Sunday, February 23, 2014

My favorite push-stick - and how to make one

It's easy to forget that some people don't know how to make a push stick. I guess I take that for granted, I've made hundreds in my lifetime. Probably thousands, now that I think about it.  

When I see plastic push sticks for sale in woodworking catalogs, I want to scream. Who would buy one of those? I just don't get it, they're a throwaway item – use it a few times, and after it gets abused by a saw blade - you throw it away. Why would someone pay for that?

Like many things in life - I just can't make any sense of this.

There are usually a half-dozenof push sticks hanging on the pegboard in the woodshop, but the other day, I noticed that there was only one hanging there - and it was already chewed up. From the look of this one, someone must have run it into the cutterhead on the jointer. 


I'm glad I didn't see that! 

There are all sorts of push stick designs out there, but most of them don't support your wood very well. Or some aren't ergonomically pleasing to the hand. I want to hold the stick low, but well out-of-the-way of the blade. And I want support over the piece of wood that I'm cutting.  After years of tweaking my design, I came up with one that is effective, comfortable, simple to make, and uses cheap scrap material. 

Generally, I use half-inch Baltic Birch plywood, which I usually have laying around the shop. This design needs a piece about 10-12 inches long, and maybe 5-6 wide.  In this case, I had a couple of pieces about 12 inches square. Each piece gave me four push sticks - if I'm lucky -  a month's supply at my school. 

It's easy to set the taper jig and cut some triangles. 

The angle doesn't even matter that much, I just want to make sure my taper jig isn't going to hit the blade.

Here I'm set up to make the cut, 

and in seconds - 

I have four pieces. 

Or in this case, eight pieces, since I had two pieces of scrap. 

Since most of the material that I work with is about a half an inch thick or thicker, I want to cut the notch on the end of my push stick slightly less than that, maybe 3/8".

 Gang all the pieces together, and with the blade lowered, start cutting the notch. 

For reasons you'll see you a bit - I cut the notch about 2 inches wide. 

Now I'm not recommending that you do it this way, but this is how I do it. Because of the curve of the blade, you have to raise the blade up higher than you would for a normal cut. You want the leading edge of that blade to be coming down in a more vertical position, which is only achieved by having the blade raised higher than normal.  

I set the fence so that it's going to cut flush into that notch, and I'm only running the wood through there until I hit the slot that I cut. You can only do this on a table saw that has a riving knife. 

Should I say that again?

You can only do this on a table saw that has a riving knife.

The riving knife will keep the wood away from the blade.  Without one - there's a good chance you're going to be eating a push stick. Yes, it can come back and smack you in the mouth!

Also, make sure no one is standing behind you when you're doing this! That little off-cut of wood can get trapped between the fence and the blade, and shoot out of the back of the saw. 

I mean it! Making these push sticks can be a little dangerous, so use your head! And don't write to me, telling me how dangerous this is! I'll bet I've made 5000 of these without any problem. (Knock on wood.)

So far, these push things have taken about three minutes to make. All that's left is a little detail work, like shaping, so that they feel better in my hand. 

Since these hang on the pegboard behind the saw, I stack them up and drill a hole for hanging.

I  traced a curve onto the back corner, using whatever I could find. If I'm feeling really fancy - I'll grab a compass and do it. I wasn't feeling that fancy today.

Honestly, you could probably do this without tracing the curve, but my OCD likes to keep them somewhat uniform. 

After they're cut, I smooth them on the sander. I think I'm at about five minutes now. 

And just like that - boom!

I have eight new push sticks in the shop. In about two-three weeks, I'll need to make more.

It seems like lately - I've been spending more time working on the shop, rather than building furniture. But I just ordered some wood from the lumberyard that's due in next week, and hopefully I'll get back to building soon. 

Just another day in the shop! 

Oh - by the way - we had a visitor at the shop today. As Ann was working on the lathe, 

She reached for this roll of paper towels, to apply some wax on a piece. Imagine her surprise when she peered into the center of the roll and saw this guest: 

yup, that's a black widow! 

We like shop visitors, but not usually ones with eight legs!

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