Rethinking the Simple 2×4

Outfeed TableOne of the luxuries of being a woodworking magazine editor is that I get my hands on “good” wood on a pretty regular basis. Clear, straight cherry and maple are often “on deck” for projects in our magazine. Recently, I built a couple of Arts & Crafts bookcases from some nice quartersawn white oak for our first “Small Shop Journal” project (February 2013 print issue). And, without spilling the beans prematurely, I just finished a project that I built from some extraordinary ribbon stripe mahogany for our June issue. It was too wide to fit my jointer … what a problem to have, right?!

Last fall, when I needed a few 2x4s for a home improvement project I was working on, I went to Lowe’s to pick them up. There, at the top of the pile, were a few of the clearest, straightest 2x4s I’ve ever seen. Some were even quartersawn — and for a woodworker that’s pretty mind-blowing when you consider how absolutely green, checked and awful so much of the construction lumber seems to be these days. It’s a wonder it even passes inspection on the way to market. Continue reading

Exercising Your Joints

I got an email from a friend this morning asking me what I thought about Festool’s Domino joinery system. I told him I thought it was an incredibly ingenious solution for rapidly cutting mortises and that the machine itself is a marvelous (albeit expensive) tool. When I reread his email before sending my reply, it was interesting to find out that he wanted to buy the Domino specifically because he had to make a dozen or so mortise-and-tenon (M&T) joints for an upcoming project. I asked if he planned to do a lot more M&T work in the future and he said he suspected as much, but wasn’t sure.

I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised by my friend’s readiness to buy such an expensive tool, possibly for a single use. After all, if you have a task to do on your computer, iPad, smartphone or other electronic time muncher, you simply buy the right software, application or peripheral device, right? I suppose it follows that when a modern woodworker needs to cut a particular joint, they buy the machine or device that’s designed specifically for that purpose.

But has modern woodworking really come to this? I remember when I was a teenager just getting interested in furniture making, I read a story about a church on an island in Lake Onega, Russia. It is said to have been built by an anonymous master craftsman using nothing but a simple axe. The story goes that after he finished building this amazing structure, he looked at his hand holding his axe and, unwilling to consider that this same axe might create such beauty elsewhere, flung the axe into the lake! Although the story is almost certainly apocryphal, I found its tale of doing great work with simple tools inspiring.

Making something with only the tools you have on hand is not only challenging, but it can help you to become a better woodworker. This certainly has been my experience. Way back before there were fancy mortising machines, we learned to chop decent mortises with a basic chisel and mallet. I remember drooling over the cool dovetail routing system that the Canadian company Leigh introduced some decades back. As a fledgling furniture maker, I was perpetually broke, so I had to cut all my dovetails by hand. It took a lot of practice, but let me create dovetails in sizes and proportions that fit the furniture I was building — not just the capabilities of the jig.

Speaking of which, lack of money and special tools also led me to design and build many of my own jigs and fixtures. For example, I had a commission to build a sleek mahogany frame for a daybed. I wanted the piece to feature box joints in all four corners. But since the members were way too long to cut on the table saw (using a dado blade), I created a router jig to guide all the joint cuts. The jig worked so well that I ended up using it on dozens of other projects, eventually making miles of tight-fitting joints before the jig wore out.

Such circumstances not only helped me develop better hand-eye coordination, but cultivated my concentration and patience as well. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have acquired the majority of my woodworking skills if I could have just gone out and bought a new tool or ready-made jig every time I needed it. And as an added bonus, you get a lot more physical exercise sawing, chiseling, drilling and planing your joinery into existence than you do simply pushing a router around. That’s a lot more important nowadays, as I’m not as skinny (or as poor) as I used to be!

Historic Collection of Woodworking Projects Now Available

Today's Woodworker  Complete Collection CD

Here at Woodworker’s Journal, we’ve been digging deep in our archives to put together our largest collection to date of almost-forgotten projects, articles, tips, techniques and wood science. But the archives where we’ve been digging aren’t exactly Woodworker’s Journal archives — at least, not really. Confused?

Longtime readers may remember when two different magazines — Woodworker’s Journal and Today’s Woodworker — combined into the publication you know today as Woodworker’s Journal. Once that happened, Today’s Woodworker ceased publication.

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Workbench You Can Build in an Afternoon

If you're looking for a quick project this Memorial Day weekend, or any other for that matter, here's a low-cost bench option for you.

A couple weeks ago, I reported on my trusty old, cosmetically challenged workbench. The goal, really, was to support those of you out there who are more concerned with utility in your shop fixtures than high style. In other words, you build sturdy workaday shop fixtures so you can get on with more important projects. And, that’s okay in my book; I do it, too.

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Challenging My Own Claim

A few weekends ago, I ended up proving a point to myself without really setting out to do it. I needed to make a couple of boxes, and I wanted a quick but elegant solution for joining the corners together.

As it turns out, I’ve been a little delinquent lately in getting my tool test tools returned to their proper owners. It’s been pretty busy here in the shop since Christmas, and those shipping tasks keep getting pushed further down my to-do list. So, I still have the Keller 1601 Pro Series Dovetail Jigs here from our December ’09 dovetail jig review. My bad, but actually, a good coincidence.

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A Peek Behind the Curtain

Leigh1Because I am a woodworking tool geek, one of the things I really like about my job is that I not only get to see the plethora of new woodworking products as they are launched, but I often get to see them firsthand and get a demonstration of how they work.  (No tedious reading of the instruction manuals for me, no sir!)

A good example of this came recently when Matthew Grisley of Leigh Industries dropped by to demonstrate their new Super FMT Jig (http://www.leighjigs.com/superfmt.php). I have had the pleasure of knowing Matt and his family for many years now, so this demo meeting was a double treat for me. This jig forms both mortises and tenons with one setup, much like their original FMT jig, but at almost half the cost. (A great concept with all of us watching our nickels and dimes even more closely these days.)

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Turning Back to Old Friends

A new version of an old friend. This jig is modeled after one that Rob used as a young man in his dad's shop.

A new version of an old friend. This jig is modeled after one that Rob used as a young man in his dad's shop.

Regardless of the situation, when the going gets tough there is nothing like a tried-and-true friend to get you where you want to go.  Recently, I was building a pretty basic piece of woodworking for the print magazine. Building a project for a magazine is a little different than building for yourself in a couple of ways.  First, rather than simply coming up with the simplest and fastest way to get the job done, I try to include techniques and tools that our readers will find interesting and useful.  Secondly, when you are done with the project, about a quarter million people will have a chance to check out your work (and often share their opinion of said work).  So, when it came to deciding just how to plow the dadoes for the Modular Bookcases in the December 2009 issue, I went back to basics and built a copy of a jig that hung on the wall of my dad’s cabinet shop “back in the day.”

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