Gluing is where a lot of unnecessary extra work gets generated. If the joint is already keyed with a mortice or biscuit, that’s fine, you just have to wipe off the squeezeout with a damp cloth before it sets. But a lot of joints, especially on small boxes, aren’t keyed so there’s the danger of the dreaded clamp drift – it looked fine a moment ago, but now it’s out of line just that little bit, which may or may not be rescuable with the sander but may well require the addition of one of those features that you never intended in the original design but is there only to cover the mistake and look as though you meant it all along.

So the first tip is: watch it like a hawk until it grabs. You don’t need much clamp pressure – too much will squeeze out the glue and weaken the joint. Clamp pressure that is just enough to hold it will be just loose enough for you to slide the faces around until you’re satisfied that it has actually grabbed. In the case of these penholders, i’ve got two pairs glued. After a few minutes i took the clamps off and glued the two pairs together, putting the clamps back for the recommended half-hour clamping time.

Second tip of gluing: get all the clamps you’re going to use within easy reach before you start – this may seem obvious but you need all the hands you’ve got and you don’t want to let go just at the wrong moment to go and get another clamp. Same goes for the utterly essential damp cloth (which mustn’t go anywhere near a cast iron table by the way – they rust in seconds).

Third tip – forget brushes (maybe a small one for getting the glue into a small slot) and smear the glue over the surface with your finger. Got this from Donna LaChance Menke’s book ‘The Ultimate Band Saw Box Book’. This is the best way to get the glue evenly spread, and works for flocking too…more on flocking later, watch this space…


Golden rule of sanding is: organise things so you avoid having to sand as much as possible. By this I mean, try to keep the sanding to the final finishing of the piece, not for shaping. Even the router makes sawdust that is subject to gravity. Sanding dust stays in the air long after you’ve taken off your mask, lands on your clothes and gets transferred to surfaces all over the house. Even my Festool vac isn’t up to the job of catching it all.

Power sanders are fantastic, though. Handheld ones are good for larger projects but the real benefit is in the stationary ones. They take up a lot of floor space so they have to earn their keep – in fact I recently relegated my table saw to the shed to make room for them and that really shows how useful they are. I’ve got a belt/disc sander for flat areas and outside curves (and adjusting mitres on small boxes), and an oscillating spindle sander for the inside curves, such as the inside of the penholders. Trying to sand these by hand is simply not feasible, and using more robust shapers like the Microplane just pulled tearout off the edges which was hopeless. The golden rule of sanding, in this case, says: get your cuts as accurate as you can on the fretsaw in the first place, and glue the pieces very carefully. Even then you’re going to be taking quite a lot of wood off with the sanders.

abranet bobbin200I have found that changing the sleeves on the spindle sander is not the simple job that the manual suggests, especially on the smaller bobbins. Just slide it off indeed! Admittedly my OSS isn’t new – it was an eBay purchase – but I use the smaller bobbins quite a lot and so I’ve come up with a plan, which also incidentally uses my favourite abrasive medium, Abranet. I got a roll of P80, cut a strip, laid it in a helix over the existing sleeve and secured with cable ties. Works a treat!

Of course the cable tie gets in the way for taller items, but that’s a limitation i’ll live with for now.

sanding thimble200This is my latest invention, also using Abranet. Just cut a small strip and attach it to your finger with a rubber band. I never got the hang of thimbles when sewing, but this is great for tidying up an errant dig with the chisel.


nested triangles200┬áMaking a second set of these plywood penholders. For the first set I made the pattern in SketchUp, printed it out several times and glued it on to each piece of plywood with 3M Spray Mount repositionable adhesive. Repositionable, it turns out, only in the short term. After a couple of days, getting the pattern off the wood is a case of laborious scraping with a fingernail. So I’m still using the paper pattern but only on one piece of 6mm ply, to make a template. The template can be kept for any number of future similar pieces. Now all you do is draw round the template with a pencil and you’re ready for the fretsaw.

triangle boxes4