14 November 2011

Jacaranda Shelf

I recently got a desk made of Jacaranda for my work office and needed a side unit for my phone and some files.  I had leftover Jacaranda from another project and decided to make a shelf  unit to fit the available space-780mm wide.  I made 3 shelves to bring it to a total height of 560mm.  The initial plan was to prepare the lumber quickly with the jointer & thicknesser, cut dadoes with the radial arm saw and do the rabbets for the ship-lapped backs on the router table.  It turned out that the machine didn't do such a great job, so I had to still use the winding sticks and my fore plane. then my #7 and then the smoother.  So much for hand tools taking more time.  I created spaces between each back piece (made from reclaimed quarter-sawn Douglas Fir floorboards) with cardboard shims and nailed them into a rabbet in the back.  As it turned out, the radial arm sawn dadoes weren't so tight-I will use hand tools next time.  Only the router table didn't disappoint.

The quarter-sawn Doug Fir floorboards for the back. 

The Back Boards being assembled. 

Details of the rabbet.

20 July 2011

Table & Fence Insert for Radial Arm Saw

When you attach a fence & top on your Radial Arm Saw (RAS) for the 1st time, it takes a lot of time & effort.  The top must be level, and co-planar with the blade in all directions.  There is a lot of shimming and adjusting required.  When this is done, the first cut (a shallow cut), marks a kerf on the fence as well as the top, from which all other cuts are referenced.  Over time, this kerf is not sharp and smooth anymore which can compromise the accuracy of the cut.  So it makes sense to route a shallow dado to accept an insert (I used 10mm hardboard because that is what I had available), as it saves time and wood replacing an insert instead of the whole top every time the saw chops it up.  This idea is not mine (thanks Denis), but it is easy to do.  I jammed the hardboard in the depth gauge of my router for depth of cut,  and set up my shop-made dado jig for a 40mm wide cut.  This 40mm width was not measured but gauged-I first ripped a few 40mm wide strips of hardboard on the bandsaw.  It makes sense cutting a lot of extra strips for the inserts at this setting because the dado will be made according to this width!  Then I pushed the dado jig against both sides of the strip to create the correct width.  In other words the dado jig is set according to the actual insert that I will use, and not measured with a ruler.
Some photos (not the best quality as they are taken by my phone), might illustrate this better.  The 1st photo shows the reserve inserts on the left hand side-enough for at least two world wars.  Their edges are still furry as they haven't been sanded down yet.

 I added another blade better suited for cross-cutting (way more teeth), as I only use the RAS for this purpose.  With mitre cuts, the blade remains straight, and the would is angled against a jig.

23 June 2011

A Woodworker's Notebook.

The editors of Popular Woodworking Magazine have more than once recommended that every woodworker start his/her own blog site.  One of the reasons was to keep a log on our progress.  Another was that the web would preserve all this knowledge for future generations.  I agree with the concept, but would go one step further and also create a notebook with alphabetical index.  Woodworking is multifaceted, and we need to become proficient in nearly all the different disciplines (see my previous entry titled "Pace" (24 Feb. 2011).  And many books combine a lot of the sub-skills, as they should.  E.g. you naturally go from making a board four-square, to clamping up a panel, to joinery to finish etc.  It would be nice if all the common chapters could be combined in one book so that we can deal with one specific topic at a time.  But that would mean tearing books up.  This is where the notebook comes in.  Once you have grasped the basics of each skill, the fine tips and tricks as well as the knowledge gained from making mistakes should be recorded in the notebook under the relevant heading.  I guess with time these notes will become less, but I don't think that the time will ever come when we don't need to refer to notes at all. 

03 June 2011

Radial Arm Saw

Is the Radial Arm Saw (RAS) a misunderstood gem, or is it truly a dinosaur?  I was introduced to the RAS when I had the privelige of working with an experienced woodworker in his shop when making my router table.  We used the RAS a lot.  I found it convenient (ready to go with no setup-to clarify we only used it in crosscut mode), quiet and versatile.  With the aid of stop blocks we cut multiple pieces to the exact same size quickly and without measuring.  By raising & lowering the table we cut tenons again quickly & accurately.  Rabbets and grooves for drawer bottoms were a breeze.  With a mitre jig we cut accurate mitres without changing the machine's setup.  It obviously cuts wider pieces than the modern compound mitre saw and I liked the larger surface area of the table top.  Dust extraction was easier (more focused)-with the compound mitre saw the dust blows all over the place.  Another advantage is that the arm didn't slide back so it can be placed right up against a wall-an important factor when your workshop is small. 

That was over 2 years ago and I never considered buying a RAS because of the cost.  But the other day I picked up an unused De Walt RAS for R1500.00 (about $215.00).  And that was the 1st time that I hunted the net for articles related to this tool.  Hence my blog today.  Before I carry on I must explain my situation-I don't have a table saw (yes the 'heart' of my workshop is missing).  There is no space for one.  And if I did have one, I don't know if I would change the contents of this blog.  What I found on the Internet disappointed me.  Both in quantity and in content.  The woodworking community normally loves to debate different tools and techniques.  From tails first/ pins first, to the best way to glue up a panel, to comparing the strengths of various joints, to the choice of glues and finishes.  We thrive on controversy and it makes us better woodworkers.  But when it comes to the RAS, not a whisper.  All I found is that the saw is dangerous in rip mode (we all know that), and that the compound mitre saw has replaced the RAS.  Well I don't agree.  I think that the compound mitre saw is good for a contractor who works on site.  It is a tool that has its purpose.  But the RAS has more applications than the compound mitre for a fine woodworker as opposed to a carpenter.  The depth and width of cuts is why I say this.  If you spend your day chopping cornices, mouldings and 2x4's, then the compound mitre is fine.  And then again, I don't own a table saw...

To conclude and like I said in my previous blog.  If you use the tool, it becomes essential.  I am happy I own a RAS, and I know that I will work faster with it, without compromising my accuracy.

16 May 2011

Minimum/Maximum Amount of Tools

This issue is really hot at the moment, what with the imminent arrival of CS's latest book-The Anarchist's Toolchest.  But I've wondered about how many/few tools we should keep ever since I read the 1st introductory books on woodworking, where the lists always looked dismally small.  There was always that conflict between what the books showed as an acceptable collection to get the job done, and what people actually kept in their workshops. And to make it worse, I would always err on the side of less and my friend Manuel, who has inspired and influenced me is the opposite.

My conclusion is don't fill your workshop up to the brim, because that causes stress, but go more than what the minimalists say.  A case in point: in the The Ananrchist's Toolchest, a jack plane is included in the list.  I often wonder about what a jack plane actually is-I use a #5 with a slight camber for general work, another #5 with a 8" radius ground on the blade (I define this my fore plane) as well as scrub plane with a 3" radius.  All three are essential tools in my workshop, even when I'm using power tools.  Another reason for buying more than the absolute minimum is to get experience.  In this way you will buy duds and gems, but you 1st need to get them & use them before you can arrive at this conclusion.  I didn't think I needed a full set of cabinetmaker's screwdrivers/turnscrews, until I got them.  I can recommend these as essential tools to anyone.  In the past, woodworkers worked as apprentices where they got formal training in an already established workshop (that of their master).  We hobbyists don't have either.  We have to stock up our workshop with trial & error.

Before someone reads my 1st blog where I advocate not buying too many tools, let me clarify.  As a beginner you can get overwhelmed by the variety available out there.  So what I mean is start slow and with quality in mind.  But when you have most of your tools to enable you to function, then you should, in my opinion, be prepared to experiment with some tools that may not seem like essential.  You might be surprised.  You can do this without actually buying the tools just by visiting a friend and seeing what he/she keeps.  So because I have three jack planes doesn't mean I like to have too many tools in my workshop.  I also have five smoothers; #3, #4, #4 /1/2 with a high angle frog (HAF) for difficult grain, a bevel-up smoother (BUS), for even more difficult grain as well as a #112 for the most difficult grain.  And I use all of them and I couldn't do without any one of them.  (And I've used an infill and wouldn't mind one of those either).

So where am I going with all of this?  I don't know and I am allowed to say this because I am a beginner.  I am veering to the left and to the right in an attempt to find the middle road.  I guess if the tool is used (frequently or not is NOT a factor), and if you either cannot do without it or you work better with it, then the tool becomes essential.  I also believe that there are a lot of superfluous, unnecessary tools out there (I've said it before-look out for re-hashed tools.)  But you have to make some mistakes in terms of buying an unnecessary tool now & then.  But the knowledge you gain is worth the money you waste.

31 March 2011

The Roubo Base

No philosophising today, just a progress report.  The 8 M&T joints of the base were drawbored and glued up.  I used a 2mm offset for the drawbored holes.  In hindsight I would have gone for a greater offset for such a big joint.  (Chris Schwarz tells us to 1st practice as the offset varies according to the size!). The dowels were 3/8" in diameter, made by hand as follows: I placed the blank on a V-Block and planed it into a hexagon with my fore plane.  I then hammered the piece through a LN imperial dowel plate.  My friend Manuel alternates  between the metric & the imperial dowel plates as a kind of a half size.  After this experience, I would do the same-it's less aggressive on the dowel. 

Next my son will be turning four 5" long, 30mm diameter dowels which will be the method of attaching the top to the base.  I will glue the dowels into the top, but not into the base.  Instead I will drill a dowel through to hold it in place.  In this way the bench can be disassembled in case I need to move.   There is light showing at the end of the tunnel.

24 February 2011


I was busy making 3/8" ash dowels for the drawbored mortise and tenon joints for the Roubo bench, when something became clear to me.  Woodworking is a very time consuming activity. 

At my stage I am slow not only because of my inexperience, but there are naturally more interruptions in the beginning.  You need to stop in order to re-hone a tool, but your sharpening station is not properly set up, or you are missing a honing guide or a stone.  You need to make a jig for the 1st time (mortising jig, table saw sled, guides to hold your sash clamps etc.).   Or you just need to stop to read about a process which you have never attempted before.  All these improve with time and practice.

But despite the above, there are a lot of detailed processes that go into woodworking.  And each process and sub-process is a skill on its own to acquire.  Measuring, laying out, preparing stock, joinery, making dowels, choosing the right glue, honing, tool selection, fettling, safety procedures, dust extraction, wood movement...get my point?

My conclusions: I admire the woodworkers of old who produced so much in so little time with hand tools only.  And if you want to be a woodworker, you had better be someone who enjoys the journey at least as much as you enjoy reaching the destination, because it's a long trip!