Friday, April 25, 2008

Cutting dowels with a V-block

OK, I've been threatening to do this for a while, but this is my first attempt at posting a woodworking video here on this blog. I've been practicing making videos, it's not at easy as it looks!

Just know this - splashing Watco on the lens of a digital camera isn't a good thing.

I received a question from someone inquiring about cutting dowels. If you've ever attempted this, you know that it's easy to get a lot of chipping and splintering. So here's a quick and easy way to cut dowels.


First you need something to hold the dowel steady. In the video, I use two small blocks of wood with a V-groove cut into them. I realize that there are some people that don't have V-blocks laying around, so as an alternative, you could use a book. A well-worn book that stays open on it's own would work just fine. Even your local phone book would work.

Lay the dowel into the V-groove, overhanging it the dimension of the piece you want to create. So if you want a 3" dowel, overhang it by 3 inches.

Then, using a fine toothed handsaw, hold it on the dowel and rotate the dowel. You want to score the wood fibers all the way around the dowel, to reduce the chance for chipping and splintering. You'll want to score it fairly deeply, not just on the very surface.

Once it's scored, you can saw through it. A fine tooth saw is best here, not an old, rusty saw left over from World War II. The better the saw, the nicer the cut.

Hope this helps! Any other suggestions for the next video?

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A goof proof finish - exactly what I need for my work!

I'm lucky that someone that I met early in my woodworking studies told me about Watco Danish Oil. It was roughly 1978, and I was in the woodshop of Ohio University, taking a class with sculptor Mike Cunningham. His specialty was bronze casting, but while we worked together, he was teaching advanced wood techniques. When it came time to apply a finish on something I'd built, he suggested using Watco and named off a few things about it that seemed useful.

The first was that Watco didn't need a completely dust free environment to be applied. Since the woodshop where I worked was about as dusty and dirty as any place I'd ever used, this was a huge advantage. Another very nice feature of Watco was that it was quite forgiving to the average woodworker. If you missed sanding a spot on your wood, or overlooked a smear of glue on your piece - not to worry. These problems were easily solved while applying Watco. Every woodworker I know has missed a drip of glue from time to time, or as some woodbutchers like to say - "glue happens."

And finally, another reason that Watco was quite interesting was that it allowed woodworkers to do something that previously took a couple of additional steps, and required some additional finishing supplies. See, if you wet sand Watco into your wood, you create a slurry, or fine paste, of oil and sawdust. Should there be a small worm hole, or a joint in your piece that is less that tight, this slurry acts as a wood filler of sorts. Sweet.

A finish that actually makes finishing easier? I'll take it.

Plus - wet sanding the oil into the wood gives you an ultra smooth feel and sheen to the wood that makes most customers swoon when they touch your work. It's like buttah!

In short, you've got a product that makes you a better woodworker. If you've missed a small area while you were sanding, you can touch it up. Glue line? No problemo, a quick scrape with a sharp chisel and it's gone. Worm holes? Filled!

So back in that dusty, dirty woodshop in the late 70's, I started using Watco Danish Oil, and I've never stopped. In fact, it's the only wood finish I use, and if my customers request something different, I try to either show them the merits of Watco, or ask them to possibly find someone else to finish their piece that I've built. Of course, I discount my price accordingly, so if someone it really set on a lacquer finish, they can get it. Elsewhere.

Besides being a really "goof proof" finish, Watco also allows you to do a few things at once, most of all - staining your wood at the same time as protecting it. See, Watco comes in colors, or tints. The clear version of Watco is called Natural, and it obviously doesn't tint the wood much. But some of their other colors, especially the Walnut colors (Medium Walnut, Dark Walnut and Black Walnut) all darken your wood considerably. So instead of first applying a separate stain to color your wood, and then applying a clear top coat, you can do both steps at the same time using a tinted Watco product. Personally, I don't like stain. If I want something a darker color, my tendency is to simply use a darker wood. Or if I'm looking for a more reddish wood, I'll use a Cherry or Mahogany. For this reason, my Watco product of choice is the Natural version, which allows the woods natural colors to shine through.

Now that's not to say I never stain anything. I recently make a piece and there was no way to avoid a streak of sapwood in a gorgeous board. I simply wiped on some tinted Watco on the sapwood area, thus blending it in with the rest of the piece. In this case, it was a Walnut chest, so I used both Natural Watco for most of the chest, and small amounts of Dark Walnut to stain the sapwood to match.

In the next few weeks, I'm going to attempt to make a short video on Watco application. I'll show you how I apply it, how much wet sanding I do, how long I leave it on the wood, and I'll also give some important information about disposing of your oil soaked rags. Back in 1988, my house (under construction) nearly burnt to the ground because some of the workers didn't dispose of the rags properly when applyong Watco to my wood floors. I'll save that story for another time... until then, remember - those rags can spontaneously combust, so dispose of them properly.