A Few Woodworking Tips:

Need an extra hand? Try using a feather board. They are easy to make and very useful for helping to make accurate cuts in your wood.

  Want a no-fuss finish on your project? Try Tung oil, it is one of the only oils that actually dries and can be re-applied in layers for a hard, durable finish.

  Trying to cut large sheets of plywood on your table saw? Try the safer, more accurate method, flip the plywood over, put it on a couple of saw horses and use your circular saw with a good blade in it. Then do your final cutting on the table saw.

Want to makes some nice elegant dovetail corners for your project? Think about using box joints, they are easier to make, almost as strong when glued, and most people other that woodworkers and a few furniture experts don't know the difference between box joints and dovetail joints ... and anyway, box joints look great

Having trouble making mortise and tenon joints that work? Yup, they look easy but in fact they are time intensive and fiddly to get a perfect joint. Why not try using "floating tenons" they are easier to make, the joints come to gether better, you can make them as long or short as you need, they are argueably as strong or stronger than standard mortise and tenon joing and ... well, when they are glued up joint, who will know it was a floating tenon or not?

Bench Cookies

I'm always amazed in this world of high technology and all it's whizz bangs, that someone ... somewhere never forgets about the simple things in life. The small things that often frustrate us to death but that we never seem to overcome. Enter the new "Bench Cookies from Rockler. These are simple little discs with non skid material applied that not only allows them to stand off the workbench, thus giving the worker some room underneath the project ... these little things stick like crazy, even when grit and sawdust tries to confound them.

At first I wondered how many times I would really need to lift my work piece off the workbech top, but I soon discovered that was not the real issue, the real issue was all the stuff that always seemed to accumulate under my work piece, like nails, screws, bits of wood, tools, pencils ... the list goes on and and on. The real problem with thes is that in some cases I don't want the back to get scratched and marred, I want it to be clean, which doesn happen when a screw rolls under and all of a sudden your piece now has a dint or scratch in it.

I also like the fact that I can use them for painting and staining, simply by moving them in from the side of the piece. To me, the that is the best part of these accessories, when you want to paint, stain or varnish all sides of a piece, when it is small it often moves around on you ... but not with these little items. If I only used them for finishing they would be worth EVERY PENNY.


Plywood Router Bits

For those of you ... who like me, don't always like working with plywood because of it's sizing issues, there now it hope.

To refresh your memory, as you know none of the plywood you purchase is dimensionally the the thickness size you purchase. For example 3/4 inch plywood is almost never 3/4 inch thick. The reason for this is the standards adhered to by the plywood manufacturers industry states, in essence, that a 3/4 inch thick plywood can NEVER exceed 3/4 inch thickness. Since all plywood is manufactured green (i.e. it still contains a lot or water and will shrink as it dries) this means that the dimensional thickness will be less that the generic name it is given. That is that 1/4", 3/8", 1/2" 3/4" will all be somewhat LESS thick that what they are called. This means, working with plywood can be a challenge, despite all the other benefits that plywood has, like strength, flexibility lamination of hardwoods such as Oak, Rosewood, Maple, Cherry etc. all have a thin veneer of that hardwood laminated to an otherwise softwood plywood base.

So ... if you are wanting to make a nice Oak Book Case, and Oak Plywood is on special at your local lumber store, you run on out, pick up a few sheets and get ready to start making some cuts. Then you realize that none of the 3/4" Oak Plywood sheets are actually 3/4" thick, but are somewhat less ... now what ...

Any woodworker worth his dust, will know a book case needs shelves, and that shelves need dados to sit in. We all know the best, easiest and safest way to cut dados is with a router but who makes an undersized bit that will cut dados in one pass ... well the answer is Rockler.

Rockler has an entire series of undersized router bits, signed for plywoods

Copyright Colin Knecht

Steam Bending Wood

 My recent project of building a banjo has made it necessary for me to learn the art of bending wood. I searched the Internet and my local woodworkers guild library for information. There were bits and pieces of what I needed to know and some suggestions on how to get started. One of my sources suggested using a NEW gas can on a Coleman stove. The idea being that a new gas can would not explode if it happened to run dry. An important consideration I thought.

After a mornings outing, I found that new Coleman stoves were going for around $70 which was a price I was not prepared to pay for this kind of an experiment. I snooped around a few garage sales on Saturday morning a found one only a few blocks from home. The stove looked in very good condition, hardly used I thought. "does it work?" I asked, the answer was affirmative, "how much?" I queried, the answer was ... a whopping four dollars. At that price I didn't have the heart to dicker on the price.

Finding a NEW gas can turned out to be a bit more problematic. I can't imagine how many places I visited, from hardware stores to department stores only to find stacks and stacks of gas cans, all plastic. I decided and alternative needed to be made so began by snooping around one of my local used-goods stores. I discovered an old pressure cooker for five dollars and decided it would be the substitute for the gas can.

After some rummaging around at the hardware store and the autoparts store I managed to come away with the bits and pieces of plumbing fixtures and radiator hose that would connect the steam box to the steam source.
I cut a hole in the top of the pressure cooker and fastened the pipe to the lid with a couple of large nuts. The pipe was sealed with automotive gasket sealer that comes in a tube. A Tee was installed in the cedar steam box and connected with radiator hose.
On the big day, everything connected together fine and with some minor adjustments on the sawhorses everything fit fine. I drilled a small hole in the cedar steam box, just large enough to accept the Latte' Thermometer so I could check the steam temperature.
After about 20 minutes the steam started pouring into the box, around the wood and out through the small pressure hole in the end of the steam box. After waiting 30 minutes for the wood to heat it was removed from the steam box and immediately into the jig for bending.

I discovered that it is important to bend the wood as quickly as possible as it cools of rapidly and within minutes is difficult if not impossible to bend and breakage of the wood becomes a very real risk (I know because I broke two pieces).
It's a fun project, fairly easy to do, but it does take some practice in order achieve consistent success.





Copyright Colin Knecht

Microwave Wood Drying

 Disclaimer: Please be aware that this is the method I have developed for my own wood drying. Some species of wood may give off toxic fumes. Anyone who attempts to dry wood by this method is accepting the risk of fire associated with micro waving wood. Anyone who follows these recommendations accepts all responsibility for their actions.

Drying wood for small projects in a microwave is an effective means of reducing moisture content and preventing post-assembly shrinkage and gap widening in your intarsia projects. Air dried wood will shrink in a dry indoor environment and gaps will widen. A piece you thought was perfectly tight will reveal gaps over time.

The amount of time that the wood is "nuked" depends on the initial moisture content of the wood and the total volume of wood you are nuking.

Place about 3 board feet of wood in the microwave in a batch. The wood can be any number of pieces and any size from a few square inches to whatever will fit in the microwave. Just stack it up so it is about four boards (or layers) thick. It should all be about the same moisture content to begin with. You probably could mix green wood with air dried wood but I suspect you would be initially adding moisture to the drier wood.

Resinous woods will exude pitch from knots. Be careful of where they are placed in relation to the other wood in the stack. If the wood is green, begin by nuking it for 4 minutes on high. If it is air dried, nuke it for 2 1/2 to 3 minutes. Then take the wood out and pile it on a counter shingle fashion with just enough overlap so one end of each piece is supported up off the counter surface by the piece it is resting on. You will notice that the counter top under the pieces will condense moisture given off by the wood. Let the wood come back to room temperature and then repeat the nuking process. You may have to repeat the process 5, 6 or more times depending on how moist the wood was to start with. As the wood becomes drier, you will need to reduce the repeat nuking time in stages down to about 1 1/2 minutes.

If the initial amount of wood is less than 3 board feet, the nuking time will have to be reduced. You can judge the correct time by the temperature of the wood when you take it out of the microwave. If it is too hot to handle it is overheated and may split and/or burn. Reduce the nuking time by 30 seconds or more for the next treatment. You may have to experiment with nuking times depending on the amount of wood you are using and the wattage of your microwave. Higher wattage will heat the wood much faster.

As the wood becomes drier, the amount of moisture condensed on the counter top will diminish. Check under each piece after about 30 seconds. When only a small amount is condensed, that piece is generally dry enough. You probably don't want to reduce the moisture content below 7%. Wood that is too dry will absorb moisture and attempt to swell. In an assembled piece, this will create compression pressures that may cause the piece to virtually explode at the joints when the pressure becomes too great.

DO NOT attempt to dry it to "oven dry" since this is where you can cause it to start fire. The wood will burn from the inside of the piece first and may not even show any symptoms on the surface. Cutting it will reveal a black charred center. It will also give off smoke from the ends of the piece, although this can be confused with steam. It WILL catch fire if you over nuke it. Even if you don't have to call the fire department, your wife will definitely not appreciate the effects on her microwave! Pouring water on it will not immediately put it out since it is burning in the dry center. If you do manage to catch one on fire, toss it outside or immerse it in a sink full of water. It will continue to smoke for quite a while.

Small pieces and thin stock dry much quicker than larger pieces. The mass of the piece is the critical factor. Experience will teach you how long to nuke the wood and how dry to get it. The amount of moisture on the counter top and the "feel" of the wood are the best clues to dryness. If you have a moisture meter, that is the best measure.

This method was developed when I started making "tree cookie" coasters in 1990. Tree cookies are cut from main stems of small trees up to 6" diameter. I tried making them from branch wood, but there are too many internal tensions in this wood. The wood must be cut when the tree is dormant and not in its active growing season or the bark may not stay attached to the wood as it dries. In the northern states this is "winter wood". Some species will not retain the bark because it does not dry at the same rate as the wood. Properly dried, the cookie will not split like it would if it was air dried. After drying, the cookie should be sanded and finished.

Jeff Meuwissen

Jeff's home page

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