Rest in Peace Steve LaMantia (Mr. Scary Sharp)

Long before social media became commonplace, there were list servers on the internet. These were text-only email lists that you had to subscribe to. Everyone that subscribed had the ability to post to the list so that everyone on the list could see their post. It was a great way to get to know other like-minded folks that shared a common interest.

One such listserv was OldTools. As a matter of fact, it’s still around and very active.

I learned a lot off of that mailing list and got to know a lot of good folks. It’s a tremendous resource. But over the years, I’ve had to back off simply due to the sheer volume of emails and the time required to read them.

Continue reading “Rest in Peace Steve LaMantia (Mr. Scary Sharp)”

Designing a Hopper Window

Hopper Window Open

I’ve never built a window. I never had a real need to. That is until someone contacted me about building a window sash for a stained glass window she designed. As much as I tried to convince her that a fixed-pane window would be easier, less expensive, and quicker, she insisted on a ventilating hopper window. My first thoughts on a design are shown here. Continue reading “Designing a Hopper Window”

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. “

Pocket Hole Joinery

Original Kreg Jig

My first experience with pocket hole joinery (besides seeing it on the underside of old tables and chairs) was when my dad bought one of the first Kreg jigs. It looked similar to the one shown here. The principle behind it is that it guides a drill bit to drill an angled hole in a workpiece. Then a screw is inserted into the hole and driven into an adjacent workpiece for a solid joint. The Kreg Jig was originally designed by Craig Sommerfeld, founder of Kreg Tool, to make building kitchen cabinets a lot easier.

I use pocket hole joinery on a lot of projects. I’ve been using Kreg Jigs almost since the beginning. Lately, I’ve been using their new K5 jig.

Pocket hole joinery has a few advantages over traditionally woodworking joinery. One benefit is that you can simply cut the pieces to size, drill the pocket holes, then assemble with screws. But there are a couple of things you need to be aware of.

First, it’s a good idea to sand all of the workpieces before assembly. It’s just easier to do it that way than have to sand into corners and tight areas after the project is assembled.

And you might consider applying a finish before assembly. Most pocket hole joints don’t require glue — they’re plenty strong. So you don’t have to worry about the finish interfering with a glue bond.

After drilling the pocket holes, you may see a little nib of material where the drill bit was starting to exit the workpiece. You’ve got to get rid of that before assembling the joint. It can interfere with drawing the joint tight. I keep a small block plane handy just for this purpose.

Probably the most important thing to remember when assembling joints with pocket screws is CLAMP, CLAMP, CLAMP! Driving a pocket screw can do one of two things: It can shift the workpiece ever so slightly, resulting in a joint that’s not flush or out of alignment or the pocket screw can sometimes “jack” the workpiece away from the adjoining workpiece. Both of these can make a religious man swear.

The key is to lock the workpieces in position so there’s no chance of either of them moving as you drive the screws. Kreg makes a variety of clamps designed for this purpose. You can use whatever clamps you have on hand as long as they can effectively clamp the workpieces in their final position before driving the screws.

Below is a SketchUp model of a simple cabinet I recently built with pocket hole joinery. It incorporates basic cabinet construction including a face frame and fixed shelf. You may have to refresh your browser window to see the model. To download the model for SketchUp, click here.

This cabinet is featured in the seminar on October 24, 2013 at the Woodsmith Store in Clive, Iowa.

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


El Salvador Trip 2013 — Part 3

I’m headed to El Salvador in a couple of weeks to help local craftsmen. I’ll be teaching them how to use a router and router table donated by Kreg Tool Company. Most of these craftsmen have never used a router, so I’ll have to start with the basics. I’ll be presenting two, 2-day seminars at two separate locations with 6 to 8 craftsmen in attendance at each one.

In preparation for the seminar, I was trying to come up with a project we could build during the seminar that would cover basic routing techniques. I played around with a design in SketchUp and came up with this Shaker-style wall shelf:

It incorporates routing edge profiles with roundover bits. And I’ll be talking about routing out the shape of the ends of the shelf using a template. I’ll also talk about joinery options for cutting rabbet and dado joints. I intend to present options for joinery since we’ll have access to Kreg pocket hole jigs.

In order to test my ideas, I made a couple of samples. One is made from inexpensive poplar. I hope to be able to disassemble it and take it with me on my trip to show as a demo. The other sample is made from Lyptus and finished with a coat of boiled linseed oil.

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Walter Meier Sells Off Tool Division

Walter Meier, the parent company of Jet, Powermatic, and Wilton tools is selling off their tool division. Seems like the large Swiss conglomerate has other, more profitable core businesses to focus on.

As announced in The Tennessean:

A La Vergne-based tool subsidiary of the Swiss conglomerate Walter Meier AG will be acquired by the New York private-equity firm Tenex Capital Management, the two entities announced Tuesday.

With about 200 employees worldwide, Walter Meier Manufacturing Inc. makes and markets the Wilton, Jet and Powermatic tool brands through more than 3,000 outlets in about 30 markets. It has been part of Walter Meier AG, whose main business is climate-control and humidification equipment.

No purchase price has been divulged yet as the deal is still being finalized, said Bob Varzino, the tool company’s senior vice president for marketing at the La Vergne headquarters and distribution center, which has 126 employees.

But the sale is “very good news for us,” Varzino said.

“It was some time in the coming,” he said. “This company has been growing and has become a very profitable division for Walter Meier. This will capitalize the company so it can grow to its next level of evolution. Tenex focuses on industrial brands and will be a really good partner for us. This is its biggest acquisition.”

The tool division’s total sales will approach $200 million this year, Varzino said.

In an announcement on its global website, Walter Meier AG said it was divesting itself of the tools business to continue with its “strategy of focusing on the core business (of) climate technology.”

Tenex won the right to buy the tool division through an auction, and the closing of the deal “is subject to various conditions, including contracts to be signed with financial lenders,” Walter Meier AG said. The sale is expected to be completed by Oct. 31.

Tools sold by the division are used in professional woodworking, metalworking, fabrication and industrial maintenance shops. The tool company has operations in seven countries, including Germany, Taiwan, Switzerland, Russia and France.

The company’s products are made in factories in Chicago, Mexico and Asia, Varzino said.

“In Walter Meier tools, we have acquired a strong company with great brands and a growing market share in each of its segments,” Tenex Chief Executive Officer Michael Green said in a statement. “The well-recognized brands of Jet, Wilton and Powermatic define the resilience and durability of the products. We look forward to supporting the company and its management team in executing its continuing growth initiatives.”

Well, according to this and what I heard in Nashville in August, it appears that Jet and Powermatic won’t be going away soon. In fact, keep looking for new and improved woodworking tools from them.

Trimming Edging with Hand Planes

Stanley 100 & 101 - 1898 Stanley CatalogThe shadow box I’m making out of cherry plywood needed some hardwood edging to hide the ugly plywood edges. I ripped strips of cherry about 1/8″ thick. They were slightly wider than the thickness of the plywood. This way, you don’t have to worry about having the edging perfectly flush as you glue it to the edges of the plywood.

After the glue was dry, I pulled out my Stanley 101. It’s a small plane a little longer than 3″. It’s a cute little thing. But it comes in handy for light tasks like this. Lee Valley sells squirrel tail palm planes (like the Stanley 100) and a “Little Victor” plane that would do the job. They also have the Kunz version of the Stanley 100.

Why didn’t I use a standard block plane, or for that matter, a bench plane? Well, I actually started to, but they felt too heavy and clunky for this light trimming task. And the block planes have a lower blade angle that was causing some tearout.

Back to my little Stanley 101. Notice that there’s no blade adjuster on this tiny plane. I set the blade by inserting it until it bottoms out on the workpiece then tighten the cap. See that little nubbin on the back end? I don’t know this for a fact but I believe that’s there to allow you to retract the blade with a light tap of a hammer. The nubbin protects the edge of the casting from being damaged. To advance the blade, lightly tap the front end of the plane. It sure beats loosening the cap and trying to make minute adjustments by hand and eye. That’s an exercise in frustration.

The technique I use to trim the edging is to keep most of the plane riding on the plywood with the blade engaging the edging. This way, as the edging is trimmed, the plane kind of “self levels” the edging. Just keep an eye on the edging and use your fingers to gauge when it’s flush before you cut into the plywood veneer. There’s a fine line (a shaving’s thickness) between flush and too far.

After trimming both sides of the edging flush, I needed to smooth the face of the edging. It still had saw marks on it from ripping it to thickness. I clamped each piece in my face vise and used my No. 3 smoother. I quickly discovered I had difficulty keeping the plane level. I have a tendency to lean the plane to port side, leaving a surface that’s not square to the face. To help me keep the plane square, I used a Veritas Jointer Fence. It attaches to the cheek (side) of the plane with strong magnets. It’s offset so that the entire width of the blade can engage the workpiece. You can make a jointer fence by rabbeting a straight-grained piece or hardwood or you can use a dense plywood like Baltic birch. The idea is to provide a bearing surface that rides along the face of the workpiece keeping the plane square to the face. It works like a charm. A few swipes and the edging was nice and smooth.



When Routers Make You Swear

Back in the 1980’s I was newly married and setting up a workshop in the basement of our first home, a 1930’s Montgomery Ward kit house. Back then, the only place to purchase power tools near the small town where we lived was a Sears store in a shopping mall about a half hour’s drive away. I owned a Craftsman contractor’s saw, a Craftsman router, and a few other power tools from Sears.

I was too young to know much about routers but eager to learn. I really put it to the test while I was building a stereo cabinet as a gift for my brother-in-law. It was made of plywood edged with hardwood. The shelves fit into dadoes in the cabinet sides. So I got out the Craftsman router and chucked up a 3/4″ straight bit. As a matter of fact, it was probably a bit made from high speed steel (HSS). Carbide wasn’t that common yet for home woodworkers and if it was, it was too pricey for my newlywed budget.

The idea was to rout a 3/4″-wide dado about 3/8″ deep across the cabinet sides to house the shelves. So I clamped a straightedge across the cabinet side to guide the cut. I set the bit depth and started routing. The first dado went fine. So I moved the straightedge to complete a second dado across the panel. I started the second cut and noticed that the pitch of the router motor changed as I made my way across the panel. Then I noticed it became difficult to pull through the cut. It wasn’t until this point I realized something was terribly wrong.

I stopped the router, cleared out the dust and chips from the dado, and discovered what the problem was. The dado was progressively deeper. So deep that when I had stopped the router, it had routed all the way through the panel for a few inches. I was furious. And puzzled. I scratched my head trying to figure out what had happened. Then I looked at the router. The bit had crept out of the collet. I understand now why some people call them “Crapsman” tools.

I was so disgusted at what had happened and upset because I really couldn’t afford to buy more plywood. So I turned out the shop light and went to bed.

They say you’re most creative when your lying down. As I lay in bed thinking about my dilemma, it occurred to me to try to make a matching plug to repair the hole the router left in the cabinet side. The next evening, that’s what I did. I found a scrap piece of plywood that had similar color and grain to the area surrounding the hole. I cut a plug to size, carefully rounding the end to match the radius of the router bit. After gluing it in, I finished routing the dado, making darned sure I had the collet super tight. After the cabinet was finished, only I knew where it had been repaired.

Fast forward to 2013. I’m making a shadowbox out of cherry plywood. A 1/4″ groove routed in the box sides holds a glass panel. I have an old Porter-Cable 690 single-speed router mounted in my Kreg router table. So I set it up with a 1/4″ spiral upcut bit to rout the groove. I had a “déjà vu” moment as I was routing the second piece. All of a sudden I saw the bit pop through the opposite side and plow a really nice-looking slot. I probably said a few words I shouldn’t have. So I shut off the router, turned out the lights, and went inside.

After a nap and a couple cups of coffee, I was in a better frame of mind. So I went back into the shop to try again. Fortunately, I had some plywood to cut some extra workpieces. And I made darned sure I had the collet super tight.

So the question for me is what causes this to happen? I had been suspecting the that bearings in my P/C 690 are on the verge of failing. It’s been a little noisy lately. Can the additional vibration work the bit out of the collet? A dirty collet could be the culprit, so I made sure it was clean and free of sawdust. And of course, a dull bit doesn’t help matters. Perhaps in both cases, the bits had reached the end of their useful lives.

And that brings me to my next decision: Should I try to install new bearings in my router, pay to have someone rebuild it, or just go buy a Bosch router kit I’ve had my eye on?

4 Traditional Hand Planes and Their Uses

Most everyone that knows me is aware that I have a slight obsession with hand planes. One of the questions I’m often asked is what the different types of planes are used for. In other words, what’s a “jack” plane? Or a “try” plane?

Historic Deerfield in Deerfield, Massachusetts has a short, informative video about the uses of traditional hand planes in the 18th century.

To recap, the Jack plane was used to remove surface roughness left by the saw mill. Jack planes range from 14″ to 16″ long. That would be a No. 5 Stanley plane.

The “Try” plane was a little longer. This enabled it to create a smoother surface than the jack plane. The blade of the jack plane typically has a slight “crown,” or radius which left shallow undulations, or valleys, after planing. The Stanley equivalent would probably be a No. 6 or No. 7.

A Jointer plane was, and is, the longest plane ranging from 22″ to 24″ or longer. Its primary purpose was to straighten the edges of boards in preparation for glue-up and assembly. The idea is that the longer length skims off the high spots and leaves a straight, square edge.

The smoothing plane is usually the last plane to touch the wood. Its shorter length (7″ to 9″) makes it ideal for getting a glass-smooth surface. It’s also used for fine-tuning joinery. No other tool can accurately remove ultra-thin shavings for a perfect fit.

With today’s modern woodworking equipment like surface planers and jointers, the need for Jack and Try planes is somewhat obsolete. However, in my small shop, I don’t own a power jointer. So I use my No. 7 or No. 8 Stanley on a regular basis. But my go-to plane of choice is a No. 3 smoothing plane. It’s the perfect size for most of the projects I work on and it fits my hand perfectly. It touches almost every workpiece before final assembly of the project.