Podcast #44: 5 Surprising Woodworking Techniques You Didn’t Know About

§ by on March 26th, 2010

How do you mill a cove in a long workpiece without a shaper?

How about jointing a square edge without a jointer?

Both of these questions will be answered by Doug Hicks during this seminar podcast. Doug will also show you how to add tapers using a jointer; rout dovetails for dovetail keys on a router table; and even turn a spindle with a router, portable hand drill and a special jig.

Get the seminar guide here: 5 Surprising Woodworking Techniques

Podcast #43: 12 Must-Have Finishing Supplies

§ by on November 11th, 2009

This seminar isn’t about what you need — it’s more about what you don’t want to be without when you get started on a finishing project. All of them are items that you’ll find yourself reaching for regularly. And having them all on hand at the start of a project is the secret to a top-notch finish.

Get the seminar guide here: 12 Must-Have Finishing Supplies

RIP James Krenov

§ by on September 15th, 2009

James KrenovI started woodworking in the 1980’s, and like many if not most woodworkers, James Krenov was an inspiration beyond description. He did such beautiful things with wood, and he shared his skill and knowledge with many others. He passed away September 9th.
From the official James Krenov website: “A recognized furniture maker in Sweden, he moved to Northern California in 1981, where he created and led the College of the Redwoods’ Fine Woodworking School. In his twenty years with the school he taught hundreds of eager students from around the world while continuing to build his own fine furniture. He retired from the college in 2002. James Krenov is represented with works at museums in Sweden, Norway, Japan and the U.S.”
Lots more information about him and photos of his work are at his website. The photo is from his website.

Podcast #42: 3 New Innovations in Joinery

§ by on July 30th, 2009

Watch demonstrations of three innovative joinery techniques: Miller Dowels, Beadlock Loose Tenon Joinery system, and Domino from Festool.

Get the seminar guide here: 3 New Innovations in Joinery

Be A Designer

§ by on July 23rd, 2009

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Design is an area of woodworking that some people find intimidating. With all the woodworking info and plans available, it’s tempting to simply follow a well-designed plan and get a good looking project or copy an existing “masterpiece”. It’s not really that hard to do a good job of creating original woodwork. A good starting point is reading and studying a number of books and magazine articles that have been published. They contain good advice on dealing with issues of style, proportion, symmetry, and construction. Most importantly, as with all things, practice and a solid foundation of knowledge make the job easier.

However, having been a designer/builder previously and now a full-time designer for ShopNotes and Woodsmith for many years I would like to add a few rules I follow based upon my experience:

1) Start with many approaches. Consider a project from as many aesthetic and construction angles as you can to start with, and then narrow the field. I usually try to start with 3-5 concepts. Explore each and then eliminate.

2) No self-indulgent design! Woodwork needs to carry out its function well and have a wide and lasting appeal. As a designer, always be thinking about how people will interact with your work. And, will your design still be a interesting and attractive 20 years from now? If you build a cabinet purely to please your own likes and dislikes you may well end up with a finely built and very unique cabinet that just stores old cans of paint in the garage.

3) Avoid unnecessary complexity. I struggle with this one the most. I like complicated mechanisms with lots of parts because it fits my mad-inventor psyche. But, unnecessary complexity can make a project very difficult to build or give it a cluttered and unbalanced look. Good design seeks an efficiency and purposefulness in both construction and aesthetics.

4) Build prototypes. There’s no substitute for looking at and building a fully scaled mockup of a project to help you work out issues of aesthetics and construction. Prototypes-even just prototypes of parts or individual assemblies can be invaluable. You will teach yourself about the building process as well as the design. Think of it as taking a few warm up swings with a golf club before hitting the ball.

5) Get feedback. Discuss your design ideas with and seek the honest comments of others-even non woodworkers. It will improve your work and often lead to new ideas that are better than your original. Every project I have designed for ShopNotes and Woodsmith has come out better for having gone through the gauntlet at staff meetings. (And I have learned, over time, not to get angry with the commentary, mostly).

6) Get all your hardware as soon as you can. Absolutely have all of the needed hardware before you build. Nothing is as it seems on a catalog page. Vendors change and parts are discontinued all the time.

7) Be patient. Sometimes the answers take time. Don’t give up. I have had ideas that have taken well over a year before becoming a viable project.

It’s true, design can be a bit overwhelming with all the complexity and choices, but keep at it. It’s a wonderful skill to hone or develop as a woodworker. To paraphrase an old saying: The more I design, the less I know, but the easier it gets.

Back to Work

§ by on July 8th, 2009

w171_034f012First of all, thank you to everyone for your personal messages and condolences in the last few weeks. They are all greatly appreciated. Now that I’m back to work, I’m trying to finish editing the next podcast so that I can have it up later this week. Unfortunately, the podcast I’m editing is one of my seminars from last year and it’s hard to watch…for me at least! Hopefully, you’ll enjoy it and continue to come back for more.

On another note, I was doing some research earlier today and I happened upon an Online Extra that I wanted to share from the June 2007 issue of Woodsmith (No. 171). The issue had a good article on chip carving and a weekend project for a Chip-Carved Book Rack. The Online Extra features images of the work of Elaine Hoekman-Dugan, a local craftsperson here in central Iowa. Elaine offered the Woodsmith editors her advise on techniques for the articles in the issue and showed them examples of her work. Sadly, she fell ill and passed away shortly before the issue was released. If you missed the Online Extra, please check it out. Her work was amazing.

See photos of some of the beautiful and intricate chip-carving (and woodburnings) done by local craftsperson Elaine Hoekman-Dugan.

Our Sympathies to Joel Hess & Family

§ by on June 24th, 2009

Lisa' GardenMany of you know Joel as the organizer and facilitator of the woodworking, gardening, and cooking demonstrations and seminars at the Woodsmith Store in Des Moines, Iowa.  He is also an editor for Woodsmith and ShopNotes magazines and facilitates the blog you’re reading now. It is with great sadness that we pass on the news that Joel lost his wife Lisa on Wednesday, June 24, 2009.  She died from complications of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

Lisa Hess was an amazing individual filled with kindness and gentleness. She was a gifted gardener and her landscapes were always filled with immense beauty. She will indeed be greatly missed.

Lisa, while you’re tending to gardens much more beautiful than we could imagine, we promise to try and keep Joel out of mischief.


§ by on June 8th, 2009


If you’re into ShopNotes Magazine and enjoyed building with an Erector Set as a kid then chances are you’ll enjoy the 80/20 website.

The 80/20 company has a product line that they call “The Industrial Erector Set.” Basically it’s a framing system that uses T-slotted extruded aluminum tubes and bolt on connectors.  But, that is an oversimplification because there are thousands of different parts and variations available which makes the system highly adaptable for applications such as machine frames, automation, furniture, lineal motion, displays, and (to borrow from their catalog) “modular anything.”

So, visit the 80/20 website and think of all the cool stuff you could build for your shop!

Sam Maloof Remembered

§ by on June 3rd, 2009

Sam MaloofFurniture designer and builder Sam Maloof passed away recently at the age of 93. I had the pleasure to meet him in the mid-1990s. I was an assistant editor at Woodsmith Magazine in Des Moines, Iowa. Maloof, along with several other woodworking luminaries, was in Des Moines to make a guest appearance at a woodworking show. Woodsmith publisher and editor Don Peschke invited them to a party in the garden at Woodsmith headquarters. It was a beautiful evening.

Sitting at one of the tables under a big awning, a couple of assistant editors and myself found a rare moment when Maloof was alone. We had recently watched a documentary in which Maloof was carving a piece of walnut on a band saw with the blade guard removed and about 8″ to 10″ of blade exposed. So we asked him if he had ever been injured in the shop. He said yes, but only once. He said he’d been napping in the shop, and for some unknown reason awoke quickly and started back at the band saw where he had left off. That was when he buried the blade in his thumb. He showed us the scar.

But what I saw were the hands. His hands were big and strong and impressive. They were the hands of someone who worked with his hands every day. He was a designer/artisan. He was what we wanted to be on some level, if only we’d had the creativity and the skill to pull it off.
He was also very nice. We asked a few other dumb questions which he answered with candor and humor. Quite a guy.

I looked through several photos of Maloof for this post and chose the one above. You can see his hands.

You can read about his life and work in this LA Times obituary with lots of photos.

Sleeve Bearings

§ by on June 1st, 2009

Recently I’ve been working on a prototype for a sharpening center for ShopNotes 107. Building a machine is one of my favorite shop projects. It’s always a thrill to watch turning shafts, sheaves, and moving belts in action on a tool I made myself. Experience (making poorly functioning machines) has taught me that much of the success in shopbuilt machines lies in the bearings and their installation. You won’t be proud of a machine that vibrates, or is feeble, or is inaccurate due to misaligned bearings.

There are, of course, many requirements for bearings and so there are many types. One type that I find quite handy for low rpm applications is a bronze sleeve bearing. They are easy to work with, durable, and inexpensive.


In a sleeve bearing, the load is supported through the sliding motion of one solid surface against another, very simple. The sleeve bearings you’ll find at your local hardware store are made of oil impregnated sintered bronze. Sintered bronze bearings start as a powdered bronze alloy that is molded into the correct shape and heated to fuse the bronze grains together thus creating a porous structure. Oil is then forced into the voids. As much as 18% of the bearings volume is oil and this creates a permanently lubricated bearing.

Sleeve bearings typically come in two different styles. Those that look like a short piece of tube are designed to carry radial loads, like a spinning shaft. The other style includes a flange on that piece of tube. This bearing is designed to carry both radial and thrust loads. For example, a spinning shaft that’s being pushed on from one end. The style that you choose depends upon the application.

Even though they are simple, there are a few things to keep in mind when using these bearing.

One simple way to install a sleeve bearing is to press fit it into a wooden part. However, if you plan on press fitting  a bearing  get the largest shell diameter available. Thin shell bearings will actually compress somewhat into a smaller internal diameter if forced into a very tight hole. The result will be a shaft that will not turn freely, if at all. (This will make you very angry.) And, always make sure to seal any wood that touches the bearing with some shellac or varnish. Remember that porous structure impregnated with oil? The oil will wick out into raw wood leaving a dry bearing on the road to failure.

Another way of mounting a bearing is to use an oversize hole with epoxy paste allowing the bearing to seat into the correct alignment with the shaft in place. I think it’s a good idea to rough up the exterior of the bearing with coarse sandpaper to allow the epoxy to get a “grip” on the bearing.

Whether you’re using epoxy to mount the bearing or even applying finish around it, protect the interior of the bearing with some wax and plug the opening. It’s hard to ream glue or paint out of the bearing  without causing damage. (This will also make you angry.)

I’ve found it’s often better to build your machine around the bearings with the shaft in place. This ensures proper alignment rather than to just hope that things will turn out right down the road. Remember, there’s more to an accurate machine than precisely cut parts. Accuracy must be part of the whole process of building a tool.

The last thing to consider is the shaft. Here it pays to spend a little more and  get a precision ground shaft. You can’t expect smooth performance from a piece of not  quite round hot rolled stock from the hardware store.

Simple, durable, and inexpensive, a sleeve bearing is a great option for a shopmade machine tool.