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.
If you do not have a drill press, but you still want to drill straight holes without spending a lot of money, look for a jig that you can attach to your hand drill that will help you keep it straight.
There are a number of jigs on the market that will guide your hand drill. The goal is to make a very straight hole without buying a drill press.
As you buy tools, you will notice that there are many times smaller tools that are meant to give you some of the functionality that the larger tools have.
The attachments for the drill that guide the bit straight are an effort to make the hand drill operate more like a drill press.
While these attachments are good when you get a quality product, they are never going to be as versatile as an actual drill press. However, they are also a lot less expensive.
If you can deal with the limitations of the tool, and really only need it for perpendicular holes, then you should do just fine with one of these attachments.
Look online or in a tool store for a drilling guide, and you will find a lot of options. There are even smaller plastic or metal blocks that guide the bit itself and clamp to your piece.
These can be a good and low cost alternative to buying a drill press, and they can get you through for a while. Once you get to the limit of that tool, you can then look into possibly buying a drill press.
Either way, drilling a straight hole is important a lot of the time, and one of these drill attachments will help get you there quickly.
Most Things are Not The Exact Size
In the beginning, you are going to find out that the way woodworking materials and tools are labeled is a little interesting.
Wood is one of the most different from what you would actually think, though some tools can be slightly off as well.
Here is a short list of what you can expect when you are buying materials and tools, and it will help you make better decisions.
First, wood sizes are nothing like regular numbers and not what you might think you are getting. For example, a 2×4 is not 2 inches by four inches. It’s really 1-1/2 inches by 3-1/2 inches. This is common on other pieces of lumber too, and most of the time you take off half an inch to find out the real measurements.
Flat boards that are labeled 1×6 are really 3/4 inches thick by 5-1/2 inches wide. The lengths are typically the same number, which is odd given that the other numbers are different.
One of the best things you can do when you are shopping for wood is to carry a tape measure with you, so that you can be sure you are getting what you need.
No matter the labeling, a tape measure doesn’t lie, and it doesn’t use funny math. If you need a board that is a certain size, measure the board before you buy it, and it matters very little what is actually printed on the tag.
As you encounter more and more of this kind of labeling, you will be able to understand and interpret what is meant by the measurements listed on the price tags.
Dowels are another items that can vary widely depending on the manufacturer. Some high quality dowels are very close to the size that is listed for the for the diameter.
Others that are less expensive can be off quite a bit, and it is typically in the direction of being smaller. While this is not a huge deal in most cases, if you are looking for a certain fit, or a very specific fit, you need to pay attention to what you are buying.
If you are using dowel rods to cut your own dowels for joinery purposes, then buying a dowel that is a pinch smaller than the hole you are planning on drilling is a good thing.
If you have a 1/4 inch dowel and a 1/4 inch hole, it can be very hard to get the dowel in place and preserve the glue between them. Buying a dowel that measures a few thousandths smaller than the 1/4 (0.250”) is a good way to leave some wiggle room.
In a case like this, find a dowel that measures around 0.240”, which is plenty of wiggle, but not so much that the dowel does not do the job. It will slide into the hole easily, and even with a little expansion from getting wet with glue, it will still be a good fit.
On the other hand, if you are using a dowel for a decorative accent, like inlaying dots by cutting small pieces from the ends, you might want to have a rod that is much closer to the actual hole size.
The reason is that once you glue the dowel in place, the joint between the two pieces will be visible. In fact, in a inlay situation, it will be a focal point of the project. Getting a nice tight fit is a great way to ensure that you will have a nice looking inlay.
Again, this is all part of the selection process in the store, and you will see the difference in your shop as you build with these items.
Another area where sizes are not what they seem is with drill bits. When you buy a higher quality index, or single drills, you will get a tool that measures very close to the real diameter listed on the bit. When you buy a bargain set, you can be off a few thousandths in either direction.
While a few thousandths does not sound like much, if you are trying to get one thing to fit inside another, it can be the difference between it going or not. A hole and a piece cannot be the exact same size, otherwise you won’t be able to get the one into the other.
In this way, if you are using 1/8 inch brass rods to make small brass dot inlays, and your drill measures in at 0.121 inches instead of 0.125 inches, the rod will not fit.
If you are just starting out, and you are not making anything with a very close tolerance, then don’t worry too much about the drills for now. However, pay attention to the sizes of the pieces of wood that you buy, and the dowel rods too.
You are more likely to have trouble with an oddly milled dowel than you are with a drill, but eventually you will encounter the problem, and you now know how to fix it.
Simply use your dial caliper to measure the drills or the dowels in the store, and you can be assured that you are getting the exact piece you are after, and the exact size you are after as well.
How to Drill a Pilot Hole
If you decide to use screws to do your project assembly, you will inevitably find the need to drill pilot holes. The function of a pilot hole is to clear out some of the wood material in order to allow the screw to be turned into place without damaging the surrounding wood.
The goal is to remove enough wood that the screw enters the piece, holds on tight, and does now show any evidence beyond seeing the screw head.
As a new woodworker, you are going to encounter pilot holes when you join two pieces of wood with screws, and when you attach hardware to a project. Both of these are dealt with in a similar way, and the holes you drill allow the screws to do their jobs without damaging the wood.
First, when you are drilling for hardware, like a hinge, you need to find the screws that come with the piece in order to figure out your pilot hole size. Looking at the screw, you can see the threads and the solid metal center that runs down the middle.
The goal of a pilot hole is to remove the same diameter of wood as the solid center part of the screw.
Measure your screw using a dial caliper, and position the jaws so that they are both biting down onto the solid center part of the screw, between the threads. If you look at the threads like hills and valleys, both caliper jaws will be in a valley, on opposite sides of the screw.
This measurement is the solid center portion of the screw, and the size drill that you need to use for your pilot. Now, the odds that this is the same size as a drill you own are really low, especially if you are measuring in thousandths.
In this case, pick the next largest drill bit that you have, which will be just over your measurement, but not bigger than the threads.
The hole you drill should allow the threads to bite on the outside of the hole, but allow the solid center of the screw to pass right through. So, as long as the drill is not so big that the threads do not bite, you should be fine.
If you are unsure about your selection, the easiest way is to test it out before you commit to the real thing. Using a piece of the same wood that you will be screwing into, drill the pilot hold deep enough to accommodate the screw length.
Then, try screwing in the screw. It should feel like it’s biting into the wood, but it should not be overly laborious to screw into place.
If the hole works, move on to the real thing, if not, adjust your drill larger or smaller and try again. Once you have a size that allows you to install the screws easily but securely, you are ready to drill out the holes on the actual project, and you can rest easy that the hardware will go on well.
Another time that you will have to drill pilot holes is when you are attaching one piece of wood to another piece of wood. In this case, there are two pilot holes needed, and they are a little different in size.
The process for the one is the same as when drilling for hardware, but the process for the other is different.
When you are screwing one piece of wood to another piece, the goal of the screws is to pull the one piece to the other, and hold them together tightly.
In order to do that, the piece being pulled needs to ride freely on the screw, while the other piece needs to have the screw dig in and create force to advance the screw.
Think of one board being screwed to the top of another board. First, you line them up and clamp them so you can perform the drilling without the pieces moving. Then, you select a drill for the bottom piece using the same process as for installing hardware.
Now, drill through both pieces with this bit, making sure to go deep enough that the screw will not hit the bottom of the hole.
Next, you find the drill for the hole that you need on the top board. Since this board needs to be pulled against the bottom board, the screw needs to be able to move freely through this hole, threads and all.
Measure your screw with your caliper again, this time at the peaks of the threads, and find a drill that matches or is slightly bigger.
Drill through the hole you already created, stopping once the bit goes through the top piece only. Now, you have a perfectly centered top and bottom hole, and they will work together to allow your screw to pull the two pieces together.
Not only will your screw joints be stronger for drilling these pilot holes, but installing the screws will be easier too. The bigger top hole also eliminates the gapping that you can sometimes get between pieces, and makes for an overall easier and better screwing experience.
Stop and Sharpen Tools Often
As you are working, if you make it a point to stop and sharpen your tools, you will have a much more rewarding experience. Not only are sharp tools easier to use, but they are safer too.
Making it a point to stop as often as needed to sharpen your tools is one way that you can make your experience with them much better.
If you have never had the pleasure of using a very sharp tool before, you really need to give sharpening a try and start using hand tools.
There is nothing like using a very sharp chisel or hand plane, and it’s a nearly effortless experience when compared to using an off the shelf blade or a dull tool.
One way that you can keep feeling that same experience is to have your sharpening stuff set up and ready to use any time that you are using edged tools. This way, there is no excuse for not sharpening.
When the sharpening stuff is buried, and not ready, it can be tempting to just keep on going without sharpening, and that is when fatigue sets in and mistakes happen.
Once you feel like the tool just does not have the same crispness to the cut, or the same ease of use, stop and hone your blade. This is higher grit sharpening that can be all you need to restore a great edge that just lost some of its zing from being used.
If you stop early, you can avoid the reason that many people don’t like sharpening, and that’s the perception that it takes a long time.
Sharpening only takes a long time when you allow your tool to get so dull that a lot of metal needs to be removed to get it back into cutting shape. It also happens when you buy a tool that has been abused, and needs a lot of restoration work before it can be sharpened.
Either way, you can solve this problem by sharpening more often.
For example, if you use a really sharp chisel until it becomes like a butter knife, you can’t just start at the higher grits and hone the edge back. You can, because that high grit stone still removes metal, but it might take you twenty years of sliding your tool back and forth.
Since you flew past this stage, you now need to start at a much more aggressive grit to get the edge back.
After going through all the effort of getting the edge back, you now get to go back to honing on a higher grit stone to get your really fine edge. You might even have to do an intermediate grit depending on how bad the first grit roughed up the metal.
All of these steps add time to the sharpening exercise, and can make it seem like sharpening is a long process every time.
In truth, if you never let your edges get past the honing stage, you can avoid the rougher sharpening stages for a very long time. Your blade will always be very sharp, and you will have a much more pleasing time working with your edged tools.
Stop often and use a very fine grit stone to put a razor edge on your tools, which will not take very long, and then you can return to your project with a much safer and much sharper tool.
Heavy Items for Clamping
In instances when you do not need a ton of clamping pressure, and you have room on your bench, you can use heavy items to hold your pieces in place. This is the most often used when you are gluing a piece of thin cork sheet onto a piece of wood to make a sanding block.
In this case, you do not need a ton of pressure, you just need to keep the cork from moving around during the gluing process.
In a shop, there are typically a lot of heavy and small items laying around that can be used as small clamps. In my shop I have a small set of gym weights (that anyone who knows me knows I never use for their primary purpose) that I keep around for clamping.
I also have a few pieces of really heavy steel, a granite plate, and several other heavier items that I can use when needed.
Any time that you have a smaller glue up, or an instance where you don’t really need pressure you just need to hold the pieces together, use a heavy item placed on top of the two pieces to hold them while the glue dries.
It will be easy to find items like this in your shop, and again you can save yourself the time and effort in clamping something that really only needs to be held.
Look around for some of these items in your shop, and keep them around in case you need them. Simple clamping weights do a fantastic job on some projects, and you won’t have to use your regular clamps. This way you can save money too, because the weights are already in the shop.
Waxed Paper When Clamping
There is going to come a day in your woodworking adventures when you accomplish a glue-up, and go to remove the clamps to find a disaster. Either you will glue your clamps to the project, glue your project to your bench, or glue your project to your clamping forms.
Sometimes you hit the jackpot and all three of these happen on the very same glue-up.
This is both a hilarious and devastating lesson in woodworking, though it will take you a while to find the humor if it happens to you. Thankfully, there is an easy way to prevent this happening in your shop, and the cost is very low.
Waxed paper (the kind that you find in a grocery store) is the answer to only gluing together the things that you actually want to glue together. Any time that you are making contact between glue and something that you do not want to be glued, use the waxed paper.
For example, guitar makers use something called a baton press to glue together their plates. This is a joint between two very thin boards. The gluing surface is about 1/8 inch wide, and about 21 inches long. It’s nearly impossible to clamp this together using traditional means, so a baton press is used instead.
Essentially, a baton press is a way of setting up the boards, and then limiting the width so that the center joint pops up a little, maybe about half an inch or less. You can force the center down, and since the width is limited, it creates pressure in the middle.
When the guitar maker joins the pieces, glue is applied to the edges of the plates, and they are pressed down to make the clamping pressure. A few clamps and a spreader bar are used to hold down that center joint until the glue has time to dry.
In this situation, both the wooden spreader bar, and the bottom of the press are touching glue that squeezes out of the center joint. Left alone, the project pieces would be glued to the bottom of the press, as well as the spreader bar.
Obviously this is not good, so using waxed paper in these areas will prevent the squeezed out glue from adhering.
A single roll of waxed paper can cost as little as a dollar, and as much as a few dollars. Since you only need a piece large enough to cover the glue squeeze out areas on your project, you can use the same roll for a very long time.
All you have to do when you release the clamps after the glue has dried is pull off the waxed paper, which peels right off the surface.
You do get a little more spreading of glue when you use the waxed paper, because it cannot penetrate through the layer of wax. All this requires is a little more sanding and you will be right back to where you need to be.
Again, any time that you are running the risk of gluing your project to your bench, or to the cauls or clamps, using a little waxed paper can make a big difference. Place a small piece in the path of the glue, and clamp as normal to ensure that only the right pieces are glued together.
Part 38 – Wrap Up
I hope you liked Part 38 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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