Tips & Tricks: Issue 17

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This article is from Issue 17 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Breadboard Epiphany

I NEVER HAD ANY FORMAL WOODWORKING TRAINING – not even a high school shop class – so most of my knowledge comes from publications like this one. I’ve read several articles about making breadboard ends for tabletops, and the illustrations always show the boards that make up the field of the table cut with intermittent tenons – but without explanation.  

Until recently, I didn’t understand why this was necessary; it seemed to me a continuous tenon was easier to make and served the same purpose. Several years ago, I made a breakfast table with breadboard ends out of cherry (4" wide and more than 1" thick) with this simpler method. As I expected, the field expands slightly beyond the end boards in the summer, but the tabletop as a whole has remained perfectly flat. After several seasons, I concluded that the intermittent tenon design was just an unnecessary, fussy detail.

But recently, I built an oak desk with breadboard ends (1½" wide and ¾" thick), sticking with the continuous tenon. In the summer, the field of the desktop moved just like the table, but a slight “crown” developed at the inside center of the breadboards, up to about 1/16". Using a straightedge, it was easy to see the end boards had opened up in the middle.

Now I understand the purpose of the intermittent tenon; it has nothing to do with the field of the tabletop, but rather keeps the end boards flat. Obviously the thick cross section and closed grain of the cherry tabletop did not move like the thicker cross section and open grain of the oak top. The oak boards taught me a lesson, and now I’m passing that lesson along to you.

— Ken Bayer, Pittsburgh

What a Ratchet

THERE ARE LOTS OF JIGS for gluing up frames, both homemade and manufactured. I find that straps with a tightening ratchet work perfectly without a jig. For wide material, the joints line up automatically at a right angle as long as care is taken cutting the miters. For narrower material it is necessary to use a square inside the corners to make sure the frame is correct. A piece of wax paper inside the strap over the corner prevents squeeze-out from getting on the strap. Ratcheted straps from U-Haul or an automotive store work fine and are much less expensive than those found at wood stores.

— Don Ernst, Olympia, Wash.

A Formula for Perfect Dovetails 

THOUGH A SLIDING BEVEL CAN BE USED to mark dovetails, a dovetail marker is easier to use and more accurate. You can buy one of many varieties, but shop-made markers are cheaper and customizable. I made my marker out of a small piece of red oak from my scrap pile. It measures about 2" x 2¼" x ¾" wide, with a 1:6 slope, and took less than half an hour to make, using only hand tools.

Find a piece of scrap ¾" or 1" wide and about 7" long. Find the midpoint on the end of the piece and mark it, then mark across the piece the proportional distance of the slope. For example, a 1"-wide piece would be marked ½" in from each edge, so for a 1:6 ratio the length is calculated 6 x ½" (3"). For a 1:8 ratio on a ¾"-wide piece, make your mark at 8 x 3/8" (also 3"). Draw your slope lines from the center point to the place where this mark meets the edge of the piece, and cut the piece. Saw and plane down exactly to the lines. Cut another piece from your scrap approximately the same length and join them perfectly square to each other.

— Isaac Stafstrom, Madison, Wisc. 

Clearly Cheaper

GLASS CAN BE USED AS A WOOD SCRAPER with the same results as a metal scraper. You can find 1/8" window glass scrap pieces at your hardware store for little to nothing. A plus in using glass is it can be cut straight or in any curve you need for the job. 

To be safe, use a wood jig or gloves. I’ve also found glass to be efficient for removing old paint from wood.

—Walter E. Erck, Mt. Prospect, Ill.

Just the Right Angle

THERE ARE TIMES WHEN YOU HAVE TO DRILL a piece of wood that just won’t fit in a drill press, such as when drilling into the ends of long boards. Guiding a drill in at exactly 90˚ is tricky, and I usually get one of the holes at a bit of an angle by accident. So I came up with this simple horizontal boring jig, which consists of a piece of wood precisely aligned with the shaft of the drill and mounted on top. With the piece to be drilled clamped next to it, this allows precise guiding of the upside-down drill at a right angle into the wood. 

A lot of drills have a cylindrical section just behind the chuck which serves as a good primary attachment point for the jig. Measure this area (both my drills measure 43 mm) and see if you have a matching Forstner bit to cut a hole in a block of wood for the front attachment. I had to use a slightly smaller bit (13/8") and graze a little off on the bandsaw (after cutting it in half) for a good fit. Attach the bottom half to the board with two long screws. 

When you attach the top half to hold the drill in place, you want the screws to engage only in the bottom piece. Therefore, expand the holes in the top with a larger drill bit. Permanently attach a rear block near the handle, cut to fit the drill. Repeatedly test the setup for straightness and rigidity as you go.

Here’s another tip for using your jig: When drilling multiple holes into the same piece, place spacers between the guide piece and the drill jig to avoid reclamping the workpiece, especially if you are drilling multiple pieces.

— Matthias Wandel, Waterloo, Ontario


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