like a total Zen master type question. Kind of like what is the sound of one hand clapping? You just nail that sucker down to the base and … oh, wait.

Didn’t we once establish on this blog that wood moves due to changes in humidity? Oh, yeah, we did.

Craaaack...

So, if you lock a wide table top down to a rigid base, there’s a chance that it could split due to differences in grain orientation and if you have not accounted for wood movement in your design. Believe me, you do not want to glue a breadboard end the entire length of the piece. Wait a few seasons and craaaack…. you got it.

So, what are some ways you can get around this? There are more than a few options available to you. For instance, a few years ago, I built a trestle-based work table, I captured the top of the trestles in between two battens screwed into oversized holes. The top  of the trestle simply rested between the battens and a dowel pin held it in place. Simple, elegant, and it allowed for movement.

Another technique I used on the Cotterman. Basically, I screwed the table base directly to the top using pocket screws, but only on the sides of the table which paralleled the top’s grain. Since wood moves very little along the length of the grain, socking it down in that direction provides little in the way of cross-grain issues.  That means I used just one screw on the short cross pieces of the table right in the middle to hold the top flat across its width.

For the round table, I turned to a mechanical fastener known as a z-clip. Either you can cut a saw kerf (or do what I do and use a biscuit cutter to make a small kerf) in the table supports.  One end of the clip wedges into the kerf while the other end is screwed into the bottom of the table. In this arrangement, the top is free to move, and the z-clip pivots to allow the board to move.

z clip

Sure, it may take a little bit more time and effort to design the table to accomplish these goals, but believe me, after all of your hard work and effort, you will be happy that you took the time.

Commence the purge

OK, so that weasel ratted me out last week for not having a clean reference area. Fine. You want to play the game that way, I’ll play along. So, this week when i got home from work, I decided it was going to be time to clear out some items which had been accumulating in my reference storage area for a few years to see if I couldn’t neaten a few things up.

It was not going to be easy. I mean, I had books and magazines going back to the late 1990s on these shelves, and in those cabinet there, and near the nightstand… well, you get the idea. It was going to be cruel, but I knew it was going to be for the best. After all, without a way to catalog these items, how was I ever going to find anything that I needed?

Purge mode

So, I went into full purge mode. My rules were simple:

  • Reference books, I kept
  • Magazine special editions with design or shop ideas in them, I kept
  • Plans I was given or bought, I kept
  • Magazines I had actually built projects out of, I kept
  • Photos of old projects, I kept

I was stunned by how many things I had gotten and forgotten about years ago. I mean, there were plans for projects I see every single day around my house, and plans for projects I no longer have. My son’s rocking horse. The half-round table at our entry. My youngest son’s bookshelf. The Halloween coffin we put out for the holiday.

Plans

I tucked those carefully into a holder and kept them for the day I may want to build them again. I also spirited away a few other choice magazines with plans for projects that caught my attention. You never know…

The rest? Well, the rest of the material went into three piles:

  • Magazines and books I didn’t need anymore went in piles to the library
  • Crap I accumulated over the years that had no value, I put into a recycle pile and
  • Winning lottery tickets, I cashed.

There were not a lot of items in the last pile, but the kids spent most of yesterday trucking scores of magazines off to the library for others to learn the craft. I feel good that’s where they went.

Clean shelf

Now look at that shelf. It’s easy to find the things I need, and it gives me some room to put a few more quality reference books. I’m liking the new space,

What's in here

Now with that done, I can turn my full attention to what lies within these boxes from Bell Forest Products. And, is it ever beautiful… But, that’s another post for another day.

I’m a Chair Surgeon

I loved – and still do love – the original Star Trek series. It was so forward thinking in its scope. I mean, it had Earthlings exploring deep into space, encountering new civilizations and attempting to make peace with them to bring them into alliance. Trying to avoid war at all costs, but not afraid to kick butt when it was important enough to do it.

Bones McCoy

Of all the character in the show, DeForest Kelly’s Bones McCoy was one of my favorites. He was grouchy, excitable, moody – but there was no one in Starfleet who was as skilled as he was. He could diagnose and treat just about anything that ailed the crew, and his country doctor mannerisms endeared him to the crew.

I must be getting the same reputation for fixing broken chairs. Back in 2011, I fixed a chair for friends who brought an antique model back from Sweden. Now, this year, I got a call from a couple of friends that Rhonda and I know very well. It seems they had a similar issue at their house where someone had broken one of their dining room chairs. Ooops. Could I fix it?

Oooh, not good

Damnit, Jim, I’m a woodworker, not a furniture repairman. But, knowing that our friends really needed the chair fixed, I agreed.

Wow, was it busted. The chair was held together with hanger bolts through the front legs and some wooden corner brackets screwed into place. What had happened was that someone had bounced onto the chair and snapped the corner brace, which loosened the entire assembly. OK, I had to think how I was going to do this.

Broken brace

The rails of the chair were held in place – well, there was no joint holding them in place. They simply butted to the leg, with this corner brace system. This was a blessing in disguise, because I knew I could help rebuild the joint using some other system. After scratching my head for a while, i thought that dowels would be the best option. So, the first thing was to take the piece apart.

The assemblies disassembled

With them all apart, I broke out my Joint Genie doweling jig and set it up to cut a series of holes in the rails and the legs. The jig gave me good alignment and made drilling matching holes easy.

Doweling jig

With the holes bored in the rails and the matching holes in the legs, I filled the holes with dowel pins, but no glue. I figured that the chair may one day need to be broken apart again for repair, so using the dowels for alignment and joint reinforcement would make sense.

Spiky with dowels

With the dowels in place, I clamped everything together and mounted the corner braces back in place. They had enough material left over to lock into the grooves on the rails, and I screwed them back into place and bolted everything together tightly.

Bolted together

Once I had that taken care of, I then reattached the seat to the frame with four long screws, and voila, the chair was ready for a test.

The chair on its feet

It’s actually a very comfortable chair, and it looks like it’s ready for many long years of service at the dining room table.

I'm not a bricklayer...

In the immortal words of Bones McCoy, I’m beginning to think I can cure a rainy day…