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Hitting the Nail on the Head!

It’s a little embarrassing, but back when I was a young pup at the carpentry, I was once told to nail the back panel of a kitchen cupboard in place. The nail was 3mm long and the wood was 10mm thick, yet I still managed to nail the 3mm nail clean through the wood. I not only put a hole right in the middle of the back panel, but I destroyed the smooth paintwork! We had to fix, strip and repaint the entire cupboard, the kitchen was delivered late and I was in shame. As “punishment,” my instructor assigned me to banging nails into wooden cut offs for the next three weeks straight, from morning to evening, but I’ve never hit a nail crooked since!


hand made cabinets


I know many of you might be pshawing this post, but I’ve known many experienced, professional carpenters who haven’t mastered this skill. They might tell you it doesn’t matter how straight the nail is or that you can always remove the nail and try again, but in truth, hitting the nail right the first time not only makes the join stronger, but can also save a load of time, energy and nails! And with just a few tips, it really can be just as easy as it sounds to hit the nail on the head every time and practice safe woodworking skills.

Firstly, I recommend tapping the nail gently into place, rather than banging it in, more strenuously! It enables you to guide the nail more accurately through the wood and helps prevent the nail from bending or sliding in on the wrong angle. It also greatly reduces the risk of the wood splitting, especially if you are working with harder woods.

Some less patient woodworkers might compromise by tapping the nail in halfway and then giving it a couple of stout blows to secure it in place. Once again, this might save you a few extra seconds, but you still risk cracking the wood, pushing the nail all the way through to the other side or that the top half of the nail will bend down into the wood.

Try practicing on wood cut offs for a bit: it is harder to get a feel for a gentle tap than a blow. Also, while you are practicing, make sure the wood and the nail are at eye level so you can clearly see the nail penetrating at the correct 90˚ angle. You can tell you’ve done a good job when the nail head is flat and level with the wooden surface. This will train your eyes to see the 90˚ angle automatically.

After you start getting it right consistently (ie. more than 5 times in a row), start trying to tap the nail in when it’s not at eye level to get used to how 90˚ looks from different perspectives and then check your outcomes again. It’s all about training your eyes. Once you start getting it right, it’s a skill you will never lose; just like riding a bike!

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Cleaning and Keeping Bits Rust Free…

Considering I’m a new blogger here, I thought I’d start off with a helpful hint from way back when I was a young apprentice in my first, neighborhood carpentry.  One of the first jobs I was assigned was to clean up and organize the storage shed and, thinking back, I now imagine the carpenter that gave me that job was having a bit of a chuckle!  Years of neglect, saw dust and grime waxed so thick I could barely pick out the drill bits, router bits, ratchet parts, handsaws and screw drivers from the muck.  There were open air shelves of clutter stacked right up to the ceiling and I found literally hundreds of odds and ends that were formerly MIA. When I had finally cleaned out the entire shed, so much of the equipment was rusted and ruined that we were only able to save a few boxes worth. So there was no doubt that we had to replace most of the rusted parts with new, preferably carbide tipped, tools and bits that ensure a longer shelf life, but how was I supposed to restore the semi-rusted parts we’d salvaged? And how could I prevent all those parts from getting back into the same state again?

Many of us are fairly familiar with this scene and know full well that oxygen, humidity and dust are a carpenter’s worst enemy, causing all his uncoated steel bits to rust and weaken. So when the job finally calls for that piece you’ve been hanging onto for just the right occasion, you find yourself heading to the hardware store for a new part.  So, how do you keep all those little bits and parts clean and strong for the next 20 years?

Old Terry, one of the carpenters, offered me this advice: group each piece by purpose and size and put each group into a labeled jar filled with unscented kerosene (aka. Paraffin if you live in the UK) for two days.  That will clean off most of the rust and decay with almost no effort.  Then take each piece out of its jar using tongs or pliers, wipe it down, spray it with oil and place it back in its kerosene filled jar and put the jar away in your tool cabinet for safe keeping.  That will prevent it from rusting again, keep the steel strong and make it a breeze to find what you need for years to come.

NB: When it comes time to use that bit or part, don’t forget to dry it out first because wet kerosene can leave marks on your wood.



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Building Backyard Furniture

As usual, summer has snuck up on me. I keep finding myself in the backyard, fiddling with two old bird feeders, looking out past the hedges to the where the river starts, or just sitting on the steps enjoying the warm breeze with the dog. Even my wife, who has not been overly pleased with the weeds and some of the sandier parts of the yard, has found herself outside. Unfortunately, our outdoor furniture, a good 10 years past its prime, has finally given way to complete despair. I was pulling of the arm rest of the wicker loveseat when my daughter asking when we’d be buying something new.

While not opposed to finding out what the nearest furniture store had in stock, I realized that this was a golden moment for a project—one which would give me an excuse to work outside as well as something more comfortable that the concrete stairs or the wicker. While I surveyed the tool situation in the garage, my wife and daughter searched for images of what they might like. I ultimately decided that this would give me a great reason the buy the 5-piece drill bit set I’d had had my eye on. The ladies requested Adirondack style and was able to I find an excellent how-to by Family Handyman.

adirondack love seat

To build the Adirodack furniture for your own backyard, here is Family Handyman’s “How to Make an Adirondack Chair and Love Seat.”


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Use Forstner Bits, Combinations Blades and Other Tools to Organize Your Shop

As a woodworker, we often amass large amounts of tools – both big and small. While I have seen some very well organized shops, I admit that I am not the most organized person. I try to keep my router bits, saw blades and hand tools in their set places, but there have been numerous times that I had to spend more time that I’d like to admit searching for specific router bits and other tools when I needed them.

For those of you out there would also appreciate some organizational tips for your woodworking shop, and those of you who are by nature organized and appreciate finding tips to help your workshop stay neat, I recently came across a great article which explains how to make tool holders. Not only can most of these tool holders be made using tools you already have, such as router bits, forstner bits and combination blades, but they are easy to make and can be created to fit any cabinet. Plus, there is no better way to get motivated to organize my workshop than a new project.

Brad Point Boring Bit

See the full Simple-to-Make Tool Holders for a Cabinet article, and learn how to make chisel holders, spokeshave holders, file and scraper holders and more.

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Looking Back in Time for Inspiration

As a furniture maker, it is always an interest of mine to gain inspiration wherever I can. Sometimes it is looking up at the skyscrapers in the city and using architectural designs for ideas, other times it comes from looking at a suspension bridge. But, my favorite source of inspiration is to look back in time.

My favorite activity, aside from creating pieces of furniture for family and friends, is to take a Sunday drive into the country and walk into antique shops.

The furniture found in these shops has most likely had many owners, been moved from here to there, and been hit in the foot by a vacuum or two.

There is no surprise that these pieces have lasted this long, whether they were created 250 years ago or just 60 years ago. Furniture is art which is used, and if it is not built properly it will only last for a short time.

When designing furniture, I make sure to use the experience I attain in the antique shops. I make sure to look closely at the joinery and construction of the pieces and implement many of the principles found there into my new pieces.

What I do see more than 90% of the time are dovetails. Pull out any drawer from a piece of furniture which has been on this earth for some time, and you will see solid construction and joinery. One cannot find a stronger joint than dovetails.


Dovetail Router Bits


Back in the day when many of these pieces were constructed, dovetail joints were created by hand. Two signs of handmade dovetails are small inconsistencies (which are not found when machining) and an etched line which was drawn into the side in order to mark the depth of cut. This mark was typically not sanded out.

As I take these construction methods back to my shop and design my pieces, I tend to like to work smarter and faster than doing all my work by hand. Therefore, my dovetail jigs are one of my most prized tools. My investment in a high end router and bits has made my job of creating high quality pieces much easier. I hope to one day have my pieces of furniture in antique shops 250 years in the future…and don’t tell anyone, but sometimes I etch that line into the edge in order to give it a bit of a handmade look.

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How Does One Know What to Buy When Opening Up a Shop?

So the dream has come true. Since you have been 15, you always dreamed of opening your own woodworking shop in your home. Now, you can move the 2 cars out of the garage to set up a shop to create those beautiful pieces you have been planning in your head for years.

You have a good job which pays well and the kids are old enough that your spouse does not need you in the house helping as much. It’s time to take some time for yourself and set up a place where you can hibernate on Saturdays and Sundays.

Opening up a shop is not an easy task. If you are like most, you are have a limited budget and do not know exactly what you need. As you shop around the local or online hardware stores you will see that the salespeople may try to sell you everything under the sun. They hear you are buying tools for a shop, and the list of “requirements” grows larger and larger. But do you really need everything?

woodworking tools

A good rule of thumb before going shopping is to ask yourself what exactly you will use the shop for, and I do not mean for the answer to be woodworking, which is clear. What I am asking is what you are looking to create, what style, what types of wood.

To begin, plan-out your first three projects. Evaluate which tools you will need to make these three pieces. If you see that each one of these pieces requires something much different, perhaps you should change two of them to better fit the one and keep within the same style.

Planning your projects in advance will allow you to go to the store and buy exactly what you need and not end up purchases additional tools that just seemed like a good idea at the time. As you continue creating new pieces which require certain tools, you will have more opportunities to expand your tool collection.

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One of My Favorite Tools on Toolstoday.com

Now, I may be a bit biased towards Toolstoday.com, but let’s be clear that they do provide us all with a great service. Not only do they sell great products which are guaranteed and tested, but for someone without the full knowledge of exactly what they need, their customer service is very helpful.

As a customer, I was looking to replace and upgrade circular saw blades. I tend to like buying products which are the best quality that I can afford because I have learned many times over that you get what you pay for. In the end, when you buy cheap products you often end up spending more.

Although I would consider myself well versed in the world of woodworking, it has been some time since I was shopping for circular saw blades. I certainly knew I needed blades for ripping and cross cutting as well as a combination.

I went online to the website and searched for blades. I could not believe it. It must have been a while since I searched for blades because there now seemed to be a million different choices. My head was spinning. What was the difference between the brands, the steel vs. carbide, and the specialty blades, etc.?

To my surprise, I found a great tool on the Toolstoday website, and it was not a woodworking tool. It was a search tool called a Saw Blade Finder. I was able to select the category, or type of blade I was looking for, the diameter, the number of teeth, the brand and more. Instead of getting on the phone with customer service, I was able to get this help independently. I was able to choose from a much lower number of blades, which was something I was much more comfortable with. At the end of the day, I was able to call up only those blades which I would need and selected them based on just a few factors, price being number one.

Saw Blade Finder

So, when someone asks me about going shopping for blades, where to go and what to ask, I will definitely recommend the Saw Blade Finder. It saves time searching, eliminates the need to drive to the store, and the saw blades get delivered directly to your house. Although I am a big advocate for local brick and mortar businesses, I cannot pass up this great time saving tool.

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No Substitute for a Hammer Drill

One of the most common mistakes I see, and have admittedly done in the past, is trying to get away with using a wood bit to drill through concrete. I know, it is not the smartest thing to do, but we justify it by saying, well…it’s an old bit anyway, I just need to drill just one hole, or even, I have no choice since I don’t have the proper tools to drill through concrete.

Whatever the reason, it is clear that we all know/knew what we were doing was far from ideal. Not only can it be dangerous since the steel bit can break and become a flying object, but the end result can put real damage on the drill, not to mention not even achieving the goal of drilling a hole.

masonry drill bit

Using tools should be an extension of you. Feeling the power of the tool and knowing that it is working well provides you with the confidence that the tool is doing the job. If you misuse and overwork the drill, its motor can begin to overheat and give up on you. A tool which is used for the purpose of another task is not likely to stand up well in the long run. Therefore, it is important to use the correct tools for the correct tasks.

The hammer drill does not make its appearance too often for most home improvement tasks or projects. At times, it can be over a year before I see it again. I can only image that most people do not have a hammer drill in their shop, let alone masonry bits.

Although not needed for everyday tasks, when they are needed, hammer drills do a job that no other tool can do properly. Its hammer function, customized bits for drilling concrete, and its power allow for easy drilling and long life for both the drill and the bits. It is a worthwhile purchase if you keep in mind that the alternatives are either hiring a contractor to perform this simple task or risk the life of your standard drill and bits.

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Shortcuts and Shaper Cutters

There is a saying that the shoe maker’s wife goes shoeless. If you haven’t heard that before, you are a better husband than I. My wife seems to remind me every once in a while. It seems that work is work and home is where you don’t work, or at least try not to.

As a home owner, we find little things need to be maintained and fixed every now and then. Perhaps a light bulb needs to be changed, a smoke alarm battery is dying or a ceiling fan needs to be installed – these are the small jobs, and I don’t mind doing them.

Yet, when it comes to the bigger jobs, such as redoing our kitchen cabinets, I tend to push them off. Not only is this a big job and quite a large investment of time and money, but the fact that I have to cut into work time and use my weekends to redo the kitchen is daunting.

In the end, like anyone doing work in their home, you try to see what NEEDS to be done, not what is wanted. With that being said, I decided that there was no real reason to dispose our cabinets and create new ones. Instead, I was just going to reface them.

The older cabinets were completely outdated and had needed a new finish for some time. My wife wanted to get rid of them and give our kitchen a more modern look. As a woodworker, although I wanted to keep it simple, I also wanted to create something I could be proud of – something with technique, depth, beauty and strength. We decided to make mission style doors from maple. It became a much less daunting task knowing that this is a simple design to make and my wife was happy with it.

After taking all of the measurements, it was just a matter of producing the stiles and rails, which I did using my planer and table saw. Then, I needed to cut the rabbits for the insides of the rails and stiles to house the floating panel. I took advantage of using my shaper with specialized shaper cutters to cut these rabbits. One cutter cuts the rabbit and a slight profile on the inside of the rails and stiles, and the other cuts a complimentary profile. I then mill the edges of the rails for a perfect fit when gluing up the frame.

Although I am not a big fan of undertaking large projects in my own home and tend to avoid them whenever possible, in this case, I was able to find a middle ground where I refaced the cabinets instead of redoing the entire kitchen. At the same time, I was able to work quickly and precisely with a stile and rail shaper cutter set that saved a lot of time. This project was completed part time in just a couple of weeks, and everyone was happy.

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I Am A Woodworker, Not A Mechanic…

We all went into woodworking because we love the craft. We feel refreshed by the sound of a hand plane sliding over the edge of stock whilst tossing the shavings from our hands to our feet, or we love the feel of sunlight blasting through the open window of our shops accompanied by the wind of the cool air breeze. To me, woodworking is a form of meditation. It’s a space where I can create and be on my own.

This is quite a romantic picture I have created for all of our woodworking dreams, but one thing is for sure, these moments are disrupted by the need to maintain and hone our tools. Properly maintaining our tools, including knives, blades and machines, ensures they work much smoother, more efficiently and safer.

The challenge is that we all went into woodworking to work with wood, not to become knife sharpeners, mechanics, etc. Yet, we all know that unless you have a go to guy in your shop, the job of tool maintenance is in your hands.

There are many things we can do to maintain our shop’s tools for precision work without toiling with them for hours on end. For instance, we are all familiar with sharpening chisels and the difference between using a flat oil stone and a turning stone wheel. The difference is not only time but precision. When sharpening a chisel on a stone, we must be exact in the angle we are hold the chisel to the stone while we move the chisel forward and backwards. In contrast, when we use a turning stone wheel we simply hold the chisel in place while the stone moves.

Another example, and the least favorite for many of us, is the sharpening and reinstallation of jointer and planer knives. The most basic technique for reinstalling planer and jointer knives is to put them in, lightly tighten the screws which secure the knives into the header, lay a flat edge over top the table, make sure that the knives are set at the right depth and tighten. This procedure must then be repeated for an additional two or three blades. The problem I have with this is that for some reason it is not accurate enough for me; I always seem to get the blades off by even a millimeter.

Lucky for me, there is a way to set the blades with 100% accuracy and not have to deal with a flat edge over a table. The solution is using a magnetic knife setter. This takes the guess work out of the task. And taking the guess work out of maintenance tasks in my shop makes me a happy man who can go back to my hand planes, sunshine and cool breeze.

Woodworking is about the art, craft and expressing one’s self. When woodworking becomes a mechanic’s job, it’s time to take advantage of maintenance shortcuts.

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