Jointing long boards

jointing setupWell, the jointing idea worked, thank goodness. The idea is that you’re not relying on each edge being perfectly straight, you just want the two edges to match each other, so you cut both edges at the same time. That way it doesn’t matter if the guide isn’t perfectly straight. I did, however, try to get it as straight as possible using a piece of thread stretched along it before tightening up the join between the two pieces of the guide.

I was casting around for a suitable spacer for the boards; it makes sense to have them close enough to cut both edges, but sufficiently apart to cut off the minimum amount of wood. The kerf of the saw blade is 2.2mm, and I found that a lolly stick is 2mm thick, perfect. Then I found that the lolly stick has a nasty habit of falling between the boards which makes it awkward to fish out again, so the solution was to drill a tiny hole and fit a piece of wire as a cross-piece. lolly stick

I’m managing to joint one board per day – that’s three joints per board. Seems slow, but there are several steps in the process: first check that the joint needs adjustment – about two-thirds of them have so far – then set up the saw guide with the lolly sticks and lots of clamps to hold the boards flat on the table, do the cut, undo the clamps and check that it’s OK, if not do it again. Then the guide has to be manhandled somewhere (I’ve cleared a high shelf) while I re-do the biscuit slots which again needs lots of clamping to make sure the board is flat on the table. Then test again and finally set up for gluing, and leave the clamps on for at least half an hour before moving it aside for the next one.

On the subject of gluing, I’ve discovered silicone brushes. Work a treat and easy to clean. I’m using Titebond III on this job.

All the 6-foot boards are done now, I’m halfway through doing the first eight-foot one. I’m glad I tested the concept on the shorter boards first.

And now I’m thinking about flattening the boards. Never had this problem with plywood… I’ve got a belt sander and a random orbital for going up the grits, but I think I’m going to try starting with a jig for the hand router to skim off the top before sanding. Watch this space.

Workshop revamped

workshop3My current project, the big display cabinet, is too big for my tiny workshop as it was, so I’ve changed it around so that I can work on the eight-foot boards in comfort – there is just enough room if the bench extends into the window recess. The work I’ve done on the boards so far was in the garage on a makeshift bench made from a piece of 18mm plywood across the table saw and roller stands. But it’s too cold to work in there at this time of year, and the glue needs to dry indoors anyway. So I’ve brought that piece of ply upstairs and supported it between the router table, which I won’t need for this project, and the workbench. Meanwhile I’ve made another bench along the longest wall for the lathe, the little bandsaw and other bits and pieces.

There’s a lot more room to work, even with the extra bench (though I did sacrifice the linisher and the floor standing bandsaw). workshop2There still won’t be room to assemble the cabinet in there, but I can at least work on the individual pieces and it’s very good for my biceps to carry the large boards downstairs to put it together. It’s going to be flat-pack anyway. It took me three days to do the rearrangement, make the long bench, put up the shelves and decide where to put everything, but it’s going to pay huge dividends in terms of the time to completion. For future large projects I might see about a neater bridge between the benches so I can get at the router table without having to manhandle an eight-foot by two-foot board and then find somewhere to put it. But time is of the essence, and this board will have a sacrificial purpose when I use the circular saw along the oak boards to joint them. I’ll set the saw a millimetre or so deeper than the workpiece, which will mean the plywood will develop some grooves.

Meanwhile, I think the workshop will stay like this for a long time. It never did feel quite right in its previous arrangement.

Plunge router slipping

I wanted to stop this happening. router slippageMy dear little Festool 1010 has had this problem most of its life, and it’s been back to the manufacturer for repair once; trouble is that they return it with no comment about the fault and there’s no way of knowing what they actually did to it if anything. Since I had a bad experience with another Festool product going back and showing the same fault again some months later, I decided not to pay to have this one fixed again. Instead, I tried one or two different ways to fix it myself.

The trouble is, the plunge mechanism is pushing against a very strong pair of springs which are trying to push the thing upwards, i.e. reduce the depth of cut. If you want to hold it in one place, which you absolutely do for a dovetail joint, you are provided with a knob on the side of the router which pushes a bolt against one of the pillars. It’s basically a friction stop, and I presume the idea is that you turn the knob as tightly as your muscles will allow. I am astonished that plunge routers don’t have a way to fix the depth of cut in a positive way. I tried bolting a piece of wood over the top of the router using the trouter bolthreaded holes provided for the guide, which as it happens I never use. Too clunky for words, and anyway didn’t hold the router firmly enough. So I took another look at the manual and another look at the router.

There’s a bolt on the router, whose only function appears to be to stop the thing from flying apart when you loosen the knob. It looks like an afterthought, and a lost opportunity. It is not mentioned in the manual. What I did in the end was to cut a piece of 10mm diameter aluminium tube that I happened to have, and put it round the bolt. I found the bolt came off easily enough but was held secure with Loctite as you’d expect. It’s well past warranty so I’m not bothered about being told off by Festool.

router stopNow I can be sure that the router won’t start to withdraw the cutter into itself (and ruin the cutter in the process, due to its being too wide to fit through the guide bush) while I do my dovetails. The only downside is that you have to adjust the depth of cut now by moving the bit up or down in the collet: a laborious process involving a lot of patience, plenty of scrap wood for testing, a spanner and two steady hands. Mark 2 will probably involve a threaded bolt with a nut on it, which can be tightened down when the depth has been set with the knob. My friend Dave at Axminster Power Tools is going to suggest it to them next time he talks to them. I wonder that they didn’t think of it years ago. Meanwhile, you saw it here first.

How do you joint an eight-foot board?

Oak cabinet model
Oak cabinet model

Latest project is a display cabinet, and it’s a big display cabinet. Eight feet wide by six feet high by nineteen inches deep, made from solid oak with glass shelves and sliding glass doors.

Jointing, just to be clear, is getting the long edges straight and square so that when you glue them together there’s no gap. There’s a way of doing it on a planer, or on a router table, but that only really works if the table or fence is long enough to ensure that the board is at exactly the same orientation throughout the pass. Not an option with such a long board on my kit. Push it through the table saw? Same problem.

So it’s a case of putting the cutter to the board, rather than the board to the cutter.

First I tried using the hand router with a bearing guided bit against a straight edge. (You may notice I’m using old business cards as spacers on the second side.)

router jointing
router jointing

The trouble there is finding a  long enough straight edge; I thought the piece of ply I was using as a table was straight, but it turned out to be just a fraction of a millimetre concave. That was enough for a perceptible gap in the middle, which wouldn’t clamp shut, and in any case you want to minimise stresses in the wood.

Next I tried using the circular saw on a guide rail. I have two 1.4 metre guide rails which I can join in the middle. Trouble with this is that you have to set it up again for each board, and however tightly you screw the joining pieces on the rail, there is still some slop. Result: some of the joins are OK, but some aren’t. And I don’t have wood to waste; I want to take as little off as possible.

I tried using a hand plane, but not for long. Wonderfully satisfying in a spiritual sort of way, but still not accurate enough. I don’t have the ten thousand hours with a hand plane.

Finally, in the small hours, I hit upon a solution. The edge doesn’t have to be straight, in the Newtonian sense; it just has to fit the edge next to it. If you clamp both boards together under the guide rail and cut along both edges at the same time, they ought to fit exactly.

acclimatisingI shall try that soon. Currently the boards are sitting indoors, dry-assembled with biscuit joints and acclimatising, because I’m still not sure they aren’t going to move as they reach equilibrium with indoor humidity levels. I’m working on the short boards for the shelf dividers at the moment; they are small enough to be jointed on the router table.


Ash bowl
Ash bowl

Well, I got a lathe for Christmas and this is my very first bowl, made from a piece of the ash tree that two years ago was mercilessly robbing my vegetable patch and has met its just come-uppance. There are many more bowls among the firewood.

Well, it’s more of a dish than a bowl, and it’s only four inches in diameter, but I’m very proud of it. I mean, I still have both eyes and all my fingers.

Many thanks to Bill at the BWA for giving me a turning lesson in exchange for some plywood offcuts. Win-win!

I’m having a go at a small piece of the walnut tree now.



This strange looking thing is a functional copy of an antique device for tracing a person’s profile for a shadow portrait. When I say functional copy, obviously the original was done entirely with hand tools and this one wasn’t; there were also some modifications to the design. I made a plywood mockup first, to test the concept and make all my mistakes before setting the blades to a nice piece of sapele I’d had lying around in the garage for some years.

I had to work from photographs of the original device, which resides in a museum in the US.

This one appears in Silhouette Secrets, a film about the silhouette maker’s art by Charles Burns and Andi Reiss, which should appear on our TV screens sometime later this year. Charles and his wife, Kazumi, have made the ironwork for it. It has a pivot at one end and a white card on the opposite door; the idea is that a long pole with a pencil at one end is attached to the pivot and the pencil traces on the white card at a scale determined by the length of the pole. The other end of the pole is traced round a person’s profile. The idea, near as we can figure it, is that in the nineteenth century machines were the latest thing and machines obviously do any job better than people. Not. We had a go with the mockup, and it was first of all almost impossible to keep still, and secondly very difficult to trace the pole steadily round the profile. The original used a wooden pole, which must have been even more unwieldy. Charles does perfect, intricate, recognisable silhouettes by eye.

physiognotrace in use500

The door with the card has to be very loose and floppy; it’s held against the pencil point by a spring. This was a challenge, to say the least. I had to lube the hinges before fitting them, but even then they had to line up exactly to make the door loose enough.

The physiognotrace is finished with oil.

Standing desk finished

Standing desk in use, complete with fairy lights
Standing desk in use, complete with fairy lights

Well it took me a month to build, but that included a lot of figuring out and making jigs. For example, one problem is getting a hole drilled perpendicular to the face of the board. My lovely little router – and it is a Festool – doesn’t put the bit exactly in the middle of the guide bush. All routers have some offset, and this one is about 2 millimetres, which is plenty if you want to drill a neat hole in exactly the right place on a board. So I had to make a jig – just a piece of 9mm ply with a hole to fit a guide bush I happen to have whose diameter coincides with a Forstner bit I happen to have – and marks on the edge of the hole to line up with the markings on the workpiece. Putting the marks in the right place was a pain, and so is lining the jig up and clamping it down for every hole.

router drilling jig
router drilling jig

Tip: always use at least two clamps, as far apart as possible but even if you can only get them an inch apart that’s good enough to stop the piece from pivoting on a single clamp. Clamps aren’t shown in this picture, but the jig is nearly a metre long so there’s a good chance for every setup that you can get a pair of clamps in somewhere.

Another clamping tip: the single-handed quick-release ones are fine for holding the piece in place while you go and get a proper F-clamp, but don’t rely on them for the actual cut. And there’s one type in particular that has bitten my hand more than once – try it in the shop before you buy and don’t buy a clamp online on the strength of the blurb.

Of course after I’d finished making the holes I realised that the guide bush screws allow for a bit of adjustment – there’s me trusting Festool to be so perfect and yes, it has a couple of millimetres of slop. So now I centre the guide bush on the bit by eye – and hope it doesn’t move during a job. Even Festool kit has let me down in that respect before.

Obviously the desk had to be knock-down – it wouldn’t go up the stairs and would cause a back injury anyway – so I used threaded inserts and wide-headed bolts, and dowels where gravity would hold it together. Even staring at the SketchUp model for hours on end there are still engineering decisions to be made as you’re going along and some dowel fittings got converted to bolts late in the build.

I finished the desk with Tru-Oil, which is made in the US by Birchwood Casey for, of all things, gun stock finishing. Not cheap but dries much more quickly than the usual Danish oils you find in the toolshops. It a favourite for musical instrument makers too.

New workshop and standing desk started


I’ve moved most of the tools up to the bedroom vacated by Elder Sprog, with the result that a) I now have a warm place to work – the garage is certain hypothermia in this weather – and b) I’m getting a lot of exercise moving stuff between there and the garage, where I still have to do the big stuff like cutting 8×4 sheets. Bandsaw, planer and table saw are still in the cold place, the rest is now cosy and dry. Still need to sort out lighting though. Meanwhile I’ve been asked for a stand-up desk for a freelance web designer, so that’s the current project. It’s going to be birch plywood – rapidly becoming my favourite material to work with and also highly recyclable; when a piece of furniture is no longer needed it can just be dismantled and made into something else. I mean yes, you can do that with any wooden pieces but I’m developing a good production line of boxes and chests from plywood because I like it and it behaves itself.

desk design1This is the idea for the desk, done in Sketch-Up. It’s to go in a corner and fits into a one-metre square footprint. That deep conduit along the wall is a challenge for the corner support.

So I’m having fun with the long cutouts in the uprights at the moment. Making a template first, because it’s very easy to make a mess of it and ruin the workpiece, especially on the join between the straight line and the half-circle, which even with rounded edges is going to show if it’s not perfect. There are myriad ways, as always, to skin this particular cat but what I’ve done so far is mark the shape, clamp on a circle template, go round with the router using a guide bush, set up a straight edge, go along it with the router and repeat steps 1 and 2 for the other side and end, leaving me with a cutout 3mm inside the line; the idea is to go round again with the flush trim router bit against the circle template and straight edge. What I should have done was to go round roughly – well within the line – with the jigsaw and then finish with the flush trim router bit. C’est la vie – setting up for a cut takes ages, and I’ve got to do it all again! But it’s all practice. Anyway when the template is done, I can do the same on the workpieces but without having to match up the guides for the circle and the line each time. And once I’ve got the template, watch out for cutouts just like it on other pieces:-) It’s a great way to lighten the piece, and gives me more offcuts for the little boxes.

The Mah Jong box is finished!

Well, the sawcut veneering didn’t work very well, but I’ll try again on another project now I’ve found out what was really messing things up. It turned out that my planer-thicknesser table wasn’t perfectly in line with the blades, and I think it probably came like that from the factory because this Mah Jong project was the first job to show up the problem so markedly. Didn’t think to check, an ass was made out of me. A call to the technical department of my favourite shop gave me some pointers and I turned the thing upside down and figured out the rest, so it’s now giving me nice flat boards.

Meanwhile, here’s the finished box, finally!

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA I should point out right away that the most impressive thing about this box, the inlays of the West and East Wind characters, was done by master luthier and all-round good guy Cabell Fearn on his roborouter in sunny Stuttgart. We took the characters from photos of the eponymous tiles, and Cab vectorised them for the CNC machine. The main body of the box is sapele, which I had to edge-glue in sections because it insisted on moving out of straight when I cut it thin enough to use. The pale wood is from a friend’s walnut tree which she very kindly donated in exchange for helping to pay for felling it. I was wondering what to do about fastening the doors. Any decent brass fittings were ridiculously expensive and mostly made in the US or Australia, but the client came up with the wooden peg idea which sets it off beautifully and also provides a good doorknob on each door.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAThe left hand door is held in place with magnets, the right hand door by the peg. Inside is a top section for the six trays, holding the tiles, instructions and other paraphernalia. The racks go underneath.The hinge rebates I did with my Leigh dovetail jig – maybe not an original idea, but original for me and I was very proud of having thought of it. The plinth was shaped on the router table, and mitred with the table saw. I made the racks from iroko and oak, with a plywood core because, again, the solid iroko didn’t stay straight.  You can just see the East and West wind tiles in the foreground.


Sawcut veneers

I’ve been asked to make a box to hold a venerable Mah Jong set. Thankfully the client isn’t in a hurry, because I’ve been struggling with the perennial problem of a nice piece of timber, bought from a reputable yard, measuring eight per flipping cent moisture content for heaven’s sake, twisting and writhing like a hungry python when I cut it into boards of the required width.

So I thought, well, plywood doesn’t do that (unless I leave it in a damp shed and then who can blame it?) but I don’t want to encase this ancient Mah Jong set in a plywood box. I could maybe make my own plywood so the whole thing looks more craftsmanlike. Then I remembered an article in a (luckily British) woodworking magazine by a real craftsman called David Oldfield. about sawcut veneering, and revisited the article. It turns out that it’s perfectly respectable to use good quality plywood as your substrate, and put your thick (3-4mm) bandsaw-cut veneers either side of it (which you can bookmatch and all sorts).

My planer/thicknesser only goes down to 5mm, but that’s OK because if I cut a piece thinner than that it can always go through the thicknesser after it’s been stuck to a piece of 6mm Baltic birch plywood. And I’m starting to get the hang of resawing on the bandsaw, thanks largely to a wonderful resaw guide by Magswitch – spensive but what a difference!

Anyway, so the aforementioned twisted boards aren’t so bad when a) sawn in half lengthwise and b) sawn in half widthwise with a view to bookmatching and c) glued to a nice piece of 6mm birch plywood. That’s the plan anyway, watch this space.

Rub joints

I’ve discovered rub joints – gluing without clamps!! This I did find in a magazine article (the one about sawcut veneers as a matter of fact), and it’s worth ranting about here because it has saved a massive amount of time and there is none of the clamp drift that I mentioned last month. I can make a dozen of these joints in an hour; the old way would have needed 36 clamps, which I simply don’t have, and probably at least two hours.

rub joint 300

When all you’re doing is gluing flat pieces of plywood together you don’t need to clamp them, just keep moving the pieces against each other until it ‘grabs’ – that is, it stops sliding easily. Then don’t move it any more, because that will weaken the bond by breaking the structure of the glue (if that makes sense). So keep the movements small; you soon get the idea of how long it takes before you have to have the pieces aligned how you want them so that it will grab just when you want it to. In this case I’ll be using the sander to tidy up the fretsaw inaccuracies so obviously the closer the better but a hairswidth out isn’t critical.

Also a tip about the glue squeezout – all the books I’ve seen will tell you to wipe off excess with a damp cloth while the glue is still wet. This is because the glue is water soluble. This means that when you wipe it with a damp cloth you get more diluted glue wiped over a larger area, and that will show when you put the finish on. I mean I sanded the last one and sanded again and sanded again and still there were these white marks where this finely diluted glue that was deposited by the damp cloth had insinuated its way into the wood. So here is a better idea – leave it like you see it in the photo, with the beads of glue sitting there gradually getting harder. Go back to it half an hour later, and poke at it with a screwdriver (or your favourite scraping tool – mine happens to be a palette knife). If it’s rubbery but not leaking liquid glue, that’s the time to take the scraper to it and remove the beads. If you leave it longer you can still remove the beads but you’ll need something sharper and then you’ll be in danger of cutting where you don’t want to cut.



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 Making 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