Podcast #40: Three Hand Planes Every Shop Should Have

§ by on April 17th, 2009

I asked associate editor Randy Maxey why hand planes are an important part of a modern woodworking shop? Here is what he told me:

“I know a lot of people think I use hand planes just because I’m old-fashioned. The truth is, I love my machines. But if you want to do quality work in your wood shop, you need to learn to use hand planes. I use at least one of the three planes I’m demonstrating almost every time I’m in the shop. It has changed the way I do woodworking. I really agree with a line I read once in an old, old issue of Woodsmith magazine. It said, ‘…no machine can come close to the quality of work a hand plane will do.’”

Get the seminar guide here: Three Hand Planes Every Shop Should Have

Podcast #39: Building Drawers Using Drawer Joint Bits

§ by on April 3rd, 2009

Phil Huber, a senior editor for ShopNotes magazine details in this seminar all the steps necessary for building a sturdy set of drawers on a router table.

First, he’ll demonstrate how to build drawers using a specialized drawer joint bit in just two simple steps. Then, for those of us who choose not to buy the special bit, Phil will take us through the steps of building drawers with an ordinary 1/4″-dia. straight bit.

Get the Seminar Guide here: Building Drawers Using Drawer Joint Bits

ShopNotes Issue No. 105

§ by on April 1st, 2009

sn105_boxes-copyThe latest issue of ShopNotes magazine will be in your mailbox or hitting the newsstands soon. In this issue, instead of our regular three projects for your home workshop, you’ll find four projects.

The first is an incredible set of Calipers and Dividers. All four tools were designed by Chris Fitch, senior project designer for ShopNotes and Woodsmith. They’re so easy to make. All it takes are some basic tools you probably already have: a hacksaw, a few files, and a drill press. Another project designed by Chris are what we affectionately called the “hamster caskets” while they were being built. Chris wrote about the design process here a few weeks ago.

We made three versions of these Sharpening Stone Storage Boxes for the article. As you can see in the photo, Chris also designed several alternate versions. The outside profiles can be made with a table saw, router, or band saw and the recess on the inside of the boxes is made using a hand-held router and a simple shop-made template.

sn105_auxfence-copyYou’ll also find a great new jig for the table saw (photo at left). This handy Precision-Cutting Jig makes the table saw (normally a great tool for heavy work) a perfect tool for cutting small parts.

Finally, we’ve strayed from the shop just a bit with a fantastic new Modular Garage Storage unit. Inexpensive and easy to build, this wall-mounted
system is a great way to add versatile storage to the garage.

Waste Not, Want Not

§ by on February 24th, 2009

etip030926snWhen I saw the old, gas barbecue grill that my neighbor had thrown away, it gave me an idea. The metal frame of the grill would make a perfect roll-around tool stand for my miter saw.
All I had to do was remove the tank and grill, paint the metal frame, and then build a couple of table supports.
The miter saw is mounted to a 3/4″ plywood base that’s bolted to the frame. Two open-ended boxes serve as the table supports. (Just be sure they’re flush with the surface of the miter saw table.) I even added a pull-out bin to hold short cut-off pieces.
You can get more interesting woodworking e-tips like this each week from the editors of Woodsmith Magazine just for the asking. Go here and sign up. It’s free.

Cool New Tool Rack

§ by on February 18th, 2009

wall-mounted-tool-rack-tocOne of things I most appreciate about the designers at ShopNotes Magazine is that their shop benches, cabinets, and tool racks are as attractive and well-designed as any furniture project you may be building in the shop. This wall-mounted tool rack is no exception, another in a long line of ShopNotes fixtures I wish I had in my shop. (Actually, several of them are in my shop.)
It’s considered a weekend project, and I suppose it is if you’ve got a shop full of tools and know how to use them. I expect I’d take a couple weekends to build it–why rush the fun? You can get a look at this and the other projects and techniques in the latest issue, ShopNotes No. 104, on the website. Check out the subscription offer while you’re there, and get yourself a free preview issue.

The Spray Booth

§ by on February 11th, 2009


The woodworking shop here at at August Home Publishing can be a very busy place. It’s where all of the projects for Woodsmith, Workbench, and ShopNotes are built as well as the props for the Woodsmith Shop television show. Now, all of the projects that come out of our shop have to hold up to the uncompromising standards of magazine photography. If there’s a scratch, drip, or chip it’ll show. So our shop craftsmen put a lot of effort into choosing the best lumber, matching it carefully, building to very high standards, and applying a flawless finish.

Most of the equipment in our shop any hobbyist would recognize and might well own: table saws, drill presses, planers, and workbenches covered with parts and hand tools

There’s one item that we have that the home shop might not is a dedicated finish room with a professional spray booth. With the volume of projects that get built around here, it’s an important tool in our shop.blog-6-spray-booth-008-web

I am in awe of this thing. Some people love to apply a careful, flawless finish and they’re great at it; I’m not one of those people. I find it all to be a bit tedious and frustrating. A spray booth excels in applying a final finish (clear or paint) evenly and smoothly. The booth also has the advantage of providing a clean and well lit environment. It’s a much better place to apply finish than in the corners of a dusty shop.

The spray booth arrived on several pallets stacked with all sorts of galvanized sheet metal parts and fasteners like an Erector Set spilled on the floor. Piece by piece it was bolted together. This was followed by a parade of sort. First came the contractors for electrical work, plumbing the compressed air lines, running an exhaust duct to the roof, and setting up the fire suppression system. Next came the inspectors from the city, fire department, and insurance co. You don’t have one of these installed on a whim.

The front of the booth consists of two large doors for easy loading and unloading. The doors also act as pre-filters to help trap dust. In the back of the spray booth are filters that catch overspray as the air is drawn out by the fan. And it has a big fan. There’s no doubt when someone is using the spray booth because it’s actually hard to open the exterior doors to the shop due to the suction created by the fan.

All of the electrical equipment is explosion proof (no sparks please). There’s one switch to turn on the lights and a second that simultaneously turns on the fan and opens a valve that lets compressed air flow to the spray gun. You can’t spray if the fan isn’t on.

With all of the use this spray booth gets, there’s a bit of overspray, so, the interior has a peel away coating. When the overspray gets too thick we can peel it off and apply another coat. We typically keep the gun full of clear lacquer and ready to spray. Lacquer has the advantages of being clear (color neutral), easy to sand, and very fast drying.

For my projects at home, I’m still a fan of simple wipe on finishes. They’re easy and almost (but not quite) foolproof. But here at work, nothing beats the spray booth for fast, quality, no- hassle finishes.


Add a Bench Knife To Your Benchtop

§ by on January 30th, 2009

blog-5-bench-knife-0351Last night I undertook the task of cleaning 2 weeks of accumulation off my benchtop.

Some of the clutter was the remnants from fun projects. But mostly it was the residue of home maintenance – sound familiar? After cleaning the benchtop, I got to thinking about what items I would allow to remain.

Now, there are the tools that we own, and then there are the tools that we actually use (a much smaller list). I like to keep my benchtop clean and not use it as a storage shelf. But, I’ve got a couple of tools that never seem to leave my benchtop because I use them constantly. They include a small square, block plane, dust brush, mallet, measuring tape, a mechanical pencil, and finally a bench knife.

A bench knife can quickly round the edge of a tenon that needs to fit into a routed mortise, clean a tight joint, bevel an edge, and do many tasks quickly and easily. And it is a wonderful companion to my block plane and chisel.

Now, by bench knife, I don’t mean a utility knife. Utility knives are great for straight down scoring and cutting thin materials like carpet, tar paper, matboard, and the like, but, utility knives are not woodworking tools. The blades wiggle about, are too wide, and the handles are designed only for an inline power grip making fine control very difficult.

A bench knife is a woodworker’s tool. It should have an appropriate handle size and shape, one that can easily be gripped and pulled in conjunction with using the thumb to brace against the workpiece, similar to the motion of making a fist, or firmly and comfortably gripped to push the blade away, or make a piercing cut.blog-5-bench-knife-0252

A bench knife should have a tapered blade so that the tip can get into tight spaces yet the base of the blade is stout enough for heavy cuts. Also, the blade should not flex (flexible blades are for peeling fruit) and a cross section that can “roll” into and out of a cut.

And forget about A2, cryogenic steel, molecular packing, or any steel-related voodoo you may have heard about. Tried-and-true high carbon steel that has been properly heat treated makes a wonderful blade that has the right combination of toughness and edge-holding ability.

For a purchased knife, my favorite is a 2″ knife by Frost. It’s a plain unadorned knife and the price is reasonable. I used this knife daily for years carving figures as part of my former life as a craftsperson, so, I can vouch that the blade is of good quality with a shape that makes it quite versatile. The center swelling of the handle is comfortable and allows for a variety of grips.

blog-5-bench-knife-0201So think about adding a bench knife to your benchtop. There are the tools we own, then there are the tools that we use. A good bench knife is a tool that you will use.

P.S. Off in the future the making of a bench knife may be a project in ShopNotes. My first prototype uses a purchased knife blank to which custom wood scales have been riveted on. The nameplate is a fun addition. (Who doesn’t like to personalize their tools?) I may also custom make a knife blank from tool steel.

Acme Threaded Rod

§ by on January 5th, 2009


When you design for ShopNotes Magazine you can’t help but develop an appreciation, even an obsession, for hardware. Not just flashy hinges and knobs, but mundane bearings, springs, brass rod, plastic sheets, cranks, pipes, motors – even threaded rod. There are more bits, parts, and stuff out there than you can believe. (Just sit down with all 3,602 pages of the McMaster-Carr industrial supply catalog. You’ll be amazed. And you’ll be inspired.)

A few years back in ShopNotes, we did a version of an English carving vise that appeared in Issue No. 71. (Editor’s Note: This issue is available as part of ShopNotes Annual Volume 12, a hard-bound collection of Issues 67 — 72.) I have an early prototype in my home shop that I use often. At the time we designed this project, the only reasonably priced and available option for the screw mechanism was to use standard threaded rod. The size I used was 3/4″-10 NC threaded rod. It works well, but you know how it can be if you need to go a distance on regular threads, spin, spin, spin, yawn, spin, spin some more. Standard V- thread is more for sealing and fastening applications rather than quick movement. What I really wanted to use was ACME threaded rod.

So what’s so great about ACME thread? This stuff has the guts you want for strong clamping and it won’t put you to sleep spinning the handle. What sets it apart are the shape of the threads. The threads are large, broad, and square, which provides great strength. And, because there are fewer threads per inch, it offers rapid lateral movement. ACME threaded rod and fittings are available in two grades: general-purpose grade or precision grade.

General-purpose ACME thread has one start, or one continuous thread, the same as standard thread on bolts and screws. Precision acme thread can have up to five starts delivering much more lateral movement per revolution.

General-purpose ACME threaded rod has a looser fit, better for dusty shop environments. Precision ACME threads are made to much higher standards as it’s often used for lead screws in lathes, milling machines, and industrial equipment requiring great precision and durability. This precision and durability can cost 3-4 times as much as general-purpose ACME rod.

General purpose ACME rod is the type we’re interested in. It’s now available through two of my favorite suppliers (McMaster-Carr and ENCO) and priced reasonably enough for projects in the home shop.

Of course, there needs to be something for the threaded rod to engage. Square, hex, and cylinder nuts are available for general-purpose use. Brass and bronze nuts are also available. They’ll travel move lightly than steel, but I find that plain steel hex nuts are the best option as they are versatile and also inexpensive. So, I don’t have to cry over a nut buried in epoxy that didn’t work out.

A few simple design rules. First, when I build any mechanism out of wood, I don’t strive to build with perfect precision. Instead, my aim is to build the structure around the mechanism, altering and adjusting to it to accommodate the movement that I want.

What I mean is rely on accuracy rather than precision. (Precision means building to a tight standard. Plus or minus 1/8″ might be precise for a house. Plus or minus .0001″ might be precise for a wristwatch.) Accuracy is building toward what’s right or true. In the case of a shop made vise or clamp, this means it should work smoothly and effectively.

The second rule is to design mechanical projects from the beginning with a bit of float in them. If it rattles a bit more than you like in winter be satisfied by knowing it will still work fine in the summer.

Finally, just like a powered machine, moving parts benefit from lubrication. In a dusty shop environment greases and oils collect dust, dirt, and other shop grime. So, the best choice is a dry lubricant. There are convenient spray dry lubricants available, but I prefer the old-fashioned paste wax I use on my woodworking projects. Is it the best choice? No, but I always have some around and it’s easy to apply.

“Working tools” such as vises, hold downs, and clamps are great projects for your shop. Not only will you get the satisfaction of using a tool that you’ve made, but, the tool can be built specifically to suit your requirements and style of work. Additionally, there will be a whole new range of things to learn including the strength of individual materials, the strength of assemblies, and principles of simple mechanics. Designing and building tools can be a fun challenge to your ingenuity.

If you decide to build one of these working tools take some time to consider all your hardware options. Even a small upgrade like using ACME threaded rod will make a huge difference in how your project will turn out. Your project will look and work like a “real” tool.

Spoiler Alert: I’m in the early stages of designing a benchtop vise that will possibly appear later this year in ShopNotes Magazine. I’d like to hear what you’d include in the way of design, materials, and features.

ShopNotes Magazine Posts 3D Model of Workbench Online

§ by on October 8th, 2008

ShopNotes magazine has finally given its readers a practical reason to download Google’s design and drawing software — A SketchUp rendering of the Cabinetmaker's Workbench from ShopNotes #102SketchUp. In Issue No. 102, the magazine features a great plan for a Cabinetmaker’s Workbench. And for the first time, they’re providing an Online Extra feature that I think is really cool — a SketchUp model of the workbench in 3-D.

If you’re familiar with the program, you know how powerful a tool it is. And if you’re new to it, Google has provided dozens of video tutorials, an extensive Help Center and even live training classes that make it easy to start modeling your own projects right away.

ShopNotes associate editor Randy Maxey came up with the idea to add the model to the magazines’ website. He thought it would be fun to provide readers with a professionally-designed project that they can actually take apart to really get a feel for the way it goes together before deciding to build it. And best of all, if you want to modify the workbench — make it taller, longer, or even change it to feature an edge-grain top — you can take the model and make any changes you want to reflect your particular needs.

Other free downloads at the website include plans for the drawers, a short video animation of the workbench’s best features, and a fraction-to-decimal conversion chart.

Chamfer Plane

§ by on May 1st, 2008

You can sharpen your woodworking skills with helpful tips and techniques from the editors of Woodsmith and ShopNotes magazines. Get a FREE tip sent to your email address each week! Go to WoodworkingTips.com and sign up today.

Here’s last week’s tip from ShopNotes online editor Phil Huber:

20080424sn.jpg A block plane makes quick work of chamfering the edge of a workpiece. To ensure a constant width and angle, I built the base shown in the photo above. It slips over the plane to make ¼″ chamfers and doesn’t require any setup.

The base is simply two triangular-shaped runners glued to a pair of side pieces. Then cross supports are glued into notches in the front and back to hold the sides together.

Two rare-earth magnets glued into recesses in the runners hold the plane securely in place. A shallow dado is cut in the top of the runners at the mouth of the plane for the exposed iron.

The base is easy to use. With your block plane in the base, position the V-shaped groove formed by the runners over the edge of the workpiece. Then plane the workpiece until both runners sit flush. It worked so well I made a second one for 1/8″ chamfers.

You can learn even more simple shop techniques, just go to PlansNOW.

Good Woodworking,

Phil Huber
Online Editor, ShopNotes

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