Popular Woodworking 2009 Dec (pdf, 7528 Кб)

Popular Woodworking 2009 Dec (pdf, 7528 Кб)
Learn How. Discover Why. Build Better.
Compact 12v
We test six compact 12-volt drill-drivers to see
which one bores and screws the best – for the
best price.
Sam Maloof
Sam Maloof died in May 2009, but his legacy
lives on through his iconic, elegant furniture.
James Krenov
Build a
Making a boomerang (or a bunch of them) is
simple and fast – and these fun projects will
set your head spinning.
Small work is safer – and easier – to size when
you work with a handplane and a well-made
shooting board.
2009’s Best
New Tools
One of the bright spots of an otherwise dismal
economic year is that small tool companies
have turned out some amazing new products.
Though James Krenov died in September
2009, his philosophy and influence will
continue through his students and books.
Curved Panel
With careful layout, you’ll be able to hide
seams on the widest panels, even when the
grain throws you a curve.
This large Shaker-inspired bookcase provides
plenty of storage for your favorite stories, with
two drawers to boot.
Number 180, December 2009. Popular Woodworking (ISSN 0884-8823,USPS 752-250) is
published 7 times a year, which may include an occasional special, combined or expanded
issue that may count as two issues, by F+W Media, Inc. Editorial and advertising offices
are located at 4700 E. Galbraith Road, Cincinnati, Ohio 45236; tel.: 513-531-2222.
Unsolicited manuscripts, photographs and artwork should include ample postage on a
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Publications Mail Agreement No. 40025316. Canadian return address: 2835 Kew Drive,
Windsor, ON N8T 3B7 Copyright 2009 by Popular Woodworking. Periodicals postage paid
at Cincinnati, Ohio, and additional mailing offices. Postmaster: Send all address changes to
Popular Woodworking, P.O. Box 420235, Palm Coast, FL 32142-0235 Canada GST Reg. #
R122594716 Produced and printed in the U.S.A.
The Felling of
3 Giant Oaks
Safer SheetGoods Sawing
Coping at the
Router Table
One Editor’s
Method to
Sharpen a Scorp
Gel Varnish
Hidden in
Plain Sight
But Aren’t You a
Get the Most
From Your
Small, lightweight 12-volt drill-drivers
are up to just about any typical shop task,
and they’re less expensive than their larger
brethren. Page 36.
Popular Woodworking December 2009
Cabinet Saw
On the Web
New On the Blog
On the Web Site
Video Gallery
Crown Moulding
Legendary Rocker
Boomerangs in Flight
We had the privilege of visiting with Sam
Maloof in his workshop in 2003 just after he
moved from his original Alta Lomo, Calif.,
location. You can read the Great Woodshops
story free, on our web site.
Trevor Smith’s students combine
woodworking with classroom learning to
discover how edge shapes help to make
their work fly. Watch them as they send their
projects soaring. (Check out page 52 in this
issue for the story.)
Senior Editor Glen D. Huey has a clever
method for installing crown moulding on
casework. You can read about it on our blog.
College of the Redwoods
Contact Customer Service
customer service
Free Project Plans
Article Index
Tool Reviews
Editor Blogs
Writer’s Guidelines
Contact the Staff
Popular Woodworking December 2009
James Krenov’s teaching led to his founding
the Fine Woodworking Program at the
College of the Redwoods in Fort Bragg,
Calif. We visited the school in 2007, the 25th
anniversary of the woodworking program.
You can read the Great Woodshops story
free, on our web site.
18-volt Lithium-ion Drills
In this issue, we test six 12-volt
compact Lithium-ion drilldrivers (page 36). But if you’re
in the market for a larger
tool with a bit more
power, take a look at our
18-volt drill-driver test
from April 2008 – it’s free
on our web site.
Router Basics
Marc Spagnuolo (a.k.a. The Wood
Whisperer) shows you the basics of using
a router – one of the most handy tools in a
powered shop. You’ll discover how to rout
perfect profiles and keep your bits cutting as
if they’re fresh from the package.
And More!
Visit popularwoodworking.com/dec09 to
find a complete list of all the online resources
for this issue – including videos, additional
drawings and photos.
Learn How. Discover Why. Build Better.
DECEMBER 2009, VOL. 29, NO. 7
Trevor Smith
A good middle-school shop
teacher got Trevor hooked on woodworking. Now,
after years in his own shop and in classes with Alan
Lacer, David Marks, Garrett Hack and the like, he
enjoys making unique pieces for his home and shop,
including a custom workbench, band saw boxes and
a plane box, as well as “commissioned” pieces for
his brother’s professional kitchen. He also teaches
sharpening at his local Woodcraft store, and has to
sharpen all his children’s kitchen knives. Recently,
he’s been teaching woodworking to his oldest
granddaughter, and has
become interested in
By day, Trevor is a
physics teacher who values the process of learning through doing – as
his students do when
they build boomerangs
(the story is on page 52).
Ethan Sincox Fairly new to woodworking, Ethan
aspires to the level of quality and attention to detail his
grandfather achieved as a life-long woodworker and artist.
When Ethan isn’t providing software support, working
on his honey-do list or editing the St. Louis Woodworkers
Guild newsletter, he is always looking for ways to combine
his joys in life – kilts, writing and woodworking. He spends
his occasional bit of free time hunting for old tools at estate sales and auctions. You
can read more about his work at greystonegreen.blogspot.com.
In this story, his first for Popular Woodworking, Ethan muses about the woodworking he doesn’t like to do (page 80).
Christopher Schwarz In addition to
his full-time job as editor of Popular Woodworking
and Woodworking Magazine, Chris has his own
publishing company, Lost Art Press. For this
issue of the magazine, he wrote the “Best New
Tools of 2009” story on page 57. In his spare
time, he’s been working on reprinting “The
Joiner and Cabinet Maker,” a charming tale from
1839 that tells the story of young Thomas, an apprentice in an early 19th-century
rural English shop. It’s the earliest book to give detailed instruction on the basics of
hand-tool woodworking, and the original has been reprinted along with step-by-step
instruction from Chris on building the projects therein, with detailed footnotes and
a chapter on early 19th-century British history by Joel Moskowitz. Find out more
about the book and read an excerpt at lostartpress.com.
Popular Woodworking December 2009
Steve Shanesy
EDITOR Christopher Schwarz
X11407 O chris.schwarz@fwmedia.com
X11396 O linda.watts@fwmedia.com
X11327 O robert.lang@fwmedia.com
X11293 O glen.huey@fwmedia.com
MANAGING EDITOR Megan Fitzpatrick
X11348 O megan.fitzpatrick@fwmedia.com
X11008 O drew.depenning@fwmedia.com
Adam Cherubini, Bob Flexner, Troy Sexton
CHAIRMAN & CEO David Nussbaum
CFO James Ogle
PRESIDENT Sara E. Domville
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The Felling
Of 3 Giant Oaks
ith 2009 at a close, I’m trying to
take stock of all my gains and losses for the
year – not the financial ones, but the more
important personal ones.
This year we lost three men who
changed the way I work wood: Sam Maloof,
James Krenov and Jack Hill.
Of the three, I’d only
met Sam Maloof, who died
on May 21. In 2002, Maloof
opened his home and shop
to us, even though there
was nothing that we could
do to possibly make him
more famous.
He introduced us to his
shop workers and we examined one of Maloof’s earliest pieces – a cabinet – that
a customer had brought in
for minor repairs. Maloof
pointed out all the little mistakes he had
made in the piece, both structurally and
stylistically. (In other words, he acted just
like any other woodworker.)
After a few hours, I became worried that
we were taking up his whole day, so we kept
trying to excuse ourselves.
“Nonsense,” he said. “Let’s go to
So we all piled into our cars and headed
to a Mexican hole-in-the-wall.
“Get the chicken tacos,” he advised. I
obeyed. Over lunch we peppered him with
questions about the craft, his work, his legacy and fellow woodworkers. He answered
every question with a direct answer (a rarity
in journalism) – especially the last question: “Can we pick up the check?”
“No,” he replied. And sadly, I never got
to return the favor.
In August, British chairmaker and
Popular Woodworking December 2009
author Jack Hill died. Though American
readers might not be familiar with Hill,
his book “Jack Hill’s Country Chair Making” (David & Charles) was an enormous
influence on me when I began making
chairs. I’ve always been fascinated by the
vernacular chairs of the British Isles, and
Hill was one of the teachers who showed me that
chairmaking is different
than cabinet making.
The rules of accuracy, for
example, are completely
different. And I struggled
with that until Hill’s book
made it obvious.
And finally, on Sept.
9 we lost James Krenov,
one of the most influential woodworking writers
of this generation. His five
books, including “A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook,” changed the way that woodworkers
think about the craft.
Few woodworking writers have ever
managed to capture, bottle and distribute
that impossibly compelling but difficult-toexplain relationship that all artisans have
with their raw material. That was his gift
to us all. So I’d like to end this entry with
my favorite quote from Krenov:
“The understanding eye sees the maker’s fingerprints. They are evident in every
detail … Leave Fingerprints.”
Look carefully. Though we lost these
three giants this year, we gained their fingerprints on our work, our tools and our
lives. PW
Learn How. Discover Why. Build Better.
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Safety Note
Safety is your responsibility. Manufacturers
place safety devices on their equipment for
a reason. In many photos you see in Popular
Woodworking, these have been removed to
provide clarity. In some cases we’ll use an
awkward body position so you can better see
what’s being demonstrated. Don’t copy us.
Think about each procedure you’re going to
perform beforehand.
One Editor’s Method to
Sharpen a Scorp
picked up a couple of scorps off eBay and they are in really good
shape, other than the sharpening job from the previous owner. Do
you have any pointers on how to sharpen a scorp? They will have
to be ground before I try to put an edge on them. It appears the
previous owner tried to sharpen them with a straight file, leaving
numerous deep gouges that will have to be removed. What grinding angle is the best for scorps?
Joel Mahoney
Belleville, Ontario
I’m no scorp-sharpening expert. I sharpen mine and am very happy
with the results on my chair seats, but I don’t know if my technique is the
best way or not.
I first grind the edge (when necessary) with a hand-held sanding drum
chucked into a drill. Then to hone, I use adhesive-backed sandpaper that
is stuck to 1"-diameter dowels. I start with #100 grit for shaping the bevel
and work my way up to about #800 grit. I use long dowels (about 12"
long) to keep my fingers away from the edge.
Other details: I clamp the scorp (sometimes called an “inshave”) to hold
it while I work, and I usually shoot for a 25° bevel on the tool. That seems
a good compromise of durability vs. effort required to make the cut.
— Christopher Schwarz, editor
A Sharp Reminder
Admiring Trees in All Their Forms
I read with great interest “3 Ways to Make
Raised Panels” in the August 2009 issue of
Popular Woodworking (#177).
I recently raised some panels using the
table saw method (about which Senior Editor
Glen D. Huey wrote) and received a painful
reminder of where to stand when ripping
on the saw. The offcut (as shown on page
43 in step three) has sharp, pointed ends
which can catch the blade and be kicked
back toward the operator at high velocity.
I was lucky and only received a bruise, but
those sharp ends could have caused much
greater injury. Lesson learned, never stand
directly behind the blade.
Brad Patch
Tucker, Georgia
Your April 2009 “Out on a Limb” (Issue #175)
got my attention. It was thought-provoking, for sure.
I grew up in the nursery business and
have always admired trees in all of their
beauty and form. It is truly amazing what
is out there if you really look at the trees and
not the forest.
Growing trees for production, you get a
feel for them in their youth, but I am always
amazed and often in awe of the huge old
specimens. The stories they could tell of
what they have seen in their lives!
I guess this led to a natural appreciation
for the wood that trees produce, which has
brought me full-circle through the life of
a tree.
I hope that this appreciation has led me
to become a better woodworker.
Maybe, just maybe, I can do that grand
old tree justice for the wood it has provided
me to enjoy my hobby.
Hopefully others will help to continue to
replenish this valuable resource.
Greg Salata
Streator, Illinois
Size Restrictions on Glass Doors?
I am planning to make glass fronts and
doors for a wide showcase. When “up
sized,” I think the method used to construct the glass doors in the Barrister
Bookcase project in the April 2007 issue
(#161) will work for my purpose.
Popular Woodworking December 2009
But how large can I make the glass doors?
I would like them to be approximately 36"
x 60". How thick or what “strength” should
the glass be and what width should the rails
and stiles be? I have a good supply of red oak
on hand that will be used.
The display wall is 16' long and the 12"
glass shelves are already installed. Would
it be better to alternate fixed 36"-wide glass
panels with the hinged 36"-wide glass
Ken Vaughn
Columbus, Ohio
I think you’ll be much better off if you reduce the
width of the doors to 18". The size you propose
is pushing the limits, especially if you use pocket
screws (as we did on the Barrister Bookcase)
instead of mortise-and-tenon joints on the door
frames. Weight and leverage will work against
you with wider doors. If you make the doors
narrower, you could size the stiles between 11 ⁄2"
and 2" wide. Regular 1 ⁄ 8 "-thick window glass
should be fine in this application.
— Robert W. Lang, senior editor
Bench Slat Replacement Tips
I need to fix two red oak indoor benches.
Both benches are missing slats in the backs.
The flat slats are in mortises in both the upper
and lower rails. Without breaking loose the
rails (which are also mortises and tenon) is
there a way I can insert new back slats?
Paul Yanney
via e-mail
Without seeing a photo of the bench, it is hard
to come up with a number of options. But one
way to accomplish this task without re-working the intact mortise and tenons (if there is no
shoulder on the tenons) is to deepen the mortise
in the upper rail and slide the slat farther up into
that rail – at least enough to allow the slat to fit
between the rails. Then align the slat bottom with
the mortise in the lower rail and pull the piece
downward into the mortise.
If there is a shoulder to work with, that option
is null. In that case, you would need to disassemble the mortise-and-tenon joint of one rail
and fit any full-size, one-piece replacement slats
to the bench.
Another option, although aesthetically an
issue, is to create new slats that can be joined after
assembly. Cut a half-lap or scarf joint to meet in
the center of a slat, push the tenoned ends into
Popular Woodworking December 2009
position, then affix the half-lap area with glue.
However, this option may be more work than
reworking one mortise and tenon.
— Glen D. Huey, senior editor
depth adjuster
History of Bailey Depth Adjuster
I was very interested to see your short review
of the new premium Stanley No. 4 bench
plane in the October 2009 issue of Popular
Woodworking (#178). It was especially good
to see the plane discussed on its own merits,
rather than being compared to other planes
not included in the test.
Just in the interest of historical accuracy,
I want to call your attention to the mentions,
once in the text and once in a picture caption, suggesting that Stanley invented the
Bailey depth-adjuster mechanism for bench
planes. As the name suggests, that was an
innovation of Leonard Bailey, patented by
him on August 6, 1867 (patent #67,398,
if anyone’s checking). Two years later, in
1869, Bailey sold the license to use his plane
patents to Stanley Rule and Level Co., and
in 1870 Stanley introduced its new line of
planes, based on Bailey’s designs, including the depth adjuster. Some years later, in
1902, in recognition of Bailey’s contributions, Stanley began to cast “BAILEY” into
the bodies of its iron planes.
Tom Holloway
Vacaville, California
Comments and Concerns with
Benchtop Table Saw Review
In the October 2009 benchtop table saw
review (issue #178), you give high praise
to the twist-lock insert retainer used by
DeWalt. I see that this would make replace-
ment inserts more expensive, and homemade ones impossible. If DeWalt would have
mounted the twist lock in the table instead
of in the insert, at least making your own
inserts would probably not be an issue.
I make mine from MDF for about 50 cents
each, and varnish and wax them. I began
making them from HDPE plastic, as recommended in several publications, but found
that the material was not flat at all.
Also, the table on page 37 gives a measurement of “front edge to insert.” Wouldn’t
this be more useful it you measured “front
edge to blade” and took the length of the
insert out of the picture?
Alan Wesley
via e-mail
I agree that making a replacement insert for the
DeWalt would be more difficult if you attempted
to have the new insert lock in the same manner.
But if you made a replacement that didn’t lock,
you would be in the same position as if you made
a new insert for any of the other models.
As for the distance to the blade versus the
insert, I agree with you and was going to measure that way when I realized that the blade
height would affect the measurement – the higher
the blade, the less the distance. In the end, I felt
a less-variable number would be more useful
information. PW
— Glen D. Huey, senior editor
Question? Comment?
We want to hear from you.
Popular Woodworking welcomes comments
from readers about the magazine or woodworking in general, as well as questions on
all areas of woodworking. We are more than
happy to share our woodworking experience
with you by answering your questions or
adding some clarity to whatever aspect of the
craft you are unsure about, and if you have a
complaint, we want to address it whenever
Though we receive a good deal of mail, we
try to respond to all correspondence in a
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may be edited for length or style. All
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Popular Woodworking.
Send your questions and comments via e-mail
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Safer Sheet-goods Sawing
use a portable circular saw to break down
plywood and other sheet goods into manageable pieces before bringing them to the
table saw for final sizing. I prefer to do the
job on sawhorses rather than crouching on
the floor. Unfortunately, you normally need
three or four horses to provide enough support to prevent cutoffs from binding the saw
blade and crashing to the floor at the end
of the cut.
My trick is to use a full sheet of 2"-thick
rigid foam insulation (available at homesupply stores) as a cutting platform straddling two horses. I lay my plywood on top,
and clamp it and the insulation board to the
sawhorses. I adjust my saw blade depth to
cut no more than 1 ⁄8" or so into the insulation board (always cutting into the same
face to preserve strength.) I can now make
my cuts safely and securely with all pieces
fully supported at the end of the cut. If necessary, I can clamp workpieces or straightedge
guides anywhere I like by removing the jaw
from a clamp, poking the bar through the
foam board, then reattaching the jaw. When
I’m done cutting, the lightweight insulation board stores perfectly with my other
sheet goods.
— David Peterson, Hillsboro, Oregon
Vise in a Vise
I don’t use my machinist’s vise often
enough to dedicate any of my limited
bench space to it. Instead, I keep it tucked
under a nearby cabinet for occasional
use. I bolted the vise to a board that has a
heavy cleat glued to its front edge, which
allows me to clamp the whole setup in my
bench vise. It’s a quick and easy changeover that provides for secure mounting
in use.
— Paul Anthony, PW Contributor
Machinist’s vise
Offcut fully supported
after cut
2" thick rigid
insulation board
Clamp plywood and
insulation board
to sawhorses
Cash and prizes for your tricks and tips!
Each issue we publish useful woodworking tips from our readers. Next issue’s winner receives a $250 gift certificate from Lee
Valley Tools, good for any item in the catalog or on the web
site (leevalley.com). (The tools pictured at right are for illustration
only, and are not part of the prize.)
Runners-up each receive a check for $50 to $100. When submitting a trick (either by mail or e-mail) you must include your
complete mailing address and a daytime phone number. If your
trick is selected for publication, an editor will need to contact
you. All entries become the property of Popular Woodworking.
You can send your trick by e-mail to popwoodtricks@fwmedia.
com, or mail it to Tricks of the Trade, Popular Woodworking,
4700 E. Galbraith Road, Cincinnati, OH 45236.
Popular Woodworking December 2009
Easy-lift Bench Dogs
Edge-joining Thin Boards
I really like my round Veritas bench dogs
because they’re so versatile and easy to
install. The only problem I have with them is
raising the less accessible ones when they’re
tucked down flush in their holes. My bench
is against a wall, which makes it difficult to
push the rear-most dogs up from underneath. To solve the problem, I drill a shallow
hole into the flat face of a hard-to-reach dog.
That allows me to quickly and easily lever it
upward by inserting a small screwdriver or
awl into the hole. This trick would also be
useful for benches with cabinets installed
— Alejandro Balbis, Longueuil, Quebec
Thin boards glued edge to edge have a tendency to spring out of place when pressure
is applied to the bar clamps. A simple solution is to use short, notched clamping cauls
at the ends of the joints. The cauls keep the
boards aligned, while the notch prevents
glue squeeze-out from bonding the cauls
to your boards.
When gluing up, rest your boards on
scrap to allow access for the
caul clamp heads. Apply just enough bar
clamp pressure to snug up the edges of the
boards, then attach the cauls and clamp
them lightly into place. You can now apply
the final clamp pressure to pull the boards
together without them buckling on you.
— Rob Porcaro, Medfield, Massachusetts
3 ⁄ 4"-thick
Lightly clamp notched cauls over
edge joint to prevent buckling
Drill shallow
hole in
dog face
1. Insert
screwdriver in
dog face hole
Riser panels
(for caul clamp jaw access)
Quick Panel-finishing Setup
2. Lever dog
There’s the Rub
When making crosscut sleds and other
runner-guided jigs for woodworking
machines, there’s always the matter of finetuning the fit of the runners so they glide
smoothly but without side-to-side play.
After sizing the runners to the table slots,
then attaching the jig to them, I rub a widepoint carpenter’s pencil aggressively across
the sides of the slots. Pushing the jig back and
forth then transfers the graphite to the runners anywhere they’re binding in their slots,
which makes targeted trimming a breeze.
— Paul Anthony, PW Contributor
Popular Woodworking December 2009
When making frame-and-panel doors, my
panels are finished before installing them
into their frames. The fact that the edges
will be tucked into the frames allows for
a quick, easy setup that permits finishing
both faces right away instead of waiting for
one face to dry before flipping the panel
over to finish the other side.
Insert two widely spaced push pins
into one end of the panel, and one into
the center of the opposite end as shown.
Rest the push pins on the edges of a pair
of 2x4s, and apply finish to the first face
of the panel. Afterward, grab the pair of
pins at one end, flip the panel over, rotating it on the single pin at the opposite end,
and bring it to rest again on the 2x4. Now
you can finish the opposite side. The holes
from the pins won’t show once the panels
are installed. The same setup can be used
to finish any sort of tall door on which the
top and bottom edge won’t ever be seen.
To support heavier pieces, use brads or
nails. PW
— Mark Freestone, Austin, Texas
Rest push pins
on 2x4 scrap
Rotate panel at this end
to finish opposite side
Hidden in Plain Sight
Lessons learned from examining a Pennsylvania Spice Chest.
n a recent tour of Pennsbury Manor,
the reconstructed home of William Penn in
Bucks County, Pa., where I volunteer some
weekends each year, I noticed a small “spice
chest” atop a larger case piece in a dark corner. The Pennsylvania black walnut, though
lightened after nearly 300 years, did nothing to proclaim the presence of the tiny
box. Roughly 17" square and possessing
restrained mouldings and bun feet, even
its silhouette was uninteresting. Its flat door
revealed only upon closer examination a
touch of figured grain and a fancy keyhole
escutcheon. The door was closed, concealing
the only interesting part of the chest – the
woodwork inside.
These chests were typically fitted out
with myriad drawers to store precious items.
It’s true that spices were expensive then,
but few of these boxes were actually used to
store spices. Rather, they were used to store
valuables such as coins, jewels, important
papers, possibly keys and other expensive
household items.
Pennsbury Manor’s museum curator,
Kim McCarty, probably positioned the box
purposely to keep it out of the sun’s damaging rays. But she may have also suspected
that a “hidden in plain sight” location would
have been chosen for boxes like this one
300 years ago.
Imagine yourself living in that time.
What would you do with earnings from the
sale of a prized hog, for example? Would you
hide your money under your mattress? For
most of us, our mattresses and our bedrooms
are private. But Colonial homes had few or
no private spaces. Folks wealthy enough
to have something to hide invariably had
household servants. Even when one’s own
servants could be trusted, homes were often
awash with relatives, neighbors, custom20
Popular Woodworking December 2009
Hidden treasure. A rare look inside Pennsbury Manor’s early 18th-century Pennsylvania spice
chest reveals its array of tiny drawers. Originally designed to hide precious objects, it still contains
many hidden treasures for those of us interested in history and woodworking.
ers or merchants, and very possibly their
servants. A coin hidden in a secret place
could be discovered and pilfered without
detection. A spice chest filled with valuables,
“hidden in plain sight,” would be difficult
to shoplift. And that’s the sense I get from
objects such as these. Colonial homes might
seem to us more like stores at the mall than
quaint private residences. The spice box
furniture form is yet one more reminder that
our ancestors lived in a world we probably
wouldn’t recognize.
But there’s more hidden in this little chest
than a history lesson. The original was made
of three different species of wood. This is
a common characteristic of Colonial-era
furniture. The door, sides, top, mouldings
and feet are all black walnut. The bottom,
drawer bottoms, back and drawer dividers
are all yellow pine (which grew in the Delaware Valley at that time). The thin drawer
sides are all white oak. It could have been
the case that these woods were chosen for
their mechanical properties: Walnut for its
color and stability, oak for its strength and
wear characteristics, and pine for its low cost,
perhaps? Could be. But a closer examination revealed interesting similarities in the
grain orientation of the different species.
Mixed materials. This chest’s drawers are constructed of 1⁄2" walnut drawer fronts, 1⁄4" riven
white oak sides and 1⁄4" sawn yellow pine
bottoms. Was this choice of materials based on
utility, availability, or ease of stock preparation?
Thicknessing thoughts. I suspect 18th-century
cabinetmakers did as little thickness planing as
possible. I don’t see many different thicknesses
of stock used on period furniture. When it was
necessary, a jack plane like this one was used
in Anglo-American shops (scrub planes are a
Continental European tradition). This plane is
throwing .020-.040" shavings (note: neatly in a
row at that!). They are only an inch or so wide
because the blade is curved. Note my relaxed
and unorthodox grip on the plane. I prefer
wooden planes because they are light, slide easily and they offer many different ways to hold
them. With no secondary support for the board,
I’m leaning over my bench, controlling the stock
under my plane. I don’t want to kid anybody;
this can be a lot of work. Judging from my
observations of period furniture and this piece
in particular, I think it was work that guys in the
18th century tried to avoid. You should too.
The walnut was all flat-sawn. The oak was all
perfectly quartered, suggesting it was riven
(though no rive marks were evident). The
pine was sawn, though the pieces chosen
were close to the tree’s heart. I wondered
whether this little chest wasn’t a record of
different stock preparation techniques taking place in cabinet shops of this era.
Sawn Lumber
The 4/4 walnut used for the carcase was
probably commercially sawn. Based on the
rings, I estimated the minimum diameter of
the log at 18". I think that’s really too wide
to handle without a pit saw, the long twoman saw used to convert logs into lumber
back then. Some cabinet shops did indeed
have pit saws, but they were then indistinguishable from commercial (professional)
sawyers. Other cabinetmakers purchased
their lumber in the thicknesses required,
much as we do today. We can assume the
lion’s share of that lumber was 4/4, much
as it is today.
Thickness Planing
The drawer fronts on this piece are all 1 ⁄ 2"
thick. It’s possible sawyers prepared 1 ⁄ 2"
stock for the cabinetmaker. But in those
days, sawyers charged by the foot, making
a board of 1 ⁄ 2" stock essentially the same
price as 4/4 or 8/4. The price for the lumber
and the sawing were separate. The individual
pieces selected for the drawer fronts seem to
have been chosen for their interesting grain.
It doesn’t appear any attempt was made to
match one drawer front to the others. In
Smoothing Figured Wood
This little spice chest exhibited nearly
flawless surfaces and on curled grain at
that. And though this may come as no
surprise to Clark & Williams’ customers,
I had little trouble smoothing my knotty
walnut with a simple wooden smoothing
plane (below left). There are a few things
you can try to get the most out of your
smoother, be it wood or metal:
First, make sure your blade is super
sharp. I sharpened my blade before and
during this smoothing session. Next, I find
that downward force really helps. Some
advocate for heavy planes, but no plane is
this heavy. A low bench is key to producing this kind of force without feeling like
your personal trainer just left for the day.
And last, go slowly. Don’t be in a hurry to
remove wood. A light-set blade and slow
movements help.
As a last resort, you can always scrape
(below center). The secret to successful
scraping is learning to sharpen a scraper
with a smooth edge. If the edge is jagged,
it will remove wood quickly, but leave a
scored surface behind. Editor Christopher
Schwarz produced a good video on the
subject. It’s available from Lie-Nielsen Toolworks (lie-nielsen.com).
But wait there’s more! The cabinetmakers in Colonial Williamsburg’s Anthony
Hay shop have found success using their
toothing planes to level difficult surfaces,
finishing with a scraper. Why anyone would
use sandpaper on a flat surface when they
have these fine tools escapes me. Toothing planes can be used in any direction. I
moved my left hand back while I was doing
this just to give you a better look at the
plane (below right).
— AC
fact, I get the distinct impression the builder
was seeking a variation of color, perhaps
to help distinguish the different drawers.
This appears in evidence in the Edward
Evans “Scrutore” (on display in Colonial
Williamsburg’s Wallace Dewitt gallery).
So the sense I get is that the cabinetmaker
foraged for scraps of different colors and
planed them to 1 ⁄2".
Cabinetmakers could change the thickness of their stock by planing it down. This
can be a time-consuming process, but it
makes sense when a small amount of wood
is required (as on these drawer fronts).
Anglo-American craftsmen from this period
began the process with a jack or fore plane,
a medium-length plane. If a high degree
of flatness was required, they might have
followed the jack plane with their longer
“try” planes. A smooth plane would have
typically finished the exterior.
It was possible for cabinetmakers to resaw
lumber in their own shops. Long frame saws,
resembling miniature pit saws, were used to
resaw narrow stock, veneer or small amounts
of wide stock in European shops throughout
the 18th century. I’ve not seen evidence of
these saws in 18th-century Philadelphia
shops, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they had
them. The same cuts can be accomplished
with only slightly more difficulty by using
a standard ripsaw (saw the corners out).
On this spice chest, the pine drawer bottoms would have been significantly easier
to resaw than the white oak used for the
drawer sides.
My interpretation is that where thin
stock was needed in widths inconvenient
for riving, an easy-to-saw wood (such as
pine) was chosen. My feeling is that the
thin stock used for drawer construction
throughout the period presented Colonialera woodworkers with a significant challenge. What began as riven oak sides and
sawn pine bottoms, ended with riven white
cedar drawer sides and bottoms. Virtually
every other piece of wood in a case piece
(of any size) was 4/4, mouldings excepted. I
think this speaks to the difficulty of resawing and thickness planing.
Colonial American furniture often shows
evidence of riven (split) lumber. This fact
Not so hard. Despite the look of despair on my face, this saw is pretty easy to use. The problem
I’ve had is controlling it! The tool is a reproduction of one depicted by Roubo dating from the
1760s. Its blade is 4' long and features two teeth per inch. It’s difficult to start but cuts aggressively
once the kerf is established.
Popular Woodworking December 2009
seems to be lost on those concerned about
the cross-grain joinery and wood stability.
Riven wood is the most dimensionally stable
cut of wood, widthwise and lengthwise,
varying primarily in thickness (percentagewise). In the 18th century, riving was also
the fastest way to process stock.
We usually think about riving as oldfashioned in the 18th century, or reserved
for “country” craftsmen. As more people
like us examine period furniture, I suspect
we’ll see increasing evidence of its use on
a wide range for products. It may seem a
little silly or uncontrollable, but it really is
a practical way to produce superior furniture parts.
I think we can look at old furniture as archeological finds, analyzing the remains for clues
about lost civilizations. In this case, I looked
not only at surfaces for clues about stock
preparation techniques, but also at thicknesses and ring orientations to try to piece
together a narrative of what might have been
happening in this particular cabinet shop.
Here’s the story I think I’m hearing:
This cabinetmaker had 4/4 walnut. He
was able to use the narrower stock, sawn
closer to the sapwood, for the carcase. For
the door and drawer fronts, he foraged for
figured material. What he found, he planed
to 1 ⁄ 2" thickness for drawer fronts. They
were scraps and it wasn’t a lot of material,
so planing was the easiest method to prepare this stock.
For the narrow drawer sides, riving was
fastest. Oak rives best and was plentiful, so
oak was used. Sawn lumber would have been
a more expensive choice with quartersawn
material particularly expensive.
For drawer bottoms he needed wide,
thin pieces. Splitting out wide, thin pieces
is much harder than splitting narrow stock.
So he decided to saw these. He could have
chosen oak to match his drawer sides. But
pine was easier to saw than oak. For the
interior dividers, 6" to 8" wide material was
required. Six inches is really no problem for
an ordinary handsaw. But 8"-wide material
is pushing it. My guess is he used some kind
of frame saw like mine. But don’t let me put
you off resawing by hand. I’ve resawed 12"
material with my handsaw. No matter how
hard it seems, it’s still easier and faster than
planing it down by hand.
Splitting. Splitting thin pieces is not difficult and you don’t need a lot of specialty
equipment. Here I’m using a lightweight
(read cheap) basket froe. I smacked it into
the end grain of this oak using a homemade
dogwood root cudgel. Though a riving
brake would make this job safer and easier,
steadying the log with your feet works also.
Just try not to get a snag in your favorite
baby blue stockings!
I’ve talked in the past about the speed
of 18th-century craft work. I based that
on documentary evidence. Here, we can
see what I think is physical evidence of
18th- century craftsmen making material
choices to increase their efficiency. I find
this interesting for a couple reasons:
After having described (once again)
that our ancestors were essentially nothing like us, here is an example of how we
are alike:impatient, looking to cut corners and maybe not as concerned as we
should be about wear, repair, and expansion and contraction. The other reason I
find this interesting is that it elucidates
the intentions of period artisans. Fans
of period work (I mean me) can sometimes over-analyze what we see. I think
it’s true that quartersawn – or even better, riven stock – makes a better drawer.
The question is, were they intending to
make a better drawer or just a faster one?
The answer may be hidden right before
our eyes. PW
Visit Adam’s blog at artsandmysteries.com for more
discussion of traditional woodworking techniques.
Recycling Station
Handy and handsome, this piece helps you keep refuse neatly separated.
shelf pressed against the stop block and
aligned at the front edge of the sides, sink
the screw on one edge, then the other.
These are wide pieces and you may have
some cupping issues, but you should be
able to pull the cup out as you screw the
shelf in place, as long as you push each
end tight to the stop block. Now sink
the two middle screws. Place the second
side at on your work surface, align the
shelf and bottom, and repeat.
n some locations these days, recycling is mandatory; fines can result if
recyclable materials are thrown out
with your garbage. But at my local home
center, there are few aesthetically pleasing options for sorting and storing recyclables until the weekly collection.
This project is sized to fit the cheerful green “party tubs” I found at the
home center (just $8 each), which are
151 ⁄2" deep, 211 ⁄4" wide and 11" high.
Purchase your bins, buckets or baskets
before buying your lumber, as you may
need to adjust your sizes to fit whatever
receptacles you plan to use.
Overcome a
Lumber Conundrum
If your bin sizes match mine, you’ll need 60"
or so of 18"-wide lumber for the sides, and
46" or so of 173 ⁄4"-wide lumber for the shelf
and bottom (I’ve added a bit to the actual total
necessary lengths to allow for saw kerfs).
And you’ll also need a 3 ⁄ 4" x 181 ⁄ 4" x 25"
piece for the top. You can’t often purchase
18" or 181 ⁄4"-wide material off the rack, so
you’re going to have to glue up panels, or cut
down pre-made panels. The less-expensive
option (by far) is to glue up your own panels, at which point it’s simpler to crosscut
all your pieces to rough length first, then
glue up each panel individually.
So, if you’re buying off the rack at the
home center, you may think that a 1x10
glued to a 1x8 will get you your 18" – but it
won’t. Remember that dimensional lumber
is sold in nominal sizes, and widths greater
than 6" are actually 3 ⁄4" less than the nominal width (and 1 ⁄4" less in thickness). So a
1x8 is actually 3 ⁄ 4" x 71 ⁄ 4". It’s confusing,
but it’s the industry standard. So, you’ll be
looking for nice, straight, flat 1x10s, which
Popular Woodworking December 2009
Top and Apron
Keep it neat. This handy piece helps you separate and store recyclable items.
will glue up into panels that are 3 ⁄4" x 181 ⁄2".
From those, you can get all your panels.
After the glue dries, rip them to the necessary widths with a jigsaw or circular saw,
guided by a straightedge. Then cut the sides,
shelf and bottom to final length – hold off on
cutting the top yet, as you may wish to adjust
the overhang after the base is together.
Decide on the overhang for your top. I
opted for a 1 ⁄ 4" on the front to line up
with the 1 ⁄ 4"-thick screen moulding,
and 1 ⁄ 2" on either side. Cut the top to
final width, then align it to the case (the
back edge is aligned with the back edge of
the side pieces), mark a line from front to
back 1 ⁄ 2" in from each end, and drill four
or five holes for nails, then nail the top on.
Use a nailset to sink the nailheads below
the surface, then fill the holes with wood
filler or spackle.
Pocket-screw Joinery
I chose clean, straight lines for the foot cutouts at the bottom to give the piece a contemporary look; refer to the illustrations
for the layout.
The shelf and bottom are drilled for eight
pocket screws, four at each end, spaced approximately 11⁄2" and 5" in from each edge – avoid
drilling directly on your glue line.
Now lay out the bottom and shelf locations, marking the top and bottom of each
on both side pieces.
Next, clamp a wide, straight cutoff at
the top edge of the shelf location. With the
Mark, then cut. After marking out the shape
of the feet on one side piece, clamp the two
sides together, make a relief cut or two, then
cut away the waste. I use my thumb as a guide,
but you could clamp a straightedge in place to
guide your cuts if you’re aiming for perfection.
Your apron is, in theory, 3" wide x 221 ⁄2"
– but things can change a bit during construction, so carefully measure from the
inside face of each side to get the spot-on
measurement, then cut it to length. The cutout is the same as on the side pieces and the
apron is attached with two pocket screws
on either end; pull it tight to the bottom as
you sink the screws.
Grab an offcut that’s about 1" wide, and
measure and fit it 1 ⁄4" in from the back edge
of the top, aligned with the back edge of the
sides, and nail it in place from underneath.
You’ll attach the back panel to this top rail,
flush with the underside of the top.
The Back Panel
For the back panel, I bought an inexpensive piece of 1 ⁄ 4" x 3' x 3' piece of pre-finished beadboard hardboard, and for visual
interest, ran it horizontally across the back.
This piece must be cut carefully; it should
fit tightly from side to side and top to bottom. Use a straightedge to guide your jigsaw
or circular saw, use a sharp blade and cut
Plane to fit. If your apron and shelf aren’t
perfectly flush, a few passes with a block plane
will even things up.
slowly. Wait to nail in the back until after
you’ve painted.
The Finish
I applied two coats of semi-gloss latex paint
to the carcase, back panel and screen moulding. After the paint dried, I installed the
screen moulding around the edge of the
bottom, cutting it at 45° angles at the miter
saw. Align the moulding across the front,
then mark the cuts directly from the carcase.
Nail the moulding to the front.
Now head back to the miter saw and cut
a 45° angle for the first side piece, leaving
it over-long. Use a large adjustable square
Recycling Station
P 1
P 1
Screen moulding
Top rail
3⁄ 4
3⁄ 4
3⁄ 4
3⁄ 4
3⁄ 4
3⁄ 4
3⁄ 4
(as shown above) to ensure you have the
moulding aligned properly. Fit the miter
snug to the front moulding, and mark the
back edge. Do the same with the other side
moulding, then make 90° cuts at the back
ends. If your piece is unpainted, apply glue
to only the front 3" or so of the moulding,
then nail it in place on each side. You have
cross-grain construction here, so the glue
will hold the moulding to the front edge, and
any movement will occur toward the back,
where the nails will move with the wood.
(If it’s painted, just glue the miters.)
Slip the backboard in place and nail it to
the rail, shelf and bottom.
Now you’re ready to break out a fresh
case of Diet Coke. PW
Megan is the managing editor of this magazine. She
can be reached at megan.fitzpatrick@fwmedia.com or
513-531-2690 x11348.
Square it up. Hang an adjustable square from
the front edge of the carcase down the side
to ensure you get the moulding installed at a
perfect 90°.
Wrap around sides
About This Column
Our “I Can Do That” column features projects that can be completed by any woodworker with a modest (but decent) kit of
tools in less than two days of shop time, and
using raw materials that are available at any
home center. We offer a free online manual
in PDF format that explains all the tools and
shows you how to perform the basic operations in a step-by-step format. You’ll learn to
rip with a jigsaw, crosscut with a miter saw
and drill straight with the help of
our manual.
Visit ICanDoThatExtras.com
to download the free manual.
Get the Most From Your Router
These tips and tricks will take you a long way toward success.
he router is, simply put, a multi-tasking
workhorse in the woodshop. But you would
be surprised by how many folks don’t get the
most out of their router experience. After all,
this hand-held powerhouse has the potential
to create, and an equal and opposing power
to destroy. While the concept seems simple
– a metal bit spins in circles as you drag the
unit along a piece of wood – it can be harder
than one might think to achieve perfect and
consistent results.
I vividly remember my first experience
with a router. The shellac on my woodworking wings was still wet and I decided it was
time to get serious about edge profiles and
joinery. I dropped some hard-earned cash
on the same router I saw David Marks use in
his DIY Network show, “Woodworks” – the
Dewalt DW621.
I had visions in my head of graceful roundovers, crisp chamfers and perfectly cut
mortises. Unfortunately, the reality was a
little less magnificent. Between the tear-out,
the burn marks and the occasional piece of
airborne wood, I was feeling discouraged.
Taking a step backward I decided to hit
the books and reinforce the fundamentals of
good routing. Armed with that knowledge,
I returned to the shop and began to achieve
the results I had originally hoped for. Since
then, the router has become one of the most
useful and versatile tools in my arsenal.
Over the years I’ve learned numerous
To watch a video of The Wood Whisperer
as he demonstrates ways to create burnfree routed edges and explains how flushtrim bits improve your work, go to:
Popular Woodworking December 2009
Bit arsenal. If you do a lot of routing, you’ll surely build up a large collection of bits in a short time.
Keep them neatly organized and clean, and they’ll always be ready for the routing job at hand.
tips, tricks and insights that I wish I was
aware of when I first fired up that router.
Here are some of my favorites.
What Bits to Buy?
Buying a set of router bits can be incredibly
daunting for an experienced wood jockey,
let alone a noob! Woodworkers everywhere
ask themselves, “Should I buy a set or individual bits?” and “Why does one 12-piece set
cost $30 while another set costs $200?”and
“What about those 100-piece sets with the
too-good-to-be-true prices?” Well forgive me
for generalizing folks, but when it comes to
router bits, you get what you pay for.
An inexpensive bit made with cheap steel
just can’t compete with a high-quality carbide bit in terms of balance and longevity.
But let’s not throw out the good wood with
the sawdust! Bargain bits do have their place.
The real dilemma is knowing which bits
you’ll use the most in your work.
Unfortunately this is something you don’t
always know ahead of time. My recommendation is to buy an inexpensive 12- or 20piece set, use it for a few months then see
for yourself which bits get the most action.
Now you have a much better idea of which
bits are worth buying from a better-quality
Flush trimming.
All of these bits are
flush-trimming bits.
Notice that you
can get bits with
the bearing on the
top or bottom, in
different sizes and
with different shank
diameters. What
you buy depends
on your router and
routing needs.
Another great thing about this tactic is
that you now have a nice assortment of bits
at your disposal. The day will come when
you need a special bit for a special situation,
and you’ll be glad you have that 20-piece set
sitting there ready and waiting.
The Flush-trim Bit
If there is one bit that provided that “Aha!”
moment for me, it was the flush-trim bit. If
you aren’t familiar, a flush-trim bit is nothing
more than a straight bit with a mounted bearing that’s the same diameter as the bit.
If you attach a pattern to a workpiece,
you can easily create an exact copy of the
pattern’s shape within seconds. This helps
us produce identical table legs, flushes up
overhanging veneer after glue-up, trims edge
banding flush with the surface and can even
help batch out those fancy picture frames in
time for the holidays!
One other use for a flush-trim bit that
we can’t overlook is joinery. With the help
of a simple shop-made template, you can
produce perfect mortises all day long.
Don’t Bite Off More
Than You Can Chew
When you use a tool for the first time, do
you generally go slow or do you just ram it in
there? Seems like the answer should be obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people
I’ve seen slam a router into wood like there’s
a prize waiting at the board’s center.
Inevitably the router takes off on its own
and the wide-eyed student is left holding on
for dear life. Don’t let this happen to you.
When routing a workpiece, think about how
you can make the operation safer by taking
multiple passes. It does create a little more
wear and tear on your bit but the benefit
comes in the form of a crisp, clean, tearout-free cut and the special added bonus of
keeping all your fingers.
Spiral Bits
Spiral bits are a cool variation of the straight
bit and they excel at creating mortises. The
curved cutting surface produces a clean cut
in much the same way a bench plane cuts
more easily if skewed. Because of the spiral
design, these bits are available in two styles:
up-spiral and down-spiral.
An up-spiral bit is likely to stay cooler as
it naturally brings the sawdust up and out of
the mortise. Less debris means less friction
and less friction means a cooler bit.
The one negative side effect of the upspiral is that it has a tendency to tear out the
fibers near the top of the mortise. This isn’t a
big deal if your tenon has a decent shoulder
on it, but if you are creating a through-mortise, you’ll want the cleanest edge possible.
That’s where the down-spiral bit comes into
play. So most of the time, up-spiral is my bit
of choice, and I use down-spiral only where
the edge will be visible or if the wood is
especially prone to tear-out.
Keep it clean. If your bit isn’t cutting well, it
might not be dull, just dirty. Clean your bits
after use with a toothbrush and a mild cleaning
More Router Tips
Here is a shotgun blast of handy tips:
If you’ve the option, buy 1 ⁄2"-shank bits.
They are less likely than 1 ⁄ 4"-shank bits to
vibrate and should produce cleaner cuts.
Stay away from high-speed steel bits.
Carbide stays sharp significantly longer.
Keep the router moving. It’s OK to go
slow, but try not to stay in one place for
too long. You’ll burn the heck out of your
wood and the excessive heat will dull your
bit before you know it.
A dirty bit feels like a dull bit. Keep your
bits clean by scrubbing them with a toothbrush and a mild cleaning solution such as
Simple Green or even a little soap and water.
Dry the bits thoroughly afterward (I use a
blow dryer).
If you can, try to buy a router with some
sort of dust collection. Keeping the chips
out of the path of the bit yields a cleaner cut.
And as always, less dust in the air means less
dust in our lungs.
As handy as these tips are, they only tell
a small part of the router story. In fact, I
consider these to be “gap filler” tips. So it’s
a good idea to purchase a good book, or
perhaps a DVD, to really get into the meat
of the subject. Although there is really no
substitute for hands-on practice, I find that
a strong background knowledge makes the
learning curve easier. Before you know it,
safe, effective and creative routing will just
be a routine part of your woodworking bag
of tricks while wood missiles, tear-out and
burn marks will be a thing of the past. PW
Marc is a professional woodworker as well as the
creator and host of The Wood Whisperer (thewood
whisperer.com). The Wood Whisperer (an instructional
Internet woodworking show) represents Marc’s three
passions: woodworking, technology and education.
About This Column
Our “Wood Whisperer” column features
woodworking thoughts and ideas, along with
shop techniques from Marc Spagnuolo. Most
columns have a corresponding video related to the
techniques or views
expre ss e d in t he
column available at
SawStop’s ‘Tweener’ Saw
SawStop introduces its
Professional Cabinet
Saw to round out your
table saw choices.
hen the SawStop Professional
Cabinet Saw (PCS) arrived at our shop we
uncrated the tool to find that the saw is
shipped on its side (other manufacturers
ship their saws standing upright). Tipping
the saw reduces the potential for damage
during shipment. That’s innovative “in the
box” thinking.
We put the PCS through the normal
setup checks during assembly. Even though
I didn’t need to adjust the saw’s blade/miter
slot setting (it was only out .001"), I did so
anyway to check the process. It’s easy to
adjust should you need to do so.
In typical SawStop fashion, directions are
clear and concise and all the nuts and bolts
are packaged in clearly defined groupings
to maximize an efficient assembly.
A small tweak was necessary before we
pushed wood into the blade. The fence on
the PCS required a bit of adjustment to flush
a .004" dip out of the center, right at the
blade. SawStop has made this adjustment
easy with slots on the bottom of the fence
and an included hex driver.
Of course, the new SawStop saw has the
patented brake system for which the company has become known. That’s a given.
However, if you compare the PCS to SawStop’s Industrial Cabinet Saw (ICS), there are
major differences, especially if you examine
the weight of the saws. Added weight helps
to smooth cutting operations.
You’ll find the PCS (with the 36" T-Glide
fence system) is about 200 pounds lighter
than a comparably equipped ICS which
Professional Cabinet Saw
sells for $3,909. According to the company,
that weight differential is the result of a few
design changes, including trunnion size
and design.
The trunnion on the PCS is considerably
lighter because the design is more traditional
– it does not span from cabinet side to cabinet
side as it does on the ICS. Additionally, there
is a smaller tabletop, a smaller cabinet to
house the internal workings, a plastic motor
cover (the ICS door is sheet metal) and the
dust shroud on the PCS is also plastic instead
of cast iron (as it is on the ICS). However,
the plastic shroud on the PCS is moulded
to improve dust collection – something all
but impossible to do with cast iron.
Locked out. The throat insert lock – lift the
bail handle – is outstanding. But a shop-made
replacement seems out of the picture and $39
is a lot to pay when you need a replacement.
SawStop O 866-729-7867
or sawstop.com
Street price
O Saw with 32" Fence System, $2,899
O Saw with 52" Fence System, $2,999
For more information, go to pwfreeinfo.com.
And dust collection is, according to the
company, around 99 percent when you use
the improved blade guard with the moldedin dust port. (SawStop is working on a complete system that will have one port that
will collect from the guard and the base. But
to reach 99-percent collection at this time
there are two ports to which to attach hoses
and you need an additional dust collector,
vacuum or shop-made rig.)
The saw performed as you would
expect. The fence system glides on its rails
and locks in position like a door on a jet. The
3-horsepower motor allows easy rips and
crosscuts even through most gnarly woods
– but I would suggest that you replace the
included 40-tooth blade. A quality 50-tooth
blade improved the cut substantially.
Bottom line: This saw is a good option
if you feel the need for the safety provided
by the braking system, but it’s not the ICS
in a shrunken version.
— Glen D. Huey
Popular Woodworking December 2009
Lie-Nielsen’s Thin-plate Tenon Saw
The more I saw by hand, the more I prefer
a thin sawplate. Having a thinner wafer of
steel makes the saw easier to push – that’s
because there’s less weight and the tool has
to remove less wood.
There is, of course, a downside. Thin
sawplates are a little more fragile so you need
to keep the tool away from the ham-handed.
But in even slightly skilled hands, I think
you’ll find thin saws are a revelation.
Lie-Nielsen Toolworks has now started
making a thin-plate version of its tenon saw,
and it is one of the best tenon saws – old or
new – that I’ve ever used.
The tool is large – the blade is 16" long
– but it weighs only 1 lb. 7 oz. That’s because
the sawplate is .02" thick. That is significantly thinner than the company’s other
tenon saws, which are .032" thick.
The other critical specification here is
how much blade you have under the brass
back. The Lie-Nielsen has a whopping 41 ⁄8".
Now before you dismiss that as too much,
hear me out. Many 18th-century tenon
saws were sized like the Lie-Nielsen. And
because steel was
very expensive then,
they had to have a
good reason. Here’s
my guess: I find a
larger tenon saw is
more accurate. With
the heavy back of
the tool high above
the work, it’s easier
to sense when the
tool is plumb. And
tenon cheeks are
almost always cut so
they are plumb.
I have absolutely
zero compl a i nt s
about this Lie-Nielsen saw. Its 11 pointsper-inch blade starts incredibly smoothly
thanks to the hand-filed teeth (even beginners have commented on this aspect of the
saw to me). And the tool plunges quickly
through even difficult ring-porous hardwoods.
In my book, this saw is the new standard
Lie-Nielsen 16" Tenon Saw
Lie-Nielsen O 800-327-2520 or
Street price O $175
For more information, go to pwfreeinfo.com.
for tenon saws. Strong words, I know. But if
you give the tool a try I think you’ll agree.
— Christopher Schwarz
Bosch Brad Nailer is Smaller and Lighter
The Bosch BNS200-18 brad nailer is part of
the company’s new “Full Force Technology”
line of air tools, all of which have a patented
air chamber that allows the nailers to use
100 percent of the air from the compressor
to drive the fastener. In traditional nailer
designs, some air is kept in reserve to return
the tool to the ready position. Among the
other tools in the line that many woodworkers use are a 15-gauge angled finish nailer
and a 16-gauge straight nailer.
The upshot is that these new nailers are
smaller and lighter than comparable tools
on the market (Bosch says they’re 20 percent
smaller and 10 percent lighter), which means
that for someone like me (small hands, little
upper body strength), this 18-gauge brad
nailer is easy and comfortable to use, plus
the body is narrow, so there’s a better lineof-sight to the workpiece.
I was particularly pleased with the tooless adjustable depth-of-drive, as I used the
nailer to attach some thin poplar trim. It was
simple to turn the adjusting wheel until I got
the drive depth I needed.
Popular Woodworking December 2009
The tool also features a
toolless “quick clear” feature
to access the tip to clear jams,
but I didn’t experience any
jams in two hours of use. It
is, however, easy to access
the tip.
A dry-fire lock-out feature
prevents blank firing, which
is nice for those of us who
have “attached” an entire run
of moulding, just to discover that, no, we
haven’t. That lockout prevents damage to
both the workpiece as well as the interior
mechanisms of the tool.
The selectable trigger is another good
feature; it allows you to switch easily (again,
with no tools) from bump firing to sequential firing.
My one complaint about the brad nailer is
that it didn’t come with an air-hose coupler. I
know these are inexpensive and easy to find
at any hardware store, but I didn’t realize I
needed a coupler until I was ready to use
the tool. So, I had to stop what I was doing
Bosch Brad Nailer
Bosch O 877-267-2499 or
Street price O $126
For more information, go to pwfreeinfo.com.
and traipse to the store before I could get
started. It’s not a big deal, and I was pleased
with the nailer’s performance, but it was
annoying at the time.
The 18-gauge brad nailer weighs in at
2.5 pounds (with the coupler and brads
removed), and takes fasteners from 5 ⁄ 8" to
2" in length. PW
— Megan Fitzpatrick
Compact 12v
Drill -
These small tools pack a punch. What might
seem a step down actually has big benefits.
rill-drivers have moved through different battery voltages like a NASCAR
driver moves through gears at Talladega. Many manufacturers pushed through 18
volts and upward to 24 volts, with a few reaching the 36-volt area. Then the power
was downshifted and leveled at 18 volts, and along the way the newest power source
was installed much like a new motor on a race car. Pushed aside are Ni-Cad and
the other older power supplies to be replaced by the latest and greatest batteries
known as Lithium-ion.
As we move forward, drill-driver size has become important. Some consider 18volt drill-drivers too heavy for non-stop use on the job, but like to have the power
when needed. Nobody wants to hoist a heavy drill all day long. As a result, compact
drill-drivers stepped into action with their lighter weight and smaller dimensions.
Compact drill-driver shootout. We test tools
from Bosch, Makita, Hitachi, Milwaukee,
Craftsman and Ridgid.
Compact drills are great to use for
extended periods of time, but if you have
to work in small areas such as inside cabinets, even these tools can feel oversized.
To squeeze into tight places and to make
the job easy and less burdensome on our
arms, wrists and shoulders, 12-volt drilldrivers are back in the spotlight.
These drill-drivers include 1 ⁄4" hexdrive tools as well as standard chuck
designs. To whittle down the list of candidates for our review, we set parameters
that we felt would be the best choice for
everyday use. Drill-drivers with 1 ⁄4" hex
heads are OK for some operations such
as driving screws. But for simple drilling
tasks, we didn’t want to have to have a
dedicated line of tooling (drill bits with
1 ⁄ 4" hex shanks). We decided that twospeed drills that afforded the operator
the choice of torque settings, and had
conventional chucks in a 3 ⁄8" size, were
the best bet.
While you might think that this list
of requirements is limiting, we found
six contenders that met our parameters.
The six include the Bosch PS30-2A,
Craftsman’s NEXTEC drill-driver, the
Hitachi DS10DFL, Makita’s DF330DW
(the only 10.8-volt tool in the test), the
Milwaukee 2410-22 and Ridgid’s R82008
About the Tests
For comparison to the larger drill-drivers reviewed in April 2008 (issue #168),
we set about to drill holes in 13 ⁄4"-thick
poplar using 1"-spade bits and to drive
1 ⁄4" lag screws that are 11 ⁄4" in length into
the same thickness of poplar. Each phase
was completed beginning with a fully
charged battery. For the drilling phase,
we set the tool to the highest speed and
for the lag-screw portion of the test we
selected the lowest speed.
As a simple comparison, the lowest
number of holes drilled with the 18-volt
tools was 19 (the highest was 37). With
Compact Drill -Drivers
Bosch PS30-2A
Craftsman 11812
Hitachi DS10DFL
The Bosch 12-volt drill-driver is certainly a
handful of tool. It’s near the top in handle
girth (61⁄8") and tied for the top in the drillhead-length measurement at 77⁄8".
With a price tag at $131 and change, the
PS30-2A is the fourth-most expensive drilldriver in our test.
The PS30-2A drilled a test-leading 8
holes in the 1" spade-bit drill-a-thon. It also
has the lowest upper-end speed setting in
the group.
In the lag-screw test, the Bosch drilldriver performed admirably by installing
nearly 32 lags. While that number was not
the most lags driven, it was enough to position the tool in fourth place.
We all know that heat is a destructive
force on batteries as well as tool life, but
even with more than eight holes drilled,
and the battery depleted, the PS30-2A
registered a motor temperature of 108º (just
below the mean temperature). And at 136º,
the battery temperature was also positioned in the middle of the pack.
This tool gave our top pick a run for the
money given its ability to drill holes and
drive lags, but in the end, the PS30-2A was
nudged out due to tool design. During use,
the back of the drill rides heavily on the
area between your thumb and forefinger,
causing soreness.
The Bosch PS30-2A, two batteries and
a charger are packaged in a canvas case.
Additional batteries are $33.
The Craftsman NEXTEC drill-driver has the
third-smallest girth size and is one of the
longest drill drivers in the test with a drillhead-length measurement of 77⁄8".
The good news is that this drill-driver is
the least expensive tool in our test (at $80,
it sells for $69 less than the most expensive
drill reviewed). Unfortunately, the NEXTEC
drill is also the least productive of the drilldrivers tested. While six holes were driven
through the 13⁄4"-thick poplar before the
1.3 amp hour battery gave out (that was the
third-highest test number for holes driven),
only six lag screws were seated before the
juice ran out on a fully charged battery. And
those six screws required three attempts
to drive them home due to multiple motor
Also, the NEXTEC battery and the tool
itself did not heat to the levels comparable
with the other drills in the test (probably
because of the lack of actual work). The
tool’s temperature tied for the lowest in the
test with a drill that drove eight times as
many lag screws. And the battery temperature topped out at 123º, again the lowest in
the test.
The NEXTEC drill driver is great for
occasional use in the shop, or for do-ityourself work around the house, but we
don’t recommend this tool as your “go to”
drill in this category.
Replacement batteries are $25 and the
kit is packaged in a canvas carrying case.
Hitachi’s 3⁄8" drill-driver is the only tool in
the test that stayed with a traditional drilldriver design. The base of the tool is wide
and holds the drill upright without issues.
This allows for an easy pickup when reaching for the tool.
With the smallest girth in the review (5")
and a middle-of-the-road measurement
for the drill-head length (71⁄2"), this drill fits
comfortably in any small-to-medium hand.
The DS10DFL is priced around $108,
the second-most inexpensive tool in the
test. So you may guess the tool would place
near the bottom when drilling holes or driving screws. But that’s not the case. In fact,
with 481⁄2 lag screws driven, it’s only one
screw away from the best results in the test;
that could be a result of the slowest lowend speed setting (300 rpm).
The number of holes drilled is slightly
different. Here the Hitachi drill-driver completed five holes before the 1.5 amp hour
battery pooped out.
Motor temperatures for the Hitachi drill
ran on the high side of those tested at 114º.
But the battery temperature rated second
from the coolest at 127º.
One area of disappointment is the battery charger. There is little information on
the unit; it simply indicates a charging battery and when the battery is fully charged.
Overall, we are impressed with the Hitachi
DS10DFL and think this is a good-quality
drill for the money.
boschtools.com or 877-267-2499
OStreet price: $131.47
craftsman.com or 800-349-4358
OStreet price: $79.99
hitachipowertools.com or
OStreet price: $107.73
Popular Woodworking December 2009
Makita DF330DW
Milwaukee 2410-22 Ridgid R82008
The Makita DF330DW places in the middle
of the pack in both girth (55⁄8") and in the
drill-head-length measurement at 71⁄2". It
is noticeably top heavy and tips forward
when set down. As a result, Makita’s drilldriver will not stand upright.
The purchase price of the Makita drilldriver pushed it into the top half of all the
drills in the test at $134.
The DF330DW scraped the bottom of
the tested tools in holes drilled with just
four, but rebounded a bit when driving
lag screws – 411⁄2 lags were driven on a
single 1.3 amp hour battery that was fully
Temperature testing came after the
hole drilling phase and Makita’s drill-driver
reached higher-than-average recordings.
The motor temperature reached a test-high
116º and the battery temperature hit a sweltering 168º, the highest in the test by 30º.
The most curious feature that stands
out on this tool is why engineers selected a
50-minute battery charger to accompany
this tool. It’s the longest recharge time and
makes the possibility of downtime while
waiting for a battery to recharge a distinct
The Makita DF330DW is a good choice
if you have an occasional need for a drilldriver of this size. But you’ll have to move
on if you’re looking for a standout 12-volt,
3⁄ 8" drill-driver.
Battery replacement cost is $40.
The Milwaukee drill-driver is the standout
tool in this test. It’s a stout tool that fits comfortably into larger hands – the girth size is
tied for the largest at 61⁄4" and the drill-head
length is 71⁄2".
The $149 purchase price is tops in the
test as well, but in this case the outlay of
funds is justified.
The 2410-22 has the highest torque
rating and the highest, high-end rpm rating
in the group. It is the leader in both test
categories with eight holes drilled and 491⁄2
lag screws driven, each on a single 1.4 amphour battery charge.
After the eight holes were complete, the
tool temperature came in tied for lowest
at 105º and the battery temperature was a
respectable, although not the lowest in the
test, at 138º.
The Milwaukee 2410-22 is also the only
drill-driver tested to include a fuel-gauge
indicator light and the LED shines upward to
help light up the work area.
If pushed to come up with a downside to
this drill-driver, I would have to comment on
the size and weight of the tool. Small hands
will find this drill-driver to be thick, but very
usable. And there is a noticeable weight
difference when compared to the other
drill-drivers tested.
Bottom line: This drill-driver is at the
top of the category and is well worth your
investment dollars.
Replacement batteries are $39.
This drill-driver is available as part of a kit
only. The kit includes the R82008 drilldriver, two 1.5 amp-hour batteries, a 30minute charger and a flashlight that works
off the same batteries. If you need the flashlight, there’s extra value here.
The Ridgid R82008 drill-head-length
measurement is the shortest in the test at
63⁄4". It also had one of the highest girth
measurements in the group. But if you
need to squeeze into a small work area,
this might be your tool. It is very compact
and thick not only at the grip area, but at
the nose as well. The single latch to release
the battery from the tool is located on the
backside of the battery. You have to change
your grip to make the switch.
The Ridgid R82008 came in just below
average with five holes drilled and ranked
second from the bottom in total number of
lag screws driven at 241⁄2, which is surprising given its 240 inch-pounds of torque.
The R82008 registered a cool 105º reading on the motor, which is tied for the coolest motor temperature. It didn’t fare quite so
well in the battery temperature at 138º.
Overall, this is a good-working drilldriver, but I don’t think the tool performed
well enough in the test to reach a “buy”
decision. Even with the added flashlight I
don’t think the kit is the choice to make.
Replacement batteries for the R82008
are available for $40.
makita.com or 800-462-5482
OStreet price: $133.99
milwaukeetool.com or
OStreet price: $149
ridgid.com or 866-539-1710
OStreet price: $139
the lower-voltage drill-drivers in this review,
the greatest number of holes is eight. The
results are similar when the lag-screw portion of testing is compared. It’s easy to see
that these drill-drivers are not the tools to
grab if you have heavy-duty work to perform.
But after you work with these tools for an
extended period of time, you’ll notice less
wear and tear on your body.
The tests are best for a comparison
between like tools and not to indicate workload capabilities. And because the purpose of
these smaller voltage drill-drivers is comfort
during use, it may be better to gauge the feel
of the tool in your hands, how balanced the
drill-driver is or isn’t and whether the battery charge is in line with the competition,
along with other characteristics.
Comfort is Key
A quick look at the chart at right reveals two
important areas when the overall feel of the
drills is discussed: girth measurement and
the total weight of the tool (the drill-driver
and the weight of the battery).
To choose an appropriate girth measurement, you have to evaluate your hands as
a beginning. Obviously, if you have large
hands, a small girth such as the 5" on the
Hitachi DS10DFL is going to swim in your
grip. But with medium-sized hands, I found
this drill-driver to be comfortable to use and
easy to grab.
The “easy to grab” part of the equation
could be due in part to the battery design.
Hitachi is the only drill-driver in the test
to keep the battery design similar to that
of larger drills, with a wide base design
that holds the tool upright for easy pickup. Hitachi’s competitors have all adapted
a smaller battery that slips inside the handle
of the tool, and that increases the girth of
the drill-driver.
Contrarily, if your hands are larger, you
may nd a better t with large-girth drills.
If that’s the case, the Milwaukee 2410-22 or
the Ridgid R82008 could be your choice.
Both of these drill-drivers have a girth of
61 ⁄4", the largest in the group.
The average weight for the 18-volt drills
is 4.1 pounds. The heaviest drill-driver in
this review is 2.64 pounds and the average is
2.57 pounds. That tells me a couple things.
First, the difference between 18-volts and
the lower voltage drill-drivers is signi cant –
1.46 pounds is better than a 50-percent
increase in weight over the smaller drills.
Popular Woodworking December 2009
Classic old versus new. Hitachi stayed with the
tried-and-true design similar to that of larger
drill-drivers. Other manufacturers moved
toward a new design of fitting the battery into
the handle.
Comfort is key. The acute angle at the rear of
the Bosch tool causes discomfort to your hand
during prolonged use. The more opened angle
on the Makita tool makes it more comfortable
to use.
Your arms and shoulders will feel better after
working a full day with any of these tools
versus an 18-volt drill-driver.
Second, there is little weight difference
when comparing these drill-drivers to each
other. Overall, there is a difference of only
63 ⁄4 ounces between the heaviest and lightest
of these tools. In my opinion, tool weight can
be discounted as being too close to warrant a
choice based solely on this characteristic.
of these drill-drivers, is the lock position.
(The lock position is used when drill bits or
screwdrivers are replaced.)
The Makita tool has the smallest rotation switch while the Craftsman switch is
the largest and most noticeable. It is also the
switch that’s the most dif cult to operate.
Because there are operations when you
need to increase or decrease the rotation
speed, each drill-driver has a two-speed
gearbox. As a result, changing those speeds
is of importance.
Each of the tools has the speed selector
on the top of the tool. On the Hitachi and
Craftsman drill-drivers, to select the lowspeed setting you push the selector forward,
and to move to the higher gear, you pull the
selector back. The other tools in the test work
in the reverse way.
Overall, the selector on the Hitachi drilldriver is the stiffest and hardest to adjust,
while the others are easy to change.
A Tip of the Drill
As for overall balance, a few of these drilldrivers feel more top-heavy than the others.
The Bosch and Makita drills tip forward
when set in the upright position, indicating that these drills would roll your wrist
downward when put to work. The Craftsman
and Ridgid tools sit upright, but tip with the
slightest touch. The Milwaukee drill-driver,
the heaviest tool in the test, is balanced and
stands squarely on its battery- lled base.
Another area where comfort becomes
apparent is with the over-molded grips
and the shape of the tool as it rests in your
hand. Most of the drill-drivers have a gentle
rounded shape at the rear of the tool, directly
behind the trigger. The Bosch and Ridgid
tools, however, form an acute angle that rubs
the area between your thumb and fore nger.
Not comfortable.
Rotation and Speed Selection
Each drill-driver has a rotation selection
switch for forward and reverse movement,
and a lock position. Push the switch fully to
the left and the drill rotates to drive a screw.
A switch pushed fully to the right backs a
screw out of your workpiece. And the center
position, which is hard to nd on a couple
Other Interesting Attributes
All the tools in this test have common attributes, such as multiple torque settings so
you can dial in the exact amount of torque
for any given task (although I seldom adjust
the torque settings) and each drill-driver
includes two batteries so the idea of completing a job without any downtime waiting
on batteries to recharge is minimal. (All the
tools have 30-minute chargers except for the
Makita DF330DW, which has a 50-minute
recharge time).
Interestingly, each of the tools in the
test require a two- nger grip, with a quick
squeeze, to change the batteries. For all the
drill-drivers except the Ridgid, the grip is
across the width of the tool. To change the
battery on the Ridgid, you pinch the battery
from front to back. Even with the difference
in how the batteries are replaced, the operations to change out the power sources are
equally smooth and easy.
Shine-on LED
Another feature that most drill-drivers have –
and all the tools in this test have as well – is
a light emitting diode (LED). And because
these tools are great for enclosed areas, the
LED differences should be discussed.
The standout LED is on the Makita driver.
It is brighter than the others in the test. And
more important, the LED comes on when
the trigger is slightly depressed. The Makita
LED also stays illuminated for 10 seconds
after the drill stops, then it fades to off.
The Ridgid LED is the second brightest. It, along with the Milwaukee LED, is
noticeably angled upward when compared
to the others.
The Milwaukee tool is the only one with
a fuel-gauge light to indicate battery power.
As the trigger is depressed, the LED shines,
and for a period of two to three seconds, a fuel
gauge light illuminates with one to four dots,
depending on the remaining charge.
Which Drill-driver to Choose
Choosing a 12-volt drill-driver should not
require that you give up on the tool’s ability
to be a workhorse in the shop just because
you need to work in tight areas. But comfort
is also a concern with repeated use. So which
drill driver do you choose?
The Editor’s Choice award goes to the
Milwaukee 2410-22. It’s the overall best tool.
It powered through the 1" holes and amassed
a whopping 491 ⁄ 2 driven lag screws. And
there is plenty of torque to do the job.
The 2410-22 registered a lowly 105º
motor temperature and scored near the average in battery temperature (138º). Excessive
heat should not shorten this tool’s life.
The Milwaukee drill-driver is well balanced and comfortable in your hand. The
rotation switch and speed selector are easy to
use without being switched inadvertently.
Also, the Milwaukee single-sleeve chuck
is the only all-metal chuck in the group.
But if the $149 price tag on the Milwaukee drill is too steep for your budget, take a
look at our “Best Value” drill-driver. Hitachi
claims this honor with the DS10DFL.
The test numbers for the Hitachi drill are
good, but are still behind those posted by
An onboard fuel indicator. The Milwaukee
2410-22 drill-driver is the only tool tested that
includes a battery fuel-gauge indicator. One
to four lights illuminate to show the amount of
charge remaining in your battery.
Milwaukee’s drill-driver. The tool is comfortable in small to medium hands, but large
hands may nd issues with it.
The Hitachi drill-driver is about $40 less
expensive than the 2410-22 and is considerably lighter. And I particularly like the
old-school battery/base design. PW
Glen is a senior editor of this magazine, the author of
several woodworking books and the host of several
woodworking DVDs. Contact him at 531-513-2690
x11293 or glen.huey@fwmedia.com.
Compact 12V Drill-drivers
NEXTEC 11812
30 min.
30 min.
30 min.
50 min.
30 min.
30 min.
* Only available as a kit with flashlight
Designer and builder of elegant but simple iconic furniture.
am Maloof is the reason I became a
furniture maker. I used to teach shop in
the early 1970s. The Portland (Ore.)Public
Schools maintained an audio/video depository for teachers and in those days most of
the technical choices were film strips with
the requisite recording that beeped when
it was time to roll forward. Dorky. The heat
from the projector was unbearable.
My woodshop “classroom” was small and
consisted of a series of tiered benches surrounded by windows reinforced by chicken
wire – a needed safety measure to protect
students from the occasional explosions in
the adjacent welding lab.
Sometime in 1974 I noticed a film titled
“Sam Maloof: Woodworker” and ordered it
for review. The next day after classes, I rolled
in the projector and watched a movie about a
woodworker who was unknown to me. It is
probably important to mention that I was 23
years old and 1,800 miles from home.
Time erodes my memory, but I believe
the film was around 30-40 minutes in length
and I watched the film five times in a row.
It was the most humbling experience of my
life. Here I was teaching woodworking and
Popular Woodworking December 2009
Sam Maloof, the son of Lebanese immigrants, was born in Chino, Calif., and
served in the U.S. Army during World
War II. He returned to Southern California
after leaving the army in 1945, and married Alfreda Ward in 1948. Maloof began
out of necessity building furniture for
their house from salvaged materials. After
receiving some commissions, he and
Freda moved to Alta Lomo, Calif., where
he opened a studio and built a home that
is now on the National Register of Historic
Places. Three years after Freda’s death,
he married Beverly Wingate and built a
second home on the property; the first is
now open to the public. Maloof’s iconic
work is in several major museums, and in
the White House.
realizing that I knew nothing about woodworking.
Produced by Maynard Orme (who later
served 19 years as the president and CEO
of Oregon Public Broadcasting), “Sam
Maloof: Woodworker” was impossible for
me to ignore. I remember a raging internal
debate as to whether I should show this to
my students for fear of exposing my own
ignorance. But I could not keep this from
my kids.
I have now seen that film well over 50
times and have learned something with each
viewing. At that time, I did not know about
pattern shaping, never had seen a rolling
pin sander, and it never occurred to me that
wood could be sculpted in such fashion. I
hate to admit it, but at that time I was Forrest Gump-dumb in regard to woodworking
– probably everything else too.
Within a year another film made the
catalog, featuring Wendle Castle’s music
rack (can’t remember the title). It was a cool
how-to film set to Modest Mussorgsky’s
“Picture at an Exhibition.” Then in 1975 I
received the first issue of Fine Woodworking
(which I still own). I did not know it at the
time, but my life was being swept up in a
woodworking tsunami that spanned the
entire planet. I don’t think we will ever see
a wave this big again.
It was early 1978 when I noticed an ad in
Fine Woodworking for the Anderson Ranch in
Snowmass, Colo. Listed was a three-week
summer hands-on workshop with … Sam
It was dusk when I pulled into the Anderson Ranch and while driving into campus I
noticed a barn with doors wide open. Alone
inside was Sam Maloof oiling a rocking
chair. I was such a star-struck wimp that I
quickly sped past to the check-in counter
for chickens.
The Anderson Ranch woodworking
classroom was two columns of workbenches.
I took the very last bench because I would not
like to look around, or over, a 6'3" awestruck
fellow like me who hogged the view.
On the third or fourth day an interesting
thing happened. Sam’s glasses broke at the
bridge and for the rest of the class, they were
held together with white tape – Hansonbrother style for you hockey fans.
The significance of this event was transformative for me because I then realized Sam
was just as susceptible to life’s quirks as the
rest of us. I also noticed that he worked fast.
Really fast.
One of my fondest memories of Sam is
from that class, in which I made my first
scooped chair seat. I was so excited and was
eager for Sam’s approval when I thought my
chair was ready for oiling.
“It will be fine when you get all the bumps
out.” He informed me, as I wondered how
his stovepipe fingers could feel anything.
“What bumps?” I asked; it appeared perfect to me.
“Are you right- or left-handed?” Sam
asked. “Left,” I said. “Put a pencil in your
left hand, close your eyes and feel the seat
with your fingertips. Every time you feel
a bump, color it with the pencil with eyes
closed. Dents are bumps on all sides. Do this
until you think you are done. Do not open
your eyes, and use all ten fingers.”
When I opened my eyes my chair seat
was almost entirely black. I was not only
shocked, but really discouraged. I scraped
all the marks off, and repeated the process
five or six more times. In the end, when the
finish was dry, it was easy to see the grace and
ow of the sculpted seat. It made the light
sing; the work was not only worth it, but its
own reward. It was then I knew furniture
making was for me.
When Sam left my station after sharing what I needed to do, he reminded me
that you are half done with a piece when it is
ready to sand. That also was an eye-opener.
I then realized that you are not green forever
and that this class with Sam Maloof would
change my life in unimaginable ways.
Finally, I raised my hand again. Sam came
by, ran both of his hands over my chair seat,
smiled, and walked over to another student.
It was the best day.
On the last day of class there was a picnic. Sam sought me out and apologized for
not spending much time with me. It was a
grand gesture, sincere and he really did feel
bad. I told him I was not there to talk but to
learn and that I was going to go home and
quit my job to be a furniture maker. It was
the easiest decision I ever made.
Before we parted company Sam asked
to see my portfolio. All I had were a couple pictures of a try-square I designed for
my beginning woodshop classes – I was
really embarrassed. In his customary way,
he told me he thought the try square was
Within a couple of years my work –
strongly in uenced by Sam’s forms – was
being accepted by juries. At some point Sam
called to congratulate me and I confessed
how hard it was to design without thinking about how Sam would do it. He told me
not to worry, that this will pass and I will
find my own voice. It was not long before I
had a three-year backlog of work and just
as Sam predicted, my later work bore no
resemblance to his own.
I never once saw Sam wear a dust mask,
and neither did I. My furniture-making
career came to a quick halt in 1983 with a
hyper-allergic reaction to wood dust. Bridge
City Tool Works was my last shot at selfunemployment.
Legendary rocker. The iconic Maloof rocker has
been made for presidents, celebrities and captains of
industry. Maloof used templates to guide the rough
work, but allowed the final form of each rocker to
change in response to the wood.
A couple of times a year there would be
tool shows in the Los Angeles basin and I
would stay with Sam and Freda on their
lemon grove property. We would talk until
Freda made Sam go to bed. It is here that I
learned that objects should be worthy of
the space they occupy – Sam surrounded
himself with the visual richness of others in
addition to his own work. There was a canoe
hanging from the ceiling – how cool.
Customer and Friend
Sam was an avid customer of Bridge City and
during one trip I asked him where all the
tools were that he had purchased. They’re
right here behind the sofa, he said, and he
pulled out a box and opened it. I said, “Why
don’t you use them?” “I do,” he replied. “I tell
everybody about these beautiful tools.”
Craftsmanship meant a great deal to
Sam and I will never forget it. The ego will
let your eyes lie, but your fingertips never
will. To this day, when I teach, I explain that
if something is supposed to be at, then it
better be at because the light will expose
your intent as awed.
And if you allow these sorts of compromises then the honor of calling oneself a
craftsman cannot be done in good faith. I
learned that anybody can do mediocre work
but fine work, well, this takes dedication,
understanding, patience and desire. Making
something worthy of the space it occupies is
not only hard, it is imperative. This lesson
has been the driving force behind Bridge
City tools for the past 25 years.
My last visit with Sam was a year ago;
I took Sam and “the boys” to lunch. Sam
asked to see our latest tool, which was the
CT-14 Shoulder Plane. When I told him
the price, Sam commented, “$800 is a lot
of money for a plane.” I retorted, “$35,000
for a rocking chair is a lot of money for a
piece of furniture.”
One of the boys interrupted: “Sam, you
are not going to win this one.”
And with a wink, he put the handplane
on his lap and asked if I could send him an
I don’t believe Bridge City would
exist without Sam Maloof. And like
so many others, I desperately wish he
were still here.
Thanks Sam. PW
John is the founder of Bridge City Tool Works in
Portland, Ore.
A woodworking teacher and writer whose influence will live on.
here is a short list of woodworkers
whose work defines a style and is recognizable at first glance. Those on it have undeniably influenced other woodworkers, shaped
our culture and molded our tastes. James
Krenov is on that list.
Jim (everyone called him “Jim” or “JK”),
who died Sept. 9, 2009, in Fort Bragg, Calif.,
was born in Wellen, Siberia in 1920. He
moved to Shanghai as a child before emigrating with his family to Alaska. The Krenovs
later moved to Seattle where Jim built and
refurbished yachts at Jensen Motorboat,
later serving as a Russian Language Interpreter for the Lend-Lease Program before
and during WWII.
Then he moved again, this time to Europe
where Jim began to build architectural models. He met his future bride, Britta, in Paris;
they were married in 1951. He attended the
Malmsten School in Stockholm for two years
before striking out on his own, gradually
Popular Woodworking December 2009
building a reputation for innovative design.
Following the publication of his first book,
“A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook,” Jim began
teaching woodworking at schools around
the world. His influence as an artisan with
a viewpoint and passion reached far beyond
his classrooms and his own shop.
During my art school years, a frequent
topic of discussion regarded the essential
difference between art and craft. Through
the years I’ve adopted a simple criterion in
my ongoing effort to understand the issues:
Craft needs to be functional; art does not.
A chair, no matter how “artful” the design,
must perform a certain, familiar function: It
must be strong enough for an average person
to sit in and comfortable enough to want to.
If the “art” part of the chair’s design takes
it outside those simple parameters, it may
not be a chair anymore. It may be sculpture (art). Art expresses aesthetic elements
without concern for function. Craft must
include consideration for the utilitarian
function of the object: one we can sit on,
cover our bed with, or display our treasures
in. Memorable craft-works combine exceptional aesthetic design with both hand and
engineering skills – skills that do not necessarily constrain the artist. Craft is at its
most memorable when it blends aesthetics
with the physical, utilitarian demands of
the object being crafted.
So it is with the works of Jim Krenov.
His iconic cabinets embody a rare synergy
of art and craft – genuine artistic brilliance
executed with flawless craftsmanship. At
the very first glance, Jim’s work is striking
and recognizable on purely aesthetic terms.
His proportions always satisfy; the materials draw the eye; his passion for the wood
is obvious. On closer examination, the fit
and finish, attention to detail and flawless
construction all combine to further enhance
the experience. The wood itself is the domiLEAD PHOTO BY SAM HOCK; CABINET PHOTO BY DAVID WELTER
nant design element in each piece, and this
initial impression is reinforced as a more
intimate inspection reveals beautiful grain
orchestrated and harmonized throughout
the piece. Added decoration is minimal, a
restraint all the more apparent with Jim’s
additions of simple, hand-carved pulls
and handles. Hardware is just enough to
allow doors to open, only what is needed
to allow the piece to function as designed.
And, it is impossible to stand before one
of Jim’s cabinets and not open a door, pull
out a drawer, to touch it. The tactile is as
satisfying as the visual: Drawers glide with
a whisper, doors close with a puff. They are
simply magnificent.
While his cabinetmaking had the power
to change the world on its own, it is James
Krenov (his nom de plume) the philosopher
who influenced a global audience through
his books: “A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook”
(1975), “The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking”
(1977), “The Impractical Cabinetmaker”
(1979), “Worker in Wood” (1981) and “With
Wakened Hands” (2000). All are highly recommended. As I peruse the online forums,
reading memorial statements from woodworkers regarding Jim’s influences on them,
I am struck time and again by how someone’s
life was changed by Jim’s writings, how statements like, “His book showed me a new way
of working, of looking at wood” are common. How many books about craft in general
or any craft in particular have influenced
so many so profoundly? In addition to his
brilliance as an artisan, Jim’s writings are a
remarkable legacy in their own right and will
be remembered forever as pivotal treatises
on 20th-century craft.
and presented his finished works to the
class, just as the students do. He left large
shoes to fill when he retired in 2002 but the
instructors had for the most part been there
for years, some since the early 80s, working
and teaching with Jim. They continue today
teaching the “Krenov” approach to – and love
of – wood and woodworking. Jim’s legacy
lives not only in his works and books, but
in the school and curriculum he developed
and in the hundreds of students he taught
from around the world.
I am surely the luckiest blademaker in the
world. I was making knives – a lone craftsman in the woods – one at a time, selling
them at craft fairs, when one of the instructors approached me to make some blades for
the planes that Jim advocated so glowingly
in his teachings and books (he called the
plane “the cabinetmaker’s violin”).
At that time there were no decent blades
or cap irons available anywhere. So, Jim and
his students used mediocre replacement
blades from the hardware store and found
creative solutions to the cap iron problem.
Together, Jim, his assistants and students
helped me come up with a blade to suit Jim’s
Beginning of a Business, Friendship
I moved to Fort Bragg in October 1981
which, serendipitously, was the very month
of the grand opening of Jim Krenov’s Fine
Woodworking Program at the College of
the Redwoods. In all my years of art school,
I never saw classes as energetic and open,
students who are as dedicated and sharing,
nor teachers more professional and expert
than those in that program. Ideas, skills and
tools are shared with enthusiasm, honesty
and trust. New work is presented to generous, constructive criticism.
Jim worked at a bench in the classroom
and openly shared inspirations and techniques, solved problems, fielded endless
questions about his or the student’s work,
Iconic cabinet. This spalted maple cabinet on legs,
completed in April 1995, typifies Krenov’s unparalleled
approach to working with grain patterns.
wooden plane. Jim, especially, was pleased
with my products and would take my brochures and sample blades when he went to
do his “song and dance” around the country.
I once asked him if I could say “Krenovstyle” to describe the blades in an ad. Without hesitation he said, “Say ‘Krenov-quality.’
It sounds better!”
My friendship with Jim continued from
this support in the early 80s until his death.
I’d show up at the school’s shop, wares in
hand, and he’d shout out, “Hold on to your
wallets, Ron’s here!” More recently, when
asked how he was doing, he’d often reply
with, “Not bad for an old man” or, “We aren’t
buying any green bananas!” His thin and
scratchy voice still rings in my ears. His 2002
retirement was only from teaching, as Jim
continued cabinetmaking for several more
years until his failing eyesight prohibited the
close detail work his craft demanded.
Though Jim no longer made furniture,
his love of woodworking and working in his
shop never diminished. He embarked on
making planes to keep himself busy. I had
the pleasure of providing him with plane
irons, which meant that Jim and I kept regularly in touch as he busily made planes (by
feel, more than by eye). He’d call me for more
blades and I’d sharpen and deliver them to
his house. Jim had a reputation for being
demanding, sometimes difficult, but he was
always grateful and gracious when I arrived,
and made sure we caught up about our families and our various endeavors.
As the visual fog of late-stage glaucoma
increased, Jim sometimes needed help
adapting his shop so he could continue to
work. Modifying his grinder with a wider
wheel to increase the target area when he
ground a blade; adding an additional task
light at the band saw to help see what he
was cutting. (Yes, in spite of rather severe
visual impairment, he still used his power
tools in the making of his signature planes.
At some point I no longer cringed with fear;
who could stop Jim Krenov?) He was always
very appreciative of my small efforts to help
his work and I always enjoyed visiting with
him and his wife, Britta.
I often say that through his writings,
teaching and uncompromising dedication
to craft, Jim launched the careers of a legion
of woodworkers – but maybe just one metalworker. Thanks, Jim. We’ll miss you. PW
Ron founded and owns Hock Tools in Fort Bragg, Calif.
With simple lines and straightforward joinery,
this project yields ample shelf space (and drawers to boot).
his large case-on-case shelving unit
is adapted from similar pieces I’ve seen in
private libraries and in stately homes. I also
dug up a few pictures from the Sotheby’s
and Christie’s auction sites, where the form
is referred to as a “bibliotheque” (also the
French word for library).
Those examples, however, all feature
intricate mouldings and fancy corbels and
are more adorned than would look right in
my less-than-stately 1895 home. I do, however, have 10' ceilings and an embarrassment of books, so while I didn’t want fancy,
I did want big. So I reconceived the form
in a Shaker-on-steroids style – the piece is
just shy of 50" wide x 90" high. It will fit in
a room with standard ceiling heights, but
in case I ever needed to use the top and bottom separately, I installed a solid top for the
bottom case so it can stand alone (and with
the addition of a cushion, it would make a
handsome hall bench).
The size did have me fretting about stock
costs, so I culled the “shorts” bin at our local
lumber store for lower-priced cherry, and
found a nicely figured wide piece for the
drawer fronts, as well as sufficient stock for
the lower case and all the shelves. The shelves
are made of some rather homely boards,
Popular Woodworking December 2009
but because I added a lip to the front for
strength and appearance, you can’t actually
tell – unless you remove the books and take
a close look. I did have to go to the regularprice rack for the upper-case face frame and
sides, but I saved money by using poplar for
the backboards, which I painted to match
the trim in the living room.
Bottom’s Up First
First, I cut my parts to rough sizes then surfaced and thicknessed all the stock but the
drawer fronts, and glued up panels for the
sides, lower case top and upper case top, and
all the shelves. I never cut my pieces to final
size until I need them – and then I mark cuts
using the project as a guide, not the cutlist.
No matter how meticulous I am with the
measuring, things are never perfect. But,
once my pieces are cut to size, I plane and finish-sand as much as possible before assembly
because it’s hard to maneuver around a piece
the size of a New York apartment.
Because I didn’t have a 7"-wide piece for
the lower rail, or two 49"-long pieces with
matching grain that I could glue up, I had to
scab on a 4" x 14" piece at each rail end for the
curved feet (the downside of parsimony).
I then traced my pattern onto each foot,
cut it at the band saw and smoothed the cuts
on a spindle sander – but had to resort to
hand-sanding where the curve met the at.
After setting up the mortiser with a 1 ⁄4"
bit, I made a 11 ⁄2"-wide mortise for the 2"wide center stile dead in the middle of the
lower rail, then moved to the table saw to
cut 11 ⁄ 4"-long tenons on each end using a
dado stack.
Holding the workpiece took a little
thought, because the two feet created a notsolid surface on the bottom edge (a good
argument for spending a little extra to make
the lower rail and feet out of one board – or
at least a solid panel glue-up, and cutting
the tenons before cutting out the feet). But
no worries – a 3"-long offcut clamped to the
sliding table did the trick. I cut each tenon
face in two passes, first removing 3 ⁄4" or so
at the end before pushing the end against the
fence to remove the remainder of the waste
on each shoulder.
The resulting tenon was 61 ⁄2" wide – on
the cusp of too wide to offer sufficient mortise-wall strength – so I split it by sawing out
a 1"-wide piece with a coping saw, then chiseled the shoulder flat while removing the
remaining waste. I cut 11 ⁄4" tenons on the
upper rail and center stile at the table saw,
Simple shelves. Though it’s large, this Shakerinspired bookcase is fairly simple to make –
and three adjustable shelves make it simple
to fit books of all sizes.
Scabby feet. Because I had very little extra stock, and not enough with matching grain to glue up a
solid panel for the curved bottom rail, I had to scab on the foot piece at either end.
marked then cut the mortises on the side
rails at the mortiser. After I glued together
the face frame and set it aside to dry, it was
on to the side pieces.
I marked the curved cutout on each piece,
then made the cuts at the band saw. (Note:
the apex is not centered; it’s 3 ⁄4" closer to the
front.) Because the full dado stack was still
in place, I went ahead and added a sacrificial
fence, then cut a 3 ⁄4" x 7⁄16" rabbet up the back
of each side piece to house the backboards. In
retrospect, I should have cut an 11" stopped
rabbet, because the backboards don’t go all
the way to the oor. While the unnecessary
7" portion of rabbet doesn’t show, the base
would be stronger without it.
I adjusted the dado stack to make a 3 ⁄4"wide cut, and made a 1 ⁄4"-deep dado across
each side piece 7" from the bottom (the top
edge of the dado is ush with the top of the
lower front rail) to accept the web frame,
which is joined with pocket screws. I glued
the web frame into the dados on each side,
squared it up and tightened the clamps.
After the glue dried, I glued on the face
frame and attached a rail across the top of
the back, ush with the backboard rabbets,
with pocket screws.
Upper Case
Cut the curve. I traced my pattern onto each foot and made the cuts at the band saw.
Jigged up. Because the feet created a non-flat surface, and the sliding table is shorter than my
workpiece, I simply clamped a flat piece of scrap to the fence against which I could hold the rail
while I made the tenons.
Popular Woodworking December 2009
First, I cut the mortises and tenons for the
face frame and glued it together (luckily, no
one had adjusted the mortiser from when
I did the lower face frame). I made it about
1 ⁄ 8" oversized on the sides (as I did with
the lower case face frame), so I could ush
it easily to the sides later with a ush-trim
router bit.
Then it was on to the side pieces, and
cutting dados for the bottom and middle
fixed shelves. Workholding was tricky here,
because the side pieces are 701 ⁄2" long – well
over the edge of the saw table. So, I clamped
a handscrew around the crosscut sled fence,
on which to rest the overhanging part. This,
however, meant I couldn’t use the stop on
the sled, so a stepoff block on the fence
solved the problem to locate the 3 ⁄4" dados
for the fixed bottom shelf.
I also cut 3 ⁄ 4" dados in each side 303 ⁄ 8"
from the bottom for the center fixed shelf,
and marked and drilled holes for the adjustable shelf pins. The locations were figured
from a graduated shelf progression – but
with the remaining three shelves adjustable, it’s unlikely that progression will ever
be evident.
Split tenon. A 61 2"-wide tenon is too big, so I
split it using a coping saw then chiseled out the
remainder of the waste.
Stiff Lips
With the sides done, I cut the bottom and
middle shelves to size (note that the widths
are different; the bottom shelf has no lip),
and glued a 11 ⁄2"-wide lip across the front
edge of the middle shelf, leaving just better
than 1 ⁄4" of the shelf’s front edge uncovered
at each end to slip into the dados.
After the glue dried and I sanded the lip
ush, I ran a bead of glue in each side-panel
dado, set the fixed shelves in place ush with
the front edge of the side, clamped across,
then toenailed the fixed shelves in place. Be
careful with the angle of your nail gun and
the length of your nails. I blew through the
side once. OK, maybe three times.
While that glue-up dried, I added lips to
the three adjustable shelves, keeping them
just shy of either end to make shelf adjustment easier (the face frame covers the shelf
ends, so the gap won’t show).
Next, I added the face frame, and got
a little help clamping it up square – there
was simply no way for me to reach corner
to corner to pull things into place without
assistance. Then, I pocket-screwed a rail at
the top edge to which I later attached the
Topping Things Off
I cut the upper- and lower-case tops to size,
and rounded over the edges with #80-grit
sandpaper until I liked the way it looked,
then progressed through grits to #180 until
the shaped edge was smooth.
The lower-case top is attached with Lshaped wood buttons, and has a 1" overhang
on the front and at each side; the uppercase top (to which the crown attaches) has
a 27⁄8" overhang on the front and either side.
It’s screwed to the back rail, sides and face
Framed. The pocket-screwed web frame was glued into the side panel grooves and squared up
before I tightened down the clamps.
More jigs. Again faced with secure workholding problems at the table saw, I used a handscrew
attached to the sliding table to support one end, and an stepoff block at the other to safely locate
the groove for the bottom fixed shelf.
Toenails. Be sure
you have 11 4"
nails in your gun
– or if it’s loaded
with 11 2" nails,
make sure you
angle your shots
enough so that
you don’t blow
through the sides.
Or keep the nippers handy.
A little help please. With a big glue-up, it’s best to rope a friend into helping. By oneself, it’s difficult to tighten all the clamps down quickly without things sliding around – or reach corner to
corner should you need to square things up. Or click a camera button from 9' away.
Crown moulding. To make a simple crown,
angle your stock at 45° to the blade and center
the blade on the stock (or cut it just off-center so you have a thicker flat on one edge, if
you like that look). Then clamp a long offcut
beyond the blade to serve as a fence. Make
repeated cuts in each piece of stock, raising the
blade a little each time. Stay tight against your
fence and to the table. Though I’m not wearing
one here, a dust mask would be a good idea.
Bibliophile’s Bookcase
Upper Case
Upper rail
Lower rail
3⁄ 4
3⁄ 4
3⁄ 4
3⁄ 4
Bottom fixed shelf 3⁄4
Middle fixed shelf 3⁄4
Adjustable shelves 3⁄4
3⁄ 4
Shelf lips
3⁄ 4
3⁄ 4
varies Backboards
47 3⁄16
47 3⁄16
1 4
147⁄8 5511⁄16
varies 701⁄2
47 3⁄16
47 3⁄16
Rough size
Upper rail
Lower rail
3⁄ 4
Outer stiles
Center stile
Drawer fronts
3⁄ 4
P varies
3⁄ 4
3⁄ 4
3⁄ 4
3⁄ 4
3⁄ 4
3⁄ 4
141⁄2 5115⁄16
varies 113⁄4
Long rails
Short rails
Center stile
3⁄ 4
3⁄ 4
3⁄ 4
* Tenon both ends, 11⁄4"; ** Tenon one end
Popular Woodworking December 2009
My backboards are shiplapped randomwidth poplar, and in the upper case they’re
painted. I did cut a chamfer on the front of
each for added visual interest – not that it will
show when the case is loaded with books.
In the lower section, the backboards are
unpainted and have no chamfer – but they
do run vertically to match the top. (If you
Size sides, bottom to fit
Web Frame
I dislike making crown moulding. It is incredibly dusty, and my arms get an unwanted (but
not unneeded) workout pushing 3 ⁄4" stock
at an angle across the table saw blade. But
there’s no getting around it. So I had to set
up the table saw, suck it up (the dust, that is)
and get it done. And then there’s the sanding.
Lots of sanding.
The simplest way to fit the crown is to
invert the upper case, then wrap the moulding around the front and two ends. Secure it to
the top, sides and face frame with brads.
Put Your Back Into It
Lower Case
A Dusty Crown
To watch a video of making crown moulding and for more information on fitting
crown, go to:
55 ©"
1 ø"
have an 11"-wide piece, you could get away
with one board, run horizontally. But your
co-workers might snicker at the idea.)
Hidden Storage
Last, I fit the inset drawer fronts and constructed drawers with half-blind dovetails at
the front, and through-dovetails at the back.
The bottom is an upside-down raised panel
slid into a groove (the back edge isn’t beveled),
then secured to the drawer back with a 11 ⁄2"
shingle nail. I suspect these drawers would
have originally housed candles and perhaps
paper and writing implements; I’m using
them to store extraneous cat toys.
The finish is two sprayed coats of amber
shellac (with sanding after each) and a top
coat of pre-catalyzed lacquer. PW
888-401-1900 or rejuvenation.com
square bin pulls in oil-rubbed bronze
#EC 7004, $7 ea.
800-279-4441 or rockler.com
Megan is managing editor of this magazine. She
can be reached at 513-531-2690 x11348 or megan.
16-pack of 1/4" shelf supports
#33902, $4.89
Prices correct at time of publication.
Build a
Making a boomerang is simple, fast
and will set your head spinning.
f you like a challenge, enjoy having
an excuse to be outside and are looking for
ideas for practical projects, you’ll find that
building a boomerang is great fun.
Also, boomerangs are a great project to
build with family members you’ve wanted
to introduce to woodworking. And when
you are done you get to go to the park and
spend time together throwing them.
I have just one warning: Boomerangs will
draw a curious crowd of onlookers.
A Little Science of Boomerangs
Here’s the first rule of boomerangs: Do not
be afraid of trial and error. There are a wide
variety of shapes that will work.
Boomerangs operate on the principle of
“gyroscopic precession,” which is similar to
About to take flight. The students loved watching their classmates throw boomerangs
almost as much as they enjoyed throwing them. Above, Jon Roberts throws his “Bat-erang”
as his friends observe his effortless (athletic) throwing technique from a safe distance
behind. From the look on Jon’s face it is easy to see that Troy High School students take
boomerangs very seriously.
Popular Woodworking December 2009
riding a bike no handed and attempting to
initiate a turn. In bike riding, the spinning
(gyroscopic) motion of the wheels gives the
bike stability. To execute a “no hands” bicycle
turn, you simply lean the bike in the direction that you wish to turn. The wheels have
a delayed reaction to the force of the leaning
action. This way, the wheels actually feel the
force a quarter turn from where the force was
applied. So instead of falling over, the bicycle
turns in the desired direction.
Unlike riding a bicycle with “no hands”
while turning, the boomerang experiences
a continuous turn as the force is applied for
the duration of the flight. The boomerang is
thrown with a slight tilt from vertical (more
on this later). The gyroscopic nature of a
spinning boomerang and the release angle
(called the “layover angle”) causes the boomerang’s flight angle to flatten out as it turns.
Thus a well-balanced, well-contoured and
well-thrown boomerang will return to the
thrower in a horizontal hover. Most people
expect that this will take practice though.
The duration of flight is determined by
the force with which the boomerang was
thrown as well as the spin applied at launch.
Here’s the windup. “Beast”
was one mean flying wing.
Demonstrating that not
only do you have to have a
carefully made boomerang
for success, but also good
throwing form, Do H. Kim
throws the boomerang he
made. Notice the pinch
grip as Do Kim prepares to
release his boomerang into
flight. Everyone would stop
to watch when “Beast” was
launched; it flew that well.
As with any object flying through the
air, a boomerang is subject to drag
its own weight as it makes its flight
pattern. This drag slows the boomerang down, thereby limiting
the flight time. However, given
enough spin and initial velocity, the
boomerang will circle above the thrower’s
head a few times before landing.
Choosing a Shape
And a Material
Even if you don’t fully understand how
boomerangs work, you can still make one
that flies quite well. There are a wide variety
of plans available on the Internet (type in
“boomerang plans” into any search engine).
Or you can start with the scaled plans here
or download full plans from the Popular
Woodworking web site that you can print
and adhere directly to the wood.
For your first boomerang, pick a simple
design, which will be easy to make and
throw. In other words, it is best not to pick
a complex design that is for trick flying.
The traditional wood used by the aboriginal tribes of Australia to make boomerangs is
Plywood that flies. Boomerangs come in a surprising number of shapes. All of
these versions fly. This article shows you how you can make your own flying
wing with just a few hours of shop time.
Myall brigalow (Acacia harpophylla). According to George Simonds Boulger in his book
“Wood: A Manual of the Natural History
and Industrial Applications of the Timber of
Commerce” (BiblioLife), this native wood is
“brown, strongly violet-scented, very heavy,
very hard, elastic, durable, splitting freely.
Used for turnery, tobacco-pipes, vine-stakes,
spears and boomerangs.”
A practical, quality and easy-to-workwith material for this project is plywood.
However, the plywood at the big box stores
isn’t a good choice. Boomerangs are essentially flying wings, and better grades of
plywood are more durable. In fact some plywoods are engineered for flying projects.
When I teach high school physics students to build boomerangs, I prefer to use
1 4"-thick Baltic birch or Finnish birch. Baltic
birch costs less, but Finnish birch is lami-
nated with waterproof glue so it can hold
up better outdoors. The two plywoods are
easy to tell apart. The glue lines for Baltic
are similar in color to the wood. The waterproof glue used in Finnish birch is a dark
chocolate color.
Rough Out Your Boomerang
Once you have your wood and a pattern,
you’ll need to gather the tools. You need
some sort of saw that can cut curves, such
as a band saw, coping saw or bowsaw. To
smooth the shape and thin the edges of your
boomerang you need files and sandpaper.
A spindle sander is nice to have, but it is
not required.
If you are going to make several boomerangs in one shape, I recommend you make
a pattern. We use paper bags, poster board
or thin plastic sheeting.
Start with a simple pattern. Melanie Jonas
traces a bi-wing pattern onto 1 4" plywood.
The next step is to head over to the band saw.
This pattern was so popular that I made a
wooden pattern for the students to be able to
Transfer the boomerang’s shape to the
wood blank. Then cut the shape out with
your saw. I use this opportunity to teach
the physics students how to use a band saw
safely. Many students have never used power
tools and this was a great way to introduce
their safe use.
I survey my students about their experiences with the tools, and here’s what one
female student, Lo Struga, had to say about
the band saw: “It felt like the first time I heard
the Beatles, it was amazing.”
Once the shape of the boomerang is sawn
out, you can refine its outline with a spindle
sander or files and sandpaper.
Shaping the Airfoil
Now you need to make some important
decisions. Like golf clubs, boomerangs are
“handed.” How the boomerang’s airfoil is
laid out and shaped depends on whether the
person who is going to throw the boomerang
is right-handed or left-handed.
Swooping cuts. There are two large Powermatic band saws in the school shop. Our
Industrial Technology teacher, Al Merian,
was a great help, generously making the shop
available to the physics students. Here Danny
Forche is cutting out his boomerang while a
line of students wait their turns at the band
saw. Just like woodworking school.
The illustration below shows the airfoil
shape of a right-handed boomerang. For a
left-handed boomerang, you simply reverse
the airfoil shape.
First mark the top of the boomerang. As
with airplane wings, the airfoils on a boomerang have a leading and a trailing edge.
The leading edge is a quarter-round shape
and the trailing edge tapers off the top of the
boomerang like the cross-section of a typical
airplane wing. Mark the two leading edges
and the two trailing edges so you do not file
them incorrectly (a common mistake my
students make). The bottom face of the wing
is completely flat.
Lay out the leading and trailing edges
of the wings based on which hand will do
Smooth edges soar. At the spindle sander,
Todd Geiser re nes the edge of his boomerang
blank. The spindle sander is an ef cient tool for
smoothing the perimeter of the boomerang.
Getting one smooth and fair line all the way
around the boomerang is the goal at this stage.
the throwing. A marking gauge can be used
for this (or the old trick of holding a finger
against the edge). Mark in on the top the distance that the contour retreats back from the
boomerang’s edge to its top surface.
The quarter-round shape generally
extends about 1 4" from the edge, while the
trailing edge extends about 1" to 11 2" into
the material. Note that you only have to
shape one face of the plywood. The other
face is left flat. See the illustration below to
understand how the airfoil shape looks on
a simple “V”-shaped boomerang. Note how
the leading edge and trailing edge change
along the length of the boomerang.
Leading edge
Leading edge
Trailing edge
Trailing edge
Leading edge
Popular Woodworking December 2009
Rasp your airfoil. Clamps help to steady the
boomerang blank while the airfoil is brought
to life. In this photo, Mike Laba uses a rasp
to make quick work of the shaping process.
Notice that Mike has positioned the boomerang off the edge of the bench so the the rasp
does not damage Mr. Merian’s benches.
Shape the airfoil with rasps, files and
sandpaper. There are a variety of rasps
available out there. We use Nicholson cabinetmakers No. 49 and 50 cabinet rasps.
These tools fascinated the students and they
understood their importance to the whole
“The files (and rasps) were indeed
important in the success of our boomerangs because the files sculpted the airfoils,”
Drew Jarvis commented.
And Whitney Regalski added: “Without
files, the shape I was shooting for would
never have been accomplished.”
A boomerang is actually a flying rotating
rotor, like on a helicopter. The airfoil shape
needs to be consistent, and this is where the
plys in plywood help in the design of the
project. As the glue lines appear from the
plys it is easy to observe the progress when
shaping of the airfoils.
The optional finishing touch to shaping
the airfoil is to slightly bevel the back edge
Fine-tune with sandpaper. After a couple test
flights, Andrew Mihoc adds some re nement
to the shape of the airfoils on this tri-blade boomerang with some sandpaper.
of the wing (if you wish). Or, another option
is to make some test throws first and see if
your boomerang is making a complete turn.
If it is not, then file a slight back bevel on the
flat face of the leading edge.
Before you decorate your boomerang,
you should take it for a test spin because you
might want to refine its airfoil.
Throwing Technique
When teaching students to throw a boomerang, we start by using example boomerangs made with paper and cardboard
in the classroom.
Throwing requires a little practice, so it
is worth the time to make a few quick cardboard practice boomerangs. Cereal boxes are
a great raw material for this. You can make a
quick cardboard boomerang using two strips
of cardboard approximately 1" wide and 8"
to 10" long. Use hot-melt glue to form them
into the shape of a plus sign. Put a gentle
upward curl on the four blades and throw
using the same techniques described below
for throwing wooden boomerangs.
The throwing technique has a few key
components, regardless of the material.
Pinch the boomerang between your thumb
and index finger and hold it over your head.
Your thumb grasps the airfoil shape. The
index finger is against the flat face of
the boomerang.
Now hold your arm perfectly
vertical. Before you throw,
you need to tilt your arm
10° to 20° away from your
body. This is called the “layover angle.” See
the illustration on the next page for what
this looks like.
The throwing motion employs a lot of
wrist action to generate the necessary spin
around the center of mass of the thrown
wing. Throw the boomerang at an angle
of 45° from the front of the body. (That’s
with straight out in front being 0° and arms
held straight out at the sides being 90°.) The
angles are guidelines to get you started in the
right direction. Do not be afraid to experiment with the throwing angles.
When throwing a boomerang outside, the
wind should be light and blowing straight
into your face. The throw is still 45° from
the front. Aim for a point about 10° above
the horizon. This will send the boomerang
flying. See the illustrations on the next page
for details.
One of the important reasons to make
indoor boomerangs before making wood
ones is to learn the throwing motion.
Indoors, the flight patterns are smaller,
and the feedback for good and poor throws
and working designs occurs quickly. The
cardboard ’rangs are quite harmless if they
hit someone, too.
Once everyone is able to prove that they
can throw a boomerang and not a “stick”
or “kylie” (as a non-returning boomerang
is called in Australia), then it is time to
find a place outside to throw your wooden
Perfect form. Just as it begins to rain,
J.D. Dennison cannot resist one last throw
of a tri-wing boomerang. Tri-wing boomerangs
spin very fast, but do not fly as far as the more
traditional bi-wings. It is easy to see from
Dennison’s wind-up that boomerangs can
be thrown quite hard.
Find a Space to Throw
The larger the throwing area the better, especially when learning to throw. Parks are areas
worth scouting. A football or soccer field is
a good-size space to start with. There is less
chance of losing a boomerang if the area is
very large. Do not throw in an area where
there are children, pets, cars or structures
that may get in the way.
After five years of teaching physics students to make and throw boomerangs, there
have been a few surprises. One surprise is
just how well the boomerangs fly. The other
shock is just how much the students enjoy
the entire process. They carry their boomerangs around the school and even trade
boomerangs with one another.
And a few times every year some students
will bring some boomerangs to class that
they didn’t make at school. Yup. The students
have been at home making boomerangs with
their parents. One female student said that
she didn’t have any interest in her dad’s shop
until they made a boomerang together. In
several cases, the student’s parents became
so interested in the boomerangs that once the
kids showed their parents (and even grandparents) how to make them, they would
make boomerangs on their own. PW
Trevor is a physics teacher at Troy High School. He was
introduced to woodworking in middle school woodshop. He now creates furniture pieces and wood turnings in his home workshop. Smith also teaches various
woodworking skills and project classes at the Woodcraft store near his home in Sterling Heights, Mich.
How to Throw a Boomerang
Wind direction
45º away
from wind
45º away
from wind
Don’t throw into the
wind. Aim at 45° away
from the wind’s direction.
Where to aim. Throw the boomerang at about 10°
above the horizon with a flick of your wrist to set it
Tilt your arm. Angle your
forearm away from your
head (layover) to return
the boomerang on your
opposite side. If it passes
too far away, hold your
forearm closer to vertical
when you throw.
Never sidearm!
Popular Woodworking December 2009
The Winners:
Big Wood Vise
Blue Spruce
Eccentric Toolworks
Red Tape
ith the world’s economy taking a nose dive in 2009, we saw
a lot of things happen to the tool-making community. Many of the major
manufacturers, which were pummeled by the housing market, played it
safe this year. Either they held out on introducing new tools that would
require a big investment in the factories, or they diverted their resources
However, some toolmakers, particularly individual makers, small
companies and lean manufacturers, kept going. And as a result we saw
the most unusual crop of new tools and machines in a long time.
Many of the machinery makers were cautious in 2009, but Grizzly
Industrial and SawStop in particular still seemed to be firing on all cylinders. And their efforts definitely show in this year’s list of our 12 Best
New Tools.
And on the hand-held power tool side of the market, Makita seems
unstoppable when it comes to continuously refining the products in its
strong areas (as least as far as woodworkers are concerned): cordless
drills and miter saws.
But the big story is the number of the amazing hand tools we saw
across the board in all price ranges. Check out the list. You’ll see what I
mean. And if you want to see reviews of our runners-up to this list, visit
our web site at popularwoodworking.com/dec09.
— Christopher Schwarz, editor
Tail Vise
For years we’ve watched the quality of
vise hardware decline as old-school
factories closed. This year we’ve had a
renaissance with some new vise makers
coming onto the scene, including LieNielsen Toolworks.
One of the most delightful newcomers
has been Benchcrafted, a small Midwestern company that makes a simply awesome tail vise. I installed the tail vise onto
my workbench and was blown away by
how smoothly it moves and how firmly it
grabs the work. Plus, unlike a traditional
tail vise, this unit won’t sag.
Everyone who visits our shop wants
one. This is a lifetime vise.
BLUE SPRUCE Round Mallet
Few tools in our shop get universal acclaim, mallet since February, have been using it
but the new resin-impregnated mallet from just about every day and have yet to make a
Blue Spruce Toolworks sure comes close. dent in it. It still looks as good as when I got
Since I purchased one of these mallets it out of the box.
We think this plastic technology could
from the Oregon-based company, two of
the other woodworkers in our shop fol- be used in other woodworking tools. Blue
Spruce already uses it in handles for bench
lowed suit.
The mallet is almost impossible to resist. chisels. It would be great for the handles of
It’s the perfect weight (1 lb.) and size (81 2" mortise chisels – those receive a whupping.
long). It’s beautifully finished. It’s perfectly It also could be used in the totes for saws and
balanced. But what is really astonishing planes – these are notoriously fragile. How
about the mallet is how it can take a beat- about a wooden try square made from it? (I
assume the acrylic reduces or eliminates
ing without getting beat up.
Most wooden mallets (round or square) the expansion and contraction process.)
become dogmeat in short order – no matter Hammer handles? Stay tuned.
what sort of wood you use. The
Blue Spruce sidesteps that problem by using an acrylic-infused
head. Every pore is filled with
plastic, yet the mallet feels
like wood to your hands and
responds like wood when you
hit something. That is, it doesn’t
bounce like a rubber mallet.
It also has a lot of punch for
a mallet of this size, though it’s
definitely not a wrist breaker
like a cast-iron mallet can be.
I’ve had this Blue Spruce
SAWSTOP Contractor Saw
By now everyone knows about the patented and
effective sawblade-stopping technology that is
the heart of every SawStop machine. But what
everyone doesn’t know is just how good the contractor version of this saw is.
When equipped with the company’s T-glide
fence and solid cast iron wings, this is a serious
woodworking saw. The fit and finish is outstanding and the guarding system is excellent (SawStop
was among the first to embrace the new guards).
And I don’t think we’ve ever had a contractor saw
in here that was as easy to assemble.
In working with the saw, we found it to be
stable and powerful – it has a 13 4-horsepower
motor like many hybrid table saws.
If you spring for the saw, we also recommend
the excellent mobile base, which lifts the saw
with ease and is quite stable.
To be sure, the SawStop costs more than
other contractor saws, but it’s a no-compromise
machine. Not on quality. And not on safety.
Popular Woodworking December 2009
VERITAS NX60 Block Plane
GRIZZLY G0636X Band Saw
Veritas has a well-earned
reputation for making excellent hand tools at reasonable prices, so some people
thought this Canadian company had gone off the deep
end when it introduced a
$279 block plane.
We, however, love the
Oleevalley.com O800-871-8158
thing. It is quite possibly one
of the most curvaceous and
beautiful block planes I’ve ever seen. The level of fit and finish (check out
the elliptical knurling) is off the charts.
And we are also wild about the nickle-resist ductile iron in the plane’s
body. This makes the plane both durable and extremely corrosion
resistant. And some of us like how shiny it is.
We now think that Lee Valley Tools sells the most complete range of
one-handed planes, from its $39 “Little Victor” plane on up to this masterpiece of design and engineering. If you want the coolest-looking block
plane in your city, call Lee Valley Tools.
In the 14 years I’ve been with Popular Woodworking, we
have been through more than a dozen band saws of
all sizes and all makes. Though there were many good
saws on that list, there was never one that we wanted
to keep in our shop forever (like our old Powermatic
66 table saw).
This year, however, we brought the Grizzly G0636X
band saw into our shop at the magazine and we are
in heaven.
This 17" saw outclasses and out-cuts many of the
more expensive saws out there. And – here’s the important part – the saw stays in alignment better than any of
the other saws we’ve tested over the years. One of the
biggest aws of many band saws is that you need to fuss
with them a lot to really unlock their potential.
This saw’s cast iron wheels are massive, the bearing
guides are robust, the rack-and-pinion tilting table is a
joy. Everything that should be overbuilt, is overbuilt.
The saw has plenty of guts thanks to a 5-horsepower
motor, has a 16" resaw capacity, a real monster of a
fence and all the niceties you’d expect from a first-class
machine: foot brake, rack-and-pinion guide adjustment, quick-release tension, and lots and lots of steel.
The sucker weighs 675 pounds.
I doubt this bear will ever be allowed to leave our
This year I picked up a dovetail saw and carcase saw that blew me away.
They were, compared to peers, the first among equals.
The backsaws from Andrew Lunn’s Eccentric Toolworks are supertuned jewels. They start more easily than any Western saw I’ve used
– much like a Japanese saw. They y through stock with ease. They are
extraordinarily balanced and leave but a whisper of a kerf behind.
And on top of all that, the saws have beautiful handmade touches
(such as carving on the tote) that make them as nice to look at as they
are to use.
Yes, these saws cost more than your typical premium Western saw.
But the Eccentric saws are a bargain when you compare them to blacksmith-made saws from Japan, and they really do cut in that league, in
my opinion.
Each saw is hand sharpened, set and tuned by Lunn until he is completely satisfied with its performance. There’s a bit of a waiting list for
Lunn’s saws now that the word is out. You might want to get in line now
because it’s only going to get longer.
Classic Vise Screw
We’re a bit obsessed with good vise hardware, and we think you should be, too. A
good vise makes every operation easier.
Good workholding allows you to focus on
working instead of pondering, “How am I
going to hold that?”
Woodworker Joe Comunale has taken
his metalworking skills and machines and
used them to make amazing wooden vise
screws, something that hasn’t been available
to purchase for a long time.
Wooden vise screws advance faster than
metal ones, never mark your work with
grease and hold as tightly as you’d ever need.
Comunale’s company, BigWoodVise.com,
makes wooden vise screws with the fit and
finish of a piece of furniture. And they are
both a joy to install and use. He offers several
versions for different benches, including
one with a Shaker-style hub. We installed
his Classic Vise Screw on the bench on last
month’s cover and couldn’t be happier.
This winner is from the category of: Why sions from a photo or use it to size objects
was this not invented before? Yes. Adhesive in CAD or a photo-editing program.
I used Red Tape on my monitor to pull
clear tape printed with an inch scale.
Called Red Tape and invented by a dimensions off a photograph of a Shaker
Georgia entrepreneur, this cool product hanging cupboard. It was very handy and
allows you to put a rule almost anywhere, easier than holding a ruler up to the screen
then remove it without hurting the surface or even working from a print-out.
The tape is marked in 1 16ths, repeats
below. It’s a 55'-long roll of clear adhesive
tape with a continuous ruler printed on every 12" and does not stretch, as far as
it in red.
we can tell. The printing job is quite accuThe tape can be stuck to your work- rate.
bench then removed if you
please. It’s great to have a ruler
stuck to your bench that allows
you to quickly ascertain how
long or wide a piece is by simply
shifting it over the tape.
You can stick the tape to the
curved arm bow of a Windsor
chair and use it to lay out the
spacing of the spindles. Or you
can even stick it to your comOredtape1.com O706-405-5031
puter monitor to pull dimen-
VERITAS Dovetail Saw
Popular Woodworking December 2009
Veritas shocked a lot
of woodworkers when
it introduced its new
dovetail saw for three
O It looks modern but
feels like a vintage saw
in the hand.
O It cuts extremely well.
O It’s $65.
While most premium
Western saws are easily
$125 or more, this new
Veritas saw opened up the
Western saw market to a
new range of woodworkOleevalley.com O800-871-8158
ers who might have considered buying a Japanese
using stainless steel powder, glass fiber
handsaw (or none at all).
Or, even worse, they might have tried and a polymer resin.
How does it cut? Brilliantly. Thanks
to make do with a cheap home-center saw
to a slightly relaxed rake, the saw starts
and given up dovetailing altogether.
The Veritas saw is a remarkable com- easily in end grain and is smooth in the
bination of old technology and new. The cut. The company also makes a fine-tooth
old: the handle shape comes from a vin- version of this saw and a crosscut version.
tage saw and it is attached to the saw with That means you can buy two saws for a bit
a bolt like a handplane tote – very clever. more than you would spend to purchase
The new: The back of the saw is made a single saw from a competitor.
Miter Saw
BTD144 Impact Driver
Here at work, we get to try
every brand of miter saw available. And when we go to our
shops at home, a lot of us have
Makita miter saws waiting for
us there.
This year we brought the
Makita LS1016L dual-sliding
compound miter saw into our
shop, and the entire staff has
been overjoyed with it. It has
guts. Sure, every miter saw
says it’s a 15-amp tool, but
Makita’s motors squeeze an
astonishing amount of oomph
from a wall socket. And the
saw features electronic feedback to keep the rpm up under
a heavy load.
Omakita.com O800-462-5482
Also great: This model
features four steel rails. Why
should you care? Accuracy. Many two-rail saws can de ect. And when mitering,
even a little de ection is a disaster.
This saw has great capacity, both vertically (up to 43 4") and with your work at
on the table (12"). The laser is a nice bonus. And the saw comes with a blade you
won’t have to replace as soon as you open the box.
Once again, Makita has won our hearts with a world-class miter saw.
Makita cordless drill-drivers have long been
a favorite in our shop, and so it was a bit of
a surprise when an 18-volt cordless impact
driver became an object of envy.
There is a lot to like. It’s compact, powerful and capable of great finesse – not something you hear a lot when discussing impact
drivers. By pressing a button you can vary
the tool’s torque to deal with soft, medium
or hard materials.
Add to that Makita’s reliability, battery
technology and a useful task light (that we
love) and we knew we had a winner.
KREG Beaded Face-frame System
There are lots of ways to make mitered beading in a face frame that require expensive
machines, some serious hand skills or a
master’s touch with a table saw.
Now Kreg Tool has invented a way for the
rest of us to make these eye-catching frames.
If you incorporate beaded face frames into
many of your projects (or you are a professional kitchen cabinet maker and want to
set yourself apart) this is a clever system to
Here’s how it works: Thanks to a special sliding fence you can plunge your stile
material straight onto a special notching
bit (included with the kit). This bit easily
plows out the mitered section in the stile,
a cut that many woodworkers struggle to
Then you just move the fence’s stop,
notch the ends of your rails with the same
bit and add your beading. The system is
ideal for those who use pocket screws to
assemble face frames. PW
Shooting Boards
Small work
is safer – and
easier – to size
with a handplane
and shooting board.
have been a woodworker for 38 years
and I still have all my fingers on both hands.
My fingers all run out to the very ends, just
like when I was born. I don’t even have any
big scars on my fingertips. Why? I am really
wary about getting my precious appendages
too close to spinning blades. When the work
gets too small for me to be comfortable, I
switch to hand tools.
So, when I need to joint small pieces or
square them up, I use a shooting board rather
than a jointer or table saw. The term “shooting” is archaic. It means to trim and true an
edge with a plane. So, a shooting board is a
device that allows for controlled trimming
of the edges and ends of small pieces of wood
with a handplane.
The good news about shooting boards
is that you will get perfect results with no
Popular Woodworking December 2009
noise. Wait. There’s more. I’ll bet you’re like
me. After all these years I still get a kick
watching a shaving coming out of a plane.
My jointer and table saw do not give me any
such enjoyment. Finally, there is almost no
risk. If your fingers get too close to the plane,
you will lose at most a layer of skin.
A shooting board gives you so much control it is possible to trim almost to the microscopic level. If necessary, you can close up
a joint by removing no more than a layer of
dust with each pass of the plane. Shooting
boards permit a level of adjustment, precision and control beyond the reasonable use
of any machine.
There are a number of different shooting
boards. Each type is used for a different type
of joint. I’ll talk about the various shooting
boards later.
The Parts
All shooting boards have three parts in common: the base, the platform and the stop.
The base holds everything together and
provides the surface the plane runs on. The
base needs to be stable so it stays flat. I recommend either 3 ⁄4" luan or birch plywood.
Use the plywood’s finished side up so your
plane runs on the smoothest possible surface.
The base is also the part that is clamped
or secured to the benchtop. The easiest way
to secure it is to screw a cleat on the bottom. This cleat can be attached in one of
two places. It can be placed on the lower
back end so that it hooks over the edge of
the bench and resists the plane’s pushing
motion. Another option is to attach a cleat
in the middle of the base so the board can
The stop is the third part. The stop holds
the work in place and at the desired angle,
relative to the edge of the platform and the
plane. The stop is small and has to withstand
a lot of force. I use either a hardwood such as
maple, or plywood for my stops. I both glue
and screw them to the platform. The stop’s
business end should be the same angle as
the ledge relative to the base. This feature
supports the work’s back corner when shooting across gain and minimizes chipping.
You can see this detail in the photos of the
various boards.
If you need to use a shooting board for just
one job, its construction can be really basic.
However, I figure if I use something once, I’ll
probably use it again some day. So I make
my shooting boards to last. They have been
used a lot and are showing the wear.
skewed cut. Every hand-tool user knows
a blade cuts best when it slices, rather than
when pushed directly into the work. That
principle does not apply to just wood. It is
the reason cavalry swords are curved and
guillotine blades are skewed.
The 19th-century improved shooting
board also includes a dust groove in the base
alongside the platform. The idea is that dust
will collect in there and not affect the job.
This is important, as it is critical to the shooting board’s results that the plane always lie
flat on the base. Chips and other fine debris
gathering under the plane’s cheek can lift the
tool out of square. On an improved board the
Types of Boards
Common parts. This “joint-and-square”
shooting board shows the three parts
common to every iteration: the base,
platform and stop.
be secured in a vise. You can also push a
shooting board against a bench dog. Which
option you use is determined by the function of the shooting board and your personal
The platform is the second part all shooting boards have in common. The platform is
a shelf. The work – the part you are trimming
– is placed on the platform. This elevates
it above the base so the plane’s cutter can
engage it. Like the base, the platform needs
to be stable. On some shooting boards I also
use plywood for the platform. If plywood is
not practical, I prefer a stable wood such as
white pine. I screw the base and platform
together with drywall screws. Countersink
the heads. You don’t want them poking up
and interfering with your work or damaging your plane.
The most common shooting board is the
“joint and square.” Its purpose is just what
its name implies. It is used for jointing the
edges of small pieces and squaring their
ends. A joint-and-square board is as simple
as a base and a flat platform with a hardwood stop secured at a right angle to the
platform’s edge.
This simple configuration will hold the
work parallel to the base and square to the
stop. It works well, but does present a problem when the shooting board is used repeatedly. On such a simple shooting board all the
cutting action occurs at the same point on
the plane’s cutting edge, over and over and
over. Because that spot on the edge gets all
the wear, it eventually becomes dull.
L ate 19th-centur y woodworking
books illustrated what they referred to as
an “improved” shooting board. One of the
improvements incorporated in this design
addressed the problem of cutting at only
one location on the blade. The innovation
was to replace the flat platform with a ramp
that lifts the work at an angle to the base.
The idea is that the cutting action distributes over the plane’s entire blade as it passes
along the work.
Besides distributing the wear along
the cutting edge, the improved board has
another advantage. The ramp causes a
Dust groove
Dust collection. The improved joint-andsquare board distributes the cutting action
across the plane blade’s cutting edge. The dust
groove collects any shavings that could lift the
plane out of square.
Perfect miters. The miter shooting board is
used for truing and adjusting miters.
Donkey’s ear. A 45° donkey’s ear is used to trim standing miters and edges. For coopered work,
make a board at another angle. The one on the right is 221⁄2° and makes an octagonal form.
dust collects in the groove and from time to
time can be cleaned out with a puff of air.
The miter shooting board does what its
name implies. It allows you to square up and
adjust mitered ends. Its stop is a 45° corner
attached to the platform. Both ends of the
work usually have mitered ends, and these
are usually cut in opposite directions. This
placement of the stop allows the board to
be used either way. The platform on this
board is parallel to the base. While ramping
a miter shooting board in both directions
is conceivable, I never thought it worth my
while to try. I trim a lot fewer miters than I
do edges and ends.
If you frequently make parts of a certain
angle you can make a board for that specific
purpose. For example, if you make octagonal
frames, a shooting board with a 221 ⁄2° corner, rather than 45°, will be helpful.
Standing miters are the joints used on
baseboards and bracket feet, although they
can also be made on edges for coopered work.
A special shooting board called a “donkey’s
ear” (I have no idea why) trims these joints.
On this board the stop is at a right angle but
the platform is tipped at 45° to the base.
If you do a lot of coopering, you may
want to build a shooting board similar to
the donkey’s ear with the platform tipped
at an angle other than 45°. I have one that
shoots edges and ends at 221 ⁄ 2°. I use it in
conjunction with a miter shooting board
of the same angle for making octagonal tea
caddies that I give away as presents.
When making a shooting board, scale
Popular Woodworking December 2009
it to the size of your work. My boards are
about the maximum size I would recommend. I can do both small- and mediumsized work on all of them. Any work too
big for my boards I will joint or trim with
other techniques. On the other end, very
small-scale woodworking, such as model
making and inlay making, calls for even
smaller shooting boards.
The Plane
A shooting board is only half the equipment
needed for shooting. You also need a handplane. I suggest you dedicate a plane for use
on your shooting boards and that you not use
it for other work. That way, you do not have
to go through the hassle of setting up and
sharpening every time you want to shoot an
edge. You do not want just any handplane for
this purpose. This tool has to be best quality.
A hardware store plane will not be satisfactory. I keep a well-maintained Bed Rock 605
just for use on my shooting boards.
Your plane must be fully tuned and
sharpened. Make sure your lateral blade-
Straight edge. Your plane blade’s cutting edge
should be straight.
adjustment lever is stiff and requires effort
to move. You do not want to inadvertently
change the blade setting if you accidentally
bump the lever.
A shooting board plane is used for trimming the edges and ends of boards. The rule
for a blade’s cutting edge is that it is ground
straight, unless the plane is used on a surface
wider than the blade. This means that unlike
a jack or a smooth, your shooting board plane
has a straight cutting edge.
I lapped my plane’s sole flat to improve
its performance so it would take the most
precise cut possible. I also lapped the right
cheek. I did this so the cheek would be
smooth and reduce friction, not to make it
dead square to the sole. A perfect 90° edge
is created, not by the plane’s sole and cheek,
but by adjusting the blade laterally. This
process is one of trial and error. Take a pass
on an edge then check it for square. Adjust
the cutter as needed. Continue to adjust until
you get a perfectly square edge each time you
use the plane. All this fussing reinforces why
you want a dedicated plane.
Setting Up
After making a shooting board, test its accuracy. Joint an edge and square an end. Check
the results with a square. For very small
work, use a small square. Check a miter
with a miter square. If you make a specialty
board for another angle, check it with a bevel
square set from a protractor.
Adjust your plane’s cutter laterally as
described above. If this does not work you
can make very fine adjustments with a narrow strip of painter’s tape.
You will have to work out these adjustments through observation, and trial and
error. You can raise the edge slightly with
a strip close to the platform’s edge. You can
Tape trick. You can increase your board’s precision by using a strip of painter’s tape to lift (as
shown) or lower the angle.
Pencilled guides. The two circles show where this miter’s inner and outer corners have not closed.
Plane only in the center of the joint. The pencil lead on the square end has been trimmed to make
this joint perfectly square. Note that the area to be trimmed is away from the stop. This avoids the
problem of chipping the far corner.
lower the work with a strip more to the middle. You can also apply a strip to the stop to
make minor adjustments there. If one strip is
insufficient, you can use additional layers.
Shooting Board Use
Shooting boards have two purposes. The
first is truing. This means you use the boards
to shoot a perfect joint. Except for small work
on the donkey’s ear, a shooting board does
not actually make the joints. It trues them
up after they are cut. Cut the joints as you
normally would. You can square an end or
cut a miter in a miter box, with your table
saw or on a chop saw. Then, shoot the cuts
to make them true. When you put the edges
or ends together they will fit tightly and at
the desired angle.
The second purpose for shooting boards
is fitting. Let’s face it: No matter how accurate your work, butt joints and miters don’t
always fall tightly into place. Your joints
may be perfect, but the carcase, the base or
something else could be just a whisker out
of square. The only solution is to trim the
joint to make it fit.
It’s back to the shooting board to match
up the parts by trimming the joint. This
process amounts to finagling and requires
some decision making. With the joint held
together, mark either the high spots or the
low spots– the points where the two halves
touch, or don’t touch. Which you mark is
personal preference. To illustrate, I did both
in the photo above. In the miter, I have circled
the two open corners. On the out-of-square
end, I traced a pencil mark. It doesn’t matter
as long as you remember and understand
what you need to do.
Carefully trim just the areas that need
trimming, in other words just the high spots.
In the case of the pencil line I would remove
the fine line of lead. On the miter I would
shave the area between the circles. If the joint
does not close completely, I would also shave
the same area on the other side of the joint.
This should close the gap, or at least make it
better. You may have to repeat the operation
until the joint closes tightly.
Operations such as squaring ends and
trimming miters involve end grain. When
truing end grain it is possible to experience
chipping of the far corner. Avoid this problem when squaring by flipping the work so
the high spot is close to you. If you are truing
a miter, or a standing miter, you do not have
this option. You just have to be careful. Keep
the far corner as close and tight to the stop
as possible. In other words, use the stop to
support the far corner
When you place the work on a shooting
board allow it project as little as possible
Wax. Waxing a shooting board with paste wax
reduces friction and makes it easier to move
the plane.
Close to stop. When planing end grain, keep
the work as close as possible to the stop. This
supports the far corner and helps to avoid
over the edge of the platform and beyond
the stop. Again, this is most important when
working end grain. The more the part projects beyond the stop, the greater the chance
of chipping. However, when shooting edge
grain a minimum of overhang will support
the stock. Unless well supported, thin stock
can flex while being shot, affecting the joint’s
While a shooting board itself may be
secured by an end cleat or held in a vise,
the work is not clamped to the board. Obviously, shooting requires the stock to remain
stationary and not move. The solution is in
how you hold the stock. When possible I
use the stop to anchor my hand. I do this by
hooking my fingers over it. I use my other
fingers to apply downward pressure. If possible, I hook my thumb over the end of the
piece to press it against the stop.
Shooting small parts requires watching
the action closely. Shoot joints in good light
and keep your face close to the work.
One last tip: When you make a shooting board sand the board’s base (the surface
where the plane rides). Get it as smooth as
possible. Then from time to time, wax this
surface with a paste wax. Both steps reduce
friction and make it easier to push the plane.
Cutting requires force. Shooting is a lot easier
if as much force as possible goes into cutting,
rather than into moving the plane. PW
A chairmaker since 1971, Michael is the founder
of The Windsor Institute in Hampton, N.H.
Curved Panel Glue-ups
Work with the grain
when gluing panels,
even when the grain
throws you a curve.
Smooth and steady. A sharp blade and a
smooth, continuous motion will produce a
clean, router-ready pattern.
Popular Woodworking December 2009
hen I look at a piece of furniture,
aside from its design and craftsmanship,
I examine how the wood was used. How
was it employed to enhance the design and
optimize its appearance? Grain, color and
species all contribute to its success. However, one aspect that is often overlooked is
the harmonious arrangement of the boards
that make up the piece’s larger panels. These
could be the panels contained within a door
frame or the piece’s top.
Consider the visual appeal of a dining
table with a top made of two wide boards
instead of one comprised of six or seven
narrow boards. The viewer’s eye takes in
the smooth flow of that expanse, uninterrupted by the jarring sight of multiple seams,
abrupt changes in color, and converging
grain patterns and lines. Most people would
prefer a top made of fewer boards to one that
resembles butcher block.
A table, or any piece of furniture, made
of fewer individual pieces of wood, creates
a calm, harmonious and luxurious effect,
while eliminating unnecessary distractions
and visual noise.
To a woodworker, wide boards can mean
an additional expense because most lumberyards and suppliers charge a premium
for wide material. Or maybe some trees only
grow to a certain diameter. So the supply of
wood is restricted to narrow boards. How
might a woodworker create a harmonious
wide panel or top from narrow material?
If you can arrange the seams of boards
to run parallel to the grain, a joint will be
easier to hide, creating the illusion of a single
board. Sometimes it can be as easy as cutting a new edge. And all that’s sacrificed is
a little wood. But if the grain wanders and
curves, simply reorienting the edge won’t
do the trick.
For this idea to work on a board with
meandering grain it would require cutting
tight, clean adjoining edges to a curve that
follows the grain.
My Method
Because the desired curves are subtle, not
abrupt or severe, I was able to do away with
complex, multi-step templates, cut with multiple router bits using offset guide bearings.
This technique is much simpler and faster.
I start out by laying the boards alongside
one another and turn them over and endfor-end to obtain the most pleasing arrangement. I look for color, similar grain and grain
direction. Once I’ve decided on the order
Nice arrangement. Rough-cut boards are arranged for the best color and grain match.
and position of the boards, I look for surface
patterns that complement one another. The
flatter the curves, the better.
With chalk or a lumber crayon, I draw
a curve directly on the boards to indicate
where the joint should fall. When laying
out the joint lines, avoid abrupt curves that
cut severely across the grain (any crossgrain joint will draw attention). You’ll get
better results with subtle curves that run
On a 1 ⁄ 4"-thick piece of MDF, draw an
outline that roughly follows the grain patterns. Cut the outline on the band saw and
shape it to a smooth curve. Now place this
master pattern onto the board, running with
the grain. Adjust its outline to better follow
the grain direction.
This is a crucial part of the process. Here
is where you “map out” your joints. Ideally,
they will be invisible – completely undetectable. But you’ll be pleased with joints that
aren’t obvious and are maybe even difficult
to find. The eye normally moves in a straight
line. And joints running in a straight line
are easy to locate and follow. But when the
seam curves slightly, the eye loses track of it.
Joining boards now becomes a little game:
See if you can find the seams.
Double duty. The master pattern lays out a curve common
to both boards.
Making Up Your Working Patterns
Center your master pattern on a piece of 12"wide, 1 ⁄2"-thick MDF and transfer the outline. Strive for a single clean, clear line. The
next step, band sawing this line, is important
because the quality of the cut will directly
impact the quality of your joint. The size of
the saw you use is unimportant; even a 14"
saw will do.
And the size of the blade isn’t as critical
as its sharpness. I use a 1 ⁄4" skip-tooth blade
(6 teeth per inch) and obtain great results.
Getting a clean working pattern depends on
your cutting motion. For the best results, use
a continuous and smooth movement when
cutting. The cut can’t be doctored afterward.
What you get off the saw is what will produce
your final joint edge.
If your cut wanders off the line a little, don’t
worry. What’s most important is a smooth cut
without jogs, blips or bumpy pauses.
After cutting the outline on the band saw,
you should have a pair of complementary
working patterns. Pressed together, the two
halves should produce a perfect and tight
fit, without any gaps.
Pattern repeat. After fine-tuning the master pattern outline, transfer it onto a wide piece of 1⁄2" MDF.
Perfect match.
When pressed
together, the
band-sawn halves
(of the working
pattern) should
come together
nicely without
gaps or unacceptable roughness.
Ready to go. Label each side of the pattern to avoid confusion as you
work the joints.
Popular Woodworking December 2009
Ready to rout. The working pattern should be securely attached to the
workpiece before routing. In this case, I used double-sided tape.
Rough Cuts
Carefully align the edge of one working
pattern with the straightened edge of your
board. On the band saw, cut within 1 ⁄8" of
the outline. Securely attach the template
to the rough-sawn edge of the board with
either clamps or double-sided tape. The new
rough-sawn edge should be trimmed clean
and flush to the working pattern. For the best
results, use a 3 ⁄4"-diameter flush-trim router
bit. The large diameter of the ball-bearing
guide will span any small imperfections in
the pattern and produce a smooth, flowing
curved edge.
When setting up the router, extend the
bit to clear the full thickness of your material. Any adjustment to the router bit after
you make a cut might produce a stepped
edge. The first pass should be light, taking
away about half of the waste. The next pass
should remove the rest and leave a perfectly
smooth edge ready for gluing.
The same operation is repeated on the
adjoining board with the complementary
working pattern. After both halves have been
routed, place them together for inspection.
The two routed edges should produce a perfect match.
If your panel contains several boards,
prepare all of the joints before gluing any
together. Glue up only two boards (or one
joint) at a time. If a project requires more
than one routed/curved edge, the remaining edges should be protected from damage
with shaped and padded cauls.
Size does matter. A 3 ⁄4"-diameter flush-trim
bit is perfect for trimming the workpiece edge
flush to the curved pattern.
Where’s the joint? Two routed edges, joined
together, produce a tight, clean and nearly
invisible seam.
The completed panels should exhibit
grain patterns that are complementary, moving in the same direction. The edge of one
board should mimic the edge of the adjoining
board. The end result should be a panel that
creates a sense of calm and balance, giving
the impression that it was made up of fewer
boards than it actually was. PW
Mario has been a woodworking teacher, author and
builder for more than 30 years. He now teaches at
the Philadelphia Furniture Workshop, philadelphia
Patience pays. Gluing up two boards at a time allows more careful registration
and alignment of the joint.
Careful clamping. Rubber-padded cauls are
used to prevent clamp marks on routed edges.
Unseen seams. Free from harsh colliding seams and abrupt
changes in color, the completed top presents a clean and
harmonious panel.
B Y R O B E R T W. L A N G
Coping at the Router Table
Work smart across the grain with a simple push block.
ne of the first vehicles I owned was a
1964 Ford Econoline van. I bought it cheap
at a police auction then proceeded to overaccessorize it with all manner of mirrors and
lights I didn’t need. I was young and didn’t
know any better. It’s easy to fall into that kind
of trap as you learn something new.
J. C. Whitney saw me coming and took
advantage; likewise most new woodworkers are easy prey as they put together their
first router table. Miter gauges and miter
gauge tracks on router tables are the fuzzy
dice and ground-effect lights of the woodworking world.
In the June 2009 issue of Popular Woodworking (#176) we featured an easy-to-make
and inexpensive router table that does everything you need to do without any frills. In
this issue, we show you how to safely make
cuts across the grain; the only thing it will
cost you is a trip to your scrap bin.
The problem with installing a slot in a
router table and using a miter gauge is that it
complicates a simple process. To make a cut
across the end of a piece of wood, you need
a safe and secure way to guide the wood at
a right angle to the fence.
A miter gauge riding in a slot will do
that, provided that the fence and the slot are
perfectly parallel. This fence-to-slot alignment can be time-consuming and tedious
to achieve, and if you need to make a small
adjustment to the fence, you are likely to
lose the parallel setting.
Don’t I Need to Have a Miter Slot?
A square block of plywood or solid wood
will serve your purposes, and if the corners
are square, the only relationship you need
to be concerned with is that between the bit
and the fence. Because you’ll be working at
a right angle to the fence, you don’t need to
Popular Woodworking December 2009
Simple enough. A few scraps of wood provide a safe and effective means of working across the
grain on narrow pieces at the router table. You don’t need the expense of a miter gauge and a slot
for it to ride in, and you don’t need the hassle of setting the fence parallel to the slot.
be parallel to anything. A router table has
different functions than a table saw.
I used a piece of 3 ⁄4"-thick Baltic birch plywood, about 71 ⁄2" square. I double-checked
the corners for square and screwed a piece
of 3 ⁄4"-thick x 11 ⁄2"-wide oak about 4" long
to the face of the plywood. I rounded the
edges for a comfortable grip, and set the oak
at about a 45˚ angle to the outside corner.
A couple #8 x 11 ⁄4" screws hold the handle
in place.
I also added a couple strips of 1 ⁄2"-thick
Baltic birch plywood to the face of the router
table’s fence to narrow the opening around
the bit. I cut the ends at 45˚ to get them as
close as possible to the cutter, then simply
screwed them to the face of the solid-wood
fence. The opening between the two halves
of the fence should be less than the width
of the piece being coped. This ensures that
the work is always in contact with the fence
as the cut is being made.
In the photos, I’m using the cope cutter
from a rail-and-stile set, but these methods
can also be used for making tenons using a
straight router bit.
Short Acts as Long
The push block makes a short workpiece
(which might twist and get away from you)
act like a long workpiece that you can effectively hold against the fence as you cut. It
keeps your hands away from the spinning
bit while giving you control of the work.
To make the cut, start well away from
the cutter on the infeed side of the fence.
Place the coping block against the fence with
your right hand on the handle. The angle
of the handle will remind you and assist
you in applying force toward the fence and
across the cutter.
Hold the workpiece against the edge of
the push block with your left hand. Slide
it up tight against the fence, but as you cut,
don’t apply pressure against the fence with
the workpiece. Direct your effort to holding it tight against the leading edge of the
push block as you move it along the fence
and across the cutter.
You want to keep the end of your work in
contact with the fence, but you don’t want
to push the leading corner into the cutter.
The narrow opening around the cutter is
essential to prevent that from happening.
After the workpiece has cleared the cutter, you can slide it out of the way, then pull
the push block back. The router bit will cut
into the end of the push block, but that is a
good thing. It prevents the router bit from
blowing out the grain as the router bit exits
the work.
If you’re making a tenon in a narrow
piece that is longer than the exposed portion
of the bit, make the cut in two passes. Keep
the end of the workpiece away from the fence
during the first pass. This will remove waste
material that would otherwise be between
the bit and the fence as you cut with the end
of the piece against the fence. This will give
you a cleaner shoulder cut, and it will reduce
the chances of kickback. PW
Bob is senior editor of Popular Woodworking and
Woodworking Magazine, and author of “The
Complete Kitchen Cabinetmaker,” available from
his web site: craftsmanplans.com.
Stand back. Align
the work to the push
block, and the push
block to the fence,
well away from the
cutter on the infeed
side of the fence.
Check to see that the
parts are tight to the
fence and that your
hands are in a safe
position before you
advance the work
across the cutter.
Straight and narrow. Minimize the opening in the fence around the bit
so that some portion of the work will be in contact with the fence at all
stages of the cut.
Follow through. Push the block and the workpiece until the workpiece
is safely beyond the cutter. Slide the workpiece off the table and pull the
push block straight back along the fence.
First things first. When making a tenon, keep the end of the work away
from the fence and remove the waste with the first pass.
Move in to finish. The second pass makes a clean shoulder cut without
the chance of material being caught between the bit and the fence.
Gel Varnish
The (almost) perfect compromise.
ost woodworkers do their finishing
with one of two wipe-on/wipe-off finishes:
oil/varnish blend or wiping varnish.
Oil/varnish blend is a thinned mixture
of boiled linseed oil or tung oil with alkyd
or polyurethane varnish. You can buy it
commercially (often labeled “Danish oil”)
or you can make your own – for example,
one part oil, one part varnish and one part
mineral spirits.
Wiping varnish is alkyd or polyurethane
varnish thinned a quarter to a half with mineral spirits to make the finish easy to wipe
on and off the wood. You can buy it commercially (rarely labeled for what it is) or
you can make your own by thinning any
varnish or polyurethane.
Both finishes are easy to apply and produce near-perfect results. But they differ significantly in sheen and water resistance.
Oil/varnish blend produces a pleasing
satin or “rubbed” sheen, but the finish is too
thin to be water-resistant. This is because
all coats have to be thoroughly wiped off or
the finish dries tacky.
Wiping varnish can be left in thicker
applications because it dries hard. So it can
be built up enough to produce excellent
Thickness. Gel varnish is thick in the can, but it spreads easily because of its thixotropic quality.
water resistance. But wiping varnish produces a gloss sheen many woodworkers find
objectionable. (Of course, you could always
rub the final coat with fine steel wool or
other abrasive to lower the sheen, but doing
this adds a complication most woodworkers
would rather avoid.)
Gel varnish, which is also available as gel
polyurethane, can be thought of as a compromise. It produces an attractive satin sheen
similar to an oil/varnish blend but with better water resistance, and it is almost as easy
to apply. It also has a very low odor, which
makes it especially user-friendly for home
If you’ve ever applied a gel stain, you’re
familiar with gel varnish. It’s exactly the
same, just without the pigment colorant.
Gel varnish has been around for decades,
but it gets much less attention than the other
two finishes and it is often difficult to find. It
is sometimes labeled “natural” gel stain when
the manufacturer intends it for thinning or
reducing the color intensity of its colored gel
stains. But it is the same as a gel varnish.
What is Gel Varnish?
Brands. Here are four brands of gel varnish. Notice that some are polyurethane varnish rather
than alkyd varnish and some are packaged in squat cans that make it easier to get to the finish
near the bottom with a cloth.
Manufacturers change the consistency of
liquid alkyd or polyurethane varnish to that
of a gel by incorporating a thixotropic addiCONTINUED ON PAGE 76
Popular Woodworking December 2009
tive. You are quite familiar with products that
have been made thixotropic. They include
ketchup, mayonnaise, many facial creams
and salves, and latex wall paint.
All these substances appear thick in their
containers. Once on the bread, face or wall,
however, they spread easily. This is because
thixotropic substances have the added characteristic of responding easily to a shearing
force, such as brushing, wiping or spreading. When the shearing stops, the substance
returns quickly to its thickened state.
A good example is latex wall paint. The
paint appears thick in the can but stirs and
pours easily. It also spreads easily under a
roller. But as soon as the roller is past any
given point on the wall, the paint thickens
so that the protruding nibs created by the
nap hold their shape and don’t run down
the wall.
Gel varnish is the same. It appears thick
in the can, but it spreads easily. It also retains
the ridges left by a brush or cloth, so almost
all the excess has to be wiped off after each
The thixotropic additive in gel varnishes
gives them a satin sheen.
Just as with all varnishes, gel varnishes
can be applied over any stain as long as the
stain is dry.
Applying Gel Varnish
Gel varnish applies almost exactly like oil/
varnish blend. Wipe or brush the finish on
the wood and wipe off the excess before the
finish dries.
There are two minor exceptions. Because
gel varnish doesn’t soak into the wood like
oil/varnish blend, there’s no reason to continue wetting the surface until the soakingin stops. In other words, there’s no benefit
to leaving the finish wet on the surface for
any length of time. You can wipe off immediately.
Also, gel varnish dries much faster than
oil/varnish blend. So on large surfaces you
have to move rapidly. You may even have
to divide the object into sections and finish each before moving on, or get a second
person to wipe off while you apply. (Bartley’s
brand dries noticeably faster than the others I’ve tried.)
You’ll learn the drying characteristics of
the gel varnish you’re using very quickly.
But if some dries too hard to wipe off while
you’re learning, simply remove it within a
Popular Woodworking December 2009
Sheen. In contrast to the gloss sheen of wiping
varnish (applied on the left half of this panel),
gel varnish (right half) produces a satin sheen.
This is due to the thixotropic additive, which
also gives the varnish its thickness and easy
short time by wiping with a rag soaked with
mineral spirits, then adjust your application
method when reapplying the finish.
Just as with any finish, it’s important
to sand the surface smooth after the first
coat (the sealer coat) and after each additional coat unless the surface feels perfectly
smooth – that is, no dust nibs. Unless you
have an unusually rough surface, use #320or #400-grit stearated sandpaper. The most
widely available brands are Norton 3X and
3M Sandblaster.
Gel varnish is almost the perfect compromise between oil/varnish blend and wiping
varnish, but not quite. Though a pleasing
satin sheen can be achieved in three or four
coats, it takes a great many coats to produce a
completely water-resistant film. Even though
you can usually apply two, and maybe even
Wiping on. To apply a gel varnish, simply wipe
it on the wood like you would an oil/varnish
blend. You can use a brush to help get the
thickened varnish into recesses and inside
corners, but wiping is much faster on level surfaces. You can wipe in any direction.
three, coats in a day because of the rapid drying (more rapid in warmer temperatures),
getting this degree of protection can still take
many days and be a lot of work.
So to speed the goal of good water resistance on a critical surface such as a tabletop,
apply several coats of wiping varnish and
leave most or all of the excess of each to build
a thickness. (See “Applying Wiping Varnish”
at popularwoodworking.com/finishing.)
Then follow with one or two coats of gel
varnish to get a satin sheen.
Be sure to sand between coats of wiping varnish to remove dust nibs, and rub
the last coat before applying the gel varnish
with #000 or #0000 steel wool to dull the
finish in the pores and other recesses. You
can also sand this coat. But the sandpaper
won’t get in the pores to dull them, so some
gloss may show through.
The most difficult surfaces to coat with
gel varnish are those with three-dimensional
recesses such as inside corners, carvings,
turnings and mouldings because of the difficulty getting the finish into, and the excess
out of, the hollows. If you are struggling with
a cloth, switch to a brush. To remove excess,
use the brush dry. A cheap throwaway “chip”
brush works well.
Just as with oil/varnish blend, gel varnish
is very easy to repair if it gets scratched or
damaged. Simply clean the surface, sand out
any roughness, then apply another coat. You
can use any brand. PW
Bob is author of “Understanding Wood Finishing” and
contributing editor to Popular Woodworking.
Removing. Use a cloth to remove the excess
gel varnish before it begins to harden, which it
does much faster than liquid varnish. To aid in
getting the varnish out of recesses and inside
corners, use a dry brush as I’m doing here.
But Aren’t You a Woodworker?
It’s not a hobby if it isn’t fun.
ast year, my wife and I bought our first
house together. Right after closing, with the
help of friends, we pulled carpet, painted,
moved walls and relocated plumbing. Rooms
took on different shapes, the floors gleamed
in wide plank hardwood and new ceiling
fans quietly circulated fresh air in almost
every room.
But the kitchen remained pretty much
untouched. We knew our limitations, both
in finances and in stamina, and didn’t want
to bite off more than we could chew. We
decided to hold off on its renovation until
a later date.
Apparently, that time has come. For the
past few months, we’ve pored over catalogs
and design books, trying to figure out what
kind of look we want for the new heart of
our house. We even got bids from some local
stores and talked to a friend about custom
And I always get the same look from
people when I tell them that.
“You what? But I thought you were a
“Well … I am.”
“Then why don’t you make the cabinets
yourself and save a ton of money?”
The complete answer to that question is
a bit complex, so I usually don’t go into great
detail. Instead, I smile and nod and mutter
something about considering it.
But here is my answer in its entirety.
Woodworking is a hobby for me; I do
it because I enjoy it. Wait, let me clarify …
I enjoy the woodworking I do. There is a
I cherish the time I get to spend in my
shop, waging the constant battle between
my obsessive-compulsive disorder and my
art. I don’t want to waste that time making
things I don’t want to make!
Popular Woodworking December 2009
I’m a small project kind of woodworker. I
make boxes and fuss over little things, such
as splined miter joints and fitting compartment inserts. I worry about the Golden
Ratio and grain selection, and pairing up my
woods for the right amount of contrast and
complement. I obsessively ensure the wool
tartan linings are perfectly in line with the
sides. I even like sanding and finishing.
Making 25 large boxes out of plywood and
screws is not my idea of fun. It seems more
like work to me. I work at a full-time, nonwoodworking job 40-plus hours a week.
Woodworking is my escape from the pressures of work.
Last year I attended a seminar taught by
Frank Klausz, a master cabinetmaker from
Hungary. One of the most important lessons
I learned from that class runs through my
mind every time I’m in my shop. He said,
“Americans try too hard to be good at everything. You want to make cabinets, you want
to build furniture, you want to turn bowls
and carve faces. In trying to learn a little
about everything, you become masters of
I tend to agree with him. I don’t want to
be OK at woodturning and get by with my
cabinetmaking skills and not do a half-bad
job at carving – then as a result make only
mediocre boxes.
I want to make really good boxes. And,
eventually, I want to make great boxes. I
want people to wonder whether the best
part of their gift is the object in the box or
the box itself.
Some day, I’ll make a box for my wife. It
will be made with great consideration and
attention to detail. It might have dovetails
or it might have splined miters. The dividers
will be fitted with precision and the woods
will be selected with care. Hopefully, every
time she opens it she’ll be reminded of just
how much I love her.
But it won’t hold pots and pans. PW
Ethan works in software support and edits the St. Louis
Woodworkers Guild’s newsletter. You can read more
by Ethan on his blog at greystonegreen.blogspot.com.
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