Jan 112008

by Chris Black

I’ve heard some of you lament that you do not have enough time, tools, space or skills to practice the kind of woodworking you desire. Many times these subtle excuses serve as psychological barriers which get in the way of us doing any woodworking at all. Perhaps all you really need, however, is to become a little more disciplined in how you approach it.

Here are five bits of advice on how to get your woodworking more organized:

Finding Time
In terms of discipline, military garrisons and monastic communities have similar approaches to daily task organization. The structure of these societies lets you know when and where you’re supposed to be and what you’re supposed to be doing. Our lives have similar schedules although maybe not as strict or intense. If you break down your day into general time phases, you know when you’re to be at work, when’s dinner and what time you generally go to bed. Mixed among these phases are natural pauses or down time. The trick is to combine these pauses into a phase so you can work some wood or at least think about it.

I generally spend anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour in the shop every morning before going to work. In the evening my goal is to spend another 30 minutes in the shop. Maybe I’ll just sharpen a tool or sweep up, but at least I’m in the shop and productive. I find it pleasant to think about my time in the shop during the day. Sometimes I use these mental vacations to work out a design problem or visualize a complicated assembly. Use your natural down times to mentally organize your finite shop for efficiency.

I find it extremely useful to plan and organize my limited time before I step into the shop. I like to use checklists I make during the day or the night before. These lists keep me on task so I don’t piddle. They might be as simple as a finishing schedule or as complex as a detailed cut list. The point is to create efficiencies so you not only enjoy making the project but eventually complete it as well. The key to eating an elephant is to take one bite at a time and to keeping eating. The discipline comes from staying on task and not starting something else until the current project is done. Recently, I finished a wardrobe I started last winter using this method. It took 10 months but it’s done. Do this and you won’t have 400 half-finished pieces all over the shop.

With each project I try to learn something new. It’s not always a conscious decision, but an overall attitude or approach I take. Perhaps you’d like to learn to hand cut mortise and tenon joints as an alternative to the dowel joints you’re more comfortable using. Choose a non-critical part of the project and give it a go. You can even use your shop time to practice a new skill and not necessarily do any project. In thirty minutes a day for a week or two, you can learn to French polish, cut half-blind dovetails or anything else you wish. Woodworking skills are cumulative. They build on one another. Do this for a year and you’ll be amazed at what you’ve learned.

We all wish we had the perfect shop. I’ve owned three commercial shops over the years, and I can guarantee you none of them was right. They either lacked proper heating and air conditioning, dust control, a decent finishing room or adequate space, and none of them had all the tools I wanted. In fact one shop we kept in my pickup truck. We’d roll up to a job, unload the tools and start building cabinets right in front of the customer’s house. Not much fun in the winter or when it rained. Somehow though I managed to eek out a living and make stuff.

My favorite example of space discipline is in The Workshop Book by Scott Landis. One featured woodworker has his shop in the kitchen pantry of his apartment. He has to open a window to plane long boards. Granted he doesn’t have any machinery, but he enjoys his craft nonetheless. Woodworking requires vision as much as it does space. Grab yourself a block of basswood and a penknife and go work wood.

I recently spoke with a fellow who told me that he had been collecting tools and machines for almost 7 years. When I asked him what projects he’d been working on, he replied none, because he didn’t have all the tools he needed. He missed out on 7 years of woodworking because he thought he didn’t have the right tools. He might not have been able to do everything he could have conceived of, but he was crippled from doing anything at all because of a perception of need. Remember my pickup truck shop? We were able to produce high quality built-ins with a circular saw, a chop box and a cordless drill. Just because your shop doesn’t look like Norm’s doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy making sawdust. My kids come up with all kinds of nifty projects with little more than a coping saw, a rasp and an eggbeater drill.

You don’t have to become a monk or a marine to acquire discipline, but you do have to get in there and work some wood!

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Dec 032007

10 out of 10 bandsaws prefer them

QuestionIn your catalog you’ve said more than once that “making the wheels coplanar” on a bandsaw is an important part of tune-up, but as far as I know you haven’t described how to do it. I have just a few questions: what is it, how do I know if I need it, and if so how do I do it?

answer.pngHmm. Seems we’ve left a few details yet to cover, eh? The object of the exercise is to make your two bandsaw wheels lie in the same plane while you’re cutting wood. When your wheels are coplanar, blades tend to track stably, and perhaps best of all there’s little or no adjustment required when you change blades. It’s much more likely that your blade will be perpendicular to the saw table, and your upper guides are less likely to require adjustment when you change depth of cut significantly.

Are your saw’s wheels out of plane? A snap diagnosis might be easy: if you have to fiddle with the saw’s tracking knob every time you change blades, you are going to benefit distinctly from making the wheels coplanar.Coplanar Bandsaw WheelsIf you’re not sure, here’s another quick check: if there’s a blade on your saw now, go look at it. Is it in the same position on the upper wheel as on the lower? If you can see a difference without measuring, then your wheels are almost certainly running in different planes.

Put a 1/2″ blade on your saw and tension it as if for work. Don’t bother tracking it; you’re just going to take it off again in a minute. Lay a 4 ft. straightedge against the lower wheel, as close to the center as possible. With the straightedge touching the wheel’s rim at both top and bottom, check the upper wheel. Use the tracking knob as needed to make the rim parallel to the straightedge. If the upper wheel doesn’t touch the straightedge, or if it pushes the straightedge out of contact with the lower wheel, then adjustment is called for.

On Delta and Jet bandsaws, the upper wheel can be moved outward by dismounting it and installing a 5/8″ i.d. spacer on the shaft. A hardware store 5/8″ washer will work if you need to move the wheel at least 1/16″. Some hardware stores stock machine bushings, narrow-rim washers available in a variety of useful thicknesses. Be sure the bushing already on the shaft is reinstalled last, just before the wheel. On Sears 12″ and Inca 10″ saws, the lower wheel can be moved by unlocking a set screw and shifting the wheel on its shaft. For other saws, have a good squint and figure out which wheel is adjustable.

It’s easy to set the wheels coplanar, and the payback is mighty convincing. When you can put any blade on your saw, tension it and turn on the saw without worrying about tracking, you’ll be a believer, too.

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Nov 282007

DMT XX-Fine Dia-Sharp Diamond StoneDiamond stone fans will now be able to hone a fine edge on their tools without switching abrasive types. The 3-micron grading makes this stone similar in performance to a hard Arkansas, a 6000-grit waterstone or an extra-fine ceramic stone, plus there’s no break in period. It’s ready to go right out of the box. The mono-crystalline diamond abrasive is bonded to a solid steel plate which measures 8″ x 3″ x 3/8″ thick. Because it won’t chip, crack or dish out, it may well be the ultimate jobsite toolbox stone. Diamond stones can be used wet or dry, but for best results lubricate with soapy water. Occasionally scrub the surface with a scouring powder to unclog the surface.

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Nov 192007

QuestionI had a mahogany front door installed on my house about 8 months ago, and the finish is already peeling off. The installer said they used an exterior finish purchased at a home center. Why didn’t the finish last longer, and how should I go about fixing it?

answer.pngI can think of several possible reasons why the finish failed on your door. In general clear finishes don’t hold up as well as opaque finishes. A properly prepared surface coated with an oil-based primer and several coats of high quality modified acrylic paint will usually last years longer than clear or stained finishes. The farther south you live and the type of sun exposure you get can also affect the longevity of a door’s finish. Most contractors do a good job of hanging doors, but don’t have as much knowledge about finishing materials or how to use them. This is especially true with exterior finishes. As a result they will purchase finishing products from home centers that are of poorer quality than those available at specialty shops.

If you choose to refinish your front door, the most durable option is painting. As for staining and clear coating, the process is more involved and time consuming. Here are some basic instructions.

  1. Remove the door from the hinges and remove all hardware. Lay it flat on some saw horses or a sturdy table. You’ll need to cover the opening with plywood or hang a temporary door.
  2. Remove all the old finish with a good chemical stripper. Most strippers have wax in them, so you’ll have to wash the door down with paint thinner once you’re done stripping. If you don’t remove the leftover wax, the new finish won’t stick.
  3. Sand to 180-220 grit.
  4. If you choose to color the door, use a high quality pigment stain like Varathane or Bartley’s. Most stains sold at home centers have dye colors added to them and they won’t hold up in sunlight.
  5. Once the stain is dry, start applying a true longlasting oil spar varnish. Here’s a hint. If you paid under $50 a gallon for it, then it won’t hold up. The best go for $90 a gallon. Professional quality marine/spar varnishes like Waterlox Marine are made from tung oil to give them elasticity so they can expand and contract during seasonal movements. Cheaper varnishes cure hard and tend to peel once the weather changes. Also, good spars are loaded with ultraviolet light-refracting minerals, which keep the sun from breaking down the finish.
  6. You should thin the first two coats of varnish 1:1 with paint thinner, and apply it with a natural hair brush. Pay particular attention to the top and bottom edges of the door where the end grain of the door’s stiles are. Moisture exchange happens more rapidly there, so you need to load these areas up with extra varnish.
  7. Lightly sand between coats of varnish with 220 grit sterated paper. Sterated paper (Norton 3X) won’t clog and scratch your finish like conventional paper.
  8. Apply at least 3 more full strength coats of varnish.
  9. Since high quality spar varnish deteriorates from the outside, you’ll need to inspect the outer coat each year. Typically you’ll lightly sand the surface and wipe on a thinned coat of new varnish as needed.
  10. One last note. Always use high gloss spar varnish for all outdoor projects. Satin sheen finishes have flattening agents added to them, which weaken the cured film. If you want a lower sheen, you can use high gloss for all but the last coat and apply satin on the final pass. Another solution is to wait 5 days after the final coat is dry, and rub down the sheen with some 0000 steel wool lubricated with paint thinner.

Thanks for your question,
Chris Black
Highland Woodworking

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Nov 122007

The more skilled you become at resawing, the more you take it for granted that any stock thickness your heart desires is yours for the making. Resawing isn’t difficult, but it is a skill, which has to be learned just like any other. As usual, practice is the direct route to expertise—and as usual, the better you understand the tool the more effectively practice will teach you what you need to know. Of the main factors that go into successful resawing (blade selection, tension, feed rate and accommodating lead angle), understanding the blade’s lead angle is by far the most critical part of setup.

"Lead angle" describes the direction in which wood must move in order for a given bandsaw blade to cut a straight line. As fingerprints are to fingers, so lead angle is to bandsaw blades. There’s so much variability in bandsaw blades, even blades made on the same machines from the same coil of band stock, that you can expect to see a perfectly good blade lead as much as 1/2" out of parallel to your saw’s miter slot—and the next blade you install may lead that far out in the other direction. As long as the results are good, of course, it doesn’t matter one bit whether you feed the wood northeast or northwest. Lead angles, even strange ones, cause trouble only when you attempt to enforce your own preconceptions instead.

Point Block

Resaw Feed DirectionWhen you make a freehand cut along a straight line marked on your wood, you have to figure out lead angle as you go, adjusting your feed direction back and forth as the blade wanders off the line, gradually zeroing in on a direction that lets the blade follow the line consistently. That’s a fair description of a common resawing stock control method, where you use what’s commonly called a point block fence. The radiused point block helps you keep your stock vertical but leaves feed direction entirely up to you. It’s an efficient way to resaw one or two pieces of wood: mark the line you want to cut, leaving a generous margin for error. Set the point block to the width you’ve marked, and then watch the cut closely, adjusting your feed direction as needed to follow the line. The technique is usually a little more wasteful of wood than ideal, but its appeal lies in minimal setup. Very experienced point block users can make consistent cuts with little waste, but for many sawyers it may be more practical to use a straight fence.

Straight and Narrow

When you have more than a few pieces of wood to resaw, you can do the work quite accurately, repeatably and efficiently with a straight fence tuned precisely to the blade’s lead angle. Begin as described above, making a freehand rip along a straight line. Once you’re sawing straight down the line, stop the saw and pencil marks on your saw table along the edge of the stock. Set your fence to the marks. Now make a resaw cut, if not in the work at hand, then in a short scrap of roughly similar hardness and width. Begin the cut gently, so initial impact doesn’t twist the blade and start the cut wrong. As the cut proceeds, notice if the stock wants to wander away from the rear of the fence—if so, stop and adjust the fence angle accordingly. If the wood stays tight against the fence and the saw begins to labor, stop and ease the rear of the fence away from the wood.

Take a Bow

With the cut completed, stand a straightedge against the resawn face of the board. Unless you’re just plain lucky, you’ll see that the blade bowed left or right within the stock. You know that the solid body of a blade can’t simply move sideways through solid wood.Resaw Feed Direction To create a bowed cut, the teeth must lead right or left within the wood (where they’re free of the lateral guides’ constraint), twisting the blade and making it saw its way out of vertical. To keep the cut vertical, adjust your fence to match the way the blade twisted. If the blade bowed to the right, adjust the rear of your fence slightly to the left; if the blade bowed left, reset fence angle slightly right at the rear. Make another test cut and check the face of the wood again. It may take as many as three or four tests to get the fence set for flawless sawing, but once that’s done you can resaw piece after identical piece, with cuts so straight that one pass through the planer is all it takes to produce clean, flat wood at your target thickness.

Visit Highland Woodworking’s Library for more tool tips and information.

Nov 082007

Work Sharp 3000 Sharpening CenterThis sandpaper-based sharpener is a good value for the budget conscious woodworker or the enthusiast who wants to forego the learning curve of other methods. The Work Sharp is designed to sharpen carving tools, chisels and plane irons up to 2″ wide. The 1/5 HP motor spins at a comfortable 580 rpm, so you can easily sharpen other tools freehand.

When sharpening chisels and plane irons, an air-cooled heat sink prevents burning and eliminates the need for messy lubricants. You flatten and polish tool backs on top of a 6″ diameter x 3/8″ thick piece of tempered glass coated with adhesive backed sandpaper. You then hone the bevel from underneath the glass on the angle port. The angle port adjusts to 20°, 25°, 30° and 35° for predictable and repeatable sharpening.

Carving tools are ground underneath a slotted backer disc, so you can see the tool’s bevel as you sharpen. Just color the edge with a black marker, and grind sharpen until the mark disappears. The slots in the backer disc keep cool air flowing over the tool to prevent burning.

Strip paper and clean glass and plastic backers with acetone. 2-year manufacturer’s warranty.

NOTE: The Work Sharp comes with some 400 grit paper that attaches to the angle port to remove any burr left by the sharpening process. We recommend not using this paper, as it will scratch the back of your polished tool. To remove any leftover burr, just lightly rub the back of the tool over the 3600 or 6000 micro-mesh paper with the machine off.

The Work Sharp 3000 Sharpening Center includes:

  • Work Sharp 3000 Sharpener
  • 2 tempered glass wheels (you can mount abrasive on both sides) for flat tools
  • 1 slotted see-through wheel for carving tools
  • Top tool rest for free hand sharpening
  • Crepe stick for cleaning the sandpaper
  • An abrasive kit, which includes one each of the following: 120, 400, 1000 & 3600 grit sharpening discs; 80, 400, & 1200 grit slotted sharpening discs.

Visit Highland Woodworking for more information on this and all of our fine woodworking products.

Nov 062007

by Alan Noel

Whether you’re a hobbyist or a pro, brushing on an even coat of bubble-free oil- or water-based varnish
is often a very frustrating task. Sometimes bubbles even appear mysteriously while the finish is drying, even though they weren’t visible during the application process.

Here are six tips I’ve found to help eliminate those pesky tiny bubbles:

  1. Never shake the finish. Shaking the container will cause bubbles. Always stir the finish in the can.
  2. Be sure to apply the finish in the direction of the grain whenever possible.
  3. Always use a good quality brush. This is the most important part of the process. A high
    quality natural bristle brush should be used for oil based varnishes and the best for water based
    finishes are brushes having synthetic bristles.
  4. After brushing on a coat of finish, use a different dry brush of the same type and gently brush the
    finish holding the brush at a 45 degree angle to remove any bubbles that are in the finish.
  5. Remember that two light coats are better than one thick one. Laying it on too thick
    will promote skimming of the finish. Trapped thinners will then force their way towards the surface creating
  6. Never attempt to finish any surface unless you are sure the wood is completely dry and ready
    for finishing. Trapped moisture can cause bubbles to appear long after the lights have been turned off.

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