Woodworking for Beginners Part 33

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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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Take Thin Passes

ultimate-beginners-guide-to-woodworking-from-an-expert-part-33Woodworking is largely a process of removing wood from a larger piece, leaving behind a finished part or a completed project.

You start with big pieces of wood, and remove material to make them smaller pieces, which are then assembled into the final project. As you are using your tools, it’s important to think about the way that you remove wood, especially with edged tools.

It can be tempting in the beginning to try and take out an inch of wood with the chisel in one pass. However, once you try it, you quickly notice that it’s not as easy.

When you try and take out big chunks with edged tools, it bogs them down, and they do not work as well. In nearly every case, it’s better to use an edged tool in smaller incremental passes than to try and take off a ton of material quickly.

A series of thinner passes will always be better than one big pass, and you will find that this method works for several reasons.

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First, thinner passes are easier on the hands. A well sharpened chisel that is wielded correctly is an absolute pleasure to use. So much that you may not even need to use a mallet to help propel the tool.

When you take thinner passes, and use a sharp tool, most of the time you can just push the chisel and it will remove material.

Next, since the effort is so little, you can take multiple passes much more quickly. This gives you better feedback on what you are doing, and it also gives you feedback more rapidly than when you try for a very large piece in one pass of the tool. This rapid feedback lets you make decisions better, and lets you see the piece as it develops.

Another reason that thinner passes are better is because when you do make a mistake, it will not be as dramatic. Make a mistake taking off a huge chunk and you might end up having to make the piece again.

Make a mistake with a thin pass, and you might get away with a couple smaller alterations to hide the error.

Once you remove wood from a larger piece, you can’t put it back without going through some extraordinary effort. Yes, a big piece can be glued back in place. but it may be very easy to see, or the glue line may not take color or finish as well.

Even the best joints in the world are easier to find than no joint at all. Taking thinner passes allows you to make smaller mistakes when they happen, and many times they are easier to correct.

Hand tools are really a treat to work with when you use them the right way. Taking thinner passes is just one of the ways you can get more enjoyment from them, and have a better experience. Taking thin passes does not just apply to hand tools though, power tools can also benefit from multiple thinner passes as well.

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When using the thickness planer, router, jointer, or any other tools designed to remove wood, it’s best to make several passes rather than one. The thickness planer is a perfect example where this can make a big difference in the final look.

Most thickness planers can be made to leave a very smooth surface if you run them correctly. Taking very thin passes helps you get a better surface in a number of ways, and this makes the rest of the process easier too.

If you are using the planer to create flat surfaces for gluing, thinner passes will leave them more smooth, and better prepared for gluing. You do not want small holes, pieces torn out, or chunks missing on the mating faces of the lamination.

Using the planer by taking multiple thin passes reduces the chance of these things happening, and the resulting laminations will be stronger.

For those using the thickness planer to surface wood for the outside of a project, thin passes mean a cleaner surface and less sanding. When you get your pieces from the planer, you should have to do very little sanding.

If you run them well, the surfaces will be pretty much as smooth as you would ever need them for finishing. It only takes a couple seconds to make an extra pass. Compare that with the 20-30 minutes of sanding it may take to fix the small pits from taking too much on the planer, and the choice is easy.

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A router can be a pleasure to work with, but it can also be deceivingly strong when things go poorly. One way to help the router do its job without bogging down or going somewhere it should not is to take multiple passes.

If you need to make a dado with a router, simply use several progressively deeper and deeper settings to get the bit to the final depth. The number of passes can vary depending on the hardness of the wood, and your comfort level, but taking passes around 1/8 inch deep is not a bad place to start.

It may sound like more work, but your pieces will come out much better for it.

Have some patience when working with your tools, and take the time to make several thinner passes rather than a single deep one. You will have a much easier time, and you will ruin far less projects.

You will also leave behind a better looking surface that requires less preparation for finishing in the end.

You Only Need Two Types of Glue

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If you go into a woodworking store or a hardware store and stare at the glue aisle, you would think you need to have about twenty different types of glue in order to be a woodworker.

There are Aliphatic Resin Glues, Polyurethane Glues, Cyanoacrylate Glues, Poly Vinyl Acetate Glues, Hide Glue, and more. What you just walked into is marketing and sales, not woodworking.

Yes, some adhesives are better than others for certain specialized jobs, but in the beginning you only need to worry about two adhesives for the bulk of your gluing needs.

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First, and the most obvious, is wood glue. Buy a name brand wood glue with a long track record like Titebond, and you will not have to worry about your wood to wood joints. Any time you are gluing wood to wood, you use this glue, and you will be fine.

Wood glue works by seeping into the top most fibers of the wood, hardening, and in that way it bonds the two pieces together. They essentially form a hardened layer in between the two surfaces that holds them together. A good quality wood glue will hold very well, and your joints will be strong for a very long time.

The second type of glue that you need is called two part epoxy. There are a number of different types, but a name brand five minute and sixty minute type are the best to have around.

Two part epoxy is for when you have to glue nearly anything to nearly anything else. You can use this for your wood to wood joints too, but it’s a little too involved for something that wood glue can handle just fine.

Epoxy works by combining two chemicals (this is why it’s called two part epoxy) that harden through reaction rather then drying. They form an incredible bond, and hold tightly where other glues fail. If you are gluing something non-wood to a piece of wood, use epoxy.

If you are gluing plastic, metal, shell, bone, stone, or nearly any other material, two part epoxy is the perfect adhesive.

There are different kinds of two part epoxy, but most name brand products are classified by the time that you have to work with the substance. Since this is a chemical reaction, the speed of the reaction determines how much time you have to get it where you need it. A five minute epoxy is great for quicker gluing operations, and it is easy to mix, apply, and get set.

If you need more time to assemble your project, or maybe it’s a really large glue job, then a sixty minute may be better. It really makes no difference in the final bond, it’s all about how much time you need to get everything in place before the epoxy hardens.

The final curing time for most epoxies is 24 hours anyway, so don’t feel like one is going to take much longer than another to cure. All you need to think about is the time you need to assemble your project before the glue becomes too hard to use.

In my shop, for simple inlay work I use five minute epoxy for nearly everything. It’s actually a lot longer than you might think, especially when you have everything ready to go before you mix the two parts.

When making simple dot inlays on a guitar fretboard, I can do the entire fretboard with one batch of five minute epoxy.

For longer projects, I like to use a sixty minute variety of epoxy, which gives me a long time to get everything right before it hardens. This is use primarily for epoxy and stone inlay work.

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It offers a lot of time to create the stone and particle mixture that will be inlaid, and I don’t have to worry about it hardening before it gets where it needs to go.

Don’t waste a lot of time in the glue section. Get yourself a nice wood glue from a name brand and high quality manufacturer, and then buy some two part epoxy from a good source as well.

When you need to glue wood to wood, use the wood glue. When gluing other materials, use the two part epoxy.

Use Name Brand Adhesives

When your project falls apart a few years down the road, the three dollars you saved by buying cheap glue will not provide the consolation you need.

The difference between high end glue and bottom shelf glue is not much, and for the years that you will expect the adhesive to hold, you may be trading a couple pennies for your project after you do the math. It’s not wort it.

Most of the time, being frugal is a good thing. As woodworkers are known for making things themselves rather than buying things, there is a temptation to go cheap on glue. This is one of the worst things that you can do, because there is so much riding on the quality of your glue.

Think about it. When you put two pieces of wood together, and smear this yellow substance between them, they stick together without any mechanical means. It’s almost like a magic trick. They are literally held together by the glue layer and nothing else.

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Why would you trust that to any kind of no-name glue? Your reputation as a woodworker falls upon how well you make things and how well they stay together. If everything you make fell apart in a few years, you would not be thought of as a good woodworker, even though it was your glue that failed, not you personally.

Don’t let this happen to you. Buy name brand adhesives, and the few dollars extra will be great insurance against future joint failure.

The last thing you want is for your work to be seen as low quality due to a simple buying decision. As a beginner, you are already going to have to fight an uphill battle. You need to learn how to use your tools, learn to finish well, learn to build well, and learn how to create a nice looking final project.

In all of that learning and fighting, you might make a few mistakes that people can see when they look at your work. That’s ok, you are a beginner, and these little things will go away as you practice more.

The small imperfections that come from being new are your fault, but that’s a good thing, because you had control the whole time. When your glue fails, all because you went cheap, you don’t have control over that.

The owner of your piece will think you are a poor woodworker, but little do they know that it was all due to a buying decision rather than any actual skill.

Don’t let dollars make you look bad. Buy a good glue, that has a long track record, and use that glue in your shop. If you do not know what glue to buy, look around online and see what other seasoned woodworkers are using.

The odds are that the best woodworkers are all using a glue that they are very comfortable with.

Once you find the brand name, buy some of the glue and you can be confident in your choice. The projects that you make will last longer, and you will not have to worry about being seen as a poor woodworker due to making a bad financial decision.

Test Fit Your Joints

Problems are easier to solve when they are not covered in glue. That being said, diagnose your problems before they become glue covered problems, and you will have a much easier time on your project.

Any time you are going to prepare a couple pieces of wood for gluing or joining, make sure to do a dry run before you add any glue.

If you make this a habit, you will surely run into a couple instances where you find something that needs to be fixed before you can do the actual assembly. Here are a few tips to get the most out of your dry run.

First, make sure that you do everything the exact same way that you would when you finally add glue. This means adding the same clamps, in the same places, and using the same method that you will use on the final project.

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This is the only nearly perfect way to see if you are going to run into problems. One of the most common that you will run into at this stage is being out of clamps before you finish getting everything in position. If you notice this, just grab more until you have enough placed, and be happy that you did a dry run to find out you needed more.

Next, a dry run lets you see what your joints will look like after they have been glued. If you have any big gaps that you did not know about, you will find out right away on a dry run. At this time, you can decide to mill the pieces better to get a nicer fit, or you can glue them just as they are if the gaps are minimal or not there at all.

Another thing that a dry run without glue does for you as a woodworker is it slows down the process so you can understand more. Any time that you can slow down the process to check on things, and ensure that you are headed in the right direction is time well spent.

Doing a dry run is a way to make sure that the next step of the project will go smoothly, and that you have everything you need in place to be successful.

Finally, a dry run gives you a second chance to get it right. Once you cover a piece of wood in glue, or epoxy, you are going to have a hack of a time getting it all off. If you are planning on applying a finish to the project, you can bet that somewhere in the area will be some glue residue that prevents the finish from looking right.

This is bound to happen no matter how well you clean off the pieces once you realize you made a mistake.

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The second chance that a test fit gives you is a freebie that only costs a little of your time.

You don’t have to test every joint you make, especially the ones that are very easy, or that are repeats of previous joints that you have been successful with, but testing most of your joints without glue will make a big difference in how much frustration you experience.

Make sure to test fit your joints, and diagnose any problems before they become covered in glue. Not only will your projects turn out better, but you will have a much more fun time in the shop knowing that you will not be scrubbing glue off your project for an hour.

Clean All Squeeze Out

Glue squeeze out is a beautiful thing. This is when the pressure from the joint forces excess glue out of the joint, and it forms beads or drops on the surface. A little glue squeeze out is a good thing, and an indication of a well made joint.

A ton of squeeze out is an indication that you hosed your project with glue, and in that case you can stand to use a little less.

Either way you look at glue squeeze out, you need to make sure that you clean it right away. This is important, and can save you a ton of time later in the process. Thankfully, cleaning the excess glue is easy, and you probably already have what you need in the shop.

Once you have all of your clamps in place, and you are admiring the small beads of glue running down the sides of your project indicating a great joint…stop gawking at your handy work and grab a wet rag.

Use a wet rag to wipe off as much of the glue as you possibly can. Rinse out the rag once it becomes sticky and wipe the surfaces again. If you repeat this over and over, you can get most of the glue off the surface of your project without too much trouble.

Another method is to use a repair knife, flexible plastic knife, or wood scrap to squeegee off the excess from the surface. Then, you can use the wet rag to get the rest that was left behind.

This can be a much quicker method if you have a lot of glue to clean up. Also, you can use something that you can just toss in the trash, and simply run through a few of them getting the surface cleared for the rag.

Once you are done, just use the wet rag to finish the surface and you may not even need to rinse and wet it again.

For corners, think about how you are going to get into them before you apply your glue. Things like straws work well for corners, but so do index cards folded into corners that can act like a V shaped gouge and drive out the excess glue.

Make sure to figure that all out before you add the glue (read the previous section about glue covered problems) and you will have a much easier time getting rid of the excess.

The big reason that you want to get rid of the excess glue while it’s still wet is because the process is much harder after it dries. Dried wood glue is really hard to take off the surface. It’s wood glue after all, so it really holds once completely dry.

Not only will you have to remove the glue from the surface, but you will also have to remove some of the wood itself to get rid of the glue that penetrated. If you do not, the glue residue will show through the finish, and the project will not look as nice.

Do a check and make sure that you can remove all the glue residue once you apply glue to your project. Add your clamps, and spend the next several minutes wiping and washing away the excess glue.

Remove every bit that you can, and then set the project aside to dry. Once you remove the clamps and remove the small bits of dry glue, you will be glad you removed so much while it was wet.

Part 33 – Wrap Up

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I hope you liked Part 33 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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