A new shop tool and a new project

With all the Christmas presents out of the way, it’s time to start work on some projects for myself. I’ve started with a router table. A router is essentially an electric motor with a collet to hold different shaped bits at 90° to a base plate. Typically the shank (or shaft) of the bit is either 1/4″ or 1/2″. I have a couple of routers, one of which can do either sized router bit. It’s an amazingly flexible tool. The router is often used as a hand held tool for example putting a shaped edge on a work piece – known as taking the tool to the work piece. However sometimes you need to take the work piece to the tool. A good example of this using the cope and stick router bits I got from Freud.

The two bits on the left are used to make rails and styles for a raised panel door.

You notice the grain at the top of the door is running horizontally which is a rail, and the style runs down the side of the door. The router can make the cope and stick joinery with ease. You can see in the image below how the two pieces go together:

The bit set can put a really nice profile on the styles. None of this would be possible without a router table. The router is spinning the hunk of metal at around 15,000 rpm so it just isn’t safe.

It’s a good idea to do the end grain on the rails first. Cutting wood across the grain often results in tear out. This occurs where the fibers of the wood aren’t cut cleanly, especially if the tool is dull or hasn’t been cleaned recently. The rails also need the same profile as the styles, and you can remove a lot of the tear out.

The rails are only 4″ long and with that much torque they could easily be whipped out of my hands, possibly injuring me in the process. So I’ve built a coping sled. The table has a mitre slot running parallel to the edge of the table, allowing me to run sleds or a mitre gauge down the slot. The coping sled is just a thin piece of ply wood with a runner on the bottom, and a fence at the back set at 90º to the mitre slot. The plywood is small enough that it keeps away from the router bit. It can also be used to help prevent tear out by putting in a piece of scrap in behind the work piece.

As a test of the new router table, I’ve decided to build a small portable apothecary cabinet.

Sketchup of Apothecary Cabinet

You can find the Sketchup file in the media folder, or here.

The side panels are exposed in the sketchup so you can see the shelves more clearly. Each space inside the cabinet will have a drawer. I’ve not yet decided about the joinery for those just yet, but I am leaning towards machined dovetails (seeing as I have a dovetail jig). I’m going to put a secret bottom into the base. I have some magnets I removed from some failed hard drives which I’ll epoxy in place and the can grab onto some screws placed on glue blocks on the underside of the cabinet. That’ll let me adjust the depth of the panel. The panel will be able to be pushed out by removing the bottom draw and pushing a finger through a 3/4″ hole.

The main carcass will be made from red oak, though I’ve been inspired by The Woodwhisperer’s Fancy Raised panel, so I’m going to attempt that for the doors, using some soft maple for the panels, and red oak overlaying the top. I’ve used the same cope and stick router bits to create the side panels for the carcass, but use flat pieces instead of raised panels. I thought that using raised panels on the side would detract from the overall look. I haven’t yet decided on a finish, though I’m leaning towards either Danish oil, or shellac and poly. I’m more comfortable with shellac and poly, and the cold weather is going to make applying the oil more complicated due to very limited amount of time in a warm shop.

My challenges for this project will include trying to use my table saw or jointer as little as possible as it’s -10c (12F) in my barn workshop which I feel makes it unsafe. I’m limited therefore to portable power tools, my planer, my drill press, mitre saw and bandsaw. I’ve not done much resawing before, so that’s going the fun.

The wood came to me second hard as 12/4 stock, and I’d managed to get some of it milled up before the cold weather set in. I’ve got a new 1/2″ 3 tooth per inch (TPI) blade in my bandsaw which is making resawing pretty easy going, even with my little 1/2HP bandsaw. I’ve been resawing the pieces, then running both pieces of stock through the bench top planer to smooth the surfaces off and bring the work piece sides back to flat and parallel and remove the washboard saw marks

So far I’ve milled and glued up the two side panels for the carcass. As I was finishing gluing the second panel I noticed a problem with it as it was twisting significantly. As the glue was still wet, I put some cauls diagonally across the panel to straighten them out. Time will tell how much of an issue that will be:

Andrew’s _IMG_0875 Andrew’s _IMG_0874 Andrew’s _IMG_0876

The other panel is fine:

Andrew’s _IMG_0878 Andrew’s _IMG_0877
The glue has been drying for a couple of days so they’ll be done by Saturday ready for the next step in the project: routing the slots of the shelving, and the rabbets for the top and bottom panels and re-saw the wood for the top and bottom panels.

The shelves are only 1/4″ thick. I want to do stopped dadoes for the shelves, but I don’t have a 1/4″ chisel. My current plan is to round over the leading edge of the shelves so they fit in the dado left by the router. I’ve already taken the panels out of the clamps and it’s looking pretty good. One of the rails isn’t quite right but I can clean that up with a plane.

The plan for my next session:

  • Clean up the panels I just glued to insure the tops of the panels are square. I noticed one of the rails is not quite in place. Should be able to clean that up with a hand plane and a little sanding. Also some of the rails aren’t quite flush with the styles, so some sanding will be required.
  • Cut the rabbets in the top and bottom of the side panels. This will determine how thick the top and bottom panels will need to be. The plan says 1/2″, but it’s going to be decided by the rabbets. I have a couple of 3/8 rabbeting bits, so that’ll probably do quite nicely. I can cut them on the router table with the coping sled and a backer board to prevent tear out.
  • Re-saw some more stock. I’m going to need some for the top and bottom panels, and the shelves which are 1/4″ thick. It’s all going to need gluing up as I know the stock I have isn’t wide enough.

I don’t know if I’m going to have much more time than that, but if I do then I’ll need to route the slots in the side panels to accept the shelves. I won’t be able to route the slot in the top of the carcus for the divider because the glue up won’t be dry in time. I will also need some more stock for the base and the molded piece at the bottom. I’ve already glued up the the molded piece for the top. I’m not going to cut that down any further until the rest of the cabinet is finished.

French cleats and Firetrucks

I’m getting to the final stages of my son’s Christmas present, a hook and ladder firetruck. Not the most complicated thing in all the wide world but a fun little project. It’s now got two coats of paint and two coats of polyurethane varnish, but it takes time for the coats to dry. So I’ve tackled a few extra things I wanted to do to make my winter workshop more efficient.

Firstly, I’ve cleared the top of the wood stove and put down a piece of plywood to give me some more work bench space:

New workspace

It gives me some space to put projects whilst I’m waiting for the glue or finish to dry. I’ve glued some blocks underneath to stop the plywood moving around when I don’t want it do.

Shop Projects

I need more shelf space. The footprint is very small so I need to make the most of the space I do have. Whilst I’m at it, I need to make the most of the time I have in the workshop, currently only one day a week. So I need to be able to get tools easily and be able to put them away quickly so I don’t clutter the place up. This is going to take a lot of discipline which isn’t really my forte. With that in mind I’m building some shelves that are deliberately only deep enough to take one tool at a time. The main problem with any shelving system is it can be very limiting. So I’ve decided to use french cleats. These consist of taking some strips of wood, in my case 3″ wide, and ripping it down the middle at 45°. I did mine on the band saw as I didn’t want to brave the -10°C just to make the cuts. The strips are a little wavey, but good enough for the purpose. Then you screw one or more of the strips of wood to the wall, with bevel up and the taller side facing outwards. You then screw the other strip of wood onto the back of what ever you want to hang on the wall mirroring the wall support.

The NewWoodworker has a very good diagram:

My Grandfather left me a large shelving systems with a series of “useful boxes for putting things in”. The boxes are old Virginia tobacco tins, which now contain an assortment of screws, random nails, nuts and bolts and other miscellaneous hardware. This was the first thing to get hung on the wall as I’d tripped over the shelving system twice last week.

Andrew’s _IMG_0830 Andrew’s _IMG_0829 Andrew’s _IMG_0828


I’ve also added some smaller shelves to the same french cleat:

Andrew’s _IMG_0834

And here’s where today’s safety lesson comes from. So I didn’t need to use clamps on the blocks, I’d used my nail gun to pin the blocks in place. I’d loaded the gun with nails long enough to go through both the plywood top, and more than half way through the blocks. Then I started on the shelves, which are made from (approximately) 1/2″ pine. I didn’t swap the nails over for shorter nails, the nails went through the pine and plywood and the end of the nail stuck into my finger. Painful but not a complete disaster.

Well, that was easel

So last Saturday I put the finishing touches on my daughter’s Young Artist’s Easel. And I think it’s looking pretty good, even if I say so myself:

Andrew’s _IMG_0819 I’ve put two coats of a 3lb cut of blonde shellac, and rubbed out the finish with some 220 grit sand paper. In places this left the finish a little rough, so I wiped over it with a clean cloth with some methyl hydrate on it. This can be used to dilute shellac down, but in this instance it helped smooth over the finish and make it feel like silk. You can see the dark marks down the left hand leg of the easel. These mark where the nails held the pallets together. There is a dado (a groove) running round the bottom of the trays. I was going to use the router, but discovered that the bit I wanted to use chipped and burned after I did the first test cut. So I did it at the table saw. The kerf of the blade isn’t wide enough to do it in one cut, so I moved the fence over a fraction and re-ran each board through.

The good news is it was completed in time for the Woodworkers Fight Cancer charity build. As of two days ago, they had raised over $5,000, so more than half way to their $10,000 target.

Working in a winter workshop

This has been a bit of a test for me. I’m used to having the space to spread out a lot in my barn. My winter workshop must be less than a quarter of the size. My barn has an additional floor I was using to put finish on projects. This last part is going to be particularly difficult to cope with. An inherent part of woodworking involves making wood dust, and more so with power tools. And worse power tools have fans on the motors which inevitably spreads that dust out over everything. I try to use my shop vac to collect the dust as I go, but it’s not perfect. My little vac hasn’t have a huge throughput, and it’s impossible to collect all the dust anyway. So I wear a respirator which is the most uncomfortable part of woodworking. To help collect some of the dust from the atmosphere I have a 20″ box fan drawing air through a furnace filter – you can see the corner of that in the picture above. Hopefully less of it will get stuck in my finish meaning I’ll have a smoother finish and less sandpaper wasted.

Next up: finish my son’s Christmas present – a hook and ladder firetruck.

Winter is no long coming – it’s arrived

With a light dusting of snow on the ground, the shop relocation has begun in earnest. Some tools can’t be relocated. My beloved tablesaw will have to remain up in the barn. It’s too big to get in the shop without dismantling it, and even if I did get it in over muddy ground I wouldn’t be able to do anything else in the shop, there just isn’t enough room. Similarly, the jointer will have to stay up in the barn. I don’t use it often enough to justify trying to move that hunk of cast iron down the slope. Like the tablesaw, it will have to remain in the barn and I’ll just have to clear a path in the inevitable snow bank when I want to get up there to joint something. To prep them both for winter I’ve applied a thick coat of paste wax to help prevent the surfaces from rusting. It won’t stop it completely and I noted that it had already begun a little on my table saw. Time will tell how effective that will be.

However, the bandsaw, the compound sliding mitre saw, the planer and drill press have come down. Apart from the planer, they are on their own stands and don’t take up a lot of space. I might end up putting the drill press on wheels as it’s in the corner of the room, but I haven’t yet decided. In another corner of the room, I still haven’t got rid of the ancient wood burning cook stove. It weighs too much to put out during spring/autumn clean up. Currently it has a pile of junk on it. I really ought to clear that off to use as an assembly area. The stove is a little short for me to use as a workbench for power tools, but I could use it for glue ups and putting finish on projects. Next to the stove I’ve lined up the mitre saw on it’s stand. There’s enough space I can cut down most lengths of wood. Anything longer than I currently have space for and I can open the door to the mudroom. I also have my old Black and Decker Workmate workbench. It’s very low which is ok for hand tools, but a PITA for power tools. I’ve found some blocks of wood I can put under the feet to raise the level up to a more manageable height. I’ve also got a slab of pine which came from the top of an Ikea chest of drawers which recently self destructed. It’s surprisingly flat and the vise in the workbench means I can clamp the top down when I want to use it and break it down when I need the space to do something else. With the work top in place, it almost doubles the work space on the top which is far more usable.

There are still a few tools in the barn, but that’s going to have to wait till I finish my current project: My contribution to the Wood Workers Fighting Cancer build for 2013. This year it’s a “Young Artist’s Easel”. I’m building it from some red oak I picked up earlier this year from Kijiji. Most of the consignment came as 12/4 stock, which meant ripping a lot down to 3/4″ stock.

When saw mills are cutting lumber from the trees the wood is never dry at that stage. They cut it by 1/4″ increments. 12/4 is 3″ wide when they cut it. However at that point it will begin to dry and in so doing will shrink, twist and bow. My 12/4 red oak is rough sawn, the same as if it just came from the saw mill. The good news about this stock is that because it’s thick, there isn’t a lot of bowing and twisting. There’s some cupping but not a lot, and it can be quickly cleaned up on the jointer. Having milled some of the oak, I was able to cut it down ready for the project. After making a lot of saw dust, I realised the fence on my saw was misaligned. The distance at the back of the blade was closer by around 1/8th” (a little over 3mm). This is potentially very dangerous. The blade on the saw rotates, so the front of the blade pushes down against the table top, but the back of the blade has nothing stopping the blade from lifting the work piece up and causing “kickback” (NB: Do NOT watch this video if you are at all squeemish. There’s no blood but it freaks me out every time I watch this one). Fortunately I always use the blade guard on my saw unless I absolutely have to (which is incredibly rare). From now on I’m going to pay a lot more attention to the fence alignment. But because of that alignment there were a lot more saw marks on the surfaces than I really should have to deal with a sander. Most of that was cleaned up with the planer.

Having cut down a lot of the wood, I realise there are quite a few splits and the odd know. Some are terminal, others are repairable with epoxy resin. This is why the wood was a cheap as it was. This has slowed the project down quite a bit as I’ve had to replace the odd piece, and other times I’ve had to wait for the epoxy to harden. I’ve gone through nearly a syringe of epoxy too. With all the parts cut to size, I had a decision to make. Should I brave the cold temperatures, or try to cut them with my router. I’ve had some success with the table saw so I figured it was time to try a different technique. After all when the snow falls in earnest I will want to spend as little time as I possibly can with my table saw, so I opted for the router method. The bandsaw can be used to cut the ends of half laps, but not so useful in the centre of pieces.

When gluing two wood surfaces together, ideally you want to join them so that long grain is facing each other. Either running in the same direction as each other, or in the case of the half lap joint running perpendicular to each other. A half lap joint is very strong because of this grain direction and a quick joint to cut. It’s also not a very complicated joint, but it’s also not a particularly pretty joint. The mortise and tenon joint is stronger and prettier, but more complicated to cut.


Having marked out the joint on the surfaces, I proceeded to cut the half laps. Things didn’t go quite according to plan and all the joints are a little sloppy. I’m hoping long term this isn’t going to be a problem. Some practice required! However, the surface areas are quite large and I’m sure they’ll hold. If it falls apart, there are always screws!

After the glue dried, I went on a mammoth sanding session during which I sprained my left thumb with the random orbit (RO) sander. The RO sander is superior to other sanders because the patterns left by the sand paper don’t immediately attract the human eye as a repeating pattern. It’s there but no where near as obvious as palm sanders and way better than the belt sander. The sander is just about big enough to fit in my hand but it stretches my thumb a little. Once you turn it on, then the vibrations impact the muscles and tendons by vibrating them like the sandpaper. I think I might need to manufacture a handle to make it more comfortable to use in the future – not too difficult with a bandsaw and some plywood.

All the pieces are now sanded so I cut the rabbet needed to take the boards. This is quick and easy with a rabbeting bit and the router. Put the rabbeting bit in the router collet. Drop the bit down so the cutting edge is flush with the base of the router. To set the depth of cut, use something with a known thickness between the depth stop and the depth stop turret. Often people will use finely engineered set up bars, milled to thousands of an inch. I don’t have them, but I do have a LOT of drill bits with a huge range of widths. They work well enough for this kind of purpose. The work pieces are 3/4″ thick so I used a 3/8″ drill bit to set the depth stop. Using the turret I cut it in two passes. This makes the work easier on the tool, on the router bit itself and I’m less likely for the bit to tear out the wood. The router I used was the heavier of my two routers which on reflection was a mistake as it was more difficult to control. If I were to do this again, I’d use the lighter router as it is less likely to tip off the narrow pieces. It has enough power, but it’s currently sat on a shelf in the barn still. With the rabbets cut I now have the sizes for the boards. I cut those on my table saw. I finished the day’s work by putting a coat of primer on the surfaces of the boards. This is oil based and has stunk out my workshop. Respirators FTW!

Now the primer is dried, I need to give the boards a light sanding and a second coat of primer. The surface is a little rough with quite pronounced grain pores, so it may take a few coats and sanding between coats to smooth that out. Finally I’ll apply a couple of coats of blackboard paint.

Kicking the tires on some red oak I picked up the other day

I got a little time at the end of today’s session where I didn’t have anything specific to do. I’d run out of clamps and done a little finishing. I figured I’d kick the tires a little and mill some of the stock. I didn’t get much time to look the stock over when I picked it up, but I did notice a little checking and one 12/4 did look like it was in a state – perhaps some rotting so I’ve kept that one separate until I can take a better look at it.

Winter is coming

No, nothing to do with Game of Thrones. Everything to do with temperatures barely reaching double figures in the morning. So it’s time to relocate the workshop to warmer climate. I’m very fortunate that I have a room at the back of my house which until recently was a dumping ground for anything and everything. That’s now clear so I can relocate my workbench and many of my tools into the house.

My table saw is way too big to move and would take up so much space in the 10′ by 10′ room. I don’t use my jointer enough to need it down in the winter shop. So these two will need to be winterized and left in my barn workshop. The tops of both the tools are cast iron, so they will need to be given a protective coating of paste wax, and some oil put on other moving parts to keep moisture out.

I will have to use them occasionally over winter so that will stop them from seizing. This will also be a bit of a test for me. Can I mark up the parts that need cutting, take them out to the other building and make the cuts? Or will I find that I can make all cuts with my miter saw and band saw? Obviously I’m going to resist going up there. Operating dangerous power tools in sub-zero temperatures is less than ideal. I’ve got a small pile of 12/4* red oak which needs jointing on at least two sides so I don’t have to do that during winter. If I can joint two faces flat and square, then I can use my bench top planer to finish the other two sides as and when I need to get them done.

I’ve currently got a large hutch in the room, so I’m probably going to dismantle that I think. I can re-use a lot of the materials and it will clear a 3′ by 6′ space for tools. There’s still a fair amount of junk in/on the hutch so that’ll need to be cleared off. I have a feeling procrastination will set in before that’s done though.

Once my wife’s birthday present is finished (sorry babe – I *know* it’s only 3 months late), then I can get on with putting up some shelves and moving tools.

* Rough lumber is measured out in 1/4″ widths, so 12/4 is approximately 3″. It’s hard to be more accurate that that for several reasons:

  • Rough lumber has a lot of saw marks, which you need to get rid of before you can start making things out of it.
  • Wood swells and shrinks significantly with the moisture content of the air around it. This can be by as much as 1/8″! (just over 3mm)
  • Wood will twist, bow, cup and otherwise distort out of shape. Typically this means when you start with a 4/4 piece, you’ll need to plane it down to 3/4″ to make it flat and square on 4 sides.

Project: End Table – Update 1

I’ve been playing with Sketchup and learning some new skills thanks to Sketchup For Woodworkers I’ve been learning how to put round overs and bevels on edges. This small change in my understanding has made a huge difference to what I can achieve on Sketchup.

Having discussed the design with some friends at Woodtalk Online I’ve made a few design modifications and I’ve come up with this:

EndTable.Final.Design.1 EndTable.Final.Design.2

A mortise is a (usually) a square slot, although with modern routers it’s more common to see round ends to the hole. A tenon fits snugly into the slot. This is a very strong joint for two main reasons:

  1. When you use glue, you’re gluing long grain to long grain, which is the strongest way for glue to work. When glue is applied to end grain it tends to suck the glue out of the joint.
  2. The tenon has a ‘shoulder’ which should butt up against the mortise, so when pressure is applied to the edge

I’m going to be using mortise and tenon (M&T) joinery for most of the project. So the next question: To drawbored M&T or not?

Drawboreding is a method for strengthening mortise and tenon joinery, by putting a dowel through the mortise and tenon at 90 degrees to the tenon. Not only that, but the hole in the tenon is off center to the mortise by 1/8″, so the dowel is bent inside the M&T in such a way as to pull the tenon into the joint.

There are several advantages to this:

  • I’ll learn a new technique which shouldn’t take too long to master thanks to Marc’s (and others) videos.
  • It will improve the strength of my mortise and tenon joinery, when I’m in no doubt the joints will be a little sloppy due to my inexperience
  • It’ll add a little detail as the end of the dowel is typically exposed.

I don’t have to make the decision until I’m ready to glue the whole thing together.