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.

Craftex CT052 tool review

Craftex CT052
I’ve only cut a couple of sets of dovetails with the jig, but enough to give an overview of set up etc. Until now I’ve not attempted cutting dovetails in any other way, with power tools or by hand.

This is a review of the Craftex CT052 dovetail jig. It is designed to accommodate pieces up to 12″ in size. I got mine on special offer from Busybee Tools for $80 (+tax) CAD.

The Craftex CT154 can go up to 24″ and is available for $189 (+tax) CAD, although at the time of writing there was a $20 off sale.

Both these jigs allow you to cut both pins and dovetails at the same time on the same pass.

Some people online have commented that whilst they may own a cheap dovetail jig, they’ve usually hated the things for some reason. It maybe because they have found them difficult to set up, or they are not very flexible. Having watched the video (see the link below), I found the set up pretty easy. I would however agree that they aren’t very flexible.

Out of the box
Out of the box a minimal amount of assembly is required. There are two clamp levers that need installing, and two thumb screws on the side. When you screw the clamp levers on, make sure you screw them in the right way round so that when the clamps are applied the long handles don’t obscure your work. (Which is what I did when I first put it together). The thumb screws on the side prevent the template gantry from moving during routing.

There are a number of templates available usually for around the $25 CAD mark, but it comes with a 1/2″ blind dovetail template already installed.

Build quality
The body is made from steel, and has quite a bit of weight to it. There are two holes in the metal at the back feet you can screw onto you bench or into a piece of plywood. The feet aren’t big enough to use to clamp the jig to the bench. That said, I’ve used the jig a couple of times and I’ve not really noticed movement to be a massive problem. The only time the jig moved was during the initial scoring cut, where you’re moving laterally across your stock.

There are a number of plastic parts which are for the most part fine. My only gripe on this front are the four stop blocks used to place the pieces in the jig. They are made of plastic, when they really should have been made of aluminum or steel. They are such an integral part where accuracy is needed. That said they are fine for now. I might replace them later if I really see a need.

Set up
Confession: I’ve not read the manual. I did watch the video (see the link below) and found that to be an awesome guide. Mark Eaton from BusyBees does a good job of walking you through the set up. I don’t have set up bars that Mark uses, but a 1/4″ and 1/2″ drill bit do a good enough job of getting everything in the right place.

My only criticism of the video is that during the setup half, it doesn’t discuss the fence at all. The fence is only mentioned very briefly at the very end of the video.

I do like Mark’s phrase for ensuring your router bit is set to the right depth:
“Heighten to tighten, Lower to Loosen”
If your dovetails are not tight enough, raise the router bit. Too tight, lower it. As with all jigs, some test cuts are needed to get things right.

Cutting my first set
I positioned the two pieces of stock in the clamps, vertical pieces first. There is a little frustration in positioning the vertically mounted pieces. Gravity has a way of taking hold! Mount the vertical pieces first, tweaking the screws on the clamp to hold the pieces in place before locking the clamp down. If you are doing a small box/drawer you will find that you can only mount the short pieces in the vertical mounts. My test pieces had a 5″ side, which is too short to go in the horizontal mounts.

The video recommends doing a gentle scoring cut on both work pieces first to help with tear out. I don’t know if it was the cheap pine I was using, or I didn’t do enough of a score, or it’s the jig, but I found a little tear out on the right hand side of both sides of the cuts. More attempts will with harder wood may tell.

Having cut the first set of pins and tails I removed them from the jig and noticed my first problem. The fit was tight enough that I needed to use a mallet to push the pieces together (perhaps a little too tight as it might squeeze all the glue from the joint).

As I’d been following the video, and didn’t really understand what the fence was for, my tails were cut too deep, resulting in the tails sinking too deep into the box by just under 1/8″. This resulted in me sanding off the extraneous tails. Not a problem with a box, but if your drawer needs to fit in gap, you’ll be 1/4″ too narrow. Once you’ve done one test cut, you can see how much you need to move the fence by and then use setup bars (or in my case, drill bits) to help with that placement.

I then made the mistake of not watching which way round I was putting the vertical pieces back into the jig, and cut the pins the wrong way round, resulting in a question mark shaped “box”. Lesson learned.

I also found that one of the stops on the left hand side of my jig was not in quite the right place, resulting in a step between the two pieces. So I wouldn’t have been able to complete my first box anyway.

Second cut
I went back through the very easy set up of the left hand side of the jig, and proceeded to make my second set of cuts. Everything went smoothly although again there was a little tear out on the right hand side – which makes me think it’s my technique and will probably be resolved with practice.

The resulting box (which I have glued up, but not taken pictures of) is square without any need to tweak the joints. I did note that the second cut was far looser than the first. So much so I was very surprised when it came out square first time!

Reflections
Dust collection – none. I was sprayed with pine fibers from head to toe. It wouldn’t be hard to create a shroud around the jig. I might make one if I find myself using it a lot. There’s no point in putting a shroud on the tool itself as you need to use a guide bushing, and the router rides on the template meaning there’s very limited air flow.

Quick to set up. I managed it with the video guidance in an hour or so if you include the time to reset the left hand guide blocks.

It is very limited. You can only cut even spaced 1/2″ dovetails. This can mean the edge of your project can have half a pin exposed on one of the corners. This means you either put up with it (or arrange it so all the halves are concealed in some way), or design your project with this in mind.

Conclusions
Generally I like the jig.

  • It was very easy to set up.
  • You can cut both pins and tails at the same time making work very quick. This adds to the limitations of the jig, but at the moment it suits me.
  • The video is worth its weight in gold. It gave me a lot of confidence to try to fix things when they didn’t quite fit.

That said, it is very limited (see above):

  • I wish the setup blocks were not made of plastic. Otherwise the build is of reasonable quality given the cost.
  • You can only cut half-inch, evenly spaced, half blind dovetails – which means there is a tendency to design the work around the jig.
  • If you don’t already have a half-inch dovetail bit, and a 7/16ths outside diameter guide bushing. I happened to already have both of those so I wasn’t more out-of-pocket than the $80 I spent.

What next?
I might actually have to read the manual.

I’m going to build a few boxes with hard wood. I’ve got some cherry and birch which I can play with. I see small boxes for my family for Christmas on the horizon.

Related links:
Instruction video
Craftex CT052 at Busybee Tools
Craftex CT154 at Busybee Tools