The Toolbox: Issue 1

The Thin Air Press Kit from Roarockit

Have you ever wanted to try a veneer laminating project or maybe make a bent laminated form, but were reluctant to buy an electric vacuum pump and bag system costing a few hundred dollars? The Roarockit Skateboard Company (yes, you read it right – a skateboard company) has come up with an inexpensive and ingenious way to vacuum-veneer wood. They call it the Thin Air Press Kit.

This well-thought-out kit is designed for woodworkers and the technology is simple – basically a hand pump and vacuum bag combined with a one-way valve attached to the bag, sealing tape, breather netting (for even air evacuation) and illustrated instructions. The Thin Air Press can be used to laminate veneers onto solid wood, or for veneer bending using many layers of veneers over a mold. 

Roarockit’s expertise in the skateboard industry has been in creating deck-laminating kits. The process was invented by Ted and Norah Hunter while teaching classes of kids how to build skateboards in Hawaii. They now supply deck-building kits to schools and groups all over the world. Ted originally developed the Thin Air Press Kit to make it easy for kids of all ages to vacuum-laminate a skateboard deck using precut veneers and a one-sided foam mold. 

I found the Thin Air Press Kit easy to use right out of the box. The vacuum bag, measuring 14" x 47", is made from heavy-gauge vinyl with electronically sealed seams that do not leak. It takes less than a minute of pumping to pull all the air out of the bag as your project takes on its new shape. The pump and valve will create and hold a vacuum of 26hg – on a typical project, that’s about 3,000 lbs of pressure. The one-way valve allows you move the bag out of your way while waiting for the glueup to cure. 

After the glue has dried, your project can be removed by releasing the seal on the vacuum bag. All kit components can be reused to make many, many projects.

The breather netting can be a little frustrating to slide over veneer without snagging (I found cutting the netting so I could drape it over bent forms was easier and just as effective). 

The plastic pump must be pushed down firmly on the valve, which in turn must be set on the breather netting to get good evacuation of the bag. 

But for only $54.99, whether you are a professional woodworker or a hobbyist, the Thin Air Press Kit is an easy way to expand your projects into vacuum veneering or form bending.

For more information contact Roarockit at (416) 938-4588, or visit

− Tim Rinehart

Miller Dowel

Dowel joints have probably been around since the dawn of woodworking. Although not a perfect joinery technique, there are nonetheless dozens of woodworking applications where dowel joinery is the right choice. It’s hard to imagine refining or improving something as basic as hammering a cylindrical piece of wood into hole, but the folks at Miller Dowel Co. of Winnetka, Ill., have done just that. 

The Miller Dowel is a stepped dowel that fits snugly into a hole drilled by a special drill bit, which is stepped in the same profile as the dowel. Each dowel has four distinct diameters along its length (the smallest Miller dowels have three), offering a larger gluing surface for added strength.

The stepped design also eliminates two of the main drawbacks to traditional dowel joinery. 

Hammering a traditional dowel into a glue-filled hole is difficult because of the pistonlike effect. The moment a regular dowel is inserted, the hole is sealed. Trapped air and glue ahead of the dowel increase pressure, making the dowel harder to seat with each hammer blow. In some cases the dowel sets up before being properly seated.

That same buildup of glue and pressure ahead of the dowel can also cause a “blow-out” in thin-walled stock, with a sudden geyser of glue bursting through the surface as the dowel seats. (I experienced just such an occurrence when building the P.O. box bank project that appears on page 16.) Because the Miller dowel is stepped, however, you can insert it most of its length into a hole before the sides make contact, sealing the hole. This minimizes the piston effect and allows the dowel to seat more effectively. The ribbed surface of each stepped portion of the dowel further helps to avoid blow-out, while at the same time adding surface area to increase the strength of the glue joint.

The design of the stepped profile on each dowel adds another benefit. Because the steps aren’t equally spaced, the shoulder of the full-diameter dowel head seats first, and acts similarly to the head of a nail or screw to pull the joint together as it fully seats.

The dowels come in three sizes for standard woodworking tasks, with each requiring its own drill bit: 2X for material ranging from 3/4" to 1-3/4", 1X for 3/4" material, and Mini X for use with stock 1/2" or thinner. The company has recently introduced a fourth dowel, the 1XSR, specifically for pre-assembly of automated flat-panel processing that can be used in line- and edge-boring systems.

All dowels are currently available in birch, cherry, walnut and red oak, but the company plans to introduce additional domestic and tropical species in the near future. Dowels and drill bits are sold both separately and as bundled kits.

For more information contact Miller Dowel at (866) 966-3734, or visit

 − A.J. Hamler  

Triton 18-Volt Cordless Plunge Drill

When it comes to cordless drills, there’s not much that can beat the power or longevity of an 18-volt tool. But along with that extra power comes extra weight; sometimes these beefy cordless tools are heavy enough to affect accuracy in actual working situations. Drilling perfectly vertical holes – or perfectly horizontal ones, for that matter – can be difficult even in the best of situations, even more so if you’re fighting the weight of a large 18-volt battery.

Triton Workshop Systems, based in Australia, has addressed the issue by introducing the TDC001 18-volt cordless plunge drill. Describing how it works is simple: Just think of a plunge router, and you’ve got it.

A pair of spring-loaded steel rods is recessed into the drill’s body; on the other end of the rods is the plunge base, a ring-shaped platform that rests against the workpiece. Hold the plunge base firmly against your stock, and it’s impossible not to drill a perfect 90-degree hole just about every time. The plunge mechanism’s length of travel is sufficient for most drill bits up to 5" in length, but an included snap-on extender spool will give you another inch of travel length. 

For times when you don’t need the plunge function, the mechanism locks out of the way in the retracted position.

As valuable as the plunge function is, some of the ancillary functions of the mechanism itself – in conjunction with the included accessories – earn this drill’s keep. An auxiliary V-base snaps onto the plunge base to give the drill a few functions you’re probably not used to.

The V-base has a pair of 90-degree guide blocks that can be fitted over round and angled objects. Orient the V-base to the outside, and you can nestle the plunge base over a pipe, dowel, handrail or similar round object and drill a perfectly vertical hole in the exact center. 

Flip the V-base around, and the drill becomes a captive drill press – dowels or other round stock can be fed into the plunge base for center-line drilling. Attach the included edge fence to the V-base, and it’s possible to drill a series of holes at an exact distance from a workpiece edge.

Finally, a depth stop mounted on the left plunge rod can be tightened to ensure a consistent hole depth for specific applications.

The drill features a 1/2" Jacobs single-sleeve keyless chuck, two-speed gearbox with a 24-position clutch, a built-in LED work light, hammer drill function switch, and a looped web carrying strap. 

In the kit box you’ll also find a one-hour charger, a pair of 18-volt batteries, and the attachments. There is also a nifty little onboard tool tray that snaps in place between the battery and the base of the handle that keeps drills and driver bits close at hand.

The Triton TDC001 sells for a suggested retail price of $289. At first glance, the price may seem high. But the added functionality provided by the included accessories makes it money well spent.

For more information contact Triton at (888) 874-8661, or visit

 − A.J. Hamler 

Tite-Mark Marking, Mortising and Scoring Gauge

Whether you do joinery with hand tools, power tools or a combination of both, accurate layout lines are essential. And the Tite-Mark gauge from Glen-Drake Toolworks delivers that and more.

 Designed for one-handed use, the heart of the Tite-Mark is its micro-adjustable fence, consisting of a head, a tail and a micro-adjusting connector. After sliding the fence close to the mark and locking the tail, turn the micro-adjusting connector to set the head exactly where you want it. 

With a full inch of micro-adjustable travel range, the Tite-Mark’s fence gives you precise, repeatable settings, and the hardened tool-steel blade gives you tight, crisp lines. The optional scoring blade may be used to score thin wood for snapping, or for slicing veneers, leather and other thin materials. The optional mortise blades can be gang-mounted to lay out complex joinery including double and triple mortise-and-tenon joints. The mortise blades are easily adjusted by floating them against the fence, and then using the fence’s micro-adjust feature to push them into position. All of the Tite-Mark’s blades are ready for use right out of the box, can be easily re-honed, and can be used for paring tasks as well.

A recess in the head allows the marking blade to be retracted for protection. And with the blade retracted, the Tite-Mark will stand on its head, a nice feature for a crowded bench. Another nice touch is a nylon screw that adjusts the tension between the rod and the fence.

As with most fine tools, high quality, accuracy and versatility come at a price. The Tite-Mark sells for $79.99. 

For more information contact Glen-Drake Toolworks at (707) 961-1569, or visit

− Tim Rinehart

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