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Carbide Bits vs. Steel: Shopping for Quality

Last month I bought a new (used) car. When searching for the right car, of course I did some basic research.

First, I went to a few different mechanics with a list of models and asked them which ones they saw the least. Second, while driving around took notice of which older cars I saw on the road most often. But wait…what does this have anything to do with woodworking and why is this on a woodworking blog page?

Just like any new purchase, it’s important to do your research when buying new tools and accessories. Asking other woodworkers their experiences with their tools and reading reviews (just be aware that some are actually for promotion purposes) are important. Look at how the tools hold up. Go visit an established workshop whose purchases have been made years ago.

If you can get the chance, see how others store their tools because that is where they will be for most of their life. When taking care of one’s tools, storage is most important. Tools should be stored away from the elements, whether it is dust and moisture, so when they are taken out for use, they are in top shape. Though, as we all know, moisture will end up just about anywhere and through time can damage our drill and router bits… if they are made of steel.

But there’s another option available that gives your tools a much longer life span: Carbide bits; a material that is not only much harder than steel, withstands much higher temperatures, and last, does not rust. Certainly carbide is a much superior material for bits.

Therefore, when you look around other shops and ask which is best, you will come to the same conclusion as I have about the car I had just purchased. The models which are still seen on the roads after so many years and the models which are standing up to hard use is a great direction to go into if you don’t like going back and forth to the store for replacements.

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Long Life, Health, and Beautiful Furniture

Growing up in New Jersey creates a person that is always on the move. When I opened up my shop, the last thing I wanted to do was spend money and time outfitting the shop with air filtration systems, create a complete dust and chip collection system as well as create separate workspace for the loudest machines. I had finally opened up my own shop and just wanted to get started with my first few projects.

I was eager and impatient but I knew, after seeing what had happened over time to my mentor, that it was important to take care of these safety issues, and would impact my quality of life.

Let me explain. From a young age I learned under a woodworker who created a shop in an oversized garage just off his home. For some reason or another there was no air quality control. In the winter, all the doors and windows were closed, even when operating a large panel sander.

There were no vacuum systems, no fine dust filters and no dust masks. Come to think of it, he never even wore ear or eye protection. He must have come from a different time where there was no awareness to the long term dangers.

Woodworking Eye Protection

Safety Goggles for Woodworking and Carpentry


Anyway, as he became older, it was clear that he was having breathing issues. Walking up a flight of stairs would take his breath away, as well as other basic daily rituals.

In the end, to see his deterioration was saddening. I am not sure how much one could blame his workshop environment for his condition but one must take this seriously.

If you are as eager to work as I am, then follow my lead and make sure your shop is outfitted for safety because you, just like me, want to be working in the shop for a long time…

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When I Replaced My Straight Router Bit with a Dado Blade Cutter…

Stacked Dado Blade Image

For a long time, I was able to get away with cutting all of my Dado joints with a straight plunge router bit. Although not ideal, I was never able to justify the expense of purchasing this cutter.

I would simply mark the depth and width of the cut, set up the depth of the cutter accordingly and then set up a fence to get a straight line. To achieve the right width of the cut, I would then move my fence over to make the second pass.

Depending on the depth of the cut, each set up may need a couple of passes because of the (blank) of the router bit.

To be honest, it is quite hard getting perfect and identical results using a router when you need to replicate the same dado cut on numerous pieces.

I remember one occasion when I needed to make a project which called for a lot of Dado and rabbit joints. When I put together a quote for the client, I realized how much time I was billing for cutting these joints. It was unreasonable, and even a bit embarrassing to realize how long this project was going to take me. I needed to find a faster way.

I was able to solve this problem by using a stacked Dado cutter. I was working on a budget and tried to get away with the tools I had, but this time I was able to justify this expense. In the end I was able to cut perfect joints, replicate them a few dozen times, and do it in a fraction of the time.

I have to say that setting up the cutter for the first time was no picnic. It took more than a few test runs to make a perfect joint, but once I had it set up, it was a pleasure to work with.

Read about Stacked Dado Sets vs. Wobble Blades.

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How a Router and Router Bits Help with Field Work

Boy scouts and carpenters have something very much in common. When they are out in the field, they aim to “always be prepared”. As a child I was in the boy scouts and learned that sometimes you just can’t predict when you will need something. So the next lesson learned is to improvise.

As a carpenter, we are often in the field when we realize that we either forgot something back in the shop, or, as we all do sometimes, an error was made and it needs fixing ASAP or to be completely re-built.

A friend of mine told me a story how he was at someone’s home installing crown molding which he machined out the previous day using a shaper. Of course he measured out the proper length needed to cover the perimeter of the room he was working on and brought what was needWood Routered.

As he was unloading and stacking the molding outside the house someone came by and stole one of the pieces. Going to a client with that is almost like telling a teacher that your dog ate your homework!

He was on the job and needed to move forward.

So he improvised. He had some extra stock in the truck and his portable router and table. Although the end result wasn’t exactly the same profile that he made with a shaper cutter, he was able to create a very close copy using a few layers of stock routed on site. He could tell the difference but when he showed the client, they could not see a difference.

This just goes to show that the portability of a router combined with the wide variety of router bits and profiles available makes it ideal for field work.

Read more about the differences between Router Bits and Shaper Cutters.

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Plugging Screw Holes from Hardwood Scraps

Although there are many carpentry joints you can use to avoid screws such as rabbet joints, or dovetail joints, occasionally time restraints, or skill level, will force you to use screws instead.

In these cases, people will often use putty or store bought dowels to conceal the screws. This can lead to unattractive elements in your piece, or cause you to waste time trying to find the best way to blend the imperfections caused by the screws.

There is another way.

Instead of trying to conceal the screw hole, why not make it a feature?

Plug cutters are really simple to use. Cut plugs are tapered, allowing for a tight fit when tapped into place.

How to Plug Your Screw Holes with Hardwood Scraps

1) First, choose a nice contrasting piece of hardwood from your scrap pile.
2) Second, make sure that the grain direction of the plug runs opposite the grain direction of the piece.
3) Use a countersink drill bit to make your screw hole.
4) Insert the screw.
5) Tap in your hardwood plug.

Not only will you have a beautiful contrast with the different woods, but also the smaller detail of grain direction will show your audience that you pay attention to details.

So if you need to use screws, don’t waste time trying to hide them. Create hardwood plugs from your wood scraps and work them into your piece.

Get more tips for using plug cutters

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How a Flush Trim Router Bit and an Old Template Saved My Aunt Some Money.

A few months ago, I got a phone call from my aunt. She told me that while visiting her sister’s house (my other aunt), she was amazed at what beautiful work I did with the set of three nesting tables I made for their 30th wedding anniversary. She loved them so much that she and my uncle wanted to commission me to build them an identical set.

So like any normal person who gets a request from family, money is always an issue. How much do I charge them? Do I give them a family discount? If they really care about me, they would want to pay more for it, for being a woodworker is not always an easy way to make a living.

In the end, I calculated the time plus materials I would need to make their set of nesting tables. Lucky for me, I had made sure to create templates for the original piece- which had an ornate edge on each top. The template had been safely stored on a shelf for some time.

By taking a new work piece, tracing the edge of the template on it, rough cutting it on my band saw and then using my router with a flush trim router bit, I saved a good amount of time. Thus, saving time meaning saving money, I was able to make my aunt very happy by giving her a good price. So, in the end, it worked out for everyone.

I just have to make sure that she doesn’t go back to my other uncle (who paid for the original set) and tell him the price I gave her. He may feel he was overcharged…

The lesson to be learned; create and safe keep your templates; you never know when or if you will need them again!

Read about Flush Trim Router Bits and Templates for Circular Shapes.

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Organizing Your Tools and Workspace

Have you ever opened your tool box to find that everything has been overturned, mixed up, and impossible to work with?

Have you ever been in the middle of an inspiration or a time crunch to get something done and couldn’t find the most basic tools in your box?

This has happened to me on more than one occasion, I am a little embarrassed to say and really, all it takes to create some order and reduce chaos is something we all know and, quite frankly, despise.

Spring cleaning has just come and gone this year, but have you really accomplished it yet? Have you been able to clear the cobwebs out of your toolbox?

Recently, I opened the door to the shed that I have been keeping my tools in and everything inside of it seemed to cry out to me, “Please sort, handle, or organize us; just do something already!”

After all, it is spring – so, I decided to get my hands dirty a bit. I have a unique sort of story, a story that involves turning a 2,000 square foot wood shop into a 10 foot by 10 foot wood shed. This, as you can imagine, can make organization very difficult.

Of course, I sold off many of my larger tools, but the smaller tools and cutters like router bits, hand saws, chisels, and shaper cutters, needed some special attention. It is always so easy to have a box that you can throw everything into, but we know what happens in the end with this scenario… dull, rusty, and unusable tools.

Read this article with tips for Organizing Your Tools and Workspace

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Win $500 in Tools!

We are hosting a Router Bits Woodworking Contest where the grand prize winner will get $500 worth of Tools of their choice from Toolstoday!

The first 100 entrants will get a 10% discount on their next purchase at Toolstoday.com
And your entries will be showcased on our site!

To Enter the Contest

Fill out the form on the contest page: http://www.toolstoday.com/contest.aspx
- Send us a photo of your best wood piece.
- Detail the creative way in which you shaped wood using router bits or shaper cutters.
- Include a list of the router bits, shaper cutters, and saw blades you used to make it.

The contest ends on September 5th 2011.
Winners will be notified via email no later than September 8th 2011.

Enter the Contest Now

I look forward to seeing your work!

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From Tools to Finishes – Planning Your Projects

Back in the old days, woodworkers didn’t have the opportunities for design and planning that we now have.

Nowadays, we have sophisticated computer modeling programs to accomplish this, but what if you couldn’t rely on this technology?

When I first began my business, I, as well, had to rely on physical drawings, mental pictures, and experience to produce a project that had some planning involved.

The problem was that I didn’t have any experience, other than the occasional project that I remembered my dad working on in the garage or something I wanted to build for my own house.

Reading helped a lot, but ultimately, I needed to be able to break down a project from tooling to the finish.

An invaluable process for me was to draw little thumbnails of the different steps involved, to see the joints and dimensions in 3D.

Every step of the way, I would stop and think about how the big picture could be broken down into its component parts and draw them, highlighting the effects and potential problems.

Just to get a better idea, let’s break it down into 5 easy steps.

1) What is the function of your wood piece?

Make sure the dimensions required to fulfill its purpose are well planned.

2) What type of materials will you need?

Planning the techniques required as defined by the material you will use.

3) What tools and cutters will you need?

This will take some thought as well as quite a few thumbnail drawings to determine what type of router bits, saw blades, shaper cutters, and other tooling necessary to complete your project according to your design.

4) Be prepared to re-develop your thumbnails

As you progress on your project, it is inevitable that you will come across things that your original plans did not foresee.

5) Establish the glues, fillers, and finishes you will need

Thoroughly research the different finishes and wood glues you will need to ensure that what you have suitable for your material and for your piece.

Read 5 Steps for Planning Your Woodworking Project for more information on this topic.

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How to Care for Your: Router Bits, Saw Blades & Shaper Cutters

There is nothing worse than to open your toolbox, expecting to find your router bit, saw blade, shaper cutter, or other cutting tool, and seeing that it is dull or even worse, coated with rust.

If you live in a high humidity area, this problem can be even worse. Right in the middle of a project, you can find yourself wasting hours just trying to replace a poorly stored or misused cutter.

Replacing them takes time, sometimes weeks, and cleaning them back to a usable state can take hours, if it is possible at all.

I have always found that keeping an organized tool box and work shop is the only way to keep, not only your mind squeaky clean, but your cutting tools as well.

With a little organization and some tricks for router bit, saw blade, and shaper cutter maintenance, you will be able to rely on your tools to get the job done – that you are counting on them to do.

Read this article for tips on Router Bits, Saw Blades & Shaper Cutters Maintenance.

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