Woodworking for Beginners Part 16

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This is a section from A Beginners Guide to Woodworking: Helping New Woodworkers Make Better Projects, which is available on Amazon. Over the next couple months, you will be able to read the entire book, and I hope that you like it enough to get tour own copy. Enjoy.

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The Table Saw

woodworking-for-beginners-part-16The table saw is the work horse of the wood shop, and in many ways is synonymous with woodworking. This is a larger saw that can be floor standing, or a smaller version that sits on a bench.

It comes with a fence for setting the width of the cuts, and the circular blade moves up and down and tilts on most models. A table saw is a very useful tool and can be made to do many different things.

Depending on the type of woodworking that you are going to be doing, you may or nay not need a table saw.

A person that makes a lot of boxes, cabinets, or other things where you are cutting many flat pieces, can really benefit from having a table saw in the shop. In contrast, someone that makes pens on a lathe may have absolutely no use for a table saw, no matter how nice.

The bigger floor model saws can handle larger stock, and they tend to be made tighter so they make more accurate cuts. They can also be built into a larger table top, so that bigger sheets of wood can be sent through.

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If you want a table saw, but would also like to save some money, look at a smaller table top version, but check the capacity. Smaller table saws can only handle smaller widths of wood.

It’s very hard to get a bench top saw to handle a sheet of plywood, and dangerous too. Select a saw based on your needs, and you can be assured that you made a very good buying decision. A table saw can stay with you for decades, and be a staple of a busy shop.

The Band Saw

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The band saw is my personal favorite, and has been since I first started making guitars.

At that time I had a small saw that was about $100, but it did everything I needed on the guitar bodies, both straight and curved.

The beauty of the band saw is the ability to cut straight pieces as well as make very curvy cuts.

The straight cuts are not as clean in general as on a table saw, but the trade off is that you do have a bit more versatility in being able to make a few kinds of cuts. Also, depending on the size of the saw you are working with, you are limited by size of the tool, and you can only rip a board so wide before you run into the frame of the saw.

A band saw is essentially a frame that holds two wheels, with a long metal blade in the shape of a circular band.

The wheels hold the blade tight, and when they turn, the blade can be used to cut wood. The wheels are held above and below each other, and there is a table top in the middle to rest your pieces on while cutting.

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There are a number of really good band saws on the market that stand on the floor, and they are not nearly as expensive as they used to be. You can also find smaller models that sit on the bench top too.

If you are thinking about getting a very versatile saw that might do some of the work of a table saw but still allow you to make curved cuts as well, then a band saw might be the right answer for your shop.

The Scroll Saw

A scroll saw is a very fine bladed saw that operates with a long arm that moves the blade up and down. The tool has a deep table top, and a long arm that gives you a lot of room for bigger pieces of wood.

You can adjust the blade tension, use varying blade sizes/styles, and you can do something that is not as common on most shop saws.

With a scroll saw, you can make an inside cut. This is a cut where the piece of wood removed is bordered on all sides by more wood.

Since you can remove the blade and thread it through a hole drilled in your board, you can then saw out a piece from your board without ever making an entry cut.

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The down side to scroll saws is that you cannot cut very large or hard pieces of wood as easily as a table saw. The blade on a scroll saw is around 1/8 inch deep, and usually only a few inches long. This kind of saw is meant for fancy work, and smaller work, not rough cutting.

Something fun to do with a scroll saw is to cut out patterns from a thinner piece of wood. These look like a piece with a bunch of random holes but they end up making a picture.

You can also use the scroll saw for smaller work, like creating doll house furniture, wooden cars, and toys.

The scroll saw is fun to have and fun to use, but is not as useful as a table saw or band saw if you are going to be making a variety of things. This is more of a specialty saw, meant for smaller and more delicate work.

The Miter saw

Combined with the table saw, the miter saw is the most common way that woodworkers cut their boards to length. This saw has a large round blade on a center pivot, which holds the blade in the up position.

When turned on, and pressed down, the blade cuts through a board that rests on the lower table top.

Some miter saws allow for the head of the tool to be moved from side to side, and also to twist. This allows the operator to cut the ends of boards to different angles and bevels.

Some miter saws also allow the head to slide forward on a couple guides, which increases the cutting capacity of the saw.

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This is the primary way that boards under 8-12 inches are trimmed to length, and is a much faster solution than using a hand saw. Miter saws can be found relatively inexpensively, especially those that do not slide.

You can change blades fairly easily, and go from a rougher construction style blade to a finer finish blade very quickly.

If you are going to be building a lot of projects with longer boards cut down to length, then a miter saw is a really good investment. Shop around, and find a saw that has the capacity that you need in your shop, and you will be able to make very clean cuts.

You can also use the miter saw to square up the ends of your boards by taking a very thin slice off the end with the head set at 90 degrees, which makes squaring your stock super easy.

The Drill Press

The drill press is a nice tool to have in the shop, even if you only have a smaller bench top version. The drill press is a large head with a downward pointing drill chuck that holds different bits for making holes.

There is a table top below that, which is where you clamp your pieces that are going to be drilled. When you are ready, you chuck a bit, and pull a handle that advances the drill head towards your piece, making the hole.

The drill press is the easiest way to make a 90 degree hole in a piece of wood. It can be very difficult to drill a perfectly perpendicular hole with a hand drill but the drill press makes the process very easy.

All you do is set your table to be perpendicular to the drill, and your holes will all be the same.

If you are looking for a drill press, think about the size of projects that you are working with, and how deep you need to drill the holes. One limiting factor on smaller presses is the distance that the head can travel downwards while drilling.

Look for something that will drill a little deeper than you would need, to accommodate for the drill popping through the piece on the bottom.

Whether you get a smaller press or a bigger press, look for something that is well made, and even an older press is fine. Many shops have very old drill presses, because it’s one of those tools that just seems to last forever even in a busy shop.

The Hand Drill

Hand drills are now so common that nearly anyone can get a nice set from a hardware store that will find a lot of use in the shop. A hand drill is a corded, or cordless model drill that can be used to turn a drill bit for making holes or a screw driving head for driving screws.

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They come in different sizes and battery types, but they are all great for assembly projects with screws.

If you can get a kit, which is a drill and a driver, you can chuck a drill bit for your pilot holes in the drill and then use the driver to install your screws. In this way, making things from plywood and 2x4s is super easy and fast.

You just pilot everything with the drill, and then fire in all the screws with the driver.

It can be difficult to drill really straight holes with a hand drill, so this is not a replacement for the drill press. Though with a hand drill, you can get into places that your drill press cannot.

If you are doing a lot of assembly work with screws, the hand drill is a much easier and much faster tool to have.

Look around for a single drill or a kit, and check the stores when things are typically on sale. Around holidays, drill kits are the kind of tool that often goes on sale, and sometimes you can get the same kit for a significantly less money by waiting a little.

Look for deals on batteries too at this time, because batteries only last so long, though they are getting much much better.

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The Router

The router is considered the magician of the wood shop, and can be used for a ton of things that are not exactly apparent when you look at the tool.

A router is essentially a very high speed motor with a collet at the bottom that holds a cutting or shaping bit. There is a base around the bit, and handles to hold onto the tool.

You can use any of hundreds of different bits, and they will do everything from make cavities in wood to add profiles to the edges of boards.

Router bits are sold separately, but you can do everything from making cabinet doors, to custom trim moulding with the different bits that are available.

A router is also capable of serving the purpose of several other tools. For example, many people use a router as a jointer to trim up and even out the edges of boards before gluing them together. The router does a great job at this, and a flush trimming router bit copies any profile that you give it.

Also, some people set up tracks to use the router to level a larger piece of wood. They simply move back and forth across the top and the cutting head removes material evenly, leaving behind a flat surface.

If you are interested in learning all about the router, you can buy any one of the many books that are available, and you will be doing things that you never knew you could with this one very versatile tool.

The Router Table

A router table is basically a router turned upside down and mounted to a table. There is a fence, and a way to adjust the tool up and down. Depending on the level of router table you buy, the adjustment method will vary and so will the accessories.

However, all router tables allow you to do something that is really nice when working with such a powerful tool.

The great thing about a router table is that you can free up both hands. The table will give you the ability to let go of the router, and focus all of your efforts on the piece of wood that you are working with.

You have more control when you have both hands free, and you can maneuver your piece as the bit spins above the table.

On the router table there is a fence as well, and this can be adjusted for a number of things. One of the best is using the router table as a jointer. Another is setting the fence so that you can use a flute bit to create dadoes for old fashioned drawer slides.

You can also do dado joinery on a router table, and create slots that you later use as additional support for your shelves and project pieces.

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Router tables are typically sold separately from routers, though you can sometimes find deals where you can buy both together. When you get this kind of combination, you can sometimes take out the router and use it by hand. Look at the model you are buying in order to see if that is the case.

The Jointer

The jointer is a power tool that uses a set of blades or inserts on a rotating wheel to trim the edges of boards, and sometimes the faces. The point of the tool is to put a square edge on your boards, that will help you join them or build with them.

The tool has a fence, and a cover that protects you from the turning blades. You advance the board while held against the fence, and the blades trim the edge until completely straight and square to the faces.

A jointer is great for people making cabinets, and making things that require lots of squared up pieces of wood. Jointers come in a number of sizes from huge, to smaller bench top units.

Even a bench top model is plenty big enough to handle longer boards, and you can make a nice straight edge in a matter of a few passes.

When making cutting boards from several pieces of wood, the jointer is a great tool to have. All you do is run your pieces through the jointer on the faces that you intend to glue together.

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Then, you assemble your cutting board knowing that you have nice straight faces that will leave invisible glue lines.

A jointer is a fun tool to have, but it is more of a convenience tool. Unless you are doing lots of squaring with many pieces, a router table can do the same thing, or a router and a flush cutting bit.

However, a small jointer is a great investment, and can save you a lot of time and frustration dealing with poor fitting parts.

The Thickness Planer

This tool is often overlooked by beginners, but it is very useful in the shop. A thickness planer is shaped like a box, with a long base and a cutting head that moves up and down.

The cutting head typically has knives that start out around a foot, and can go up in length from there. You adjust the cutting head up or down, and you feed boards in on their faces. The cutters plane the faces, leaving behind a smooth surface.

You can use a planer to clean up rough sawn lumber, or to thin pieces that are too thick. You can use the planer to face pieces that you cut open in your shop, and you can make boards that are really easy to glue together.

A thickness planer is a real treat to have in the shop, especially if you make a lot of projects from laminated wood. Getting all the faces smooth and ready for gluing can sometimes be a long process.

When you have a thickness planer the job is super easy.
Look for a planer that has a width capacity that makes sense for what you are making. Understand that the bigger the planer, the more money it will cost.

Think about ways around that cost by possibly partially gluing up wider project and then using the planer before the final gluing phase.

If you only have a 12 inch planer, you can still make 18 inch cutting boards, you will just need to plane each 9 inch half before joining them together afterwards. Now, you only have one joint to get right, which is much easier.

The Thickness Sander

A thickness sander is similar to a thickness planer, though it’s a sanding drum that removes material rather than a set of knives. The material removal process is a bit slower, but you can get a really nice finish even on thinner pieces without worrying about the machine eating your project.

Thickness planers come in a number of sizes, but among the most versatile are the open ended models that allow you to pass through projects that are twice as wide as the width of the sanding drum.

For example, an 18 inch sander with an open end can handle up to 36 inch wide material, because half passes through at a time, while the other side hangs out of the open side.

Another advantage of the thickness sander is that you can change out the sandpaper depending on what you are trying to do. If you are finish sanding something flat, you can use a higher grit to get a smoother surface.

If you are thinning a piece of wood, you can use a rougher grit and power through the material.

These are more expensive in general than a thickness planer, but if you have it in the budget the thickness sander is a pleasure to work with. You can start on the planer and get your material quickly down to size.

Then, you switch to the sander if you need to make really thin pieces and you don’t want to worry about the planer catching and tearing out a chunk of your piece.

The Belt/Disc Sander

Nearly every shop needs a belt/disc sander, even a smaller model. This is a powered sander that sits on a bench or a stand, and has both a large sanding belt and a sanding disc that turn/rotate at the same time.

You can use the belt for material removal, or use the disc to square up pieces. The belts are easy to change, and so are the discs, and you can go for a very long time with the same cloth backed belt.

The nice thing about the belt sander is that you can easily remove material, break off corners, shape pieces, and flatten board faces. The machine removes material quickly, especially with an aggressive sanding belt.

However, you can still switch belts so easily that you can go from a roughing grit to a finishing grit quickly enough that it’s worth letting the sander do the work.

Look around for a belt/disc sander that is big enough for your needs. A smaller unit that has a four inch wide belt with a 5-6 inch disc is good for most things, though the sanders can get much bigger if needed. As with most tools, the price will go up the bigger you go.

Since the sander works so well, shaping pieces is very easy when you use the sander. You can get quick feedback on what you are doing, and create simple shapes by hand in a very short amount of time.

The discs and belts are inexpensive on the smaller models, and once you have one you will find a lot of uses for it.

The Spindle Sander

Another useful sander for some applications is the spindle sander. This is a flat table top with a center post that rotates. The post is typically 6 inches tall, and it can be sleeved with different diameter covers that hold sandpaper tubes.

The machine turns the center post, and most also slowly bob up and down, which exposes fresh sandpaper as you use the tool.

With a spindle sander, you can change the center post to different diameters by threading on rubber or plastic cylinders, and the sandpaper goes on the outside. You pick out a diameter that you need for your project, and it can help you sand inside curves.

The spindle sander is more of a specialty sander unless you are sanding curved edges on a lot of flat projects. If you make a flat project with some curved edges, the sander is great at sanding those edges while maintaining a 90 degree relationship to the faces of the wood.

This is also good for any time that you need to keep the edges of your board at 90 degrees, because the table and the center post are manufactured that way.

Also, if you have a lot of smaller projects, like flat scroll saw work, and you want to pretty up the edges and ends before you finish, a spindle sander makes that really easy and quick.

Some people even set up a fence and use the spindle to thickness sand smaller pieces that they use on their projects.

The Palm Sander

A palm sander is a loose term that is used to refer to any handheld powered sander that orbits or turns the paper, and is about 6 inches wide at the most.

This is a work horse for most shops, as the hand sanding process is much easier with a powered sander than with a sanding block. There are a few different kinds of palm sanders, and there is a really wide range of prices.

One of the easiest sanders that you can get is a 1/4 sheet sander that allows you to clip on the paper. This means you can buy inexpensive sandpaper sheets rather than pre-cut fancy sheets that cost several times more for the same amount of paper.

Another option are sanders with round pads, which you use with sanding discs.

Even more sophisticated options are out there, which have attached vacuums and can suck away the dust you make before you ever see it. These are more expensive, but they can be great for people that work in a place that is hard to ventilate.

They are also required in places like hospitals, where the dust can aggravate patients and harm expensive equipment.

If you see yourself doing a lot of sanding by hand with a palm sander, do yourself a favor and buy a name brand that you trust, and something that feels good in your hands, because you two are going to be spending a lot if time together.

With a good tool, and a great feel, you will enjoy sanding more than ever before.

The Lathe

The lathe is a really fun tool that allows you to create many different projects. Most lathes are a powered head that turns a spindle, which can be fitted with different attachments that are meant to rotate a piece of wood for shaping.

The other end has a tail stock that can be fitted with attachments as well that can be used to hold up the other end of the wooden piece. As the piece rotates, different tools are held against a rest, and they are used to remove material from the wood.

When completed, most lathe projects are cylindrical in shape, and they are symmetrical. You can use the lathe to make bowls, spindles, pens, tool handles, pepper mills, and many other projects.

In fact, there is a whole industry that is dedicated to selling woodworkers different project kits and materials to use on their lathe.

Along with a lathe, you will need cutting tools and a method of sharpening them. If you buy carbide tools, you do not need a sharpening method, instead you just buy new cutter heads.

The beauty of the lathe is that even as a beginner, you can be making things by the end of the first day. The tool is super easy to pick up, but the other wonderful thing about the lathe is that it can offer you a lifetime of challenges if you know where to look.

There are really advanced turning projects that take a long time to master, which means you can have fun right away, but also for along time.

Part 16 – Wrap Up

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I hope you liked Part 16 of A Beginners Guide to Woodworking: Helping New Woodworkers Make Better Projects. As you can see, this is a different kind of beginner woodworking book, and I encourage you to get a copy for yourself so you have it all in one place. 

Happy building.

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  • More than 20 Years Woodworking Experience
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  • Bachelor of Arts Degree from Arizona State University
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