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.
Build Lots of Jigs
There is an old joke about woodworkers that has a hundred variations but goes something like this: Someone asks another person how long it will take for a the woodworker to make the cut he needs to make.
The second person replies that it will take five seconds to make the cut, but five days to make the jig first. While this is obviously an exaggeration, time spent making jigs is important, and you should build jigs whenever you can.
A jig is just an item that helps you complete a woodworking process with much more accuracy than without. For example, a simple block of wood that is clamped to a board to help you saw straighter is a kind of jig.
On the more complex side, a sliding box that makes it easier to cut 90 degree angles on the table saw is also a jig.
While you can do most of the things without the jig,the process are a lot harder, and the results are a lot less uniform. The whole point of the jig is to make the process easier, more accurate, and repeatable.
Especially if you are planning on making several of the same thing, jigs and assisting devices that you make will only make your process much easier, more enjoyable, and much more uniform on the end.
If you need some help finding jigs for the type of woodworking that you are interested in doing, look online at what other people are making, and spend one time studying their setups.
Most people that have been making the same thing for a long time have a system of jigs to make it easier. Over time, you just develop a series of helpful things that you make in order to speed up and simplify the process.
Spend time watching others, and spend time reading about the craft that you are interested in. As you see jigs and fixtures that are in use, look for why. Sometimes, like in the case of game boards that have a lot of drill holes, a jig with the holes already drilled is used.
In a case like this, all you have to do is carefully drill the holes perfectly one time, and then you can just use the jig after that. This means you will only have to measure and lay out the project one time, and the rest of the time you just drill away.
As you learn more and more about what you make, you will just start to see ways to make it easier. You will end up formulating jigs in your head, and all you have to do at that point is start getting them on paper.
Plan them well, and they will do what you need them to do.
Once you have a working drawing, build the jig and see how it works. Over time you will add to and take away from your jigs, but you will always end up improving them as you go.
Especially if you are making the same thing over and over, having a set of reliable jigs that you can use in the shop is really nice.
Spend time making jigs, and you will be happy that you did. As you learn more and more about your craft, the jigs will come, and you can keep adding new ones as you have time to make them.
Jigs are Time Savers
Not only do jigs make it easier to perform certain process, they are also time savers.
This can seem a little weird given that it takes time away from the project to make the jig. Even so, the time you spend on a jig is always returned to you, and then some.
Many times, new woodworkers have trouble with the idea that making jigs is not a waste of time.
After all, the more time they spend making a jig, the less time they are actually making the project. It can also seem like a waste to build a jig for something like a single cut, or a few holes that are easy to measure.
This is where the more experienced woodworkers know from their past that all the time you spend making a jig comes back to you.
What many people miss is that the jig is not just about the one cut, or the one hole that it helps you make. It’s about the time fixing a bad cut or a bad hole that can happen without the jig.
You will spend more time on the back end getting your project filled and repaired from small variances in the build than by simply making the jig to ensure the process goes well.
For example, if you have to fill in a hole that you drilled incorrectly, you will spend more time than it would have taken to make a drilling jig. By the same token, if you drill a hole on an off angle, and now your toy car wheels don’t all touch the floor, you are going to have to take it apart and try again.
This adds even more time. That’s on top of the fact that some people will just send out a toy car with one wheel in the air. It’s tempting when you are suddenly faced with a decision, and you know that it will be hours of filling, patching, sanding, and drilling in order to fix something that should have been really easy.
Another good example is fret slotting. On a guitar, the frets have to be in the right places, otherwise the instrument will not sound right. Any variation means tossing the board in the trash and starting again.
The measurements are to the thousandth, so there is no wiggle room.
There are people in this world who have ice flowing through their veins, who can carefully and steadily saw 24 slots in a board without making a single error.
However, this is not everyone, and honestly it’s not even a very good percentage of everyone. The overwhelming majority of people use a jig for something like this.
Consider the fact that it can take a while to make 23 of the cuts, and if you mess up on number 24, you might as well not have done the others at all. Since the last cut is wrong, the whole board is wrong.
When you think about the time that it takes to slot a board correctly, it makes absolute sense to make a jig. As soon as you mess up once, you will cost yourself more time than it would take to make the jig.
While you may not always see the savings right away, making a jig is always worth the time. Think about more than just the process the jig helps with. It’s also the time it saves you from correcting mistakes.
The router is such a beautiful tool. It’s also deceptively powerful. Many new woodworkers make the mistake of thinking they can freehand cut with a router, without any kind of guidance.
While there are ways to train yourself to make some freehand cuts, it’s actually much more difficult than it looks to guide a router by hand.
A router bit rotates, and bites into the wood as it advances. This means that it can pull itself into the wood more and more if you do not control the movement. By hand, it can be almost impossible to stop the router when it decides to take a little bite.
Depending on the speed of the tool, and the depth of the bit, this can be a small chunk that it eats, or it can be much more.
When you are using the router, and you are doing freehand work, make sure to go very shallow, and make several passes. This way, you can still do some freestyle work, but you will have a much easier time controlling the inevitable grabs that the bit will want to make.
Another thing you can do is try to make at least a fence that the base of the router can ride against. This can be clamped to the surface and used as a guide for the router to follow. In this way, you eliminate the need to freehand route, and you will have a much cleaner and straighter cut.
It’s not impossible to learn over time how to control your router, but in the beginning, look for ways to make the process easier and more enjoyable.
Counter Bore vs. Countersink
There are a couple main ways to sink the head of a screw or a bolt into the surface of the wood. They are variations of the same idea, and the only real difference is the shape.
A countersink and a counter bore are two types of wood shaping processes that make it possible to place the head of a screw beneath the surface.
The countersink is a cone shaped hole with angled sides, and it commonly matches the taper under the bottom of a wood screw head. Since the shapes match, the screw heads go into these types of openings very well.
You can find a tool to make a countersink that can be used by hand, or one that you can use in a drill. The hand method takes a little longer, but it can be easier to control than with a power tool.
These are the most useful when you have a tapered screw head that you want to allow into the surface of the wood without just ramming it through and compressing the wood.
A counter bore is another way of getting a screw or bolt head to lie under the level of the surface, but this one makes a cylinder shaped hole rather than a cone shaped hole.
These are useful for bolts more than screws, and if you drill them a little wide, you can still get a socket on the head of your bolt.
The commonly used method for making a counter bore hole is by using a Forstner bit. Simply drill until you have gone deep enough for the bolt head.
Make Relief Cuts
Sometimes when you are sawing, especially sawing curves, the blade just needs a little more room than it can create on its own. When a blade pinches, it can slow down, cut poorly, and burn your project.
It can also become dangerous if you pinch it really hard. In order to allow the blade more freedom to turn, making relief cuts in your project allows pieces behind the cut to fall off. These missing pieces provide the relief that the blade needs to run true.
If you are making a curved cut on a piece of wood, mark out your curved line and then in the waste section mark out some straight lines at regular intervals. The tighter the curved cut, the tighter the intervals need to be.
Think of them as rays coming off the sun, where it will almost look like you are making pie slices in the waste area.
What you are trying to create are little wedge sections or long thin sections that will fall off at regular intervals throughout the cut. As you draw your lines, think about making a piece fall off for every thickness of the blade. This will keep it free at all times.
Before you cut the curve, cut all the lines up to the curved line. Then, when you cut the curve, every time the blade goes in the full depth, one more little piece from the previous cuts is released.
The blade is free nearly all the time in this kind of a cut, and you will be able to execute the main cut very well.
Cutting Warped Wood
In general, if you can avoid getting stuck with warped wood, you should avoid it. Also, if you can avoid having to work with or cut warped wood, you should avoid that as well.
However, there are some times when you have to work with the stuff, so here is how to get the most from your hockey sticks.
With most pieces of warped wood, there is typically a section that is worse than the rest. Sometimes, there will be a huge part of the board that is twisted or defective, and other times it’s only a small section.
If you can, cut the good parts off of the bad parts, and discard the really bad pieces. When you keep the good stuff, you can ensure yourself a safer time working with the pieces, and an easier time building.
Another thing you can do is cut off smaller pieces from a warped piece. Smaller pieces will have less warp or twist over the length, and many times can be used in short runs without any issues.
Be careful cutting these boards, because you do not want to put yourself in a position where you are pinching the blade.
As you cut wood, the blade needs to rotate freely or move freely in order to work. The reason that saws have teeth that are set wider than the thickness of the body of the blade is because the teeth need to make a little extra room for the blade body to pass through.
If these were the same size, the body of the blade would make lots of contact, and either burn or bind up in the cutting process. When you cut warped wood, you run the risk of the board pinching the body of the blade, and the teeth not being able to remove material fast enough to counteract it.
Think of the miter saw, and how you have to push the head of the saw down into the wood. If you are working with a piece of wood that is bowed upwards, the downward pressure from the saw is going to compress the center, and the blade is going to create a bending point.
As the wood bends from the pressure, the cut will try and close on the blade, pinching it. When it happens, sometimes the board can be thrown, the saw can run towards you in the case of a sliding miter saw, or the blade can be stopped against the will of the motor.
All of these are bad outcomes, and you can potentially be hurt in the process.
If you can avoid it, try to not work with warped wood, especially as a beginner. There are already lots of things going against you as you try to learn a ton of new skills, and adding bad lumber into the mix is a poor idea.
Instead, try saving what you can by cutting off the good parts and tossing the bad parts. If you get a couple smaller boards from a big board, it’s a win, and you will not have to fuss as much when you make something from those pieces.
It all starts in the wood store. Make sure that you are looking for boards that are well seasoned, and that have already done all of their moving. This way, you won’t have to worry about boards that twist and warp over time.
Plane with the Grain
With any kind of work you do with edged tools, it’s important to go with the grain. It’s really important when you are using a thickness planer, or planing a board by hand.
Either tool will run into problems planing against the grain, so watch for the signs, and pay attention to what your tools are telling you.
If you are planing by hand, you are already doing a difficult task. Not only do you need to be careful about where you cut, but you also need to try your best to leave a smooth surface behind.
If you plane in the wrong direction, your piece will tell you. It will be much harder to perform the planing action, and your blade may chatter a bit as it digs in and pops free.
Think of the grain as a bunch of bristles that are pointed towards you. If you push against them, your fingers hit the pointed parts and you get pushed down into them.
This is like cutting into the grain with an edged tool on a piece of wood. Now, think of the same bristles all pointing away from you. As you push into them, you glide right over, and they keep pushing your hands up.
This is how planing a piece of wood should be. Your blade should be going in the same direction as the grain is pointing, so that the grain does not drag the tool deeper into the wood than you want it to go.
It can be difficult to tell at first which way the grain is going on a board. Thankfully, even beginners can read some of the signs and determine which is the best way to plane their boards.
Sometimes you will be able to tell right away, and sometimes you will have to use a couple of these techniques to come to your conclusion.
First, you can simply look at the edge of the board and try to see if you can find grain lines that indicate which way the grain is going. You want to see where the lines touch the surface, and follow them from the bottom of the board to where they touch at the top.
If you can trace your finger from the bottom of the board, following a line, to the top of the board, you want to make sure that the blades on the tool you are using cut in the same direction.
On a hand plane, if you trace your finger from the bottom left to the top right, you want to start your hand plane on the left and go to the right. However, it gets a little different when you are using a thickness planer.
Since the blades rotate towards the piece, you will need to turn your piece around and feed it from the other end in order to be going with the grain. Essentially the difference is that the hand plane moves on the board while at rest, and the board moves on the thickness planer machine while at rest.
Another thing you can do is just take a very shallow test pass. Your planer will make a noise, and your hand plane will have a certain feel. Then, take a pass the other way just as lightly.
Again, you will hear or feel something depending on what tool you are using. Decide which was the better sound,or which way felt better on the hands, and that will likely be the direction that you need to continue working because the grain is going in that same direction.
This method can be a little rough depending on your skill level, and how much of a cut you take with the machine you are using. If planing by hand, you will notice that one direction is just much easier than the other.
In cases like this, you will intuitively just work in the direction that feels better, because the wood will push you in that direction.
On a thickness planer machine, you really aren’t working very much, so you might not notice as readily that one direction is that much better than the other. In that case, here is a third thing you can do in order to see if you are going in the right direction.
Look at the surface of the wood after you make a pass with the machine. Are there signs of grain being torn from the surface rather than cut? Are there chatter marks where it looks like a lot of small chunks were popped out by force rather than sliced?
These are indications that the grain is running against the blades. In a case like this, try turning around the board and seeing if they go away or get bigger. If they start to get smaller and go away, then you are going in the right direction.
If they get bigger, then you need to turn around the board and plane from the original direction.
Planing with the grain is always going to give you a better result than planing against the grain. Make it easier for yourself to get good results, and try to combine a couple of these methods in order to determine the grain direction before making your passes.
Part 40 – Wrap Up
I hope you liked Part 40 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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