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Woodwork Tools Blog
I recently wrote a quick article on the doweling jig, which I was using at the time to join some framing lumber for a workbench I have started working on. In the article I mentioned that one of the limitations of the jig that I own was the size of the stock that would fit in the jaws of the clamp. Unfortunately, it was just after writing that article that I encountered that very limitation.
The timber that I am working with for the bench top is good old 4 by 2 (100mm x 50mm) as I wanted a good solid top to work on. I didn’t have any problems joining the first 3 pieces, as I was joining edge to edge, so the clamp only had to span about 2 inches (50mm). The final dowel joint I need to make on this part of the bench top joins the edge of piece to the face of the second piece. This means that the clamp needs to span the full 4 inch (100mm) width of the timber. Now, with a maximum jaw span of about 3inches (75mm), this is just not going to happen.
So what are my options here? I could go and buy a new doweling jig that doesn’t have the same limitation as the one that I already own, or I could look to improvise by making a simple jig that will be sufficient to get the job done.
As you would have guessed from the title, I am going to go for option 2, and build my own doweling jig that will meet the needs I have here. Now, whilst the jig is not going to be of the same quality and won’t have the longevity as an off-the-shelf commercial jig, it should still be reasonably accurate, and certainly will last long enough for me to achieve what I am looking to do.I think most woodworkers encounter such a variety of different issues that they pretty much all become improvisation experts, so making a simple jig like this is not going to stretch too many of you.
The basic design of the jig I will make need a couple of pieces of scrap timber which I will join together at 90 degrees to form an L-shape. Borrowing my existing commercial jig, I will include a small V cut in one piece so that I can line up the mark for where the dowel is to be placed. A hole drilled in the other side will act as a guide for the drill.
Back to the workshop to get this one knocked up. I’ll post some photos of the jig and process for making it when it is complete.
Once a common sight in woodworking workshops, the doweling jig is now less commonly seen, as many woodworkers have been quick to adopt the biscuit jointer as their preferred method of joining boards together. Despite this, dowel joints are still an acceptable, strong method of joining boards together. I have owned a doweling jig for many years now, and although it is one of the cheaper models that are available, it still gets put to work and is capable of creating strong and accurate joints.
The doweling jig I use is shown below. Shown on the right is the clamp that is attached to the stock to be joined. The components on the left are the drill guides, allowing for different size drill bits (and therefore dowels) to be used, and there is also a depth stop that can be attached to the drill bit.
The first step in using a doweling jig of this type is to line up the boards to be joined as they will be when the join is complete. Hold them in position, and then mark both boards where they touch at the points where you intend to place the dowel joints. Make sure you mark both boards, and that the boards don’t move in between marking the different dowel locations.
Next set up your dowel jig.
Select the correct size drill guide for the dowel you are using, and clamp it into the jig using the wing screw. At the same time, you will want to adjust the position of the drill guide so that the drill will enter the timber in the middle of the width of the boards to be joined. How accurate you need to be in lining this up with the center will depend on the stock you are joining. In the images, I am joining some old framing lumber, which is almost 2 inches thick, so I wasn’t too concerned about how accurately it lined up with the center of the board. On thinner stock, you will need to take more care with this. Once positioned, tighten the wing nut, and MAKE SURE IT DOESN’T MOVE FROM NOW ON! If the location of the drill guide moves once you have already started drilling, this will cause you later holes to be out of alignment. There is an easy fix for this – just go back to an earlier hole, put your drill bit in the hole, and then re-locate the drill guide based on the position of the drill – it is still easier to make sure it doesn’t move though!
Once the dowel jig is set up, the next step is to locate it on the board. Working with the clamp on the reverse side of the timber (ie not the face side), this is a simple matter of lining up the pencil mark that was scribed earlier in the “V” on the doweling jig. Once it is lined up, tighten the clamp to ensure that the jig doesn’t move while you’re working.
From here, it is simple a matter of drilling the holes. Generally I aim to have about half of the dowel in each piece of timber being joined, but if joining stock of different sizes in a 90 Degree box joint, this is not always practical. Being an old fashioned style woodworker (and also not wanting to wake any sleeping children) tend to like using a brace and bit to drill the holes. Here I am using a depth stop on the drill bit to ensure that the holes are the same depth.
Repeat the above process of lining up and drilling for each of the locations that you marked on the first piece of timber. The result will be a set of neat holes, consistently placed the same distance from the face edge.
Once you have completed the first board to be joined, you will then have to repeat the process on the second board, lining up the “V” with the pencil marks, and drilling. The only trick here is to ensure that you are still working from the face edge of the timber. This isn’t too hard to remember, as the pencil lines should only be on the face edge, but it is always worth mentioning things that shouldn’t have to be mentioned!
Some tips on getting the best joints when using a doweling jig:
- Make sure you are working with timber that is well jointed (ie has 2 square faces you can work from)
- if you don’t have fluted (ribbed) dowel, using a handsaw, make a small cut 1-2mm deep down the side of your dowel along the length of it. This will allow any excess glue to escape, and will prevent any joints coming apart due to built up pressure from glue compressed in the clamping process
- as with most woodworking, clearly mark your face sides, and always work from these sides to ensure that the dowel joints line up correctly
- measure twice (or three times) and drill once, also, do a dry run of assembling your joint prior to adding the glue – just make sure you can get them apart again without damage!
All in all, the dowel joint is a simple, yet strong and effective method of joining timber together. A doweling jig makes the process a lot easier, as you can be confident that you will get accurately positioned holes that will line up when you go to assemble the joint. The simple doweling jig I have shown here is quite effective for joining boards. Similar ones can be found on Amazon such as the self centering “Premium Doweling Jig” (pic below – click to view on Amazon):
The downside of this jig and jigs like it is that you are limited in the size of the timber that it can be used on. If you want to create a 90 degree joint eg a table leg to a table top, it really isn’t possible with jigs of this type. You can use a set of dowel center transfer plugs to transfer the location of the holes you have drilled in one piece, but you really lose accuracy when you do this, which leads to poorer quality joints.
If (and when 🙂 ) I am buying a doweling jig again, then I will go for something more like the “Joint Genie” (see pic below – click to view on Amazon)
Or the “Dowelmax” precision jointing system (pic below – click to view on Amazon):
Whilst these are more expensive, they will certainly pay itself off in terms of quality of finish and flexibility! As with most tools, I find paying more up front may be more painful initially, but over time it is really worth it.
Enjoy your woodwork tools!
A project manager I worked with at one stage used to have “PPPPP” written at the top of each page of her project plan. I queried her on what it meant one day, and she just looked at me and said “Proper Planning Prevents P*ss Poor Peformance”. I am reminded of that often when I make a mistake in my workshop (and yes, it happens more often that it should). The number of times that I have been reminded of that is one of the reasons that I consider a great set of woodworking plans to be a fundamental woodwork tool (albeit one that is often overlooked by beginning and experienced woodworkers alike)!
If you asked a thousand woodworkers about their tools, I would bet there would be very few of them that would mention a set of plans amongst their most important, yet in my experience, a good set of woodworking plans can be the difference between a successful project, and some kindling for the fire!
It is my opinion that the importance of woodwork plans can be overstated. Whilst plans may seem like an unnecessary added cost for a project, in general you will find that this is far from the case, and that they can actually save you money, not to mention plenty of time.
So, some questions for you:
- Have you ever found yourself half way through a project, and then realized you don’t have the enough timber left to complete it (or possibly worse, that you have paid good money for more timber than you need)?
- Have you found yourself having to re-make components of your job as a result of putting a cut in the wrong location, or on the wrong side?
- Have you ever gone to assemble your project, only to establish that one of the pieces you have cut is the wrong size?
- Have you ever found yourself making multiple trips to your local store to get a few things that you didn’t realize you would need?
If you answered “Yes” to any (or all) of the above, then you probably need to consider working from some good quality woodworking plans, or at least start planning your work a little more carefully.
Having a good set of plans does not necessarily mean that you need to go out and buy them. There are a large number of free plans (of varying quality) available on the web, or in books and magazines. Your local library can be a great resource for some of these, and is well worth checking out.
Many woodworkers are also making use of Google Sketchup or other similar software design tools to make their own plans. I have had a bit of a play with Sketchup, but so far I haven’t invested the time necessary to make myself proficient at using it – mainly because I prefer to put that time into actually getting into my workshop!
When looking to purchase plans, there are a number of things that you MUST look out for:
- good quality photos/drawings of the finished product (always great to know what you’re working towards)
- a cutting list that includes all components
- clear, easy to follow instructions
- good diagrams, photos (or videos) that guide you through any particularly difficult or confusing steps
- a full list of tools that are required for the successful completion of the project (nothing worse than getting half way through, then realizing you are expected to own a $500 woodwork tool in order to complete it successfully!)
If you are looking to buy plans, one of the best resources I have found on the web is available from Ted’s Woodworking (disclosure, that is an affiliate link, and I will make a small commission if you check those out and end up purchasing after agreeing that they are incredible value!). With over 16,000 incredibly detailed, high quality woodworking plans (and lifetime access to any of the new plans that are added on a regular basis), I challenge you to have a look at those, and not be inspired to spend a bit of time in your workshop! You don’t even have to take my word for it – if you buy the plans, and don’t like them, they have an unconditional money back guarantee (within the first 60 days I believe, but I’m pretty confident you will be awestruck by the incredible quality of these plans, and won’t even be thinking about getting your money back!).
Creating, and maintaining, a sharp edge on your woodwork tools is one of the keys to success with any edge tool such as a woodworking plane or chisel.
At the same time, it is one of the things that many people struggle with, particularly newcomers to woodworking.
There have been many advancements in tool steels over the years, with new alloys being produced, but as is so often the case, each new product brings its own set of problems. In general, the harder the metal, the longer it will hold its edge. At the same time, the harder the metal, the more brittle it will be, and the more difficult it is to sharpen.
As a result, I expect that the announcement from Veritas that they have started manufacturing their woodworking plane and chisel blades from a new, improved alloy is sure to evoke many heated discussions and debates over which steel is best for making blades.
The metal, which is known as PM-V11 (just rolls of the tongue doesn’t it) is said to hold its edge longer, and yet still be relatively easy to sharpen, so it seems to tick all the boxes required for a good tool steel. I will be interested to hear a few reviews of the new blades, to see if the experts agree that it is worth the investment.
Whilst the alloy itself is not a new product, Veritas do appear to have completed a good deal of testing before deciding to use PM-V11 for their blades. You can check out this site for more information on the qualities of the steel, and the testing that was carried out by Veritas.
As with most hand tools, I suspect that the only people that will notice the difference in steel quality will be the experts who are using their woodwork tools every day. For the rest of us, I suspect that we would probably gain more from learning to sharpen our existing tools better, than we would from investing in a set of replacement plane blades and chisels!
Looking forward to hearing any comments from people who do try one of the new blades!
Enjoy your woodwork tools!
I was watching this short video (see below) on a woodwork tools jig used to draw an ellipse (or an oval), and whilst I was impressed by the simplicity of the jig, it also reminded me of another simple method for drawing an oval which I have used in the past.
The method I have used is even simpler than that shown in the video, and requires only a couple of nails, a loop of string and a pencil. Hammer the nails into a piece of scrap board, so that they are protruding by a 1/2 an inch or more and are a distance apart. Attach the board to the your work piece with some double sided tape (or any other method that won’t damage your workpiece).
Place the loop of string around both the nails, and use the pencil to pull the loop of string out so it remains taut, marking out the shape that is traced as you move the pencil around the two pivot points (the nails), whilst also keeping the string taut. You will find you have marked out a perfect ellipse.
The distance between the nails (like the distance between the dowels in the video) will define the shape of the ellipse – as the nails move closer together, the ellipse will tend towards a circle. Nails further apart will define a longer, narrower ellipse.
By using some basic math (which I have long since forgotten, but could no doubt work out if I sat down for long enough), it is possible to work out the distance that is required between the nails, and the length of string required, in order to mark out ellipses of specific heights/widths.
My technique uses the same concept (as I suppose any ellipse jig would do), of that shown in the video, and is probably quicker to set up (the only woodwork tools required to make the jig is a hammer), but the jig in the video certainly has a degree of elegance and magic about it that is just not acheived by using a couple of nails and a piece of string.
The only thing that does concern me with the jig in the video is the chance of a slight imperfection in the shape at the point that the two slots intersect – it would take a bit of practise to ensure that the dowel slides smoothly through the point of intersection rather than sliding down one of the perpendicular slots. Assuming you were just using the jig to mark out the shape (ie with a pencil), then this would be a minor correction, but if you were using a jig of this type to actually cut out the shape (eg by attaching a router to the end, instead of a pencil), then the results could be a little more disastrous.
Anyhow, check out the video, and if anyone has any other methods or jigs they have used for marking out an ellipse, please let me know! Enjoy your woodwork tools!
I read with great interest this story about the £145,000 that was raised at the auction of 240 tools from the collection of a cabinet maker, and it all started with a £5 investment in a single Norris woodworking plane.
Admittedly, this was no ordinary collection – the owner of the collection, David Russell, has written a book on the subject of antique tools (Antique Woodworking Tools Their Craftsmanship from Earliest Times to the Twentieth Century). The book primarily focuses on edge tools (such as woodworking planes) and boring tools, and is based on his own collection of fine woodworking tools. Since being published, this book has become recognized as the bible on the subject.
I was initially drawn to this article by the seemingly ridiculous amount of money that was raised at the auction, but having read the article, it is the manner in which David started his collection that has really stuck with me. Whilst there aren’t many similarities between my measly collection of woodwork tools (which may raise $500 if people were feeling generous), and the collection in the article, I can definitely identify with how David first became interested in collecting woodwork tools.
“I had almost an irresistible urge to pick up and handle it whenever I saw it,” David is quoted as saying, speaking of a Norris woodwork plane that his boss at the time owned.
It is this feeling that really rings true with me, as I am sure it does for many avid woodworkers, professional and amateur alike. My first instinct whenever I see a fine woodwork tool, is to reach out and touch it – to feel the finish on the timber, to weigh it in my hands and feel the balance of the tool. This feeling is only multiplied when you actually get to use a fine tool such as a woodwork plane – the feel, and even the sound of a well tuned tool as it cuts through timber is one of the most gratifying things that I can do. So much so, that I have been known to plane a piece of wood down to shavings, just for the sheer pleasure of it (but maybe that is just me?).
So next time you find yourself with an irresistible urge to pick up a quality woodwork tool, and need to convince your better half (or yourself) that it is a wise investment, be sure to point them to this article, and remind them that a relatively small investment in your woodwork tools now could one day turn into a small fortune!!
Wander into any shop that sells woodwork tools, and you will be struck by the wide variety of prices that are on display, for items which appear to be almost identical. Take the compound miter saw as an example. When looking at compound miter saws, you can pretty much pay as much or as little as you like – from a model something along these lines (Klutch Compound Sliding Miter Saw with Laser Guide – 10in) right up to this Festool (Festool Kapex KS 120 Sliding Compound Miter Saw) which sits somewhere near the top of the range. Clearly, comparing these 2 products is about as extreme an example as you can get, but it does serve to highlight the enormous range in prices for woodwork tools that is seen in todays marketplace – all claiming to perform more or less the same function.
So when it comes to woodwork tools, is the cheap version going to cut it (pardon the pun)? Is it worth paying 10 times the price, or are you really just paying for the brand name and better marketing?
With few exceptions, when it comes to woodwork tools, experience has shown me that you generally get what you pay for. Tools are one area in which I have found the old adage “buy cheap, buy twice” to be particularly apt. Too many times I have been sucked into what appears to be a bargain price, only to find myself realising relatively quickly why it was so bargain priced. There are a couple of examples from my personal experiences that immediately spring to mind
The first is something that seems so simple, that is hard to imagine how there can be a substantial difference between the cheapest model and the top of the line – the claw hammer. I can tell you from personal experience that even with this simplest of woodwork tools, it is worth avoiding the cheapest versions if you can afford to. I have a mid-priced claw hammer, but it was only when I was given a cheap claw hammer that I realised how much better my original tool was. The first thing that I noticed about the cheap hammer was that it just wasn’t as well balanced as my original hammer, and I found using it more tiring than my original hammer. The second thing that became apparent after a bit of use was that the metal quality was far inferior. After only a short period of use removing nails, I found that the claw was deformed – clearly the metal of the nails was harder than the metal of the hammer!! So in short, you can still drive a nail in using the hammer, but it is now effectively useless for removing them, and is far less comfortable to use. Metal quality is also a common issue in other types of woodwork tools such as chisels, woodworking planes, screwdrivers etc.
The second example that has stuck in my mind is a cheap cut off saw (also known as a “drop saw” or a “miter saw”) that I purchased. I have an old Dewalt radial arm saw, which I have used for some years now, but recently, while replacing some decking timber it decided to die on me. Since I didn’t want to hold up getting the job done, I decided my best course of action would be to pick up a cheap cut off saw, which I managed to find for about $50. At the time, my logic in buying the cheapest I could find was something along the lines of “how hard can it be to cut a board – surely even the cheapest saw can do that…”, and I also couldn’t afford the time to properly research my options. As I soon found out, even the cheapest of saws can cut a board, but not all of them can do it well.
The decking timber I was laying was hardwood, and almost as soon as I started using the new saw, I discovered that the boards were not butting together as well as they had been. The first thing I adjusted was the fence, and discovered that the 90 degree positive stop wasn’t actually at 90 degrees. Not an uncommon issue, and a relatively simple fix, but the boards still weren’t fitting as well as they had been. It took me a while to realise what was actually going on – as the blade travelled through the hard timber, it was actually deflecting sideways, resulting in a somewhat angled cut. Now fortunately, this was not too much of a problem in this situation, but the result is that I now have a cheap saw that I no longer trust whenever I need accurate cuts, and I definitely wish I had spent a few more dollars and got a saw of reasonable quality.
So how much do you need to spend? In general, my approach is to buy the best tool that I can afford (although there have been exceptions, as demonstrated above). I generally have a good look around on the internet for reviews of any tools that I am looking to purchase, and if I realise that I can’t afford a tool that has decent reviews, I will put off buying it until I can afford it. Taking this approach also makes me think about whether I really need a tool, as often purchasing a new tool will make the job easier, but you can generally get by without it as well – it may just take a little more creativity to achieve the same result with your old fashioned woodwork tools!
Sometimes the simplest woodworking ideas can make a huge difference when trying to get the best out of your woodwork tools, so I thought I would share a simple tip that was passed on to me when I was replacing the decking timber on my deck.
As the deck is exposed to the elements, I was using galvanized nails to secure the boards. After driving a number of nails, I found that often as I was hitting the nail, the hammer was starting to slide off the top (to be honest, I didn’t really pick up on the fact that this was happening until I switched to a different hammer, and found it a lot easier to drive the nails. Up until then, I was starting to question my ability, skills and all round co-ordination).
Fortunately, I was talking about this strange phenomenon with a friend of mine who is in the building trade, and he managed to set my mind at ease. Apparently it was not at all related to my skills with a hammer. It seems that when you are using galvanized nails, each time you hit the nail, a small amount of the gal will build up on the face of the hammer. This makes the head of the hammer more likely to slide off the head of the nail as you are driving it in.
Luckily for me, the solution is extremely simple. If you are working with galvanized nails, keep a brick or a piece of coarse sand paper next to you (or some other coarse material). If the gal builds up on the face of the hammer, simply give the hammer a few rubs over the brick, and it will clean the buildup off the face of the hammer, ensuring you can drive your nails home just like a professional!
It is little woodworking ideas like this that are only gained from experience, but they can really set the experienced apart from the beginner. One day, this little tip may come in handy when using your woodwork tools, so file this away in your list of tips and woodworking ideas!!
One of the issues that you are sure to run into as you tread down the path of a woodworker is how to hold your workpiece safe and secure while you attack it with your woodwork tools. Clamps are typically not something that jumps to mind when most people think about woodwork tools, and yet some sort of clamping device is required almost every time you pick up a chisel, a woodworking plane or a saw. There are a ton of different clamping devices available, many of which are quite common-place that we are all quite familiar with.
Recently, however, I stumbled across a clamping device that I hadn’t seen before, so I thought I would mention it here, as it seems like such a handy device which is very quick and easy to use.
The “hold down clamp” (also called a “holdfast” or “Hold downs”) is a very simple looking device, and yet is surprisingly effective. The hold down clamp is basically a piece of metal, with a straight stem, and a curved “foot”. The stem provides the holding power on the bench, and the “foot” pushes down on your workpiece, holding it in place. In order to use the hold down clamp, you will need to pre-drill some holes in your bench top – the hole should match the diameter of the stem of the hold down clamp very closely, so that it is a snug fit.
Once the holes are drilled, it is a very simple matter to use the hold down clamp. Simply place the stem into the hole in the bench top, place the curved “foot” of the hold down clamp onto the top of your workpiece (make sure you protect your workpiece by placing a piece of scrap timber between the workpiece and the foot of the hold down clamp). Once the hold down clamp is positioned correctly, take your mallet, and give it a couple of solid taps on the top. This will apply pressure to your workpiece, holding it to the bench, and the friction between the stem of the hold down clamp and the hole it is sitting in will ensure it doesn’t move.
To loosen the hold down clamp, simply tap it with your mallet again, but this time on the side of the stem. This will free the stem from the hole, and the workpiece will be released.
Hold down clamps are generally most effective when used in pairs, and they do come in different sizes.
So if you’ve ever found yourself battling with clamps to hold down your work piece, pick yourself up a pair of hold down clamps – it will transform the way you work!
There are several other types of hold down clamp available, but none seem as simple as this tried and tested method.