Tips & Tricks: Issue 92

Over the past 15 years, we’ve published hundreds of great tips and tricks to help you along your woodworking journey. They have included everything from cleverly designed jigs and shop storage solutions to innovative approaches to milling, marking, joinery, clamping, and finishing. Here, we reach back over the last decade and a half to pluck 15 time-honored perennials from that bounty. Enjoy!

Flush-routing plugs

I’ve found that a router equipped with a straight or spiral flute bit does a much faster job of cutting plugs flush than the old saw-and-chisel approach, with much less tear-out as a bonus. I simply adjust the tip of the router bit shy of the workpiece surface by about the thickness of a sheet of loose-leaf paper, and then tilt the router to lower the spinning bit onto the end of the plug. The few thousandths of an inch of plug projection that remains is easily sanded or scraped away.

A laminate trimmer works best because of its maneuverability and small footprint. However, sometimes adjacent plugs prevent setting the subbase completely onto the work surface. In that case, you may have to trim a few plugs the old-fashioned way to create a landing pad for the base.

—George Aspinall, Tacoma, Washington

Self-supporting vertical drilling jig

Here’s a simple jig for your drill press that will come in handy the next time you need to bore a vertical hole in the end of a pen blank, post, or any other long workpiece. Unlike other versions that simply clamp to the table, my jig bolts to it. This allows the jig’s support bar to pivot easily for repositioning without risking a fall to the floor.

Use these dimensions as a starting point. If you have a large auxiliary table, lengthen the bar to suit. (If your table has T-slots, replace the hex head bolt with a T-bolt.) To use the jig, swing the drill press table clear of the bit, bolt the jig in place, and then clamp the workpiece to the fence and base as shown. When the workpiece is in position, use an F-clamp to lock the bar to the table, and then drill your hole.

—Joe Hurst, senior editor

Vise pads for power-tool mounting

It can be difficult to rout or sand small workpieces with portable power tools. In those cases, it’s best to take the work to the tool instead of the other way around. But what do you do if you don’t have a router table or stationary sander? Well, you could construct a custom platform of some sort for your router or sander, but there’s an easier approach. I just cut some appropriately sized pads from 3/4"-thick rigid insulation and squeeze the tool in my vise between the pads. The soft, but firm material conforms to the tool, holding it very securely without damaging it. If necessary, knife out any sections on the pads to accommodate large protrusions, and make sure not to block any tool vents.

—Roger Townshend, New Britain, Connecticut

Paper rags at the ready

For cleanup around the shop, I use paper rags like those sold in boxes at home supply stores. They’re convenient to use, but tearing off a perforated section can be a two-handed hassle, with one hand (often already fouled with finish) to hold the box, and the other to rip away the necessary rags. The easy fix is to store the box upside down in a cabinet whose bottom has been drilled to create a dispensary hole for the rags. A quick, one-handed sideways pull is all it takes to free up whatever length you want. If you don’t have a suitable cabinet, you can create a simple shelf for the job, mounting it to a wall or perhaps between overhead joists.

—Carl Rettiger, Billings, Montana

Camera phone tripod mount

A camera phone makes it easy to photograph your completed projects before they slip the shop and your memory. It also allows you to record videos of complicated jig setups and hard-to-remember procedures, making the job easier the next time. I find that using a tripod helps enormously, especially when including hands-at-work to help demonstrate a technique. To mount my phone, I cobbled together the unit shown. To make one yourself, size the pieces and locate the lens port to suit your particular model. Epoxy a 1/4-20 T-nut in the bottom piece to connect to a typical tripod head.

—Lee Wimbs, Greensboro, North Carolina

How to grain-wrap a box 

A mitered box looks best when the grain runs uninterrupted around the corners. To perform this trick, begin with stock that’s twice the desired thickness of your finished wall, plus 1/4" or so for milling. Rip it to finished width, and about 1/4" longer than the combined length of 2 contiguous walls. Lay the walls out to length in the order shown in the top drawing, lettering the individual parts for reorientation later. After resawing the stock, plane it to final thickness, and then cut the pieces to length. To lay out the miters, first swap the pieces as shown in the top 2 drawings, which effectively turns the blank inside-out. After cutting the miters and joining the letter-matched ends, one pair of diagonally opposed box corners will exhibit continuous grain, and the opposite corners will be book-matched. Nice!

—Geoffrey Noden, Trenton, New Jersey

Rule depth gauge as mini square

When it comes to hand-cutting dovetails, precision matters. For the joint to fit well, the baseline shoulders and the tail cheeks must be square to the faces of the boards, and the pin cheeks must be square to the ends of the boards. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to maneuver a regular square into place to check those surfaces, especially with closely spaced dovetails. However, you can repurpose a rule depth gauge to do the job. Designed to measure the depth of dadoes, mortises, and other recesses, its narrow blade also easily slips into pin sockets to allow checking dovetail cheeks and baseline shoulders. Likewise, you can retract the blade and place the tool’s stock against the end of a pinboard to check pin cheeks. To locate the tool, type “rule depth gauge” into your search browser.

—Ric Hanisch, Quakertown, Pennsylvania

Laminate-sawing auxiliary fence

When feeding plastic laminate on the table saw, the material tends to pinch in the gap under the rip fence. It also wants to ride on top of the spinning blade if the sheet isn’t held down. Furthermore, the heel of a push stick too often slips upward off of the thin stock. This simple jig neatly solves all three problems. Make the parts from plywood or MDF, gluing the riser strip to the bottom edge of the auxiliary fence. This configuration prevents the material from slipping under the rip fence, and lifts it enough for a push stick heel to easily catch. The hold-down, of course, prevents lifting.

I use double-faced tape to attach the hold-down board in case I need to raise it more than 1/8" to accommodate acrylic or other slightly thicker material. The hold-down is a few inches shorter than the auxiliary fence to allow inspection of workpiece/fence contact at both ends of the fence. For most cuts, you can simply clamp the jig to your rip fence. However, clamps can impede push stick travel on very narrow cuts, in which case I attach the jig to my rip fence with double-faced tape, applying clamp pressure to the taped areas for a few moments to ensure a good bond.

—Paul Anthony, senior editor

Accurate inside measurements

I find that taking inside measurements of a cabinet using a common tape rule can be iffy because the tape won’t bend completely into a corner for a dead-on read. To get an accurate measurement, I incorporate a stick of wood cut precisely to an easy-to-add length, such as 10". Holding one end of the stick against one cabinet side, I extend the tape to the opposite cabinet side and note the measurement at the extended end of the stick. Adding 10" to that measurement gives me the precise interior width of the cabinet.

—Paul Kellam, Visalia, California

Finishing turntable

When faced with spray-finishing a half-dozen Windsor chairs, I realized that I needed a rotating platform. When I remembered seeing a design for a turntable built around the concept of one pipe slipped inside another, I headed to the hardware store to buy the parts, and found that 3/4" ID galvanized pipe can nestle nicely inside 1" ID galvanized pipe. (But double-check, because some pipe diameters vary.) I had one end of each pipe threaded, and bought the appropriate pipe flanges and mounting screws, along with a 3/16 × 2" bolt.

Back at the shop, using a scrapwood V-cradle at the drill press, I drilled a row of 7/32"-dia. holes through the larger pipe, screwed each pipe flange to a piece of 3/4" plywood, and slid the pipes together. Voila! A turntable! To adjust the height for comfortable spraying of smaller pieces, I simply slip the 3/16" bolt into the chosen pipe hole, where it serves as a rest for the bottom of the 3/4" ID pipe. In use, rotate the top platform clockwise to prevent the flange from unscrewing from the pipe.

—Marlon Rappaport, Newport, Rhode Island

Aluminum angle winding sticks

Winding sticks provide a time-honored way to check the flatness of workpieces or assemblies. Used in pairs, winding sticks are placed parallel to each other at opposite ends of, for example, a board being hand-planed. To check for twist, or “wind,” crouch so that your eyes are level with the top edges of the sticks, and then sight across them with both eyes open. Any deviation in the flatness of the surface will be immediately apparent.

Traditionally, winding sticks are made from straight-grained, identically sized pieces of hardwood–often of strongly contrasting colors for easy sighting.

The problem with wood is that it can warp over time, requiring occasional redressing. Instead, I use aluminum angle from my local home supply store. (For straightness and rigidity, get the 1/8"-thick stock.) To provide contrast, crown one with black electrical tape.

—Will Murphy, San Francisco, California

Multipurpose crosscut sled

If you have a crosscut sled for your tablesaw, you actually have much more than a crosscut sled. What you have is a sliding base to which you can attach all sorts of custom fences and hold-downs to accommodate specialty cuts. For example, say you need to saw multiple plywood gussets for a project. Simply tack or screw two fences to your sled base, as shown, to quickly and accurately make the cuts. You can even outfit the sled with fences and hold-downs to safely cut tapers on small workpieces. Using a sled like this can be a great labor-saving alternative to making dedicated jigs that will see service only once or twice.

—Paul Anthony, senior editor

Crosscutting short pieces

Over the years, I’ve seen a variety of jigs for holding short pieces to be crosscut on a power mitersaw. Some incorporate toggle clamps and other hold-downs to secure the work while keeping your hands a safe distance from the blade.

These setups are fine for guys who love to make jigs. Me, I like to keep things simple. I usually crosscut small pieces using a technique I call “bridge-clamping.” All you need is a short piece of wood the same width as the one you’re cutting and a stout stick at least 12" long. Position your workpiece for the cut, and then firmly hold it in place by bridging over from the fulcrum scrap as shown, keeping your hand a safe distance from the blade. This same technique works on a crosscut sled or miter gauge extension fence.

—Peter Ashton, Sacramento, California

Simple tapering at the tablesaw

I was working on an outdoor seating project recently that called for tapering some 3/4"-thick boards. I own a tapering jig, but it wasn’t big enough for the job. So, to make the cuts, I used a straight-edged board to serve as a guide against the rip fence. After marking out the taper on a workpiece, I used double-faced tape to attach the guide board, aligning its fence-bearing edge parallel to my cutline. (If marring the workpiece isn’t an issue, you can use nails instead.) At that point, it was a simple matter of ripping to the cutline in the usual fashion.

—Mark Clement, Phoenix, Arizona

Hinge as a drawer stop

When I make a project with simple wooden drawer guides, I like to add an outward stop to prevent the drawer from accidentally being pulled all the way out and spilling its contents on the floor. Of all the techniques I’ve tried, one of the simplest and most effective is to screw a hinge to the rear edge of the top rail. Locating the hinge so that only part of the lower leaf extends below the rail creates an effective stop that can easily be lifted up out of the way when you want to remove the drawer. 

—James Hoyt, Lexington, Nebraska

Back to blog Back to issue