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Extreme Mailbox Renovation

I have to admit that I went a bit overboard on this one. My original intention was to simply fix a loose door on my mailbox, and this is the result. All cedar with handcut and fitted shingles, and front porch with “glass” windows.

I wanted to see how the finish would hold up so these photos are after it’s been in use about 2 years. The roof was recoated one time. I used exterior epiphames and am very pleased with how well it has aged and held up.

Better yet, nobody has stolen it!

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I was using an unnamed HVLP sprayer to finish up a bookcase, and noticed a lot of debris was in the finish. There was one place where I had good light and, looking closely, could actually see debris being deposited WITH the finish! It turns out the air filter under the HVL P was not only very dirty, but was pulling in dirt from the floor. Even after cleaning the filter and sweeping the floor under the unit, it was still depositing junk with the finish.

The filter set up was obviously very cheaply designed. There was no sealing around it and the filter was thin and very porous.

I can see me buying a better HVLP system in the future, and one of the things I will check for is the air intake and filtration.

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Chapel stool

Here is a small stepping stool for use in the chapel. I was shown some samples and given some dimensions. I got to work, did a quick hand sketch, and drew it up in Sketchup. Here’s what I ended up with after seeing a photo up on Fine Woodworking.


Finished stool, about 14″ x 10″ x 5″, made from red oak.
Defect was filled with EnviroTex Lite epoxy.
Aprons were dominoed into the legs.
Corner detail.
Squared legs were marked up with French curves and cut out on my band saw. Notice the radiating grain on the knee.
Bottom of each leg was chamfered.
Really nice proportions, I think.

I finished with General Finishes brown mahogany dye stain, shellac, and High Performance Gloss topcoats. Finish has nice depth. 

Total shop time about 8-10 hours. 

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Skip plane long boards for maximum yield

I bought some 4/4 10′ long rough sawn Mahogany the other day.  Because I wanted to keep as much of the boards thickness as possible, and knowing how that is difficult to do on a 10′ board using the jointer, I skip planed to get a sense of where the grain was so I could cut them too rough length. 

The shorter boards were much easier to joint, and because there was much less cupping and twist to deal with in the shorter board, there was much less waste. This resulted in getting the maximum thickness possible from the 4/4 stock. 

 Rough sawn mahogany
Rough sawn mahogany
Skip planed mahogany
Skip planed mahogany
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Router bits, 1/4″ or 1/2″ shanks?

A  few years ago when I was really getting serious about woodworking and building out my shop, I was mystified about router bits. Not only do they come in many different profiles, lengths, and radiuses, but most were available in 1/4″ and 1/2″ shank diameters.

After using routers and just recently completing a large router project for a church display, I’ve come to the realization that my earlier predisposition to 1/2″ shank bits was totally unfounded.

1/4″ shank bits do not vibrate, and cut just as well as half inch bits. Plus the fact that my compact router, which only has a 1/4″ capability can be used with all these bits.

1/2″ shank bits do have their place. Primarily in routing large dimension boards and production work. But for my shop, which is not a full-time endeavor, that is not a consideration.

Don’t get me wrong, I do have a number of 1/2″ shank bits which I bought early on. I do not regret those purchases because my main router, a Porter Cable 890 and my router table both have 1/2″ shank capability. Plus, some profiles are only available with 1/2″ shanks.

Another advantage of standardizing on a single shank dimension, is that you often are cutting several profiles with the same router and you are constantly switching bits, as in the project below. Changing collets each time is a real pain, and I refuse to do that.

image Column has 3 different profiles cut with 3 different bits.

Now I see why many woodworkers have multiple routers, which allows you to have a router available for each set up. I plan to do that.

In conclusion, now when I go looking for a router bit I look for 1/4″ shank bits first, and 1/2″ shank bits second. Opposite of what I used to do.

I was wrong, and happy about it.

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Jessem Clear-Cut TS Stock Guides

This was a question mark when I bought it over at Woodcraft. I had a large sheet goods job coming up and I thought it would be a help in keeping the ply against the fence. The instructions are good but in many places they juxtapose front and back in the instructions and the diagrams contradict each other. Thankfully it is dead simple to install and it makes no difference in which direction the guide holes face, front or back. Here’s a few pics of the install.   The initial test was very positive and it delivered as promised. I’ve now used it for several months and it has become part of my routine for ripping long stock, and cutting plywood. The one way needle bearings have zero slop. On a couple of occasions the ply did come off the fence, binding the blade enough to trip the breaker, but the needle bearings held the ply in place. I’ve never tripped the breaker before on my 3hp SawStop. Its very easy to setup and use. Just lay the piece you’re about to cut next to the guide. Loosen the big knurled knob and set the flat bottom on the board. Tighten the knob and your done. It accommodates any width board or ply. Glad I discovered this, and will consider Jess-Ems other work holding tools. Positives: Very well engineered and made from quality aluminum and steel, and very well finished. Very easy to install, adjust, and use. One way needle bearings have zero play. Angled nylon rollers pull material to fence quickly without slippage. Increases safety of cutting plywood sheets exponentially, especially when doing so by yourself. An added bonus is that you can remove it and use it on a router table, but I don’t ever see me doing that. Negatives: This is a very well thought out tool, so there are not many. It’s not good for narrow cuts less than a few inches. I’ve now lost the top of fence storage that I had before. You have to drill holes in your fence to install it. When wheels are in the retracted position on top of the fence, they are too close to the knurled knob making it more difficult to easily grab and loosen. Instructions can be confusing. The negatives are REALLY nitpicking. I’d buy this again in a heartbeat.

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Noden Adjust-A-Bench

This is my almost ultimate assembly table. It's a Noden Adjust-A-Bench. I could NOT live without this. Why? Because it is BIG, 4' x 8' with plenty of room for everything you need and within arms reach. It's built from 2 sheets of 3/4This is my almost ultimate assembly table. It adjusts height wise from below my waist to chest height (I’m 5’11”) via a Noden Adjust-A-Bench mechanism. I could NOT live without this. Why? Because not only is it height adjustable, it’s a BIG, 4′ x 8′ with plenty of room for everything you need and within arms reach. It’s built from 2 sheets of 3/4″ ply screwed to a 2×6 frame, and it is nearly dead flat. The Noden Adjust-A-Bench legs are the better part of $500 with shipping and is built from VERY heavy gauge steel, and it’s worth every penny. If you’re worrying about wobble, there is very little, especially at the lower or mid height settings (there are about 12 height settings). You can plane on it, pound on it, put heavy lumber on it, cover it with builder’s paper and use it for finishing, etc. I use it a LOT for assembly. I built my own stretchers and added levelers and casters to save some money, but you can buy them from Noden if you like. Here’s some more photos:

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Portable Altar for Father Mike

This is a recently completed portable altar. It was a total prototype after discussions with Father Mike on what he wanted. Probably have 80 hours into it total, maybe more. A lot of thought and trial and error went into how the 4 wings would fold up and how the 2 lower wings would be supported. I think it turned out pretty well. As you can see it won first place in the Craftsman’s class of the Woodworker’s Guild of Georgia showing, held during the Woodworking Show in Norcross, GA. early March 2015.

Portable altar for Father Mike
Portable altar for Father Mike

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Sjöbergs Traditional Holdfast

Here’s my brand new holdfasts for my Sjöberg workbench with 1″ dog holes. It’s almost impossible to find any holdfasts that work, and I didn’t want to drill 3/4″ holes, nor convert the 1″ holes  to 3/4″ (yes, I was actually considering that). Here’s a short video with all the info…

Available from…

Black Bear Forge

P.O. Box 4

Beulah, CO  81023

John Switzer – Blacksmith  303-589-1767


Black Bear Forge

P.O. Box 4

Beulah, CO  81023

John Switzer – Blacksmith


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Pinnacle 151 1/2 Radius Spokeshave

Kunz #53 spokeshave

I had an old Kunz spokeshave that I recently tried to tuneup. I soon realized it was useless because there were no adjustment screws for the blade, and the blade was very thin. I could get a new blade but there would still be no easy adjustment without adjustment screws. Sorry, to the trash!

So I decided to take a look at what they had over at Woodcraft. After looking at the Wood River, Kunz, and Pinnacle spokeshaves, I decided on the Pinnacle #151 1/2 Radius spokeshave. It’s made of brushed 304 stainless steel, weighs just over 1 pound, and has all the adjustments that I felt I needed. It is, in my opinion, a thing of beauty…

Pinnacle spokeshave bottom
Pinnacle spokeshave top

While there, I went on their computer to the Lee Valley website to check out the Veritas spokeshaves. The only difference I could see is the Veritas ships with 2 shims that are placed between the blade and bed to adjust the size of the mouth. While they were about $10 less than the Pinnacle, about $94, I didn’t see a significant benefit of an adjustable mouth since I needed the spokeshave primarily for roughing out inside curves.

I later learned that Lie-Nielson spokeshaves have a cast bronze body, no shims, and no adjustment screws. Nothing wrong with that but I wanted adjustments screws. I don’t see Lie-Nielson bench planes without an adjustment screw, their spokeshaves should have them too.

After talking with some of the staff at Woodcraft, I felt the decision to get the Pinnacle made sense for me. But the Veritas did have pretty bubinga handles. 🙂 It also had an option for PM-V11 blades. 🙁

I highly recommend testing tools, if possible, before you decide to purchase them. Most tools are precision instruments, but they’re made by machines that are invariably set up and run by men, and to keep costs down and profits up, the quality control can be lacking. At least that’s what I’ve found in my tool buying adventures.

In the case of this Pinnacle spokeshave, Woodcraft had 3 in stock. The one on demo worked perfectly, and I assumed the new ones on the shelf would follow suit. Wrong! I took one, assembled it, and found out that neither of the adjustment screws would freewheel when the blade was locked down, something that I felt was incredibly important when adjusting the blade.

Here’s why, if you don’t know. With the blade locked down, you should be able to spin the adjustment screws forward or backward maybe a half turn until they stop, then you loosen the cap iron, and make the adjustment. If you’re making a fine blade adjustment that is the ONLY way to do it, otherwise you have no idea where the adjustment screw is in relation to it engaging the blade.

So I tested the second one, and only one of the adjustment screws freewheeled. So I tried the third one and both of those adjustment screws would not spin, just like the first one. Apparently either the boss on the adjustment screws were machined too large, or the body was tapped incorrectly. I suspect the jig they used to hold the body to tap the holes was not setup precisely, causing the threads to be off center. See, it’s quality control!

Since the demo Pinnacle spokeshave worked perfectly, meaning both adjustment screws freewheeled when the cap iron was tightened, I bought that one. No demo discount, though I did ask, but the demo did not have a scratch on it.

Pinnacle is owned by Woodcraft and is their upscale house brand. I called Woodcraft tech support and mentioned the issue and they were appreciative, saying they don’t find out about these problems until someone like me reports them. By the way, the body was cast and machined in China, the blade was manufactured in Canada.

When I got home I flattened the back, took about 45 minutes (A2 steel is tough), and put a nice edge on it with a 2 degree microbevel to bring it to 47 degrees. The A2 steel should hold an edge well, and it looks really nice hanging next to my Veritas router plane and cabinet scraper. Can’t win ’em all Lee Valley!

Veritas large router plane, cabinet scraper, and Pinnacle spokeshave.
Veritas large router plane, cabinet scraper, and Pinnacle spokeshave.