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The Wood Shoppe at Timeless Treasure Trunk
Home woodworking encompasses a broad spectrum, from making knick-knacks to building heirloom furniture and all the stops in between. The work may be done with hand tools, machinery, or a combination of the two. Whether to use machinery or not is a personal choice, sometimes there is little satisfaction in doing a repetitive task that nobody will ever see by hand, yet there can be a lot of pleasure in hand finishing other parts of a project.
Often the location of a work space will be a factor, if noise is a consideration then hand tools are a logical choice. Some power tools such as scroll saws, band saws and wood lathes are suitable in lower noise conditions.
People of all ages, both guys and girls seem to enjoy the hobby, some start at a very young age, others don't discover it until the golden years of retirement.
Woodworking is a broad defination of many hobbies, yard art, turning, scrolling, cabinet and furniture making, carving and home improvement to name a few. Often a project will involve several of the facets so one is always evolving in the craft.
You can decide to do all your work with hand tools and become what is affectionately termed a "Neanderthal" or become a "Normite" and do everyting with the latest and greatest power tools.
Today the opportunities for learning the hobby are unlimited, there are books, magazines, community courses, TV shows and the internet, all of them have great information. Yet with all these resources the only way you will ever become proficient is to pick up a tool and get to know it. A good way to practice is to build things for your work area, these can be as simple or complicated as the inclination strikes you. Making simple boxes to hold nails and screws is a great way to practice joinery that may lead to exquisite jewelry boxes, a workbench with drawers is a first step toward cabinetmaking.
Don't worry about achieving perfection right away, the longer you are at it the more you will realize how much you still have to learn. Try not to tackle projects too complicated at the beginning, get you feet wet gradually.
There are some hand tools that will always be used no matter how many power tools are in a shop. Always buy the best hand tools you can afford, you will be using them for the rest of your life. You will find that one of the great things about woodworking is that there are many different ways of accomplishing the same task. A special tool may mean you get the job done quicker but there is usually a work around method using the tools you have on hand. There are only two reasons to buy a tool, either you need it or the price is so good you would be crazy not to.
Everybody needs at least one hammer, start with a 16 oz. claw hammer, it is light enough for small nails yet heavy enough to drive spikes if you have to. Select your hammer with care, it will be you best friend for the rest of your days. A friend of my grandfather boasted that he had used the same hammer for sixty years, he had only to replace the handle six times and the head twice. You will know when you find the right hammer, it will feel good in your hand, the balance will feel right, the handle will be sized to fit your grip and best of all it will let you drive nails straight. I have a hammer that has been in a drawer in the shop for the last twenty years and to this day when I grab it I can not drive a nail without bending it over, I would throw it away but I use it as my beater hammer, which hasn't hurt or improved it over time.
Don't let the name confuse you, a nail set is one special punch that comes in sizes to fit different sized nail heads, they are used to drive the nail head below the surface so it can be hidden with filler. To prevent hammer marks on the wood drive the nail with the hammer until the head is about 1/4" above the surface, then use the nail set to "set the nail" below the surface of the wood. This takes practice, make sure the nail set is lined up properly with the nail, otherwise it will slip off and punch an additional hole in the wood.
One of the handiest tools in the shop is a combination square, you will use it to mark and check cross and miter cuts, it usually has a built in level, it also works as a depth gauge and a marking gauge thanks to its sliding blade. You will acquire other squares in time but this is a must have to start with. This square will also be used to check the setting of the blade on your table saw.
Get in the habit of using them, have several around the shop at strategic locations so they will be easy to grab.
Drills are now used as much for driving screws as they are for drilling holes. Get at least a 14.4 volt model, that will give you enough power to drive large deck screws, yet will not be so heavy as to be awkward to work with on a daily basis. Select a two speed model, you will use the fast speed for drilling holes and the lower speed with more torque to drive screws.
Every tool box should have a set of drill bits up to at least 1/4", larger sizes can be purchased as needed. The most common type of drill bit is a "Twist Bit" and is what you will likely get in most sets, these are suitable for both wood and metal. There are three other common styles used in woodworking, forstner, brad point and spade bits, all of these drill a hole with a flat bottom. There is a free drill speed chart here. In addition to drill bits one should also have a selection of screwdriver bits to fit Phillips (+), Robertson (square) and slot head screws.
Like most tools there is a great range of quality in screwdrivers, do yourself a big favor and get a decent set. There is nothing more frustrating than having a worn out screwdriver rounding out the head of a screw. Always use the proper size for the job, the blade should fit snuggly into the screw socket, resist the temptation to use these tools for chisels or punches. If a blade is worn fix it if possible or throw it away, most flat blades can and should be repaired. Your set should include the full range of sizes for Phillips (+), Robertson (square) and slotted.
There is much debate if a tape measure is a tool that should be used or relied upon for woodworking, many craftsmen prefer steel rules when tolerances are critical. What usually happens is that the tape is dropped on the floor and the tip at the end of the blade gets bent so that the tape no longer reads accurately. You will notice that this tip also moves on the blade, this is good, when it is pushed against an object it moves back to the zero mark on the blade, when hooked over an object it moves out to the zero mark on the blade. Generally in my experience if you use only one tape for measuring a project things work out better than when two or more are used.
Even with all the different kinds of electric saws on the market there are times when a good sharp hand saw is still the best tool for the job. Get one at least 20" long with 8 teeth per inch.
Using A Hand Saw
Use a square to mark the board where it is to be cut, place the board on a sawhorse or workmate, begin the cut by lining the teeth of the saw with the mark. Grip the board with your left hand and place the knuckle of your thumb against the blade above the teeth and slowly pull the saw back to start the cut, then push it forward when the teeth are into the wood. Continue with even strokes letting the teeth of the saw do the work, do not attempt to force the saw down into the wood.
No toolbox is complete without a set of chisels, they should range in size from 1/4" to 1" wide. To prevent damage to the handles a wooden mallet should be used to tap them.
There is nothing more satisfying that running a hand plane along a board and peeling off paper thin curly translucent shavings. A Stanley # 3 or # 4 smoothing plane would be my first choice for general work, they are short and easy to handle and will cut a very fine shaving with less chance of tearout. Another model that is almost essential is a low angle block plane, Stanley # 9, 60 and 65 are examples of these. The blade is mounted at a very low angle and will shear off end grain so they are very useful for trimming and fitting.
How to sharpen a plane blade or a chisel
What They Used Yesterday
Many of the hand tools have not changed that much, there are still wooden hand planes made and sold today. Hand saws and hammers are not really that different, drills have probably changed the most over time.
Brace and Bit
Original cordless drill, some had a rachet like the one shown to work in tight spots, still a handy tool at times.
Great little tool for drilling pilot holes, bits store in handle, best known brand was a Yankee Drill.
Workers carried these around folded up, opened them up to get a measurement, this is a short 24" model, others had many more legs so opened up much longer.
Only the dimensions of your shop will limit the number and size of power tools that you will end up with, big tools are nice as long as they don't have to be moved, if they need to be portable put them on mobile bases.
Machines such as the Shopsmith are an alternative in small shops when space is at a premium, also consider mounting a router in one of your table saw wings rather than building a dedicated router table.
The first power tools that I would recommend to get would be a router and a circular saw, with these two tools most of the basic requirements will be covered with a little ingenuity.
At one time a table saw was considered the hub of a workshop, today that honor just may have been taken over by the router. As routers have increased in power and router tables have become more common many operations done on a table saw are now done on a router. Cutting a dado is now done quickly on a router, it is just a matter of dropping in a bit, rather than removing the insert in a tablesaw, removing the blade and installing the expensive dado blade set up, then putting in a special insert.
With a fence on a table your router will also function as a jointer to true the edge of boards and with a jig it will also serve as a planner for small surfaces.
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Until you are ready for a table saw get a good quality circular saw, and put the best blade you can afford on it, with a straight edge for a guide large sheet goods can be cut easily and safely. Odds are that even after you have a table saw you will still use this method.
Generally considered the hub of a workshop, table saws come in many different sizes and configurations. They are used for ripping, crosscuts and cutting dados.
The small footprint of a bench saw makes it the ideal saw for smaller shops and also the portability factor makes it easy to take to a job site. The small table surface is a liability when cutting larger material. The length of the arbor shaft may also limit the use of a dado blade.
These are a step up from a bench type table saw, they offer more power and larger table surface. There are still many used models available and are an excellent choice to start out on, as they can often be sold for close to what you paid for it when you decide to upgrade.
These are better than a contractor saw but not quite as good as a cabinet saw. A good step up from an older contractor saw.
These are the top of the line, very heavy saws built to perform for professional woodworkers. If you need a high powered saw that will not have to be moved once in place these fill the bill.
We are not all fortunate enough to have a dedicated work space, often we have to share it with the family car, or the washer and dryer. The most important thing is to keep the area safe, and for it to be safe it must be clean and organized. There are many dangers in a work shop, sharp tools and saw blades, unguarded drive belts, bits of flying metal and wood, these are the obvious, yet there is probably another danger that will do you more harm in the long run than any of them, dust. Breathing fine wood dust that is hanging in the air is responsible for many respiratory diseases, often it is too late when the symptoms occur to be eliminating it. This is especially true in the case of allergies, some people can not even be around the least amount of wood dust once their body has reacted to it.
Dust can be controlled in two ways, with a vacuum system to draw it away from the tools and an air cleaner system to remove what is left in the air. Vacuum systems may be as simple as a "shop vac" moved from tool to tool being used or a central vacuum system plumbed into the shop and connected to each tool. Air cleaners may be face masks or fans equiped with filters to trap the dust particles.
Having a sturdy work bench is pretty well a necessity, particularily when working with hand tools. Absolutely Free Plans offers several free plans to build your own:
Free Work Bench Plans
Today's woodworker uses both natural and man-made products, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Many man-made products are much more stable than natural wood, so used wisely they can add durability to a project.
Natural wood is becoming harder to come by, it is getting increasingly difficult to obtain old growth lumber so the quality is going down while the price is going up.
Common species of lumber found in a shop would be oak, birch, maple, cherry, mahogany and poplar, there are many other species used depending on the area and availability. Poplar is fast becoming the standby for framing, it is inexpensive and easy to work with, its main draw back is that it is not an attractive wood when finished.
Man-made products found would generally be plywood and MDF (medium density fibreboard), both are made from wood by-products.
Finished natural wood and man-made materials are available from most hardware and building supply stores, shop carefully, the price and quality will vary greatly from supplier to supplier.
Unfinished or rough lumber is usually bought directly from a mill, there are often small specialized local mills that cater to the home woodworker. Larger mills may have better prices but you may not be able to select individual boards or buy small quanities.
Wood may be purchased rough or with the surfaces planed and sized to standard dimensions, it is more expensive to buy the finished material but you will save time and not require the tools to dimension the lumber. As time goes on and you acquire more tools you will probably find that you prefer to dimension your own material, wood is not stable and will tend to warp, cup or twist if not stored correctly.
To dimension your own wood you will require three power tools, a table saw, a jointer and a thickness planer. Begin by truing one edge and one face on the jointer, then run it through the thickness planer to make both faces parallel and of an equal thickness throughout. Lastly run it through your table saw with the trued edge against the fence and cut it to width. You may then run this edge through your jointer if necessary, depending on how smooth your saw cuts, if you have a good blade this should not be necessary.
Even though you have purchased or smoothened the wood yourself it will still need to be sanded before it is painted or a finish applied to it, start with finest grade of sandpaper that will do the job and work your way along using finer and finer sandpaper. If the project is to be painted the wood should not be any smoother than 200 grit sandpaper will make it otherwise the paint will not bond to it. If a clear finish is desired then you will have to continue to get the wood as smooth as possible.
Which ever method you decide on, finished or rough, either way has its advantages and disadvantages.
Ready to work.
Less tools required to get the job done.
Lumber from different runs or suppliers may vary in thickness and width, so will have to be sorted before using.
May warp, cup or twist unless stored properly.
More expensive than rough wood.
You can finish the wood to your specifications just before using it so it will be straight and true.
Rough wood is not as expensive as finished wood.
It will take time to finish material by hand or require fairly expensive tools.
Defects or blemishes may not be obvious until finished.
Rough lumber can be finished with a hand plane, it is time comsuming, but to a lot of people it is very therapeutic. Using a long bodied plane like a #5 Jack Plane works well for this.
For more information on finishing follow the links below:
START TO FINISH: THE ENDURANCE TEST
A substance that is capable of bonding material together by surface attachment.
• Air Dried
Lumber stacked and stored so that it is dried naturally by the exposure to air.
• Bench Dogs
Pegs which go into holes in the top of a workbench that work with a vise to hold wide material.
• Biscuit Joint
An oval shapped disk that when inserted in a slot with glue swells to form a tight bond. A special tool is required to cut the slot.
• Board Foot
Measurement of lumber equal to one square foot an inch thick or 144 cubic inches. Multiply width in inches X length in inches X thickness in inches, divide by 144 for total board feet.
• Butt Joint
A joint where the edges of two boards are against each other.
• Cross Cut
A cut which runs across the board perpendicular to the grain.
This is when the edges of a board bend with the grain away from the center to form a concave shape.
• Finger Joint
Long tapered fingers used to join material lenghtwise, often used in manufacturing moulding to join short lengths.
The side of a power tool where a board enters.
The width of a saw cut, determined by the thickness and set of the blade.
Medium density fiberboard, very stable underlay for counter tops etc. to be covered with laminate.
To bent or twist to the pull of the grain in the wood.
Complete Woodworking Glossary