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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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Leather and wood

Here’s a photo of some leather work I did on the portable altar. The leather is a Lattigo leather, very thick, so I had to compress the leather for the post to have enough clearance to set the snaps. The bottom is fixed, I used Loktite to prevent the screw from coming loose during use.

 I added a couple of crosses and rounded the corners. This is VERY easy to do after I figured out how to set the snaps.

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Different raking lights show different defects

One very important tool in my shop is my LED flashlight. It’s most important use is for finishing. It has two light levels and a focusing ring that allows me to focus the beam from wide too very narrow.

I wished photos could be shown here, but the only way to really see what a raking light can do for you is to try it.

The low beam wide angle is great for showing raised grain (even after raising the grain with water and sanding) and dips in the surface from over sanding. Then I wipe on mineral spirits and use a focused high beam to see areas that need to be filled or further sanded. Everything from machine marks to snipe, as well as gaps in edge banding, will jump out at you when using a raking light. I keep a pencil handy during this process, circling or marking the areas that need further sanding or filling.

The use of a raking light is essential in getting the best finish possible, and in the end, being satisfied with your project.

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Mistakes can lead to better design

Mistakes happen on every project. They can be disheartening on occasion where you can’t recover, but I look at them as opportunities for better design. Here’s an example.

I discovered an unforeseen problem while working on a prototype portable altar. The top portion tilts up allowing you to open the wings on the altar below, but I didn’t have the clearance. Big mistake!

The solution was to move the hinge, and as a result it fixed the main problem, as well as three other minor issues.

1. I was now able to open the wings.
2. It fixed the issue of the top assembly sticking out over the front (another miscalculation).
3. It allowed me to move the stop blocks to the back instead of on top, giving the altar a much cleaner look.
4. Using a piano hinge in the back allowed me to get rid of the ugly hinges that were showing on the top.

This is the learning curve that comes with building a prototype. You make mistakes and learn from them.

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Here’s the long and the short of it, screws that is

On a recent project I worked with a lot of 1/2″ material. Most hardware is intended for 3/4″ stock. So the obvious problem is that most of the screws supplied were too long. Now you can buy shorter 1/2″ screws, but when you mortise your hinges, 1/2″ screws are still too long.

Mortised butler hinge
Mortised butler hinge

So what do you do? You cut down the screws (I know what you’re saying, but that’s another post!) Here’s how I did it after trying to clamp the screws in a couple of different vices to no avail.

All you need is a scrap piece of hardwood, I used red oak. Drill a hole in the wood that’s equal to the shank size of the screw, screw in the screw like this and clamp the wood in a vise:

Screw into hardwood and clamped in a vise.
Screw into hardwood and clamped in a vise.

Then cut off the length with a fine hacksaw blade.

Cut with a fine tooted hacksaw.
Cut with a fine tooted hacksaw.

Then file the point with a file to get rid of any burrs that WILL wallow out the hole. Be sure you file it!

File to a point.
File to a point.

I suggest you pre-drill the holes in your project, and establish the threads before installing the cut screws.  While it’s a bit meticulous, especially when you need a lot of short screws, this method works great!

Long screws (left), cut screws (right).
Long screws (left), cut screws (right).
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Push piece, not the miter gauge

When I have to cut a long board on my table saw, I’ve had difficulty in the past pushing it through the cut without it twisting a couple of degrees one way or the other as it travels. It doesn’t matter if I’m using a miter gauge or my sled. This usually happens when I’m feeding a large piece through and I push either on the sled or the miter gauge, and that’s the problem. The trick is to push on the piece of wood itself not on the miter gauge. Another really big help is to wax your table saw top with car wax. That helps a lot and it also prevents rust.

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Protecting inlay from stain

I remember a while back about how I was puzzled on how period furniture had parts of the inlay that were NOT stained dark, while the rest of the inlay and the furniture itself appeared to have a dark stain. How was that done?

After some investigation on the internet and asking around, the answer was very simple. You don’t use a dark stain at all, but you use darker woods like walnut or mahogany and put a clear finish on it. Duh!

During the process of figuring that out, maybe a few months, I actually did a couple of pieces where I had to figure out the best way to protect the white parts of an inlay (holly, maple, whatever) after they were installed. After all, staining the piece before installing the inlay had a whole different set of problems, and I didn’t want to even go there.

To make a long story short, it can be done, and quite successfully so. The steps are to apply a couple of wash coats of  1.5# dewaxed shellac on the inlay before installation. The cans of Zinnser SealCoat are 2# cut, so just add some denatured alcohol to get it to 1.5#. You could use it full strength though, but that’s what I had laying around at the time.

Install the inlay, and tape it off with Frog tape cut in thin strips. I also tried automotive detail tape that you can buy at most any auto parts store. Whatever you use get a good seal using the edge of your fingernail.

Now apply the stain, let it dry, and carefully peel off the tape. It usually turns out very well. That is what I did on the sacristy table pictured on this site. Not bad at all.

The downside is the shellac does add color to the wood, so if you want the holly inlay to be really white, scrap this idea, and do it correctly, i.e. use a dark wood and forget the dark stain.

UPDATE: I attended a finishing class by Peter Gedry’s ( and he showed us a trick (much more of a skill), where he used a small brush and painted on the stain FREEHAND around the inlay. Not for the timid, but it works!

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Flush trim band saw jig

Ever have to trim 1/16″ or 1/8″ from end grain but the piece won’t fit your shooting board, and the table saw is out of the question?

I had this problem on the morning bar doors below where I had to flush trim the ends of the book matched ash (unstained in the photo).

So I came up with a great way to do it, and it was soooo easy.

First, I got a squared block of hardwood. Brought my band saw fence as close to the blade without touching it, and cut a matching kerf halfway up the side of the jig. Then I reversed it and clamped it to my band saw fence with the back of the blade resting against the back of the kerf. That’s all there is to it. I was ready to go!

Then I just rested the edge of the door against the outfeed end of the jig as shown in the photo. I had to make multiple passes, each pass removing a kerf’s width of material until the full edge of the door rode flush against the outfeed end of the jig. I removed the band saw marks with sandpaper.

Easy peasy!

Here’s a short video of one pass.