5 Principles for Any Woodworking Shop

I ran across an article by Steve Maxwell in the Ottawa Citizen a while back (unfortunately the link has expired). He wrote about 5 basic principles that apply to anyone in a shop. It’s well worth the read and I have to agree with him. Here’s my summary of what he said:

1. Sharpening Skills. Practice, practice, practice. Whatever sharpening method you use that gives you good results, become a master at it. I talked here about how much I like my diamond stones. Steve recommends a buffing wheel for honing. I’ve used a buffing wheel for sharpening my carving tools, but haven’t made myself convert to using it for chisels and plane irons. A buffing wheel works fast and gives you a polished edge.

2. Proper Sanding. How many of us hate sanding? I do. But we need to slow down and do it right if we want the best surface for a finish. And that means working through the grits. Steve starts with a belt sander. Belt sanders scare me because it’s too easy to get distracted and the next thing you know you’re rounding over an edge, gouging the workpiece, or sanding through veneer. I follow the advice of starting with 100- or 120-grit paper, but a random orbit sander is usually all I need. Then I work my way up to 180-grit. I usually don’t go any finer than that if I’m applying an oil finish. That recommendation comes from General Finishes when using their Arm-R-Seal product.

3. Know Your Tools. What I mean is, know intimately how they work and how to fine-tune them for the best performance. That goes for hand tools as well as power tools. Maintain and tune-up your table saw periodically. Make sure all of your chisels and planes are set up, sharp, and ready to put to use. Having to stop in the middle of a project to sharpen or fuss with a tool is a distraction you don’t need.

4. Invest in Your Tools. In other words, buy the best tool you can afford. And if you can’t afford it right now, save up until you can. I’ve learned my lessons on buying tools just because the price was right. It’s when you come to rely on the tool that it disappoints you. Steve’s comments on this topic are so good I have to repeat them here:

Choosing tools and gear successfully is a lot like hitting someone with a snowball as they’re running. Unless you aim way ahead, you’ll always miss. The tools and gear you need tomorrow will almost always be more than you need now, especially if you’re a beginner.

That’s why you should always buy better than you think you need. My only tool regrets have come when my snowball fell way behind the results I was aiming at. You need to buy for the ultimate woodworker you want to become, not the woodworker you are now.

Also — and this is crucial — always let actual needs guide your tool investments. Struggle for a while with a process or situation, then use the insights you gain to invest in gear that actually meets the needs you face. You’ll buy smarter.

5. Curb Your Enthusiasm. As Steve says, being motivated to get out in the shop and be productive is one thing. But being in a hurry and taking shortcuts (like not properly sanding, or assuming that the glue will fill the gaps in an ill-fitting joint) are another thing. So the key is not to be impatient. I have to talk myself into slowing down and “doing it right.” (Yes, I talk to myself often when I’m in the shop.) To quote Steve:

“The pursuit of quality is much more important and enduring. “

Restoring Old Hand Tools — Seminar Links

Below is a list of supplies referenced during a seminar at the Woodsmith Store on October 17.

Materials, Supplies, and Links for Restoring Old Hand Tools

Sharpening Auger Bits

Auger File

Valve Grinding Compound

Lapping Grits

Sharpening Hand Saws

Saw Sharpening Files

Veritas Saw File Holder

Veritas Jointer/Edger

Italian Needle Files

Braces, Bits, and Yankee Drills & Drivers

Garrett Wade

Hex Bit Adapter

Screwdriver Bits

Spiral Ratcheting Drivers

General Cleaning Supplies

Wire Wheels

Safety Goggles

Dust Mask

Lacquer Thinner

Mineral Spirits


Wash Bottles

Lightweight Oil (3-in-1)

Old Toothbrush

Cleaning Brushes (Lee Valley)

Cleaning Brushes (Woodcraft)

Dropper Bottles

Needles & Syringes (for oil)

6″ Cotton Swabs

Shop Rags

ProtecTool Wax (Lee Valley)

Restoring Hand Planes

Wet/Dry Sandpaper

Non-Woven Abrasives

Plane Tote (Handle) Templates (Lee Valley)

Veritas Replacement Blades

Pinnacle (Woodcraft) Replacement Blades

Tools for Working Wood (must search for “Stanley Replacement Blades”)

Hock Tools

Interesting Links Worth a Look












Fixing Mistakes of an Inexperienced Woodworker

Some time ago I was asked to build a couple of tile-top end tables for a customer. She wanted them made from alder she had stored in her garage. I had never worked with alder, but I have to say, it’s a dream to work with hand tools.

After building the two tables and grouting the ceramic tiles for the tops, I applied several coats of General Finishes Arm-R-Seal to the base and top frame. I’m not one for staining or dyeing a finish unless the project warrants it or it’s figured wood.

This customer also had a tile-top coffee table that someone else had built for her. After she saw the beauty of the clear oil finish, she decided she’d like to have her coffee table refinished. This table was built by someone who was apparently new to woodworking. I’ll let the photos below tell the story. Check out the fit of the tenons in the mortises. And the uneven finish with runs and drips. The gap around the drawer front was large enough to drive a car through (can’t do much to fix that). The drawer box was so shabbily built that I’ll have to build a new one (I’ll use Baltic birch plywood).

I decided it would be quicker and easier to disassemble the table by cutting the aprons off, planing the finish off, then re-assembling the table.

Patching over a Knot

In a previous post, I mentioned how I had to create a patch, or inlay, to cover over a knot. Now the first question you may be asking yourself is why I didn’t use another board for this particular piece. In this case, the selection of lumber was pretty slim and I just decided I had to make do with what I had. I really did think that this defect was far enough away from the edge to be hidden by the cove trim that was to be applied to that face. But I was wrong. By the time I routed the profile along the edge, the knot would be visible on the finished project.

I had to resort to some training I received from Tim Rundall, owner of The Woodchip Shop. Tim taught me how to carve and the proper use of the tools, so I dug out my carving tools. The first order of business was to make an inlay. I happened to have a scrap piece I had cut from the same board. I used a gouge and straight chisels to form the shape of the inlay. I used a saw and the disk sander to finalize the shape of the inlay.

The next step was to use the inlay as a pattern to lay out the recess for the inlay. I used a sharp knife to trace around the inlay. Then I took the same gouge to form the rounded part of the recess. Using a detail knife and some other carving tools to deepen the recess, I kept working at it until the inlay was a tight fit.

image image (2) image (1)

After gluing the inlay in place, I started working it flush to the workpiece with hand planes. While the glue was still wet, I sanded it to its final shape, smooth with the surrounding profile.

After the project was finished, you’d be hard pressed to find the patch. The color and grain match did a great job of disguising the patch.

A little maintenance goes a long way

Every once in a while, something goes wrong with one of the machines in the shop. And it usually happens at the worst time…when you need that machine the most.

In a previous post, I talked about routine maintenance on the table saw. This was the first time since I purchased it that I had taken the time to tune it up. The benefit of doing this meant that I learned a lot about the mechanics of my saw. This will help troubleshoot any problems in the future.

The other day, I noticed the quill on my radial drill press was sticking as I was drilling holes. So I had to stop in the middle of my project and spray the quill with a little lubricant. While I was doing that, the collar that holds the depth rod in place let loose and fell off. So I had to reinstall that, as well. There’s not much else that needs attention on a drill press, so after doing these two things, I’m confident it will provide many more months of service without requiring attention. But that doesn’t mean I don’t keep my eyes and ears open for potential problems.

So the key for me is not to let frustration get the best of me when a tool breaks down. I try to take a deep breath and slow down and take the opportunity to learn.

Tool Books and Videos

Get to know the tools in your shop. Find books and videos on power and hand tool and techniques.

Band Saw Books (books)
Band Saw Books (books)
Routing Books and Videos
Routing Books and Videos
Scroll Saw Books
Scroll Saw Books
Table Saw Books
Table Saw Books

Pay attention during assembly and glue-up

I’m in the middle of repairing an antique table. There’s nothing really broken, but most of the joints are loose. So I’m carefully prying apart the old doweled joints and removing the old glue, then reassembling the joint with Titebond wood glue.

As is the case with most old furniture, someone had used copious amounts of glue in an attempt to fix the loose joinery. To remove the glue, I carefully pare the joint down to bare wood with a sharp chisel or block plane. Some would argue that doing so dulls the blade, but nothing a quick touch-up won’t fix.

To repair the dowel joints, I’ll just clean the glue off the dowels as much as possible if they’re still solid. On this particular table, it’s a pedestal style with four legs attached to a center, turned column. The original ½”-dia. dowels had been drilled out and replaced with ⅜”-dia. fluted dowels at some point. They were in poor condition, so I cut them off flush with the joint.

I’m not a fan of dowel joinery, so I set up my router table with a ½”-dia. spiral upcut bit. I routed a long mortise between the two dowel locations on each mating piece. Then I formed loose tenons using ½” Baltic birch plywood and reassembled the joint.

But here’s where you have to pay attention. On this table, the curved legs were each capped with a gothic-style cap piece. But I had failed to follow one of my own rules. I didn’t mark how each piece was oriented. After the glue set up, I noticed one of the pieces was turned 180°. Fortunately, the piece was symmetrical, so visually, it didn’t make a difference. But it could have been a disaster, or at least a big problem.

So the lesson here is this: Whether you’re repairing old furniture or dry-assembling a new project to test for fit, make sure to mark the pieces. Mark the joinery and the orientation of each workpiece.

You’ll be thankful later when the glue and clamps go on.

Why I threw out all my old woodscrews

In my 40+ years of woodworking, I’ve managed to accumulate quite a lot of hardware. You know what I mean — all sorts of screws, nuts, bolts, etcetera, etcetera. Most of which sat in a box and was never used. The funny thing is, I was stupid enough to move them when we moved out of state a few years back.

When I set up shop in my new location, I decided it was time to sort out all that hardware and get it organized. I had acquired an old, heavy-duty file cabinet that was designed for index cards. This meant that the drawers were only about 6″ high. I thought this would be perfect for storing hardware. To store the hardware, I used some small containers that were used in the days of film photography for holding 35mm slides. They fit perfectly in neat little rows in my file drawers.

So I set about one Saturday finding all the boxes, bins, and plastic storage cabinets full of hardware. I organized all the fasteners by type and size. Woodscrews, machine screws, sheet metal screws, bolts, and everything in between. Each found a home in a little container in the file drawer.

But as I progressed through this reorganization, it occurred to me I had a wide variety of traditional slotted or Phillips-head woodscrews. I’ve vowed long ago to give up slotted screws because the screwdriver always seems to slip at the most inopportune time, ruining or scratching my project. So I set those aside to give away to fellow woodworker friends.

In a previous post, I mentioned how I had used modern woodscrews to repair an antique cabinet. The ones I had grown to like and use are made by GRK Fasteners. I like them so much, I really didn’t see the need to keep any of my traditional woodscrews. So I set the remainder of those aside, too. I did manage to keep all the brass woodscrews, and I have a separate collection of pocket hole screws.

So my friends benefited from my culling of the hardware. I took inventory of the GRK R4 screws I had on hand then purchased additional sizes to round out my collection. I’ve got most sizes from #6 x ½” to #8 x 2″. If I need other sizes for a project, I’ll buy a box only as I need them. The other great thing about these screws is that they come in handy, reusable snap-close containers. And they fit perfectly in my file drawers.

GRK R4™ Multipurpose Star/Torx Screw GRK R4™ Multipurpose Star/Torx Screw
In addition to a Torx-head design that eliminates cam-out slippage, these innovative self-countersinking bits feature six cutting pockets beneath the head and sharp, saw-like lower threads.
GRK R4™ Multipurpose Star/Torx Screw

Why do I like GRK screws so much? Well, first of all the Torx head means I can drive them home without fear of cam-out. I can use them with an impact driver. They’re self-drilling, so you rarely need to drill a pilot hole. (You’ll still want to drill a pilot hole if you’re near the edge of a workpiece or working with hard woods.) Finally, little nibs under the head form their own countersink. This makes assembly go much quicker.

My suggestion is to spend a few hours (or a day or two) going through your hardware and give away what you don’t really need. And step up to a modern woodscrew.

Should I be horsewhipped for using finish nails?

I just finished putting together an antique cabinet that’s similar to the one you see here. It was literally in pieces when I picked it up from the customer. Apparently, at some point in its life, it had fallen off the wall onto the floor. And by the looks of it, this wasn’t the first time this had happened. Someone somewhere in the past had made a pretty poor attempt at repair using dowels. They had even drilled through the sides of the cabinet in a couple spots to insert the dowels into the shelves!

Miraculously, the heavy, beveled glass door survived and is still a beautiful piece of craftsmanship.

I had been contemplating for a couple of weeks how to go about a decent repair for the cabinet. The dowels and dowel holes had dried glue all over them. And obviously, the wood was old and cracked in some spots. I had to patch a spot that had broken out from the side near a dowel.

So how do I put this back together? I ruled out glue because most of the joinery was butt joints and glue doesn’t hold well on end grain. And the joints weren’t tight enough to be “glue worthy” anyway.

So I resorted to using 1½” finish nails. Yep. Modern nails. I figured with their small heads and a little dab of wood putty, they would all but disappear. So I got out my Warrington-style hammer and tapped in three nails through the sides into each end of the shelves. I countersunk the heads with a nail set and applied a little wood putty with a cotton swab to minimize spreading it around.

Famowood Wood Filler Famowood Wood Filler
Made from genuine wood flour, these fillers closely emulate the
properties of real wood. They can be stained, sawed, drilled, sanded,
planed and nailed, just like the real thing. They show no noti..
Famowood Wood Filler

Oh, I have one other confession to make. I used modern screws to hold the top of the cabinet to the sides. They even have a Torx head. But I figured this was where the point of failure was originally when it fell from the wall, and they’re on the back, so it really didn’t matter. If someone throws a fit, they can replace them with traditional, slotted wood screws.

So there you have it. Modern finish nails and screws used in the restoration of an antique cabinet. You can call the antique police now and turn me in.

GRK R4™ Multipurpose Star/Torx Screw
In addition to a Torx-head design that eliminates cam-out slippage, these innovative self-countersinking bits feature six cutting pockets beneath the head and sharp, saw-like lower threads to drive through a variety of materials smoothly, without tearing. Available in several lengths and sizes. Torx/Star-head driver bits also available.
GRK R4™ Multipurpose Star/Torx Screw
GRK R4™ Multipurpose Star/Torx Screw

UPDATE: Anchoring a newel post

In this post, I promised to provide an update on how my plan worked for using a threaded rod to anchor a newel post.

Overall, my plan worked, but not without some minor nuisances that always seem to happen in a home improvement project. I drilled a hole through the upstairs floor tile to accommodate the threaded rod I had epoxied into the bottom of the newel post. I shoved the rod into the hole then trekked down to the basement. Darn! The threaded rod was too close to the joist to install the large fender washer I had wanted to install. And after reviewing the situation a little closer, I decided to add some blocking to allow me to keep as much length on the threaded rod as possible. I figured this would provide more stability for the post.

You can view and download the SketchUp model below that illustrates what I did.

So I spend about a half hour cutting up some scraps of plywood to add as blocking under the post. After gluing and screwing the blocking to the joists on either side of the rod, I installed a washer, split locking washer, then a nut and carefully tightened it down. I had some help upstairs to keep the post from twisting while I tightened the nut.

It worked as planned. The newel post was solid and the customer was happy. All I had to do was glue the handrail back in place.

Stairs and Railings Step-by-Step Projects Book
Creative Homeowner presents this step-by step guide to designing and building
various types of staircases and railings, including straight stairs, deck stairs and L-shaped
staircases with a landing. A host of color drawings and photographs
illustrate the directions.
Stairs and Railings Step-by-Step Projects Book
Stairs and Railings Step-by-Step Projects Book

Throw out the old wood glue

Gorilla Wood Glue
Gorilla Wood Glue

It’s bad enough that I have to pry off old, dried wood glue from the bottle tip before I use it. But during a glue-up, the last things I want to see are chunks of rubbery goo come out of the bottle.

I had recently tried another brand of wood glue made by the same folks that make Gorilla Glue polyurethane glue. I thought perhaps that I had purchased an old bottle of glue. But when the second bottle of glue still had small chunks in it, I began to wonder.

Continue reading “Throw out the old wood glue”