Category Archives: Tips

My second commission – part 11


As promised we will look into the process of jointing, gluing, and inserting dovetail keys into the top of the table in part eleven of our journey.

The rest of this particular chronicle can be found here.

The Kershout boards in the picture below were prepared up to this point towards the end of last year and has since been kicking it with my 1969 MGB in a separate garage.

The first task is to arrange the boards as best as you can with regards to colour matching and balancing out defects. This is where you whip out your artistic licence. This is after all a tribute to the legendary George Nakashima.

I took the opportunity to see what the trapezoid leg would add to the overall look. The top looks very light in colour (in this picture), but I can assure you that it will be transformed to a very dark reddish brown once the finish is applied. The Kershout dovetail keys contrasts exquisitely with the lighter Witpeer boards that makes up the trapezoid leg. I also like the darker lines created by the defects on the leg. It was strategically place to balance out from an aesthetic point of view. We will see later in this post how the reverse of the mentioned timber combination has a similar effect with regards to the top.

As you can see here my bench really came into it’s own working on the edges of these boards during the jointing process. I first prepared the edges so that they were close to the desired configuration, which is a very slight bow in the length.

Then the boards are clamped together with the two edges that will mate (so to speak) flush with each other and folded much like book-matched pieces before opening the “book”. This nifty trick leads to a cancelling out of the minute error that might arise in squareness of these edges with regards to each other. This technique is sometimes referred to as match planing.

Didi gave me a few pointers.

The Kershout is so ridiculously hard that I had to resort to using an alternating attack with my Lie-Nielsen low angle Jack plane armed with a toothed blade and a Shaw’s Patent Sargent no. 14C armed with an aggressively cambered blade.

Once the artillery softened up the enemy, I moved on to this shop made jointer plane to finish off the job.

I find my Festool Domino to be a very useful tool to keep the edges flush during glue-up.

It has become my custom to do only one of these edge joints at any one time given the short window to get the job done in our dry climate. Each joint is then left in the clamps for at least 16 hours. In other words, I tend to leave the glue-up for my final task each day. It is usually done at around 17h00 and left over night until around 09h00 the next morning.



Ready for the final glue-up.

I had to buy a set of 1.3m long 1″ pipes for my pipe clamps in order to do this final glue-up. Of course, as you would expect, my 1.2 meter wide assembly table was too narrow to accommodated the clamps for this glue-up. The situation therefore necessitated some problem solving on my behalf.

As you can see here a piece of wood (for each of the bottom clamps) was cantilevered off the edge of the table held in place by a clamp through a dog hole. Oh! … and yes, in case you wondered, it is my daughter’s “Biscuit finds a friend”. My English is not advanced enough to indulge in such haute literate.

As I have mentioned before, a mere mortal tends to sweat like a Gypsy with a mortgage during our sweltering rainy season. Didi is the master of African Climate Control (aka toplessness).

… and Bob’s your Uncle.

I modified the strip of wood that links my trammel points to draw a curve to soften the appearance of both ends of the top.

Marking the location of the dominos like this helps to remember where they are when further shaping is done.

The waste was removed with an electric jigsaw. It is a crappy old Black & Decker that I bought many moons ago while still living in New Zealand. I do not use it very often to start with and do not recall ever calling upon it to munch through Kershout. As most things you do for the first time there were a few lesson to be learnt. These things (for lack of a better insult) cut on the pull stroke, which translates into a messy splitting out of fibres at the top edge. Therefore (in hind sight) it is desirable to have the bottom of the top facing the jigsaw when doing this job. Secondly, I realised that I used a blade that was too aggressive, which did not help either.

On the flip side, this indiscretion coerced me into a design tweak that might (or might not) add an interesting twist. You will have to wait and see just like me.

Another reason I chose this shape for the ends of the top, is to enhance the appearance of it being sliced from a massive tree trunk. The idea is that this shape resembles the end of a trunk that was chopped off by axe. If you imagine a board cut from a trunk like the one in the first photo below, it would probably resemble the top of my table as seen in the picture below. That is in my mind anyway, you might feel different.

Then it became time to fashion a few dovetail keys to stabilise the obvious cracks in the top.

I worked out how many is needed of each size.

Here I tried to work out where to place the keys with regards to my sense of (randomly planned) artistic balance. The picture below was not the final version that was decided on, but somewhere towards getting there.

For the design of the keys I chose an angle of 9º, which repeats all through the design of the table. This is an idea you might want to consider. You draw only one key, chopped off at different lengths, and write on the template the number of keys needed of each length. It is then cut out, traced onto the wood as many times as the key tells you and then you chop off the ends and repeat on the next sized key. This way they all have the same shape, but of different lengths in an attempt to add visual interest.

As so.

The keys were liberated from the above Witpeer board by means of a bandsaw.


Another useful trick is illustrated below. Clamping a piece of scrap wood across the top to hold the dovetail key firmly in place while it’s exact configuration gets marked out on the top.

Drilling out the waste by hand in such hard wood is no joke. “Trust you me”, as they say around these parts.

Enter: Lie-Nielsen merchandise in tandem with my trusty shop made Assegaai mallet. I chose the mallet as I needed a bit more heft than what the so-called Je ne sais quoi Persuader can deliver. When working “stone”, the extra heft is a must.

The lazy winter sun give us a better idea of the warm colours of the Kershout as it infiltrates my shop during the late afternoon.

It seems as if this post is riddled with tips, so here is another one. In order to see the scribe line better, one can have a small torch lying on the top to cast a shadow into the line. On my bench this is usually accomplished by positioning the bench light in a similar fashion, but clearly this top is too big to take to the bench.

Once the key enter it’s mortise like this I stop refining the fit. The key is then clobbered home after a frugal application of Epoxy, which acts as lubricant as well as an adhesive. The clobbering is done with a heavy mallet furnished with a thick sealskin face (not pictured).

As you can see here (minus the heavy mallet).

One week later the keys were planed flush using the two planes pictured.

As you can see the Witpeer keys contrasts nicely with the Kershout, much in the same way as the opposite combination works splendidly in the trapeziod leg.

We will get into the preparation of the top for finishing and the key bits of joinery in our next riveting edition of this series.

Winter wooden hand planes


In 2013 I built a comprehensive (or it felt like that at least) set of wooden planes during the winter. They worked wonderfully well until the humidity shot up during the rainy season. This was not a surprise as I planned to only use them during the dry season, which is most of the year anyway here in Windhoek. I knew about this tendency of the wooden planes to go out of flat with the change in seasons from all the reading I did before embarking on the building phase. One author recommended that one should actually build a winter set and a summer set, then you never have to re-flatten them.

We had a fairly wet rainy season this year and the humidity in my shop continued to fluctuate between 50-75% until mid May. I kept checking my wooden planes to see when they would return to their flat state. One week ago I started thinking that they might never return to this state without encouragement. I started developing theories on why that might be, ranging from poor workmanship to wrong grain orientation to flaws of the laminated construction/design and many more.

Finally one evening last week I decided to coerce them back into working order using 3M adhesive backed sandpaper on glass. To my surprise when I checked the soles on the flat glass prior to the planned coercion, they were spot on back to flat. It thus took about a month from the time the ambient humidity got back to around 30% (which was the humidity at which they were built and flattened) for them to return to their flat state. While I was at it I decided to do a light sanding anyway.


All the planes were exactly the same, but these pictures of the jointer illustrates it best. In the pictures below you can see how the sole looked like after a few light passes over the sandpaper. The toe, the area around the mouth and the heel were all in the same plane. That is exactly what you want for a well functioning plane. I continued to sand it all into the same plane, but it only took a few more very light passes. I can therefore confirm that these planes return to their flat state once back at the ambient humidity it was last flattened at. In this case it took about 4 weeks.


Helpful charts tip

I like sticking up laminated documents next to my bench/assembly table with useful information that I need on a regular basis. In the first picture you can see a range of these documents. These pictures were actually taken quite some time ago, which means that the documents has since multiplied a smidgen, but you can get the idea.

The closeup picture show a chart with the various different clearance hole and pilot hole diameters for screw sizes 3 to 12 and a chart with the different speed settings recommended for my Festool TS55 circular saw depending on the material being cut. Below those (on the first picture) you can see three different conversion charts to help me to quickly convert imperial measurements to metric. The one that looks a bit like a ruler is by far the most useful, as it has all those confusion fractions like 7/16″ or 3/8″ or 15/32″ on one side of the ruler and you simply read off the metric equivalent on the other.



I found an excellent article on design entitled “A guide to good design” by Graham Blackburn in Fine Woodworking Magazine (January/February 2004) explaining how to use Phi (φ), the Golden Ratio and a Fibonacci Series to design objects with pleasing proportions. I made up a document with all the most pertinent bits of information, added a few drawings of my own, laminated it, and stuck it on the wall for easy access.



3/10/2013 – Since I wrote this post I have added a few things. As you can see there are two showing the different angles used when sharpening a rip vs crosscut handsaw, a chart showing the different files that should be used for the fore mentioned, and an illustration giving some guidance as to the various cambers used for different types of hand plane irons.


Wooden plane-building tip

As you might have noticed I am in the process of building a series of wooden planes at the moment. I spent at least 8 months collecting info in the form of a book, a DVD, heaps of articles, and dozens of Google images on the topic. During this time I also consulted (and still do) my number one source of sound woodworking advice in the form of Deneb Puchalski of Lie-Nielsen.

During the last few days before diving into the actual building process, I made up a Word document with the most pertinent bits of information such as measurements for the positioning of the cross-pin, positioning of the toe and heel piece relative to each other, etc etc. I then printed it and got it laminated as you can see in the pictures below. I keep the two pages (actually four if you consider that they are printed on both sides) of information on my assembly table while I work away at the planes. It is very handy to simply lean across to check a particular measurement or what ever the case might be.

I deliberately did not take close-up photos for fear of violating copyright, but I guess you can get the idea. Anyway, in terms of measurements, I found the article entitled “Wood planes made easy” by David Finck in Fine Woodworking Magazine (January/February 2008 page 72-77) very helpful and it forms the bulk of my document. He also wrote a book entitled “Making & Mastering Wood Planes”, which would be good to get hold of.


Glue roller

A problem I have encountered as a result of the very dry climate (ambient humidity 30-35% in my shop during winter months) and frequently needing to laminate heaps of small pieces of wood together has been the short open-time of the PVA glue I use. The reason why I need to laminate is the nature of the hardwood boards I have. There are very few of these boards that one can use as is. For most of them I need to cut a whole heap of smaller pieces to make up bigger ones by lamination. If you have a look at the post I wrote on my “Legvise with a twist” you can get a better idea of what I mean.

The problem then becomes one of trying to apply adequate amounts of PVA to all these surfaces and clamp before the glue dries. The first improvement  to my technique was to use a paintbrush to apply the PVA, rather than the off-cut (shaped like a spatula) of wood I used to use. Then I saw someone using a roller and it seemed so much more efficient. Problem was that the only ones I could find to buy was the ones supposed to be used for paint. They are soft and would absorb more glue than apply.

As per usual I then decided to modify an old paint roller to serve my specific needs to a tee. I turned the cylinder in the pictures below out of witpeer wood. In order to create an area that would be very resitant against wear I epoxied a penny-washer to both ends of the cylinder, as you can see below.


Once that was set I tested the cylinder on an old paint roller handle. It seemed to work well.


I then treated the wooden cylinder with more than ten coats of floor varnish thinned with mineral turpentine. This was an attempt to keep the worse of the moisture on the surface rather than in the wood, as using and cleaning a tool like this will inevitably expose it to lots of H2O.


The final product has sped up my glue application with a vengeance.



In action on a plane to be.


11/11/2013 – Over the past week or so I improved the glue roller by removing the horrible plastic handle and replacing it with a shop turned witpeer one. If you are interested, I wrote an entire post on how I made these handles (mainly as file handles) under the hand tool category. The only way I could get rid of the plastic handle was to cut it away using my bandsaw. I then cut thread into the stainless steel rod that was left and screwed it into the handle with epoxy acting as cutting fluid.


Here you can see how I applied a thick layer of epoxy to prevent any moisture from getting to the end grain.


In order to hang the roller I lined a hole with this thin piece of copper pipe. After the epoxy dried I tidied up the protruding pipe and Bob’s your Uncle.





F-Style Clamp tip

If you read my opus on the building and design of my assembly table you would remember that due to it’s relatively thin top the use of holdfasts are not an option for work holding through the multitude of dogholes. Therefore I came up with the following solution, which (to be honest) was simply borrowed from Festool on which most of the design of the table was based anyway. I modified Bessey F-style clamps so that one can take them apart in order to use them through the dogholes as shown below.



Step 1: clamp it in a vise of some description.



Step 2: use a relatively fine file to remove the metal that prevents the clamp from coming apart, as illustrated in the before and after pictures below.




Epoxy tip

I find that 99% of the time I need minute amounts of Epoxy at any one time. Seeing that Epoxy is not as easy to cleanup as PVA glue I came up with the idea to mix these smatterings of adhesive in  soft drink bottle caps. In the pictures below you can see how I collect some in an empty water bottle for this purpose.


In the example below I used a beer bottle cap. I throw the caps away after use, which eliminates the needs to clean up.


PVA glue bottle tip

I got sick of filling a small PVA glue bottle from the 5 liter bucket as it is messy and takes up time that can be spent working wood. A few weeks ago I noticed that the nozzle of  the dishwashing liquid sold around these parts has the same design as a Gorilla glue bottle. This design works very well to keep the nozzle from becoming stuck with hard glue. On the local PVA glue bottles you find a screw-top that is impossible to open after a few glue-ups. The 1.5 liter bottle helps to make the refills few and far in between. You can seen the PVA glue bucket I emptied in the dishwashing bottle sitting in the basin filled with water so that it would be easier to clean.


In the last few pictures you can see what I mean with the design of the nozzle. It is very easy to use and does not necessitate lots of meticulous cleaning to keep it functioning.