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.
A Little Glue Goes a Long Way
You have probably heard this before, but a little glue goes a long way. You only need enough glue to fully coat both mating surfaces in a thin, wet film in order to have a successful joint. If you hose your project with glue, all you are doing is wasting product. Your joints will not be any better, and in fact they may end up being worse.
Lots of glue makes for a slippery, slimy surface when the pieces are brought together. This can be really hard to clamp well, and you might not even be able to get the surfaces to come together close enough to make a good joint.
In this way, by adding more glue you actually make your project worse than if you were to have used the right amount of glue from the start.
If you have never glued anything together before that required clamps, the first time can be a little interesting. You will see right away what trying to wrestle a couple slippery boards feels like, and you will wish you had used a lot less glue if you soaked the surfaces.
When you are gluing up two pieces of wood for a joint, almost no matter how big, you really only need a thin, wet layer on both surfaces for the joint to be good. The reason to coat both of the mating surfaces is because you also want to have complete coverage inside the joint.
When you coat only one surface, you run the risk of having gaps in the glue layer. When you coat both sides, you give a little extra thickness in the film that sticks to each other really well, and ensures that you have completely covered surfaces for a very strong joint.
When you bring these pieces together, you are going to have a little of the glue squeeze out. This is a good sign, and an indication that you have good glue coverage inside the joint itself. The two thin layers are still too much glue for the joint, so definitely expect some to come out as you apply clamping pressure.
The big thing that you will notice when you apply the right amount of glue is that the clamping process will be much easier. The pieces will hold together better, and they will not slide around as much. This will give you a better chance of getting them locked into position, and ready to sit for a while and dry.
Another thing you will see is your squeeze out is minimal, and easier to clean. The less you have to clean the better, and the right amount of glue will be mush easier than going overboard. If you are cleaning out enough glue to coat the joint another time, then you can safely back off on the amount.
When you apply your thin layer, you should still be able to see through the layer. Yellow wood glue is translucent when thin, and you can use that as an indicator that you are putting on the right amount.
Over time, and through several gluing sessions, you will easily be able to see how much glue is the right amount. It may come quickly on the first round, but it may take cleaning a lot of squeeze out at first too.
Wood glue does a great job if your surfaces mate well, and you get a thin layer of glue on both surfaces before you put them together. Practice by paying attention to how well you see through the glue layer that you apply, and how easy the glue-up goes.
Look at the amount of squeeze out, and make adjustments with each successive attempt.
Over time, as you glue more and more things together, you will just know the right amount of glue to use. It will only change based on the size of the gluing surfaces, and you will be very confident that you are adding the right amount for a strong joint with minimal squeeze out.
Remember, a little glue goes a long way. As long as you have even coverage, and you get a little to run out after the clamps are tightened, you can be assured that you are doing a good job.
Fill Holes With Glue and Wood
If you have a badly drilled hole, or you need to drill very close to an existing hole, you can fill the old hole easily with wood and glue.
There are several ways to accomplish this, but they are all easy, and they all create a surface that you can drill again.
This is most commonly used when you lose bite on a wood screw and you need to restore the holes before drilling them new.
Small holes can be filled with wood glue and some toothpicks. Simply drizzle glue into the hole, and then jam toothpicks all the way to the bottom until they fill the width of the hole. Let the piece dry, and then saw off the toothpicks flush to the surface. Sand with a block if necessary, and you can re-drill your hole.
For larger holes, use dowels that are a similar diameter to the opening, driving them in place with wood glue.
Once the piece dries, saw the dowel flush and sand. Since you are filling the holes with wood, and replacing the missing material, the area will still function much as if the wood were never filled at all. It will be in most cases like the wood is still solid, and you can just drill for your new openings as needed.
Lastly, if you have a funny looking or oddly shaped hole, but the total diameter is still small enough, think about drilling it out before filling. If you drill a funny looking hole out with a 1/2 inch drill bit, you can then fill the cleaner looking hole with a dowel of the same diameter and some wood glue.
After that dries, you will have a much better surface than before, and you can drill again if needed.
Sometimes you need to fill some holes in order to make a project look good, or to make screws bite again. If you add some glue to the hole, and fill it with wood material like small dowels or toothpicks, you effectively fill the hole with wood again.
From this point, allow the fill to dry, and then you can flush it to the surface before drilling. It’s quick, easy, and something that you are surely going to come across the need for as you progress through learning about woodworking.
Learn to Love Sanding
Woodworking is largely a process of removing wood from a larger piece, leaving behind your project. In the removal process, many times there is evidence left behind from the tools used.
This is when sanding takes over, and you have to work at hiding all the marks from the bigger tools. You can minimize these by working carefully and using sharp tools, but eventually you are going to have to fall in love with sanding in order to be successful at woodworking.
Of all the things that woodworkers complain about, sanding is at the top of the list. It takes a long time, wears out your arms, and sometimes seems like it will never end. However, most of the frustration that comes from sanding is because it’s done incorrectly.
When you know the steps needed to maximize your sanding efforts, and minimize your sanding time, you can get through this part of the process without being as frustrated.
The key to lowering your frustration with sanding is to approach it more carefully, and with a very specific direction and purpose. After all, the point of sanding is to remove the tool marks left from the bigger machines and edged tools.
When you think about it like this, you reduce it to what it really is. It’s a simple process of smoothing wood, and most times preparing it for finish.
A little background on sanding is helpful at this point, because depending on your familiarity, you may not know that much about sandpaper. Thankfully, there are only a few things to know, and they are easy to remember.
First of all, sandpaper is nothing more than tons of very small, hard particles that are stuck to a piece of flexible paper. The particles are a certain size, called a grit, and the different sizes are assigned a number.
The higher the number, the finer the particles, and the finer the grit of paper. The lower the number, the more rough or coarse the paper will be.
Looking at a few different grits of sandpaper next to one another, it’s easy to see which ones will be more rough on the wood surface, and which will be more delicate. You can see that the more coarse grits will rough up the surface rapidly, while some of the really fine grits look as through they won’t mar the wood at all.
Using this information as a reference, this is where you start to make decisions about sanding.
Since rougher grits, with lower numbers are going to remove material quicker, and abrade the surface more roughly, it only makes sense that these papers should be used when there are really deep or rough looking marks on the project.
Since they remove material much more quickly, using them reduces the time that you would have to spend sanding.
Sanding works by a process similar to grinding. Think about taking a hand full of rocks and rubbing them with a lot of force against a wood surface. You are essentially grinding away the wood by allowing the jagged edges of the rocks tear apart the fibers.
The more you do it, the deeper you grind. The process is about the same when you use sandpaper and magnify the section you sanded. The surface looks as if it were ground down with a really rough pile of rocks.
Going back to the different grits, the lower numbers are going to grind more violently than the higher numbers, so by deciding what grit to start with, you can eliminate a lot of hassle in sanding right away.
For example, if you only have very light markings on the surface and you want to start sanding, it makes no sense to begin with a really coarse grit. You want to look at the starting point, and find the most coarse paper you have that is not going to make the surface look rougher than it already does.
By the same token, you also do not want to start out too fine, otherwise you will be sanding for hours and not seeing much in the line of results.
One of the best ways to learn what the different papers do is by testing them out on a scrap. For most sanding projects, the following grits are all that you will need to create a smooth surface that is ready for a finish.
Grits 80, 120, 150, 220, 320, and 400 represent a good spread of what is available. You can find grits that are rougher, and you can find grits into the tens of thousands that feel smoother than a baby’s butt, but this set is a good middle section that will work for most things.
In order to see what the grits look like when they are used to sand wood, pick out a couple pieces from the wood pile and cut a small piece for each of your grits. Then, use each sanding grit on the face of a different piece of wood, leaving behind your scratches.
You will notice that the coarse grits leave deep scratches that are easy to see, and the finer grits leave less and less. The 320 and the 400 will leave next to nothing, and you may not even be able to see them unless you catch the scratches in an angled light.
Study these small scraps and use this information as a baseline for deciding what grit to start with on your project.
Once you look at the tool marks on your piece, and you decide what sanding grit to start with, begin sanding the surface. This can be done with the paper wrapped around a rubber or cork faced block, or by hand with the paper folded over to make a small pad.
As you rub the paper on the surface, you should see it improve in smoothness. The big trick now is knowing when to stop with the grit you have, and when to switch to a finer grit to advance the process towards the final level of smoothness you need before you can finish the piece.
This one is a little more difficult, but it all has to do with the nature of sanding with a certain grit level. If you sand a surface to 120 grit, and the entire surface has scratches that are no worse than the 120 grit paper leaves behind, you are left with a 120 grit surface.
If you continue to sand that surface for 10 more hours, with 120 grit paper…you will still have a 120 grit surface. The time you spend doesn’t work the same way that most people think, because you are not sanding for time, you are sanding for the surface.
Once the surface cannot be improved by the current sandpaper choice, the process with that grit level is over. This means it can take as little as a few minutes, or as long as several hours depending on the size of the project.
However, once you are done, you need to switch grits in order to advance the process.
When you reach this point, and you cannot improve the surface any more with the current grit, switch to the next finest number. Using the grits that were listed earlier, if you were using 120 grit, move to 150. If you were using 220, move to 320.
When you work from paper to paper, changing grits when you can no longer improve the surface with the grit you are using, you will progressively make the surface finer and finer until it is very smooth.
Knowing when to stop is the final phase of sanding, and this is where you decide what will be your last sanding grit. If you are applying a finish, and you go into the 220-400 range, you will be fine in the vast majority of cases.
Most finishes apply well in this grit range, and will look great on the surface. Once you have worked your project until all sections are at this smooth grit, you can wipe it down and inspect it for anything that needs more attention.
This is where people often give up, or become frustrated with sanding. As a beginner especially, you are going to inevitably find some scratches that were not taken out in the earlier sanding phases.
These are going to need more work, and you need to be careful about what grit you choose for this part of the project. The first part is to look at the scratches, and decide what grit is going to be needed to take them out, but that will also not add more scratches that are even worse than the ones you already have.
This is similar to the starting point of sanding, but you will be beginning this time with a much finer grit.
Select the grit that will get the scratches out, and start with a step finer than you think you need to, if you are worried about adding scratches. See how the progress is going, and then decide if that’s the right grit.
One thing to remember is that it’s much easier and faster to sand through a series of grits than it is to remove a deep scratch with really fine papers.
For example, if you have an 80 grit scratch and you try removing it with 400 grit paper, it will take a very long time. The surface will be super smooth when you are done, but the time and effort level will be high.
On the other hand, if you were to start with 120 grit, and move through 150, 220, 320, and then 400, that scratch will be gone in a small fraction of the time, even though you used many more papers.
It’s through decisions like this that you can help yourself get the most from your sanding, and not waste any extra effort when it will not yield a return. When people sand blindly, without a real plan, that’s when they become frustrated, which can cause a lot of problems so very close to the end of the process.
Frustration leads to people abandoning the sanding process early. This leads to scratches being left on the project, and a look of poorer than expected craftsmanship in the end.
It’s sad to think about it, but there are so many projects that could just use another half an hour of sanding to be perfect, but their makers give up on them right when they are about to turn the corner.
Sanding can seem frustrating, almost like the surface isn’t changing at all…but it is. You need to stay focused and just keep on sanding. As time passes, you will start to notice changes that are making the surface better.
This is your indication that you are on the right track, and will help keep you going.
If you are going to be a woodworker, get used to the idea that you will be doing a lot of sanding. There are some alternatives out there like the cabinet scraper, however knowing how to sand well is a basic part of woodworking that everyone needs to learn.
If you focus on getting the most from your sanding sessions, you can minimize the amount of time it takes you to prepare a surface for finishing. Start by selecting the right grit for the job, one that will take out the existing tool marks quickly and effectively.
Then, do not waste any time sanding with the same grit once the surface can no longer be improved by that grit. Switch to progressively finer and finer papers, repeating the process until you have a smooth surface that you can finish.
These methods will help you reduce the frustration that comes with sanding, and your projects will look cleaner.
Part 34 – Wrap Up
I hope you liked Part 34 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.
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