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Wood Workers Posts

Custom Wood Filler

By Hugh Foster Even the best planks you’re likely to find will have minor imperfections in them. As the cost of hardwoods continues to rise, cutting around these flaws can get expensive, and artful patching becomes more and more desirable. Stick shellac is good, but it’s also fragile and never quite the right color-and blending tones can be messy, time-consuming, and not very precise. None of the various wood dough, putty or “plastic wood” products is suitable for more than the most ordinary applications. They, too, have color matching problems, and like the shellac sticks, they don’t take finish in…

The Sound of Wood

Have you heard?  You mean, when building a cabinet you haven’t sometimes been aware of a ping here, a plunk there? No, it’s not the heater expanding. It’s your wood . Wood is sensuous. We gaze on its beauty; we relish its aroma; we delight in its texture . Taste is not important, unless you happen to be a termite; but sound can have its place-though that is certainly not the first consideration in selecting lumber. Listen up .Good Vibrations From resonant redwood to tinkling teak, the sound of wood begins with cells. Their length , the direction in which…

Building Tables – Three Federal Legs

Three years ago, I had the privilege of participating in the inaugural Three Month Furniture Making Intensive work-shop offered by the North Bennet Street School in Boston. In addition to increased knowledge of the craft, wonderful experiences with the instructors, and new friends, I came away with an elegant Federal-style writing desk (see photo). Making the square tapered legs required a fair amount of work with handplanes, spokeshaves, rasps, and files. After some experimentation, I figured out how to cut three styles of Federal leg using simple shopmade jigs. Once cut, the legs need only minor cleanup. One leg has…

Building Cabinets — Quick, Build a Bookcase, Sturdy Bookcase

In my home, bookcases show up in every room, serving not only as places to store our growing collection of books, but also as places to display art and other items of interest. This butternut-and-maple bookcase is a versatile piece, big enough to hold a good number of books and/or collectibles while small enough to fit in almost any room. The design is understated, with bracket feet and gentle curves along the tops of the sides, and maple back boards contrasting softly with butternut sides and shelves. But you can use this construction method to build a bookcase in any…

Lessons/Guides – Get Serious About Clamping

A common saying among woodworkers is, “You can never have too many clamps.” Turns out, it might be more accurate to say that you can never apply too much force. Most woodworkers have only the vaguest idea of how much clamping force to apply when gluing boards. Even those perfec-tionists who rely on dial calipers and feeler gauges when cut-ting and planing wood often judge clamping pressure simply by the amount of glue that squeezes out. The results are occasional joint failures and embarrassing gaps between boards on the ends of tabletops. During my career in wood technology I’ve done…

Quick Tips — Questions & Answers 7

Clean-cut dovetails Q: I’m a novice at cutting dovetails and can get them only to the point of a rough fit. My problem is in cutting away the waste between both the tails and the pins. How do I do that to make the fit clean and sharp? A: START BY DEFINING THE TAILS AND PINS with backsaw cuts. Then remove most of the waste between tails and pins with a coping saw. If you used a Japanese pullsaw and the kerf is too thin for the coping-saw blade, make a second cut with the pullsaw to remove a wedge,…

Quick Tips — Methods of Work 7

Cutting thin strips on the tablesaw Sooner or later, we all need to cut thin strips on the tablesaw. The normal procedure is to set the rip fence to the width of the strip, but this creates a situation where the strip could be captured and thrown back at you, or scarred by teeth at the back of the blade. A safer option is to put the bulk of the stock between the blade and the fence so the strip is cut to the left of the blade. The problem with this is that the fence must be adjusted by…

Quick Tips — Questions & Answers 6

How to build a steambox Q: Great article by Michael Fortune on steam-bending. Now, how do I make that wooden steambox? A: MAKE THE BOX from 3⁄4-in. exterior plywood. Unlike interior ply, it will withstand the steam and last for years. Don’t paint or line the wood, or dampness will lie against the surface, promot-ing rot. The length of the box is up to you. Mine is 48 in. long, but it’s made to accept extensions (see drawing). Keep the interior of the box to roughly 7 in. wide by 7 in. tall. That’s large enough for several good-size blanks,…

Lessons/Guides – Smart Garage Workshop, From the Ground Up

When I left the staff of Fine Woodworking and headed south a few years ago, my wife and I bought a ’50s ranch just east of downtown Nashville. I set up shop in the flat-roofed, one-car garage out back while we figured out if I could make a living building furniture and writing about the craft. Two years later, both careers were going well. The workshop, how-ever, was growing smaller every day. I didn’t need an industrial shop for a big crew, but I did want a well-equipped workshop for a single pro, with plenty of bench space, versatile storage,…

Lessons/Guides – Passive Solar Shop

After 25 years in a cramped, one-car garage workspace, the time finally arrived to construct a shop with some real elbow room. In addition to all the usual design considerations — work flow, machine locations, electrical-outlet placement, dust collection, and the like — I wanted to incorporate passive solar heating. Using energy from the sun to heat the shop offers two advantages. First, heating costs go down, no small advantage at a time when energy prices have soared. And second, it reduces — even if in a small way — our national dependence on oil. In the summer, with the…

Quick Tips — Methods of Work 6

Sturdy, simple lumber rack When I began thinking about a lumber-storage rack for my commercial shop, I was poised to purchase some of those huge, free-standing, cantilevered I-beam things that would cost $750 or more. The rack I built cost about a third of that in materials, plus a few hours of labor—and it is equally suitable for the home shop. Each 24-in.-wide frame is made from 2×6 lumber and consists of two posts and a top and bottom plate. The frames are nailed together and connected with 2x4s at the top and bottom corners. Sixteen pieces of iron pipe…

Quick Tips — Questions & Answers 5

Buying lumber a bit at a time Q: I am considering building a classic highboy for my wife out of cherry, maple, or walnut. What impact would it have on the piece if, due to the cost, I bought the wood at various times throughout the project, rather than all at once? A: IF YOU CAN’T BUY ALL THE WOOD for your project at once, you won’t get a full set of matching boards. But if you buy the lumber wisely, you can maintain consistency within each element of the highboy at least. First, make sure materials for the major…

Lessons/Guides – 5 Smart Repairs for Veneering Mistakes

No matter how careful you are when working with veneer, you’ll need to make the occasional repair. Veneers get chipped, scratched, dented, or blistered, and to be good at veneering, you also must be good at veneer repair. Not to worry. Just ask yourself the philosophical question: If you execute an invisible repair, did the damage ever really occur? While my focus is on the construction process, the methods described here also can be applied to restoration, and some even work on solid wood. Keep in mind that existing glue and finish (topics I won’t address here) are big factors…

Lessons/Guides – Authentic Shaker Knobs

I make mostly Shaker furniture, so a number of my pieces have Shaker-style knobs — commonly called mushroom knobs—mounted to the doors and drawers. Although you can buy them, I prefer to make them. Commercial versions come in limited sizes. Plus, some of them don’t quite have the graceful curves that are the hallmark of a classic Shaker knob. I’m also free to use any wood species. Then, too, when I make my own knobs, I can size them in proportion to the drawer front. For example, I make a 15-drawer chest that has 2 and 1⁄4 -in.-tall top drawer…

Building Cabinets — Spice Box

When I decided to build a piece for my wife and I, to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary, I had two important goals. I wanted it to be on an intimate scale — something smaller than a sideboard or dining table — and I wanted a piece that could be personalized. This spice box seemed a perfect fit. It’s compact enough to sit on a dresser or in an alcove, and it’s great for storing jewelry and small treasures of all kinds. And, as on many original spice boxes, the inlaid decoration allowed me to personalize the box and commemorate…

Lessons/Guides – Mill Lumber Safely

The switch from using surfaced lumber to milling your own boards from rough stock is a watershed for most woodworkers. It saves you money, unchains you from the standard thicknesses available in surfaced lumber, and gives you greater control over the accuracy of your work and the look of your boards. But this business of taming roughsawn stock can be a challenge. The wood is rarely flat to start with, and it often releas-es inner stresses when cut that can pinch or bind a sawblade, resulting in a violent kickback. I eliminate these dangers by using a bandsaw instead of…

Lessons/Guides – The Right

I expect a lot from a tabletop edge. On one hand, I need it to be tough, able to endure a life full of bumps and bruises, even spills. Yet I want the edge to be attractive, with lines that are in keeping with the overall piece and with a profile that is pleasant to touch. It’s not an easy dance to master, but it’s a fun challenge. I treat table edges with respect, spending a great deal of time on them. My goal is to design edges that are as alluring as the rest of the piece. I use…

Building Cabinets – My Dream Kitchen

For a couple of reasons, the upcoming 2008 season of The New Yankee Workshop is a special one for everyone involved. First, it’s our 20th anniversary, and we’re especially proud of that milestone. Second, a good part of our entire sea-son—nine episodes—will be devoted to showing our viewers how to build a custom dream kitchen. It’s a project I’ve wanted to do for a long time. And now that the kitchen is complete, I feel it was well worth the wait. For more than 35 years now, I’ve had a hand in designing, building, and installing a good many kitchen…

Lessons/Guides – The 5-Minute Dovetail

What is it about woodworkers? Baseball players loosen up their arms and take batting practice before a game. Violinists rosin their bows and tune their instruments before a concert. Artists draw big circles on their pads before drawing a portrait. Everyone seems to warm up before starting work except woodworkers. What hubris tricks us into believing that we can begin sawing right now on that fiddleback maple, without getting ready? Some of us, hell-bent on “getting something done tonight,” only make more work for ourselves in fixing mistakes. I do not have an answer. But I do have a strategy,…

Quick Tips — Methods of Work 5

Swinging rack adds wall space to garage The double-car garage door severely limits wall space in my garage/woodworking shop. So I created a 4-ft. by 5-ft. swinging tool rack for hanging hand tools, clamps, and accessories. Mounted in the corner of the front of my garage, it can stay against the garage door until I have to get in or out that way. The rack does not interfere with storage on the adjoining wall. I made the rack out of 2×4 and 2×2 lumber. Two heavy-duty fence hinges are bolted to two 10-in.-wide stand-offs to hold the rack away from…

Quick Tips – Questions & Answers 4

Over the top panel shaping Q: I recently acquired a 5-hp, 1¼-in. spindle shaper. I intend to make a set of raised panels on it using a very large cutting head, and I am concerned about safety. Is it acceptable to mount the cutter so that the head is above the work and lowered down to make the cut? A: IT IS MUCH SAFER IN GENERAL to run the cutter below the table because of the reduced exposure. However, if the finished stock must be a critical thickness, such as a panel edge to fit snugly into the groove in…

Building Beds — New Twist on a Sleigh Bed

In 1776, my great-great-great-grand-father (great-grandfather of the Ant-arctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton) started the Anna Liffey flour mill on the banks of the river Liffey near dublin, Ire-land. After I emigrated to Vermont in 1981 and started a handmade furniture business, I enjoyed returning to visit relatives who still lived in the old mill house. In their dining room, I spotted some beautiful chairs. Known as Irish fork-backs because of their X-shaped back slats, these chairs were a wonderful combination of simplicity and sophistication. I thought that with a few changes their classic design could translate into more contemporary pieces.…

Lessons/Guides – Try This Versatile Mortising Jig

One of the challenges when working with curved parts is how to cut joinery on them. When tapering solid stock, it’s best to cut the joinery before cutting the taper, but this is not possible with laminated work, such as the bent, tapered laminations described in the previous article. A few years back, I created a simple jig that enables me to cut mortises in a variety of curved pieces. I’ve since discovered that the jig works equally well when mortising straight pieces, or cutting mortises in end grain. The jig consists of a mounting block, a fixed vertical piece,…

Lessons/Guides – Tapered Laminations Made Easy

Incorporating tapered, curved laminations in your furniture opens up an incredible range of designs. However, tapering the component after it has been laminated has two disadvantages. If too many gluelines are broken, then the part will begin to straighten. Also, the severed gluelines are likely to show as a series of ugly lines. A better way is to taper the individual plies, so that when they are glued together, both the inside and outside curves are continuous wood with no disfiguring gluelines. I have a jig that makes creating tapered plies a snap. It works not only to cut the…

Lessons/Guides – Designing Boxes

I’ve been making boxes for over 30 years. Indeed, I’ve made thousands of them and I hope to make a few thousand more in the years to come. I can’t cover decades of box-making knowledge in a single article, but I can share some of the things I consider when designing a box—wood, corner joints, lid, bottom, feet, pulls, and dividers. Armed with a few good options for each element, you’ll have no trouble designing all sorts of beautiful boxes on your own. Box making appeals to me for many reasons. I enjoy the process of design. And because boxes…

Lessons/Guides – 8 Tips for Flawless Moldings

A crisp molding lends the same touch of elegance to a well-made cabinet that a silk tie bestows on a sharp-dressed man. But in order for their magic to work, neckties and moldings both must be treated with care. A molding with torn-out grain or fuzzy edges will spoil the effect—like a soup stain in the middle of your chest. I don’t have to fuss with a necktie very often, but my students and I do run plenty of molding. I’ve adopted several techniques for making sure the results fit well and look their best. Creating molding safely and cleanly…

Lessons/Guides – A Portable Book Rack

Years ago, while researching American Arts and Crafts designs, I took an immediate liking to gustav Stickley’s No. 74 book rack. It’s shorter than most bookcases, with slats that form a V-shaped trough to hold books spine up. Its D-shaped handholds make it easy to move. I’ve made a dozen racks based on that design, from small desktop versions to extra-tall ones that hold compact discs and DVDs. I’ve also modified Stickley’s design. Simple through-tenons replace the wedged tenons. I added a second V-shaped trough in the middle to make the rack more functional, and I tapered the end panels,…

Lessons/Guides – Are You Getting the Most From Your Combo Square?

Telling new woodworkers about the combination square is a little like being the announcer in those old commercials for the Ronco Veg-O-Matic. No, the square won’t slice and it won’t dice, but it will excel at so many woodworking jobs that it’s tempting to say “But wait! There’s more!” A good combination square can serve as a machinist’s square, a straightedge, an adjustable try square, a miter square, a marking gauge, a depth gauge, and a ruler. You’ll use it to set up shop machines, to true workpieces, and to lay out and perfect joinery. In short, if you’re starting…

Lessons/Guides – Bevel-Up VS. Bevel-Down Planes

The tip of a plane iron or blade is beveled on only one face, and handplanes can be classified based on whether the blade is mounted with the bevel facing up or down. Until recently, bevel-down planes were the rule. Only small block planes were bevel-up. Now, a variety of bench planes have this bevel-up configuration, which makes them more versatile. Here’s why: In a bevel-down plane, the blade (along with a chipbreaker, which attaches to it) rests on a frog—typically, a 45° bed screwed to the plane body. Because the bevel is behind the edge, the cutting angle is…

Quick Tips – Methods of Work 4

Backer block handles all cross-grain routing This router-table push block, or backer block as I like to call it, stabilizes the workpiece and reduces tearout. It is handy for backing up the cut across the grain, such as when profiling a panel, but it’s especially useful for milling the ends of narrow stock, such as when cutting stub tenons in a frame. Made of medium-density fiberboard (MDF), it features a skewed handle that’s glued and screwed to the base. The handle keeps fingers away from the cutting action and, being skewed, it automatically applies pressure against the fence as you…