Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Confessions of a tool junkie

Back when I taught woodworking classes at my local college, I always made it a point to give handouts during each class.

See, I've taken adult ed classes before, and the only ones I've ever really benefited from were the ones that included handouts. The paperwork was invaluable for future use, and frankly, the classes I've taken that didn't include hand outs... well, I barely remember anything about those classes.
I knew when I started teaching, I would become the hand out queen.

Most of the time, my handouts were focused on whatever I was teaching during that particular class. Router handouts were always popular, as was my recommended reading list.

Even on days when I didn't have anything pertinent to share, I'd simply print up a favorite recipe or maybe a woodworking cartoon.
But one of my favorite handouts was the "Ten tools I can't live without" sheet, which featured obscure but entirely useful tools that I've come to rely upon in my studio. The list has changed slightly over the years, some tools have dropped off, and I've added some new things. But there are a few essential tools that I want to discuss today.

I'd like to preface this by saying that I have no financial stake in recommending any of these tools. I wish I did! Most of the tools come from Lee Valley, a Canadian company that manufactures it's own line of tools under the name Veritas. Their tools are extremely well designed and made. As a tool junkie, I get my fix with them a couple of times a year. Visa must love me.

Today in my studio, I was working on a chest/bench.

It's a popular piece that appears to be a simple blanket chest, but the real charm of it is that it's sized to fit hanging file rails, so that this chest can double as a filing cabinet.

The bottom is made of solid aromatic Cedar, so the chest can also be used for fabric storage, like linens, sweaters, towels, or bedding. But the most common use for this chest is as a filing cabinet bench.

Over the years, this bench has been one of the most popular pieces that I build. Versions of it are scattered throughout the country, and from time to time, I hear from the people who have purchased them, still professing their love for them. I've tried to keep this piece fresh, by varying the style, materials, and features that I offer. In fact, some of my recent versions include tiled front panels, thus introducing color and texture into the mix. While working on a bench today, it dawned on me that this was a perfect time to shoot some images of the building process.

I couldn't do without my box of set up
blocks. The particular set I own is contained in a simple box, and holds 6 different "blocks" of metal, all sizes to nearly perfect dimensions.

Instead of using a tape measure, which can be inaccurate at times, I can use these blocks for marking things, like screw locations, or adjusting a fence on any given tool. The largest block is a 1-2-3 block, which measures 1" x 2" x 3," perfect for measuring and marking.

The other smaller pieces are all useful dimensions -- everything from 3/4" down to 1/16" - used in combination, you can come up with just about any dimension you need. While using the setup blocks for locating where I'm going to drill some screw holes, there are many times I need to transfer a dimension around a corner. Yes, a simple square might work, but I've gotten fairly dependent on using a saddle square.

This ingenious device is simple, yet dead-on accurate. Here, I'm using it to transfer the location of the center of the side board to the face of my bench panel.

Speaking of accurate locations, I'd like to talk about measuring.

I've gotten accustomed to using a
cabinetmakers tape specifically made for a right hander like me. My buddy, Dave, bought me one of these tapes a few years ago, and since then, I've bought a few more, placing them at various locations around my shop. See, the tapes you buy in your local hardware store read left to right, which means that if you're right handed, you're reading the numbers upside down. It's hard enough to be accurate in the first place!

I'd like to share a tip for measuring and marking, one that virtually eliminates errors when trying to locate the center of a board. It's a simple, effective way of finding the center, without doing a lot of math. This method is pretty goof proof, which is what I need from time to time.
First, measure the piece of wood on which you want to find the center. In this case, the board is 13" and some odd fraction.

It doesn't matter, you just need a rough dimension. I always round up to the next whole number, in this case, it's 14" To find the center, measure 7" from the right edge of the board, as shown below.

Then measure 7" from the left edge of the board.

In between those two lines is the center.

In this case, the lines are only about a half inch apart. It's much easier to look at a half inch space and mark the center, than to measure and do the math to find the center.
Finally, once I've located the center and marked the location for the screw, the next step is to predrill the screw hole.

Wherever I install a screw, I fill the hole with a solid plug of similar wood, so that the screw virtually disappears. There is a great device for drilling screw holes, it's called a tapered countersink bit, and my favorite one is made by Fuller Tools.

box set includes a variety of sizes, lengths and even comes with some plug cutters, so that you can cut some wooden plugs to fill the holes.

A couple of things about cutting solid wood plugs for filling screw holes - it's best to save a piece of wood from whatever you're building, so that the wood color matches perfectly. Sometimes, I'll even label the scrap wood, so that I know where it's mate is located in the piece. And forget about cutting a bunch of short plugs; they're too hard to hold when they're short.

I use
tenon cutters to cut plugs, which allows me to cut "tubes" of wood up to 3" long. Take a short scrap of wood, roughly a 1 x 2, and turn it on edge. Drill into the edge, so that you're cutting 2" long plugs. Holding a 2" plug is much easier to hold than short plugs, and one long piece can often yield a half dozen plugs or more. I apply a little glue on the plug, tap it in, and chisel it off just a hair above flush. Apply a little more glue and do it again to the next hole.

As Napoleon Dynamite would say....sweet.


Rodney said...

That 'find the centre of a board' trick is brilliant! And timely: I used it last night on a 10' board that was, well... not exactly 10'

thanks! :-)

Lacey said...

Yea, love the center of the board trick. But I never even heard of a saddle square. Very cool.

My favorite tool that I bought recently is a Vega fence for my table saw. OMG. I had no idea that such precision existed. Love it.