A Few Words about Technique Posts

There are many excellent woodworking magazines, shows, and videos out there, but the one limitation most of them share, is showing you how they perform woodworking operations. This is NOT a slam on them–sharing their expertise is a good thing. But within the limitations of word counts, column space, and allotted time; decisions are made about how to illustrate particular woodworking operations. The one weakness in these various medians of communicating is they can’t take into account the attributes that make every woodworker unique–your individual experience, tool inventory, and skills; and most importantly your personal goal— what you’re trying to accomplish with woodworking.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. I recently had a conversation with several woodworkers about how they taper legs. We discussed methods using table saws, band saws, jointers, planers, shapers, and hand tools. Next we got to talking about why everyone preferred the tools and technique that they used. Some made experience choices-they had multiple tools at their disposal but choose their method because of a comfort-level with that particular tool. Some made tool inventory choices-using the one tool in their shop that could be used for the operation. Others focused on their skill set-choosing the tool they had expertise in. Finally others chose a method based on their goal-speed, accuracy, repeatability, or desire to learn a new skill.

Obviously, my blog will be no exception to the extent that my writing will be limited by my expertise and experience-with one subtle difference. The process. I’ll try and begin each technique post with a focus on the process and explain each step to the extent that you (based on your experience, tool inventory, skill set, and goal) have enough information to decide which tool or technique you will use.

A great example of focusing on process is sharpening chisels or plane irons. The sharpening industry has done an exceptional job of convincing woodworkers that sharpening is the most complex, difficult to understand, procedure in our world; and that you cannot, and will not, truly master it without their product. But in reality it is a simple two step process–flatten the bottom and cause the edge to intersect the bottom at a point. Every tool, jig, and gadget on the market is designed to help you perform one of these two steps. What method you use to flatten the bottom or to form the point-and determine the angle of interception-should be driven by your experience, tool inventory, skills and woodworking goals.

Finally, please remember this subtle difference between a process-step and a technique step. There are some process steps that are necessary only to ensure you understand the inherent principle. For example we can all perform mathematical equations on a calculator; but they make more sense if you learned how to do them with paper and pencil at some point. An even better analogy is milling lumber. You’ll be much better prepared to troubleshoot jointer and/or planner problems if you’ve milled a board flat, parallel, and true with a hand plane.

So please enjoy my technique posts; I’ll focus on the process, and you decide how to perform each step.

November 17, 2014

Making Wedges to Repair Half-lap Joints

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we end up with a gap in our half-lap joint. If the gap is small enough, particularly a hair-line gap, we can fix it during the finishing process with colored epoxy or a wax pencil. But sometimes the gap is significant, say three-thousandths of an inch, and we don’t want a solid line of filler present. In this instance, a wedge with the grain orientated correctly is warranted. Correct orientation of the wedge means aligning the wedge so it goes perpendicular to the grain of the appropriate rail or stile. If it is orientated with the grain, as your eye follows along the frame, you will see a slight bulge in the frame width at the joint.

September 14, 2014

Do You Sign Your Work?

Do you sign your work? If you don’t, you should consider it, and I’m not just speaking to those selling their work. Signing your working serves many valuable purposes, arguably more so for the amateur or hobbyist furnituremaker. Signing your work establishes a record. Affix a paper label, brand, or a decal with your name, location and year of construction to begin your record. Adding the furniture’s destination allow you to record family history, ownership and/or family lineages.

January 13, 2014

A Final Update to Air Drying Lumber

Back in June 2013 I updated you on how the air-drying process was progressing. At that point I learned the location of my stack was impeding the drying process, and outlined some steps I took to counter those challenges. What I don’t think I mentioned in that update was that I took the top layer of my stack and moved half into my wood storage shed, which has no climate control, and half to my shop, which has heat and a dehumidifier, but no air conditioning.

June 03, 2013

Air-drying Lumber Update

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted — I’ve been busy wandering and pondering. Other projects have also consumed me — some Arts & Crafts furniture related, some not. I did finally locate and acquire a Gustav Stickley SafeCraft Smokers cabinet. So a good bit of my wandering has been learning about safes and safes restoration. I’ll post on that later. But right now an update on the 500 BF of quarter-sawn white oak I’ve been air drying.

April 18, 2012

Air-drying Lumber

For many years furnituremakers have preferred building with air-dried lumber over kiln dried lumber. Among its reported benefits are more brilliant color, improved workability (both with power and hand tools), and its superior suitability for steam bending — because the wood’s lignin remains permeable. I recently stacked a shipment of roughly 500 board-feet of curly, quarter-sawn white oak, and thought this a good time to talk about it. In this post I’ll focus on how to prepare, stack and monitor your lumber.

November 18, 2011

Installing and Setting Up the Mortiser Cutter

This is the third post in a three-post entry. The first post is Sharpening, Installing, & Setting Up a Mortiser, and the second post is Sharpening the Auger.

November 03, 2011

Sharpening the Auger

This is part 2 of a three-part post on Sharpening, Installing, & Setting up a Mortiser.

October 09, 2011

Sharpening, Installing, & Setting up a Mortiser

If you cut a lot of mortise and tenon joints, like I do, a good mortiser can be a very handy tool in your shop. Like most power tools, when its cutters become dull, their effectiveness is greatly reduced. But unlike most power tool cutters, a mortiser’s cutter, comprised of a hollow-chisel and auger, is quickly sharpened using readily available shop tools and techniques. Another important reason to master this technique is that in working with oak, which Arts and Crafts furnituremakers have been known to do, our mortise-cutters dull quickly and frequently. It’s also a good idea to use this technique as a honing step before installing a new mortise-cutter in your mortiser. In this series of posts I’ll show you how easy it is to sharpen a mortise-cutter.

August 04, 2010

Working with Templates

Templates are one of the Holy Grails of woodworking. If you desire repeatability and consistency, templates (along with jigs in other applications) are the best way to go. They’re easy to make, reduce what (without there existence) would be a lengthy, and possible complex process to a simpler, shorter process, and can be made from a variety of readily available, inexpensive materials. They’re also a great substitute for hand-skills and tools that have not yet been acquired.

June 07, 2010

Choosing Tabletop Fasteners

When building Arts and Crafts furniture that requires a top, I always find myself wondering which tabletop fastener to use. To be historically accurate, in most situation, I should probably be using figure-8 hardware as Gustav Stickley did on many pieces; but the woodworker in me enjoys making wooden buttons. To help with the selection, making, and installing of tabletop fasteners, one of Woodcraft Magazine‘s Senior Editors, Paul Anthony has written a great article that lays out the how and why of wooden buttons, Z-clips, and Figure-8 hardware. It appears in the June/July (Vol. 6/No. 35) issue of Woodcraft Magazine, and now in my “Book of Knowledge;” More on that later…