10 Woodworking Fixes

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This article is from Issue 40 of Woodcraft Magazine.


For projects, tools, and finishes

By Scott Phillips

With over a million viewers tuning in to my PBS show The American Woodshop, it’s no wonder that I get a lot of emails and letters containing woodworking questions on anything from machining to joinery to finishing. When I get several questions on the same subject, I like to find a venue that helps me provide the answers in full, helping as many woodworkers as I can. Here, Woodcraft Magazine has obliged me in my responses to some of the more commonly-asked questions. I divided them into categories: project solutions, tool talk and fixing finishes.

1. Scott, I’ve built some wall cabinets that I’d like to put adjustable shelves in, but I don't want to shell out money for a hole-drilling jig for the shelf-pin holes. Any ideas?

—Jason Freemont, Boulder, Colorado

A dirt-cheap answer may be buried in your sheet goods stash. It’s pegboard. Measure the holes, and you’ll find that they are 1⁄4" diameter and spaced on 1" centers. Determine where you want your holes on the cabinet sides, and rip a pegboard strip to fit in the cabinet, designating one end the bottom. Mark the holes you want to drill on the pegboard, and clamp it in place. Now, use this “drilling jig” to drill evenly-spaced holes. Use a stop collar to establish the desired hole depth.


2. I want to take apart an old chair to restore and refinish it. What’s the best way to loosen up a joint containing old glue?

—Ben Ank, Hot Springs, Arkansas

Old or antique furniture joints typically relied on hide glue. The bonding agent in more recent furniture may be yellow woodworker’s glue (polyvinyl acetate or PVA). Here, use the same method for either glue. Reach for a heat gun or steam iron. Apply heat or steam around the joint while loosening the parts. (Clamps with reversible jaws prove helpful here.) When you heat the joint and glue to 200°, you compromise both types of glues (and possibly the finish). The high heat allows you to separate the parts.

If you are worried about damaging the finish, try this. Drill a hole into the joint, and inject warm vinegar into the hole and around the joint with a syringe. Let the solution soften the glue for 30 minutes. Then separate the parts.

3. What is the suggested space allowance between and around inset cabinet doors (those that fit within a face frame or cabinet opening) when using European hinges?

—John Butler, Midland, Texas

I like a 1⁄16" gap all the way around, or something about the thickness of a nickel. The great thing about European hinges—also known as concealed hinges—is that you can adjust and tweak the reveal to be even all around with a few turns of the alignment screws.

4. I’m thinking about buying a portable lumber mill that uses a chainsaw. What are the pros and cons? 

—Steve Rogers, Merrill, Georgia

If you have access to hardwood trees and are in good physical shape, sawing your own lumber can be fun and a great way to save. An inexpensive chainsaw mill (costing between $40-$1,000) can help you rough-saw boards from 16" wide and up, depending on the model and size of your chainsaw. (Check the models at leevalley.com 

and norwoodindustries.com.)Because of the portablility of a chainsaw system, you can haul it right into the forest; however, you’ll then need to carry out wet boards. Also, be aware that these systems take time to set up and require the same precautions and safety gear for any chainsaw work.

If you have just a few logs to cut, consider hiring the owner of a portable bandsaw mill to saw your material on site. Some charge by the foot; others, by the hour. To find one, call Wood-Mizer at (800) 553-0182 or visit woodmizer.com.

5. Is there a cure for “drift” that causes crooked cuts on the bandsaw?

—Michel Duggan, Springfield, Pennsylvania

Drift describes a bandsaw blade’s tendency to cut to the left or right of a workpiece cutline when using the rip fence. Assuming that your guides are adjusted, and that your blade is properly tensioned, follow this regimen to correct the problem. Strike a straight line 1" in from the straight edge of a flat board that’s slightly longer than the depth of your table. Now, carefully freehand-cut along the line until the trailing edge of the board is even with the front edge of your table. Stop the saw mid-cut, and clamp the board in place without disturbing its orientation. Place a sliding bevel against the front edge of the table and the straight edge of the workpiece, and lock the blade in place, capturing the “drift angle.” Next, locate the sliding bevel alongside the fence (locked in place) and against the front edge of the table. Follow your saw’s manual for loosening the fence. Now, adjust it to agree with the sliding bevel’s angle. If using a shop-made wood fence, adjust it as needed. With the angle secured, make a test cut.

6. I purchased an older tablesaw. The cast-iron top is covered with rust. I would like to know the best way to clean it up.

—Dan Monroe, Blair, Wisconsin

Fact of life, Dan: steel rusts. Sand the top, moving from 150 to 220 grit using a random-orbit sander. If needed, scrub any pitted areas with a steel wire brush and WD-40 or other lubricant. Once clean, lubricate and protect the surface with paste wax or a dedicated commercial sealant. To simply remove a fine film of rust, pick up a bottle of Empire TopSaver. This user-friendly product removes rust, lubricates, and seals metal surfaces (#148040, 8 oz., $19.99). I also like T-9 Rust Protectant for its similar benefits (#03Q56, 12 oz., $17.99).

7. I’m new to woodworking and need to know what is the best all-around tablesaw blade? Should I have two blades, one for hardwoods and one for plywood?

—Paul Pyle, Nampa, Idaho

For an all-purpose quality ripping and crosscutting blade, go with a 40-tooth ATB (alternate top bevel) model or a 50-tooth combination ATBR (alternate top bevel with raker) blade. Either one of these will handle 90% of the cutting you’ll likely do. Good quality versions cost in the neighborhood of $80 to $110. 

At some point you might want to add other blades to your collection. For tear-out-free crosscutting in plywood and panels, pick up a quality 80-tooth ATB blade in the $120 price range. A flat top ripping blade in the 24-30-tooth range works well for general ripping. It will set you back $60.

8. The two pushpads that came with my jointer make me think that I am applying uneven pressure to the workpiece as I pass it over the cutter. Is there a more effective pushpad I can buy?

—Arnie Brandstad, Gainesville, Florida

There is, and you don’t have to buy it. Using 3⁄4"-thick plywood and scrap stock, I made this 20"-long pushblock that gives me complete control when face-jointing boards under 4' in length. It consists of a plywood cutout in the shape of a hacksaw (my template for the design), a pair of glued and screwed-on strips that serve as the base, and a pusher cleat at the back end. The shape gives me a long handle that fits comfortably in both hands. For stock longer than 4', I employ pushpads to help start the board through and then finish with my pushblock.

9. Are there easy ways to remove white water ring marks on furniture?

—William Owens, Omaha, Nebraska

Absolutely. Items like a hot teapot or a sweaty cool drink can both result in white rings in a furniture finish. A common way to remove them is to place a lint-free cloth, such as a T-shirt rag, over the affected area. Then, with an iron set at medium, iron the cloth. Lift the cloth to see if the white water stain is gone. Repeat if it’s not.

If worried about damaging the finish, a safer option is Liberon Furniture Ring Remover (Woodcraft #826133, $18.50). Apply the liquid with a cloth and rub the area in a circular motion. Let dry, then buff.

10. What’s the best way to finish pine for a blotch-free appearance?

—Ned Gelinas, Waverly, Virginia

Pine can be a tricky wood to stain. The lighter, softer earlywood in pine grain absorbs stain much more than the harder, darker latewood. Add in the very absorbent end grain, and it’s understandable why many woodworkers simply clear-finish pine or paint it. I first sand the pine parts through 220 grit and sand end grain up to 320 grit to help control absorption.

While some use a sanding sealer for stain control, I wipe on a nonpenetrating gel stain (such as Gel Stain by General Finishes); it builds color without blotching. Try it on a sample first to see how the product works. After application, allow the gel stain to dry for a day before finishing with your favorite oil-based urethane.  

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