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.

April 22, 2009

Setting Up a Locking Miter Bit

Whether using a shaper or a router table, setting up a locking miter bit is the same. While it’s a simple 3 step process, you should take this set up seriously. Because like its cousin the miter joint, there’s no room for error with the locking miter joint–if you don’t get it dead-on, it won’t look good. But unlike the miter joint, it can be fixed, if it’s a little off.

March 25, 2009

Closing a Locking Miter Joint

I make Arts and Crafts style legs from four pieces of quarter-sawn white oak to maximize the ray-fleck pattern on all four sides. I also try and cut the four pieces from the same board, allowing the grain pattern to wrap around the leg. I use a locking miter joint, cut on a shaper, to assemble the legs. Sometimes, when gluing and clamping the legs, the locking miter joint does not close up completely. Whether from too much glue in the joint, insufficient clamping pressure, or some unexplainable force–maybe karma–I get an unattractive gap in the leg. Normally, this gap won’t be more than a 1/16″, and can easily be closed with a simple burnishing procedure.