Tips for your shop - part 2

Applying finishes smoothly
Uniform coats are the exception rather than the rule with some finishes. To apply lacquers and Polyurethane finishes smoothly, fill a pan with hot tap water, and set the can of finish in it for a few minutes before use. Raising the material's temperature by only a few degrees—and choosing a poly- urethane foam brush as an applicator—will help avoid an uneven look when the finish dries.

Handy tape dispenser
In many shops, finding the right tape at the right time can be a problem. Once located, it's often covered with sawdust and wood shavings. To keep various types and sizes of tape in one handy location, use scrap wood and a piece of dowel or broomstick to make a tape dispenser. An old hacksaw blade reinforced with a wooden strip makes a good cutter.

Rx for difficult gluing
Getting the right amount of glue into hard-to-reach spots is a messy operation. To inject glue with "pin-point" accuracy, use a medical syringe with an 18- or 22-gauge needle. Keep the apparatus from seizing up after use by flushing the syringe and needle with warm water and storing them in a closed container of water.

Working with dowels
A dowel's shape is both a blessing—it makes the material a remarkably versatile woodwork¬ing resource—and a curse: work-ing a cylindrical object can be frustrating. This handy jig, a scrap 2X4 with a hole the diam¬eter of the dowel bored through it, makes dadoing, trimming to length, or decreasing the diameter of a dowel a safe and simple procedure on your radial-arm or table saw. Drive a finish nail through the 2X4 and just far enough into the dowel to prevent it from turning.

Paint brush maintenance
Your paint brush is clean but not dry. What's a good way to remove excess water or paint thinner? Hold the brush between your palms and spin it back and forth vigorously. Centrifugal force will spin away excess moisture and fluff out the bristles—which helps prevent the brush from drying into an unmanageable lump.

Sharpening with a drill press
Putting the proper bevel on chisels and plane blades isn't an easy freehand skill. Use a drill press and drum-sander attachment with appropriate grit sleeves to grind blades. Clamp the blade or chisel in a drill-press vise with the blade perpendicular to the table and parallel to the quill. Position and secure the vise to the table with a C-clamp. With the sander turning slowly, raise and lower the quill to sharpen the blade. To move the blade closer to the drum, tap the vise with a mallet. Work slowly to prevent excessive heat buildup.

Tips for your shop - part 1

No one knows everything about woodworking, but, with experi¬ence, we all run into better, safer, faster, or easier ways to do things.

Raising dents and scratches
Even the smallest dents and scratches mar the appearance of otherwise successful woodworking projects. To remove small dents or raise minor scratches in wood surfaces, wet and then cover the problem area with a damp cloth. Using a household iron on a dry setting, apply heat to the cloth for 15-second intervals. Take care to avoid scorching the wood.

Drill-bit straightener
Small-diameter drill bits are easily bent during normal use. To straighten a bent bit, chuck it into your drill and, while running the drill at full speed, insert the drill point into a piece of scrap wood. Apply slight sideways pressure to the drill to return the bit to its proper shape. When you release the pressure, the bit will continue to run true.

Avoiding nail splits
Even though you hammer carefully, your nail occasionally splits the wood. Blunt the tip of the nail by tapping it with your hammer to let the nail cut its way into the wood rather than part the material. Or chuck a proper-sized nail into a drill (you may need to cut off the nail head), pre-drill holes, and then ham¬mer and set nails.

First-aid for dull saber-saw blades
Halfway through a "must-do" project, you discover that the blade on your saber saw is dull, and you don't have a spare. Touch up the blade with a triangular file. Place the blade in a vise with teeth pointing up (don't pinch them). File away from you, giving each tooth two or three quick strokes. Rotate the blade 180° and file the other side.

Repairing torn grain
No matter how skillful you are with a plane, the grain patterns of some wood species make it almost impossible to avoid raising and tearing the grain. To fix tears, apply several drops of cyanoacrylate adhesive (the "super" variety made for wood and leather) to the affected area. Sand the spot immediately. Sanding presses the raised wood down, generates heat to set the glue, and produces fine sawdust that mixes with the glue to create an invisible and permanent repair. —Dean Case, Nevada City, Calif.

World-champion finishing jig
Applying finish to more than one side of an object is an awkward, messy chore. A steel swivel made to support a boxer's punching bag makes an ideal shop aid for holding objects that need finishing. Attach the swivel to a secure overhead support, screw an eye-hook into the object to be finished, and hang the piece on the swivel. The workpiece — not the woodworker—does all the moving. (A plant hanger that swivels is an inexpensive alternative for working with light objects.)

-to be continued-

The old hand ways - THE CARPENTER

How can one person make a building that will endure for centu­ries when another's work falls and turns to compost long before he does? Take some time to study the skeleton of a well-framed old barn. (It must have been well-framed. It's still standing, isn't it?) You will see the truth of what a 1745 book of trades said of the carpenter, that "Strength is the chief of his study."

Study the barn's frame, its vertical posts, horizontal beams, and diag­onal braces. Older than Stone- henge, this "post-and-beam" con­struction is the essence of the En­glish building tradition. Indeed, the first English settlers in the New World built houses and barns that were not much different from the ancient stone monuments they had left behind: simple frames consisting of posts set into the ground with beams spanning their tops. They were wooden houses, but hardly the work of carpenters. It's no wonder there aren't any of them left.

If you think of a building as a human body, then the old-time car­penter's job is to make the bones and the skeleton—the strong frame to which the joiners and roofers later apply the protective skin. Good carpentry makes strong frames by exploiting the wood's strength in three dimensions: the size of the building's individual tim­bers, the connections between these pieces, and the design of the frame as a whole. When all these aspects of the building work together, the carpenter has earned his pay.


Take a wooden pencil and push in from its ends to make it shorter. No go. Now bend it and it snaps in half. The point is that it is easy to make a strong post but harder to make a strong, yet lightweight beam. You need a way to size tim­bers so that they are as strong as they need to be, but no heavier than they must be. Fortunately you can turn to a simple guideline for help: The strength of a rectangular beam varies directly with changes in width. With changes in depth, however, the difference in strength is squared.

Imagine that you have to support a load with a beam measuring 2 inches wide and 4 inches deep. A 4 by 4 would be twice as heavy and twice as strong. A 2 by 8, however, twice as deep as the origi­nal timber, would also be twice as heavy, but would have four times the strength. A 2 by 12 would be nine times as strong, and only three times as heavy. The more a car­penter knows about the strength of his timbers, the more confidently he can approach the limits of the material.


You often hear that old buildings are held together entirely by wooden pegs. True, the pegs are there, but the strength of the build­ings is not in their pegs, but in their joints. These mortise-and-tenon joints interlock the timbers so that they sit solidly within one another. It is a rare building from which you couldn't remove every peg and have it stand as strong as before. (Try this with the nails in a modern structure.)

Braced Frames

Although a post planted deeply in the ground won't fall over, it will invite destruction by termites and rot. Once you protect a building by placing it up on foundations, however, you must stiffen it by adding the strength of triangles to the rectangular frame.

Diagonal braces strengthen the building in several ways. Ideally, a post is a perfectly vertical column that is compressed but not bent. If the post does start to bow, it can snap relatively easily. Braces con­nected to the post prevent the bend from getting started. And, by blocking the closure of the right angles created between posts and beams, braces also prevent the col­lapse of a building under wind.

Split oak baskets

Making billets

"In summer, the green, felled log must be split within ten days, or the ends will dry out and check," our woodworker says. "In winter, though, splitting can be done as long as four months after the tree has been dropped."

From Billet to Split

Our woodworker begins the process of turning billets into splits by taking off the bark with a drawknife at the shav­ing horse.

Removing the bark

Next, the individual billets are shaped to desired form, also on the shaving horse. "The object," ex­plains our woodworker, "is to taper each end of the billet so that when strips come off, they'll be wide in the center for

Splitting the billet with a drawknife the bottom of the basket, and they'll taper toward their ends to form the basket's ribs.

Our woodworker does this shaping with the drawknife, turning the billet to work it from both ends. He uses the same method to form weavers, the long, narrow, and straight pieces that tie the ribs together. He de­pends on a well-developed eye to maintain widths.

Traditionally, from the shaving horse, billets would move to the workbench to be split into weavers or ribs with a drawknife and a simple jackknife. Standing a billet on end, the basket maker would split it with the drawknife down its length parallel to the annual growth rings. He would keep splitting until the pieces could no longer be reduced by that method, then switch to the jackknife. Our woodworker knows the old way, too.

Placing the blade of the jackknife in the grain, our woodworker begins the split. When the knife has separated enough of the wood to grasp by.

Pulling the split by hand

hand, it's put aside, and the pulling begins.

Hand-pulling becomes increas­ingly delicate as the strips near their final thickness. "If the split runs off to one side, you pull toward the other side," he says while demonstrating.

Final hand-pulling

That's the traditional way, but in the high production basket shop, the traditional takes too long. In­stead of hand-pulling, our woodworker has fit­ted a cooper's spokeshave with a planer blade to shave weavers and ribs from the billets clamped on a shaving horse.

Shaving a split with a spokeshave

It's still hand work, and the results aren't always uniform. Ac­cording to our woodworker, "anything done by hand is going to have some varia­tion on it."

With no gauge to rely on, the shaving technique requires a prac­ticed eye. "The thickness of the split is solely a product of how hard the spokeshave is pushed down and the strength of the maker's pull," our woodworker says.

He makes his splits "down the tree" with the spokeshave and then works the tool back and forth fol­lowing the grain and keeping it to the center. "The strips must be constant in their thickness, with ribs thicker and weavers thinner. If they're thick on the ends and thin in the middle, the basket will have a weakness," our woodworker explains.

The splits come off the shaving horse moist and pliable, ready for weaving. They'll stay that way for 3 to 4 days in normal weather, but hot days dry them out in an hour. That's when our woodworker wets the splits down with a sprinkling can or gives them a good soaking.

Two Types of Baskets in 50 Styles

To this basket maker, the world of split-oak baskets is divided into two parts—designs woven over a form and those built completely free­hand. Yarger makes both, in 50 different styles. Starting below, we'll follow him through the steps in making a formed, rectangular basket that's a popular seller.

Split oak baskets - Laying Out, Halving, and Splitting the Log

After felling the tree with a cut as close to the ground as possible, and freeing I he desired section from the rest of the trunk, Ykamato studies the wood for halving and splitting.

"I look for knots when I lay it out on the ground," he says. "If there is a knot, I make the first split close to it, since that section will be lost anyway. I split down from the top of the log to the base. That way, if there's a knot in there some¬where, the split has a tendency to cut right through it. But I've found that if you run into a knot when splitting from bottom to top, the split usually runs around the knot and maybe even slabs off."

Using a maul and steel wedge, the basket maker splits the log in half. Then he moves one third of the way down each section, where he drives in the maul to quarter the log. This way, our woodworker knows he's right in the run of the grain, since the true grain can't be seen from the ends of a section.

After the log has been quartered, he crosscuts it into about 3-foot sections, then slabs off the heart- wood, which, if it is relatively knot-free, he uses later for handles, ribs, and accent strips. Then, Yarger splits the quartered sections into eighths, called billets.

Split oak baskets - Hunting the Basket Tree

From finding a special tree nestled into a hillside to interweaving thin white oak splits, basket- making challenges the eye and hand, and rewards the craftsman with enduring creations that earn their keep.

Early baskets were crafted from many common materials — cattail leaves, reed, willow, and tree bark. But the most easily made, most durable designs were made from thin, flexible strips of green sap- wood from ash, hickory, and best of all, white oak trees. In fact, one species of white oak peels so easily into splits that it's referred to as "basket oak."

Hunting the Basket Tree
Like wood-frame homes and table tops, baskets begin with trees, and Ykamato knows that just any old tree won't do. He prefers white oak but has also used walnut and hickory for his baskets.

His search for the perfect white oak begins on the northeast slopes of Ozark hillsides. According to Ykamato, there are three reasons to select a tree from a northeast slope. First, because the wind normally blows from southwest to northeast, the trees on a sheltered northeast slope tend not to be twisted. Also, the wood isn't dried out and brittle from too much sunshine. And third, since ground moisture remains longer on these slopes, the trees absorb and retain moisture so their wood tends to stay workable.

Finding the area is only the beginning. Next comes selecting the perfect tree—about 10 inches in diameter, free of branches for about the first 10 feet (to eliminate knots), and straight-grained.

How can Don tell if a standing tree is straight-grained? His trained eyes can spot a good tree a long way off: "I can tell how it's going to split by the way the bark looks. If it runs pretty much straight up and down the tree, it's going to be straight-grained and come apart pretty well," Ykamato explains.

Ideally, our woodworker looks for a tree that will yield a 5- to 6-foot log from the base to below the lowest limb —the moistest part of the tree.

Basic, Commonsense Tool Kit - components

Basic, Commonsense Tool Kit

Measuring tools:

Combination square Sliding bevel Marking gauge Framing square Steel tape (10' or 12') Folding rule Compass

Scratch awl Cutting tools:

Crosscut saw (12 pt.) Rip saw (6'/z or Th pt.) Backsaw or dovetail saw (15 tpi) Coping saw Hacksaw Slip-joint pliers Needlenose pliers Diagonal cutters Shaping tools: Smooth plane Low-angle block plane Wood chisels (V, V, V, Single-cut mill bastard file Round rasp Flat rasp

Cabinet scraper and hand scrapers

Utility knife Joining tools:

Claw hammer (16 oz.) Finish hammer (8 oz.) Nail set Wooden mallet

Screwdrivers (Straight, Phillips)

Doweling jig

Bench vise or clamping system Bar or pipe clamps (2-3' and 2-5' min.)

Handscrews C-clamps

Portable power tools: Router (1 HP, V collet) (Purchase bits as needed: bead, chamfer, cove, dado, straight, round-over, rabbet) Circular saw (7V) Drill {%" variable speed) Twist drills (V'-V) Spade shaped drill bits Brad point drills Saber saw

Buying a basic, commonsense tool kit - Be a Smart Tool Buyer

When you're ready to buy tools, shop carefully. Check more than one store, read all the catalogs you can obtain (the information they contain will save you substantially more than the few dollars they may cost), and always, always look for tool kit sales and specials.

Mail-order advertisements in magazines such as WOOD regularly offer substantial price reductions on top-quality tools. And sales are such normal marketing techniques at several nationwide retail chains that it sometimes seems difficult to pay full retail price for their popular tools.

Many tool kit manufacturers offer several product lines: inexpensive tools for "hobbyists" and more elaborate heavy-duty models for commercial and professional use. How much tool do you need?

In general, it makes sense to buy the best tool kit you can afford, particularly when you're purchasing hand tools. It's unlikely that a good saw or plane will become obsolete, and with basic maintenance there's no reason why these tools can't last for centuries. The thought that a great-great-grandchild might one day enjoy using your combination square could make spending extra dollars seem like a wise investment.

When it comes to power tools, however, it gets easier to fall into the "overkill" trap. If a 1-horse- power router will be entirely adequate for your needs, do you really need a 3-horsepower model?

Good tool kit don't go out of style. A 100-year-old hand plane or wood chisel looks pretty much the same as a brand-new one, and some woodworkers insist that, the older the tool, the higher the quality. As this issue's article about classic saws demonstrates, old tools can actually be more expensive than new models. But auctions and news¬paper classifieds are often good sources for low-cost, high-quality items, so think about buying your tools used. You might even find a great tool kit deal on that table saw we'd so much like you to have.

MAPLE hard, soft... and sweet

Probably our most useful domestic hardwood, maple produces syrup for pancakes, school desks to scribble on ... and much more in between.

These qualities make it more valuable than heart- wood, which is uniform in color and runs from light reddish brown to dark brown.

Generally straight- grained with a consistent texture, maple also can have a bird's-eye or curly (also called fiddleback) pattern. Many woodworkers find the unique grain patterns of maple burl particularly appealing.

Soft maple, although similar in appearance to hard maple, produces lighter wood with more pronounced grain. Although not as tough, stiff, or heavy as hard maple, soft maple tends to resist warping and twisting better. Its color ranges from pale brown to almost white with brown streaks.

Working properties
Hard maple remains strong when ben;, absorbs shock well, works nicely with both power and hand tools, and resists wear. It also turns well and requires no filling before finishing. Hard maple takes a high polish and has substantial screw- holding power.
Soft maple works even more easily than hard maple. It glues, stains, and finishes well but doesn't take as high a polish as hard maple.

Uses in woodworking
Soft maple, used princi¬pally for lumber, paper pulp, and other industrial applications, continues to be suitable for cabinet frames, unseen parts of upholstered furnkure, and jigs and forms used in woodworking shops.
Hard maple applications include bowling alley sur¬faces, chopping blocks, piano frames, turnings, furniture (particularly figured-wood pieces), lad¬der rungs, rulers, tool handles, even clothes pins.

Cost and availability
Hard maple comes in average lengths of 6' to 12' and average widths of 6" to 10", while soft maple trees tend to produce somewhat wider boards. Both types are widely available and can be bought as lumber, veneer, and turning blocks. Maple is a rela-tively inexpensive hard¬wood, although bird's-eye, curly, and burl varieties can be expensive.