Thursday, November 27, 2008

The latest from the woodworking world

I always count on November to bring new things into my life and it always happens. Sometimes good, sometimes bad but always change. This year it was a conversion from the rolls of the unemployed to the employed... times two. On 11 November I was in the local Woodcraft store "turning pens for troops" in their annual support the troops effort. I hate turning pens so it was a sacrifice. While there I was pulled from the classroom/shop and the boring pen turning thing and asked to assist customers in choosing tools for carving, wood turning and selecting the right lathe. Well I like to do all those things and the carving expert from the staff was on vacation and the turning expert (a really good turner) was just off for the day so there I went. The owner was there and saw me assisting customers and there you have it a Job offer. So I started the next day as a retail sales guy and instructor for classes there.

After leaving Woodcraft and heading to get some new T-shirts I get a call from a furniture maker/cabinet maker/wood retailer asking me to come to work there. After explaining that I had taken a job already I was still offered the job around my Woodcraft schedule. OK being somewhat greedy and wanting to make furniture I said yes to that job too. Downside. I work 6 days a week between 6 and 14.5 hours each day and there is no time to turn. Upside. Massive tool discount, Massive wood discount and access to a big ass shop!

As part of my duties at Woodcraft I am tasked with writing a weekly article for the Arizona Republic. No fixed subject, no formulas just 500 words every week to get some cheap publicity for the store. I have spoken with Jim about writing a book on woodworking over the past year so there are many outlines and chapters rattling around in my head already so type type type and as I have creative license on this I figured I would assemble the articles as I would write the book. So here goes. First samples of the articles assembled as the first section of chapter 1. Setting up shop, furniture making tools and additional furniture making tools are the articles and the first three sections of chapter one. Turning tools essentials, Carving tools essentials and cabinet making essentials are the next three sections. Drop some feedback if you get a chance. We shall see if there is any hope of getting this written before Christmas and my next potential day off.

Setting Up Shop

You want to start woodworking but don’t know where to begin. You make a trip to the local woodworking specialty store or a big box store and start looking at all the tools and then it hits you. “This stuff costs a lot of money!” “All this is too big for my little work area in the garage.” “What the heck does that thing do and when will I ever use it?” Don’t panic. It can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you haven’t been in a wood shop since Junior High. But there is an easy way to get through all the confusion and past the shiny new tools to get you going in the direction you want to go.

Specialty woodworking stores often offer classes or have demonstrations that can assist you in taking your first steps. Take a trip to you local store and do a little watching first. If you do not live near a woodworking store then stop by the local community college and shop the adult learning classes for woodworking classes. In either case the cost is usually pretty reasonable and you get to tour the shop, learn a little about woodworking safety and by all means use some tools. Take some time during the class to ask questions about the tools and their uses, alternative means of getting the job done and recommendations on brands of tools from your instructor.

So you took your class, you made your Heirloom box, wooden pen, wooden bowl or picture frame and you feel confident and ready to go. Make a list of those tools you have used and make notes on those you really liked to use and get yourself a few quotes before you leave the store. But, mind your wallet just yet. There may be a few more classes you want to take before you rack up the big ticket on tools.

Now that you have chosen your favorite woodworking discipline, take out your lists and your tape measure and some graph paper and get to work designing your shop. Make the determination if you ever want to park your car in the garage again or if your spouse insists on having the parking space for theirs and block out the space for that. Look at what you have in that highly organized space attached to your house and see if new storage requirements have arisen once you take into account that you are gonna be generating a lot of dust.

That done, start looking at the floor models, bench top models, midi and mini tools and see how they fit into your plan. Yep it’s true! Tools come in all sorts of sizes and shapes and functions and some with multiple functions but you will pay more for those and sometimes they are great for one thing but not for another. Again visit your woodworking store and ask questions about their tools and volunteer the alternatives you have found. The staff there may have gone through all the same decision making woes which you have. Remember to inquire about safety precautions and features, dust control, mobility and versatility.


You have decided that you want to make your own furniture. Great pieces have come from the garage or barn shop over the years and you may have some pretty unique ideas that you want to put into your home. There are some essentials that you will need to take those boards and build your sofa table, blanket chest or computer desk.

Some furniture makers say there are three essential tools to get you started, especially if you plan on saving some money on lumber by buying it rough cut. There are also alternative tools for each of these featured big foot print tools but they do require a bit more skill and your results may not be consistent.

The Planer: Rough cut lumber will have an irregular surface and edges. It is also sold in quarter inch increment sizes (2/4, 4/4, 8/4) and is normally slightly larger than you may need. You will want plane the boards to a uniform size and the thickness planer is the way to go. Sure you could save the expense on the tool and have the boards planed for you before leaving the lumber yard/store but the results may not be to your liking and remember the $15 - $30 you pay the store for milling services could be put toward tools. There are a variety of thickness planers available at your woodworking or big box stores to choose from and you may just find your results reflect your care and investment in the project. Take multiple passes, removing a small amount from each board before changing thickness settings and be ready for the mountain of dust and chips. Alternative tools: Large hand planes (6 – 8), belt sander, powered hand planes, routers with a shopmade jig and flat bottom bit.

The Jointer: “What’s the purpose of that tool?” Is a common question. Jointers ensure a smooth and square edge to your lumber which is essential if you plan to “joint” or glue up a number of boards to create that ultra-smooth table top or sides for the heirloom blanket chest. Though the base has a small foot print the table is fairly long which is a necessary feature to support the board as you feed it over the cutting head and support it as it comes out the other end. Make sure the jointer fits your floor plan and think about a mobile base to push it out of the way when you finish using it. Jointers are challenging to maintain and tune correctly so do not throw away the manual when you take that heave monster out of the box. Alternative tools: Hand planes, powered hand planes each with a fence or jig to keep square.

The Table Saw: It’s a big investment but your Grandfathers circular saw is just not gonna measure up to this power house standard tool. The table saw and a variety of add-ons or shopmade jigs is going to save you time, money and aggravation by providing a large level platform, square fence and a fairly powerful motor to drive that blade through a variety of thicknesses of lumber and sheet goods (plywood, MDF, Melamine etc.) The table saw is a great tool for ripping, cross cutting, joinery cuts and more advanced techniques using store bought or shopmade jigs. Alternative tools: Plunge cutting circular saws, standard circular saws, framing saws with a guide rail system and clamps.

Yep it’s a big investment so do your homework, shop around and ask lots of questions. Do not forget there are safety features on every one of these major tools and dust management is something else to consider when you get ready to purchase one or all of these tools. A dust collection system may also be a good item to work into your floor plan and budget.

Additional Furniture Making Tools:

After you get some experience with basic construction, joinery and consistent results you may want to expand your tool collection to include some more specialized tools to make your pieces a little fancier or your life a little easier. Consider these additional tools:

The Bandsaw: If you want to add a curve to you table legs, book match your boards to have a consistent appearance to the table surface or add a little flair to your furniture the band saw is a great tool to get the job done. Yep it takes up some more room in the garage but if your floor plan allows for the necessary space, you will find yourself at the band saw doing more advanced features for your pride and joy. It’s a very useful tool for cleaning up joint components, cutting long curves into boards, and just making your piece a little more unique. Alternative tools: The crosscut hand saw, dovetail or backsaw, coping saw, hand held jig saw or scrolling jig saw.

The Router: What a versatile machine. Used as a hand held tool, mounted on a table, with store bought or shopmade jigs, the router can add some real flare to your furniture designs. The routers come in a variety of sizes of motor, with fixed or plunge bases, with soft start motors and variable speeds these little beauties will get you hooked but they do take some getting used to. I know people who have 3 to 6 routers with a variety of features or set ups that they dedicate to specific jobs. The router can be used to clean up pattern made edges, cut channels, soften table or leg edges, create unique joints and many other applications. The router uses a removable bit and there are hundreds of profiles to choose from to accomplish as many or more combinations of applications. Alternative tools: Specialty hand planes, hand saws, scrapers, spoke shaves, chisels or carving tools.

The Drill press: Whether drilling holes for shelf pins, making holes into compound joints, starting a through cut for your jig saw or making repetitive holes, the drill press is a versatile tool with numerous features that can suit furniture making applications. A good drill press features a tilting table, depth scale and locking stop. These will assist you in repeating wood boring functions at the same angles and to the same depth. Alternative tools: Hand drills or augers, power drills.

The mortising machine: The mortising machine is a specialty tool with one function, cutting mortises. If you want to repeat the same cut though it is easy to configure, assists you in cutting the same mortise in the same location of different pieces of wood. The table features sliding locking components for controlling your stock and can be configured with store bought or shopmade jigs to add your own flare to this joinery standard. Alternative tools: Mortising add-on for a drill press, hand chisels.

Tenoning jig (table saw add-on) or loose tenon joinery system: What goes better with a mortise than a tenon. That’s what the mortise was made for. Tenoning jigs are a table saw add-on that assist you in making consistent square cuts into your stock for sinking into or passing through mortises for joining legs to table skirts, arms to uprights on chairs, stretchers to table or chair legs or other joints of one component to another. A loose tenon joinery system uses a separate component (the loose tenon) to join components of your furniture in a similar fashion. It is designed to cut the mortise into the joining components giving a little more flexibility and allowing for movement of the wood in changing environments. Alternative tools: Router with shopmade jig, back saw, hand drill and chisels.

Sliding or Compound Miter or Radial arm saw: Table saws can be used for making cross cuts and miter cuts but they require space for your longer board as they are fed through the table say and you will want to use a miter gauge. This can be cumbersome and difficult to control the stock in small shops or with small table saws. The miter or radial arm saws let you control the stock and bring the blade to the surface. It is easier to control longer material, easy to set up stops for repeating lengths and these smaller saws can be mounted on a bench or cabinet and rolled out for use and returned to the storage area when the job is done. Some Radial arm saws can also be configured for ripping boards or changing the depth of cut which makes them that much more versatile than compound miter saws. Alternative tools: Plunge cut circular saws, circular saws, hand cross cut saws.