Crack that whip!

Last week we were putting together a bullet box from the rump end of a walnut board that wasn’t quite long enough to make another cutting board from.


If you notice, there are penciled lines right down the center for the saw plate to travel between.  It is this that I wanted to talk about.  I needed to split this board both in width and thickness to yield four pieces of 3/8″ thick stock.  You may find yourself in a similar situation.  But to save you some trouble, I will tell you that ripping one piece of 8″ wide stock is exponentially harder than ripping two 4″ wide pieces.  So, split the width before the thickness, and your chore will be lessened.  And then you must rip it, rip it good.



Cleaning up after yourself

It happens to all of us at one time or other:

You’re working on something and you shift around to get a better angle on it–

–and there’s a crash behind you.

Cringing, you turn to see that a plane or saw has fallen to the floor and broken the tote.  If you have foresight, you’ve put down a wood floor instead of the concrete that’s common to our usual shop spaces (basements and garages), as many plane castings have been shattered by the unyielding solidity of concrete.  But still, the tote is broken!  Like, total bummer, dude!

It may be that you need to graft on a whole new piece.  I had to do that with my panel saw when I bought it.  The horns had been snapped off sometime in the last hundred years, and lost in the temporal maelstrom.  Now repaired, I use it almost every day–

–only to knock it off the bench the other day and crack the tote clean through.


As a parenthetical observation, do notice that the horn repair (pear wood grafted on the original apple, if you’re curious) survived unscathed, while the wood broke.  A properly fitted glue joint is stronger than wood.

Anyway, it was a clean break, with no splinters missing.  As long as I could get glue all the way inside the joint, and do so without making a mess, I could simply glue the crack and move on.  Thankfully for me, hide glue fit both of those parameters.

First, hide glue has an interesting property: the hotter it is, the runnier it is.  So all I had to do was get it nice and hot and it would run into the crack like water.  Proper glue volume, check!

Second, hide glue is water-soluble, even when cured.  So, even if I got some glue on the tote that I didn’t wipe off, all I had to do was worry it with a damp rag and it would come right off.  No refinishing required!

Once the glue is applied, the only question remaining was how to clamp the darn thing.  You really don’t want to clamp on the horns (lest you make more work for yourself), and the curving surfaces of the tote are exceedingly awkward to try to fit a clamp around without some sort of caul.  But there’s an easy, cheap way to do this with any sort of odd bit that doesn’t want to clamp nicely.


A couple of zip ties around it holds it securely, and they don’t mess up your surface or finish.  I let this sit overnight, then cut off the zip ties, wiped down the tote for any excess glue, and got to work again with no one the wiser.

Well, no one was the wiser, anyway…

Strong medicine

In the bench build we’ve been working on (and are almost done with!), I used a slow-setting epoxy.  Other than proper mixing, the most important part of using epoxy is to use the proper proportions.  In this case it was 1:1, but other epoxies vary.  The trick is trying to measure that out, especially with the low viscosity of this stuff.


I have found that the little measuring cups, such as come on cough syrup and the like, are the ideal vessel for most volumes of epoxy.  They’re graduated, so you can easily measure properly, and they’re also meant to be disposable.  Any container you use is pretty much a lost cause once you mix epoxy in it, but at a few pennies apiece, you can afford that with these little cups.

The next time you have to mix epoxy, give these a try, and I imagine that you’ll be pleased with the result.

Now with Fresh Pine scent!

So let’s say that you’re rasping out some handles in a pine box.  You hit a patch that feels a little funny, and then your sense of smell is overwhelmed by the crisp smell of fresh-cut pine.  Smells like…victory!  But then, as you continue, you notice that your normally very efficient hand-stitched rasp isn’t cutting very well and then ceases to work at all.  Inspecting the offending tool, you realise (to your horror) that the teeth have been gummed up in gooey mass of pine resin and fine wood dust that has congealed and hardened around the rasp teeth.  You can hear Bill Murray’s hangdog sigh in your mind’s ear: “He slimed me…”


Yuck!  In disgust you reach for the brush that you normally clean your tools with and give the revolting muck a swipe…


It didn’t even dent the coniferous sheath that now surrounds your fine rasp!  A few more swipes confirm the dim prospects for removing the gunk.  So you resort to a very stiff brush…


Confustication and bebotherment!  Now you’re really stuck.  About the only thing stiffer is a wire-bristled file card, and you know that you shouldn’t use it on your rasp (they call it a “file” card for a reason), but you’re getting a little panicky at this point.  What if this never comes off?  Have you ruined an heirloom tool by using it on cheap lumber?  What about fire?  Could you, perhaps, gingerly touch the flame of a propane torch to the rasp and just burn out the–

No, burning out the residue will ruin the temper of the steel, just as burning out the stump of a broken off axe or hammer handle will.  What we need is chemical warfare.

Easy there, Saddam!  Put that mustard down!

If you get your rasp gummed up with resin, the only thing you need is a stiff nylon brush and a few squirts of mineral spirits.  Spray, brush, wipe off the resultant sludge.  Repeat as necessary.  It will take only a few minutes to clean your rasp, and the teeth will be spared the onslaught of steel wires.  Be sure to thoroughly dry and re-oil once it’s clean, and your rasps will carry on through many more years of service.



Miyagi woodworking

Do you want to make your planing easier?


If not, then avert your self-flagellating eyes and go wash your hair shirt.


One of the evolutionary dead-ends in the development of the plane was the “transitional” plane.  It was an attempt to hybridise the easy adjustments of the new-fangled iron plane (even though the Romans had iron-soled planes) with the wooden plane’s smooth glide.  Wood on wood is smoother than iron on wood, and this frictional reduction was their main selling point (that, and their lower price).


But this attraction is largely rendered moot by a simple observation: iron planes weren’t necessarily designed to use without lubrication.  Further, using a lubricant on wooden plane soles was a well-established tradition by 1867 (when Leonard Bailey introduced his version of the iron plane), notably including candles that included both tallow and beeswax.  Peter Sellers uses a bean tin with an oiled rag in it.  I tried that, but found I preferred using simple beeswax.


Every so often, I’ll just take a few swipes of the block across the sole, and that keeps everything working much more smoothly than without.  Not only does it make it easier to plane, but it also improves the surface left behind, since the plane can cut more smoothly.  When I’m planing end grain, as when I’m squaring the end of a board, it is an even more marked difference.

One other application that I use bits of beeswax for is a finish.  Especially on the lathe, I use what’s known as a polissoirI’m (in)famously cheap, so I didn’t buy one.  I made one instead, from an old broom and a little cord.  Despite its less-than-refined appearance, it works pretty well, leaving a very hard wax coating burnished onto the work.


So for making your planing easier to acting as a finish, remember the mantra: “Wax on, wax off”.

Crack Spackle

74585_shirtinbucketYup, it’s a real thing.

Not what I was really talking about, though.  In this case, it has to do with some of the  issues that come up with working with wood, especially reclaimed wood that hasn’t always been treated nicely.  There are frequently splits or nail holes or knot holes that visually spoil an otherwise sound board.  In the case below, the boxed heart timber I was using had split along one of the faces, and I wanted to stablise it for reuse.

(An extended aside here:  Boxed heart timber is inherently unstable.  As you may know, timber wants to shrink across the grain.  Since the grain is across every face on a boxed heart beam, it’s trying to shrink on all four sides at the same time.  Something has to give!  Invariably, at least one of the sides will have split from the stress.  If you can, strive to find FOHC [Free Of Heart Center] timber if possible.)


So what was I to do?  The answer could involve planing a groove (possibly putting a saw kerf in there if it was a small split) down to the pith and then gluing a plug in there.  If it were a more cohesive split, I might have done that.  But since it was a stringy, disjointed split, I chose to use tinted epoxy to fill it.  The pigment (just regular artist’s pigment) isn’t structurally necessary, but the yellowish cast of the stock epoxy makes it look like your wood has solidified snot in it, rather than just a dark patch of grain.  ALWAYS PICK BLACK for this application.  You can make it various browns, but they’re never exactly right (especially over time), and they make it look horrid.


So, this is one of those times where you must have faith.  Once you goop this stuff on there, it will look like you’ve taken the Exxon Valdez method for woodworking.  Don’t fret.  It will be fine.  If your splits go out an end, make a dam with some painter’s tape so it won’t run out.  Keep an eye on it for an hour or so, because the epoxy will sink into the bottom of the crack and you may need to top it off.


Once it’s had a chance to cure thoroughly, the excess will plane right off, and voilà!  The splits are now filled all the way to the bottom of the crack, and you can use the chunk of timber now without reservations as to its stability.  Aesthetics are also improved since everything is in the same plane, and also won’t collect dust like a crack would.  Under a coat of finish especially, it will blend right in.


Putting the screws to it

Just now, we attached the top to our tabouret with screws through the underside.  But it’s harder than it might look.  The bottom framework gets in the way, so you can’t use the superior torque that a brace might provide, nor will it be easy to get a power drill in there.  So you’re left with a simple screwdriver and some crossed fingers when you put it all together.  But there’s a way to make it slightly less onerous task.

First, drill the proper size pilot hole.  One that’s too small will only bind everything up.  I use tapered drill bits that are sized to the common screw sizes, but if you don’t have them, or are dealing with a wonky size, here’s a chart that will help you find the proper size.  A word of warning, though.  Those dimensions are for steel screws.  Brass screws need slightly larger holes, due to their less resilient character.

Second, lubricate your screws.  I just dab them about a quarter of their length into an old can of paste wax.  It makes a much bigger difference than you might think.

Next, use a tightly fitting screwdriver.  Now, I’ll assume that you’re using the proper screws here.  Avoid Phillips screws like the plague because they will quickly strip out.  If you’re doing something “contemporary” I guess you could use Torx or Robertson (square drive) screws because at least they’ll stand up to the torque.  But for my money, a slotted screw is the way to go, especially on a reproduction piece like this.  That said, you need to make sure to use a screwdriver that fits exactly.  Using the tapered hardware store screwdriver is just asking for trouble.  For my money, I don’t bother with anything than the Brownells Magna-Tips.

Last, and another reason I really like my Magna-Tip set, is to cheat if you can.  My Drill Instructor once told me that “If you aren’t cheating, you’re not trying.”.  And he had a point.  The 1/4″ hex shaft has a nice little side effect that a 1/4″ wrench will fit right over it.  Then, you can use the much-amplified leverage with one hand to turn the screw, and the other hand to press the screwdriver into the slot, preventing it from camming out and munging up your screw heads.  Works like a charm.