A Hand Tool Story

While reading Keith Mathewson's article over on ThisIsCarpentry.com titled Why Hand Tools (Still) Matter, I was thinking of how hand tools were exactly the right tool for the job I was working on in the shop last night.

I'm in the process of making a jig for cutting some evenly spaced grooves for a project I have in mind. A key part of the jig is a series of spacer blocks that I drop in each time I want to make another dado. I wanted these spacer blocks as accurate as possible to minimize accumulated error as I added more spacers.

To cut these spacers, I used the table saw. (Wait, isn't this an article about hand tools? I'm getting there, stay with me) I set the fence as close to the width that I wanted (1 inch in this case) and ripped a strip. Using my dial calipers, I measured the thickness of the piece and dicovered that it was oversize by almost 0.02 inches. By itself, not too bad, but when you combine four or five spacers that adds up to nearly 1/8 inch of error.

I could have fiddled with the table saw fence and cut several more spacers until I hit on the right width. However, I instead went to my bench, pulled out my jack plane and block plane and shaved the edge of the spacer, checking my progress with my dial calipers, until I was within about 0.002 inch of my desired thickness.

Now that I had a spacer that was the desired width, I could use the spacer to set my table saw fence accurately and rip the remaining spacer strips to the correct width.

Had I tried to make my spacer blocks solely with the table saw, I'm sure I would have had to toss a few pieces until I got it dialed in just right. By using hand planes, I was able to get the size I wanted with less time and waste. Plus it was quieter too!

How about you? What is your story about how hand tools saved the day?

My Current Favorite Wood Finish

Most of my projects, as of late, have been finished in a similar manner. I thought I'd share the process I use to get a nice smooth protective finish for my woodworking projects. This procedure is something I learned reading Michael Dresdner's The New Wood Finishing Book, a great resource for finishing wood.

The first step starts with wood preparation. Anyone with experience in wood finishing will tell you that all the best finishing techniques will come to naught if you haven't prepared the wood properly. For me, this means sanding to 150 or 220 grit. I try to sand as much as possible before assembly, since it's easier to access some surfaces at this point. Just make sure that your sanding doesn't affect your joinery. For example, sand your panels before cutting the dados they will fit in.

The first coat of finish that I apply is typically a coat of boiled linseed oil. This tends to give the wood a nice color, something that is particularly important if you're using a water-based top coat. While some don't like the yellowing effect of most oil-based finishes, I like the warm tones it gives to the wood. Water-based finishes don't usually impart any tint, so a coat or two of oil can replicate this effect to a degree. Just flood it on and wipe off the excess. Make sure to lay out the rags to dry completely or soak in water in a fireproof bucket to avoid spontaneous combustion. Let the oil dry completely before continuing.

For a top coat, I like to apply two to three coats of a polyurethane. I'm currently working through a quart of Deft polyurethane that seems to work well for me. I like to brush it on full strength, but I sometimes thin the first coat slightly with mineral spirits to get it to flow better. Between each coat, sand the finish lightly with 320 or 400 grit wet-dry sandpaper. This gives the next coat something to grab on to for better adhesion.

At this stage, the finish is still pretty rough. The final step is to finish the finish. Before going any further, let the polyurethane cure completely. This usually takes a week or two, depending on the conditions in your shop. The more humid it is, the longer the cure time.

Once the finish has cured, sand the entire surface with 400 grit serrated sandpaper backed by a sanding block. Be careful, especially around the edges, not to sand through the finish. The object here is to level the surface, removing any dust nibs, runs, brush marks and any other imperfections left on the surface. Carefully remove all the sanding dust with a vacuum, compressed air and wiping the surface down with a rag.

Now, sand the surface with 600 grit wet/dry sandpaper, using mineral spirits as a lubricant. Again, be careful not to sand too aggressively. You're just trying to remove the scratch pattern left by the previous step. Wipe off the wood to remove the sanding slurry and let it dry completely.

At this point, the finish should be looking pretty good. The final touch is to rub out the finish with steel wool and wax. Using some #0000 steel wool, apply paste wax to the finish, with the grain. Don't be afraid to apply a fair amount of pressure. For panels, I like to make short scrubbing strokes at each end and then long strokes across the entire panel. You don't want the wax to dry completely -- the wax is just being used a lubricant -- so work quickly and on small sections at a time. After you've gone over the wood about three times, wipe off the excess wax with a clean rag. To remove the remaining wax, sprinkle a little bit of water on the surface and wipe lightly with a clean piece of steel wool.

This leaves the finish with a nice smooth satin finish that just invites you to touch it.

So what is your favorite finish?

Where To Buy Woodworking Machinery

So you're ready to buy a major piece of woodworking machinery. Perhaps you're buying a table saw for your fledgling shop. Perhaps you're adding to your existing collection of woodworking machines. Where do you go to buy your tools? This post will explore some of the options of where to buy woodworking machines.

New vs. Used

When you're buying your next piece of woodworking machine, you basically have two options: new or used. Which route you decide to go with will determine where you go to buy your tools, each have their pros and cons.

The advantage of buying new is that you know it is unlikely to have any broken parts. On the off chance that there is something wrong, it's covered by the warranty. In addition, newer tools are likely to have some nicer or more refined features.

On the other hand, buying a used machine can mean that you end up paying less than new. Alternately, you can end up with a nicer machine for the same money as a lesser new machine. However, if there is a problem with the tool, you'll be out of pocket for any parts needed to repair it. In addition, it may need more cleanup than a newer tool will initially require (new tools typically need to have the rust-preventative removed before use)

Mail Order vs. Local

Where to buy your woodworking machines generally falls into two categories: online/mail order or locally. Which you choose will depend on a few different factors.

Buying online can include sites like Amazon, manufacturer sites or eBay. Buying your machines online has the advantage that you can compare features side by side from the comfort of your home. Some manufacturers only sell online, whereas others have a showroom on the other side of the country, so checking out the tool in person isn't an option. If you're looking for a somewhat obscure tool, it may not be available locally, so buying online may be the only option. Often, the price is lower than what you can find locally. However, be sure to take delivery costs into account. Machines are typically shipped using a freight service, which is certainly more expensive. In addition, you'll want to make sure your new tool can be delivered to your house. If the shipping company doesn't have a truck with a lift gate, you'll need a lot of strong friends to help you get the machine off the truck. Otherwise, be prepared to meet your new machine at the shipping terminal to accept delivery.

On the other hand, buying locally allows you look over the tool and decide if it has the features you like. The cost may appear to be higher, however you may have more options to negotiate the price. Perhaps you can talk the price down or get the seller to include some accessories or delivery as part of the deal. In addition, since the supplier is local, you can avoid any delivery charges by picking up the machine yourself (assuming you have a vehicle to do that with). In addition, the salesman should be able to answer any questions you have about the tool and show you how to use some of the features before you buy.

Where do you buy your tools? Any advantages or disadvantages I've overlooked with either method?

All Kinds of Table Saws

When I became serious about pursuing woodworking, the first major piece of machinery that I purchased was a table saw. The table saw is one of the most important pieces of equipment you can have in your woodworking shop. A table saw can cut dados, rabbets, tenons, box joints, and, yes, even ripping and cross cutting boards to width. I end up using the table saw at almost every stage of a project.

When you go shopping for a table saw, you'll quickly discover that there four types of saws on the market, which I've listed here. As you go down the list, you typically go up in quality, power, weight, and precision. Of course, the price increases accordingly.

Bench-top
These are saws you will often see at construction job sites. They're intended to be very portable and thus, fairly lightweight. The table is typically aluminum or some other lightweight alloy. The shaft holding the saw blade is typically a connected directly to a universal motor, similar to what you would find on most portable power tools (drills, routers, etc). This tends to introduce a lot of vibration in the saw and the blade.
Contractor Saw
These typically have a cast iron top with either cast iron or steel stamped wings on either side. As their name implies, they are often found on job sites as well, though their portability is somewhat questionable. Contractor table saws have a one to two horsepower motor which hangs off the back and drives the saw blade via a single belt. Dust collection is usually poor, since the entire back of the saw is open to allow for the motor and belt. However, some manufacturers are starting to introduce contractor table saw models with integrated dust shrouds around the blade. The trunions are usually attached directly to the underside of the table, which makes adjusting the table relative to the blade somewhat difficult.
Hybrid
In recent years, a new class of table saw has come on the market. These hybrid saws are close cousins to the contractor saw but with some of the features of a cabinet saw. The motor is in the one to two horsepower range and is enclosed by the saw cabinet, so dust collection is usually on par with cabinet saws.
Cabinet Saw
These are professional quality saws and are what you'll find in most cabinet shops. Cabinet saws typically have three to five horsepower motors and drive the saw blade with three belts. On cabinet saws, the trunions and the table are independently attached to cabinet. This makes it much easier to adjust the table parallel to the blade. Since the motor and trunions are completely enclosed by the saw cabinet, dust collection is typically good. These are usually the heaviest saws, which translates into less vibration and smoother cuts.

So which kind of saw should you get? If you can afford it, a cabinet saw is the way to go. It actually takes up less room in a shop compared to a contractor saw, with it's splayed legs and motor hanging off the back. If you can't afford a new one, consider a used cabinet table saw.

If you just can't swing the cost of a cabinet saw (I know I couldn't when I started), then look at the hybrid and contractor saws. If I was buying in this category today, I'd be lookin seriously at the hybrid saws (they weren't on the market when I bought my contractor saw) since they tend to have better dust collection.

While there are some bench top table saws out there that are very good, I wouldn't seriously consider one for fine woodworking. They're great if you're ripping two-by-fours or plywood when framing a house, but they just don't seem heavy enough to make the accurate cuts needed for fine furniture and the like.

So what kind of table saw do you have? Are there features of a particular class of table saw that you like? Would you buy that type of table saw again?

8 Common Woodworking Clamps

"You can never have too many clamps." It's a phrase often repeated by woodworkers. While think of clamps in terms of holding an assembly together while the glue dries, they are used throughout a project. You might clamp a board to a bench. Perhaps you'll use a clamp to hold a stop block to your miter gauge or table saw fence. Anytime you need to hold something in place while you work with it, you are likely to reach for a clamp of some kind. In this post, I'll talk about the various types of clamps that are out there and why you'd want to use one versus another.

Pipe Clamps
These clamps have been a stand-by for many woodworkers. You buy the ends of the clamp as a set and attach them to any length of iron pipe you like. Most people are familiar with the "Pony" orange pipe clamp fixtures made by Jorgensen, but there are other manufacturers as well.
Pros
  • Inexpensive
  • Can be made into any length needed
  • Plenty of clamping power
Cons
  • Heavy
  • Jaws are not parallel
  • Have to be careful in use so as not to mar the workpiece
  • Shallow reach
Bar Clamps
These clamps are similar to pipe clamps except that they come with a square or I shaped bar.
Pros
  • Resists flexing much better than pipe clamps
  • No assembly required
Cons
  • More expensive than pipe clamps
  • Somewhat heavy
  • Some versions have only pre-set positions for the movable end of the clamp.
Parallel Clamps
These clamps were first popularized by Bessey's K-Body line of clamps. As the name suggests, the main selling point of these clamps is that the faces of the clamp jaws remain parallel to each other. This makes them ideal for gluing up panels, casework, frames, and other assemblies that need to stay square. Manufacturers such as Jorgensen, Jet, and others have entered the market in recent years with their own versions of this useful clamp.
Pros
  • Deep reach
  • Jaws stay parallel
  • Wide Face
  • Stiff bar resists bowing under pressure
  • Plenty of clamping power
Cons
  • Expensive
  • Large clamp head sometimes won't fit where it's needed
F-style clamps
These are another staple in my shop. F-style clamps are useful for a variety of general purpose clamping. They have a fixed head at one end and a sliding head with a threaded handle on the other. There are also quick release versions that tighten down by just squeezing a lever, making it easier to use them one handed.
Pros
  • Useful for a variety of clamping tasks.
  • Lightweight
  • Reasonably priced
Cons
  • Unsuitable for panel glue ups
C-clamp
These clamps, named for their shape come in all different sizes. To be honest, I haven't used c-clamps much.
Pros
  • Small
  • Inexpensive
Cons
  • Slow to open and close when large adjustments in capacity are necessary.
Wooden Handscrew Clamp
These type of clamps have been around for ages. The clamp opens and closes as a result of two threaded rods. Because the rods operate independently, it's possible to skew the jaws to just about any angle. This makes it possible to hold odd shaped pieces with these clamps. Another common use is to clamp the workpiece in a wooden handscrew clamp and then clamp the clamp to your bench.
Pros
  • Hold small and odd-shaped parts well
Spring Clamps
For this clamp, think of a heavy duty clothes pin. These clamps are great for holding small parts in place for gluing or when marking or measuring.
Pros
  • Inexpensive. I picked up several at Home Depot for under $2 each.
  • Can be used one handed
Cons
  • Lightweight. These are not intended for heavy clamping.
  • They can be stiff and hard to open at their maximum capacity.
Band Clamps
As the name suggests, these clamps consist of a band with a ratcheting head used to pull the band tight around a workpiece. These clamps are good for things like mitered frames or boxes where even pressure all the way around is required.
Pros
  • Clamp capacity is limited only by the length of the band, which can be quite long.
  • Useful for mitered frames
Cons
  • Can be fussy to adjust to keep miters from slipping
  • Can damage corners if not protected by clamping blocks.

This list is far from exhaustive. There are a number of specialty clamps on the market that solve a variety of problems, from framing clamps to edge clamps and more.

So what clamps should you have in your shop? Obviously it depends, to a certain extent, on what you are doing. I generally prefer the parallel and f-style clamps most of the time, though I'll use my pipe clamps (which I bought when I was just starting out) when I've used up all the parallel clamps.

What are your favorite clamps? If you could only have one style of clamp, what would it be?

Setting Up Shop: Basic Woodworking Hand Tools

So you've decided you want to try your hand at building something with wood? Don't know what tools you'll need? Let's see if we can get you off on the right foot hand.

This is the first in a series of posts I have planned on getting your shop set up. In this episode, we'll cover some of the basic marking, measuring and hand tools you'll want to start with. Whether you plan to use power tools or not, these are tools you'll want in your shop, no matter what kind of woodworking projects you have in mind. In future posts we'll cover topics such as essential power tools, additional hand tools, finishing supplies, and where to put all this stuff.

Combination Square
Precise joinery requires accurate layout, and that starts with a good square. Over the years, you will likely own several squares. But a good combination square is a good one to start with. A combination square can be used as a marking gauge. It can measure and transfer depth and thickness, help with for power tool setup, mark 90 and 45 degree lines, and much more.
Sliding Bevel
If you ever need to make an angled cut other than 45 degrees, eventually you'll want a sliding bevel. These are basically squares that can be set to any angle and are great for transferring angles from one part to another or from plans to your parts.
Tape Measure
This should be fairly obvious. You'll need some way of measuring for layout, lengths of lumber, squaring up assemblies, etc.
Chisel Set
A good set of bench chisels are useful for a variety of tasks. They're used to trim tenons and mortises, chopping out mortises for hinches, removing excess glue and many more. Most sets come with chisel widths from 1/4 inch to 1 in width, which covers the most common cases.
Crosscut Saw
Even if you end up using power tools, it's still handy to have a hand saw around your shop. There are times when it is just easier, faster, or safer to make a cut by hand than with a power tool.
Rip Saw
The reasoning here is the same as for a Crosscut Saw, save that a rip saw has it's teeth filed for ripping operations, as opposed to crosscut. Depending on what you're doing, you might be able to make do with only a crosscut saw, but it will certainly cut slower than a dedicated rip saw.
Dead Blow Hammer
Useful for nudging those stubborn parts into position during assembly. The head is usually plastic or rubber which protects the workpiece you're banging on . The head is also usually filled with lead shot, which keeps the hammer from bouncing back.
Clamps
There's a saying among woodworkers, "You can never have enough clamps." It may seem hard to believe, but there will be times when you wish you had just one more clamp. I could devote an entire post to the topic of clamps, but if you're just starting out, I'd suggest picking up some pipe clamps (cheap) or parallel clamps (expensive) in lengths appropriate for the first project you plan on building. You will probably also want some f-style clamps as well as spring clamps.

Hopefully that gives you an idea of where to start with your tool acquisitions. As with most hobbies, there's always one more doodad or gizmo out there would would make your life easier. But that's half the fun!

What would you consider an essential hand tool? Anything you'd add to my list?

Jointer Setup Tips

As I mentioned in my recent post on preparing wood for use, the jointer is one of the first tools used. To give your wood a flat, snipe-free surface with your power jointer, it pays to take a few minutes to make sure your jointer is set up correctly. Today, I'll discuss how to tune your jointer for optimum performance.

A jointer is a pretty simple machine that only does one job and does it very well -- make one side or edge of a board flat and straight. It consists of two tables, one slightly higher than the other, with spinning blades between them. To work correctly, the tables must be parallel to each other and the outfeed table must be even with the top of the blades. When edge jointing, the fence must be 90 degrees to the bed of the jointer.

Table Adjustment

We'll get started by checking the adjustment of the tables. Unplug your jointer and remove your blade guard. Also slide the fence out of the way or remove it completely. Place a long straight-edge across each table in various directions (e.g. end to end, side to side, and diagonally) to make sure that the table is flat. Look for any gaps between the straight-edge and the table. If one or both of the tables are not flat, you'll need to look at look at getting the table re-ground at a machine shop or getting a new jointer. If the tables are not flat, none of the remaining adjustments are going to help much.

Raise the infeed table so that it's even with the outfeed table. Using your long straight edge, check in several places that the two tables are parallel to each other. Ideally, you'd like to have a straight edge as long or longer than the total length of the infeed and outfeed tables, but use the longest one you can get your hands on. If there's a gap between your straight edge and the table, you will need to adjust one or both of your tables.

If you have a jointer with a parallelogram design, adjusting the tables parallel to each other is pretty easy since there are built-in controls for this. See your manual for details. However, most jointers use a dovetailed channel, called the ways, to support and adjust the tables. For this type of jointer, you'll need to shim the tables with some thin metal stock. Inexpensive feeler gauges make good shim stock and can be found at most automotive supply stores.

If you need to raise the end of the table, insert shims at the bottom of the dovetail ways. You may need to jack up the table a hair or have a helper lift the table while you insert the shims. If you need to lower the end of the table, insert shims at the top of the ways by unlocking the table, inserting the shims, and the locking the table down again. If the tables are twisted with respect to each other, insert a shim only on the side that needs to move up.

Kife Adjustment

The knives on the cutter head of the jointer all need to bet set at the same height. In addition, they need to be set so they are even with the outfeed table when they are at the top of their rotation. There are several ways to adjust your jointer knives:

  • Provided knife setting jig. If your jointer came with a jig to set the knives, you can use that. However, most jigs set the knives relative to the cutter head. Use a dial indicator to determine if the cutter head is even with the outfeed table before using this method to set your knives.
  • Dial indicator. Make a reference mark on the fence so that you line up each of the blades in the same place. Clamp a board to the outfeed table which is parallel to the knives. Set the base of your dial indicator against the board at one end and place the tip of the dial indicator on the tip of the knife. Zero out your dial indicator and then move the base to the other end of the board. If the dial indicator remains within a few thousandths of an inch from the zero mark, the blade is set correctly.
  • Aftermarket or homemade knife setting jig. There are several commercial jigs on the market intended to help you set the height of the jointer knives all the same and relative to the outfeed table height. The idea is that they hold the knife at the proper height while you tighten down the gib screws that hold the blade in place. The main downside of these jigs is that they require you to find the top dead center of the blade arc, which can be difficult to do accurately.

Once you have the jointer knives all set at the same height, adjust the outfeed table so that it is even with the top of the arc formed by the rotating knives. If you used one of the after market jigs, this should be pretty close, if not spot on. Otherwise, the technique I use requires a piece of wood about 6" long. Place the piece of wood so that it hangs off the outfeed table and over the cutter head. Rotate the cutter head by hand and note whether the knives hit the wood. If the knives move the piece of wood, raise the outfeed table until the wood barely moves. If the knives completely miss the wood, lower the outfeed table until the knives just touch the piece of wood.

Fence Adjustment

Now comes the easy part. Reinstall the fence, if you removed it earlier. Use a square to adjust the fence so that it is 90 degrees to the table. Reset the stop, if necessary. If you're like me, you won't have to mess with the fence after this, other than to verify that it's still square to the tables. I just don't use the fence at other angles all that much.

Finishing Up

We're almost done! All that's left to do is to test our adjustments and make some final tweaks. Find a piece of wood that is 2 to 3 inches wide, 1 to 2 feet long and already has a reasonably straight edge. Using the fence, make a pass or two on the edge of the board and check your results. If the edge is straight and square, you're done! Otherwise, you may need to make adjustments based on your results:

  • Snipe. Raise the outfeed table slightly, repeat until the snipe goes away
  • Convex Edge. The outfeed table is too high. Try lowering it until you start to get some snipe, then raise it back up a hair. If you're still getting a curved surface, the tables of the jointer are not parallel and form a very slight "V".
  • Concave Edge. The tables are not parallel and form a very slight inverted "V".
  • Edge not Square. The fence is either warped or isn't set 90 degrees to the tables.

Congratulations! Your jointer should now be ready for many hours of work. Apply a coat of paste wax to the tables and fence surface to make it easier to slide boards across the jointer. Most of these steps only need to be done once. There should only be a little bit of fiddling necessary when you have the knives resharpened.

Mini Review: Painter's Pyramid

Two Painter's Pyramids on a workbench

If you've been in a home improvement store or perused a woodworking supply catalog recently, you've likely seen the Painter's Pyramid. These small plastic pyramids hold your project off the workbench while you apply a finish. This keeps the piece from accidently sticking to the paper or cardboard used to protect the bench. In addition, they Painter's Pyramids allow you to finish both sides of a workpiece in one finishing session.

Each pyramid is about 2 inches in height. Three of the sides have a hole while the fourth face is open, allowing the pyramids to be stacked for storage. The plastic is about 1/8" thick. The manufacturer's website claims they can hold up to 200 pounds, more than enough for nearly any project

In the past, I've achieved similar results using nails a couple of different ways. To finish both sides of a workpiece, I've driven nails through a scrap piece of plywood and rested the workpiece on the points of the nails. For supporting tables, I've hammered nails part way into the bottom of the legs (where the nail holes won't be seen). While this works, it is somewhat inconvenient.

What I Like

  • Easy to store. Since they are small and stackable, they don't take up much storage space.
  • Easier to rearrange than nails through a board.
  • Less damaging to the workpiece. Nails have a tendency to mar the surface of the wood if you're not careful.

What I don't like

  • With smaller parts, which don't have much weight, the workpiece has a tendency to slide around a bit. The point of a nail tends to grab the workpiece a bit. This isn't much of an issue if you are spraying a finish.
  • The tip of the pyramid isn't as narrow as a nail. If you're trying to finish both sides of a panel and both sides of the panel will be visible, plan on having to touch up the spots where the pyramids touched the board.
  • They are not sold in packs that are multiples of four -- they're sold in packs of 10. Most of the time you need four to properly support a panel or table, so it seems like they should be sold in packs of 8 or 12.

Overall, the Painter's Pyramid is a simple concept that does what it says and solves a real problem. I doubt I will return to using nails in boards anytime soon

Clear Vue Cyclones Purchased by Bushey Enterprises

Clear Vue Cyclones, a maker of cyclone dust collection systems, has been purchased by Bushey Enterprises, Inc. As a result, the company will not be shut down as previously planned. Clear Vue Cyclones will continue to be produced for the foreseeable future.

From the company's website:

Bushey Enterprises, Inc. is a family owned business established in 1994. After some research, James Bushey was convinced that his ‘dust blower’ was a health risk in his home woodshop, and ordered one of the last units prepared by Ed Morgano at Clear Vue Cyclones. Upon hearing of the company’s dissolution, it was clear that something needed to happen to ensure that woodworkers across the country would have access to the healthiest particle separator on the market. A simple phone call to brothers Chuck and Paul resulted in a quick trip to South Carolina to meet Ed Morgano. It is their desire to continue producing this state of the art dust collection system for years to come.

Table Saw Dado Setup

While cutting a series of dados on the table saw recently, I realized that, by using a dial caliper, I was able to zero in on the correct width with only a couple of test cuts. In this post, I'll share the technique I used to set the width of my dado head to get perfect fitting dados.

  1. Measuring the stock with dial calipersMeasure your stock. Using the dial caliper, I measured the thickness of the stock at a bit more than 1/4 inch thick. Write down the exact number for later use. In my example, the thickness was 0.258 inches thick.
  2. Set up the dado head. Since the stock was about 1/4 inch, I used the two outside blades from my dado set. If your stock was thicker, you'd obviously use some of the inner chippers. Try to set up the dado stack so that it's a bit thinner than your stock.
  3. Make a test cut. Using the miter gauge, I ran a scrap piece of wood through the dado head cutter.
  4. Measuring the dado width with dial calipersMeasure the test cut. Unless you were exceptionally lucky, the dado is probably too narrow. Using the dial caliper I measured the dado width at 0.255. If your dado is too wide, you'll need to change the arrangement of your dado cutters, perhaps using a thinner chipper, if you have one.
  5. Insert shims. Subtracting the width of my dado from the thickness of my stock, I need to widen the dado head by 0.003 inches. The shims for my dado head stack have thicknesses of 0.002, 0.004, 0.008 and 0.010 inches. In this case, I chose the 0.002 shim. This should gets me close enough (this is only wood, after all)
  6. Make another test cut.
  7. Test the fit. Should be perfect. If the stock doesn't fit, a small amount of sanding is all that should be necessary to get the stock to fit into the dado.

What techniques do you use to get a dado to fit correctly?

Preparing Wood For Use

If you're like me, as soon as you bring home some wood from the lumberyard, you want to get started on your project right away. But if you take a few steps to prepare your lumber, it will help your project go much smoother. It is difficult to cut accurate joints if your wood is not flat, straight and square. In this post, I'll tell you how to get your lumber that way. While this post discusses power tools, the same sequence of steps applies if you are using hand tools.

1. Acclimate the Wood

The first thing you should do with your lumber when you get it to your shop is...nothing. That's right, you shouldn't do anything with your wood yet. You should let the moisture content of the wood equalize with the humidity in your workshop. This is especially true if the lumberyard stored the wood outside or in unconditioned buildings. If you jump in right away and start cutting up those nice boards you spent all that money on, they're likely to warp the first time you start milling them. If you live in an arid climate, or the wood is moving from an air-conditioned space to another air-conditioned space, it's not necessary to let the wood rest long. But if the wood was stored outside, you'll need to let it dry out for several weeks, perhaps months, in your shop before using it.

2. Cut to Rough Size

To reduce the amount of material you have to remove, first cut your boards to rough size. There is no point making an entire eight foot board flat if you are only going to use two feet of it.

3. Face Joint

The remaining steps all depend on having a flat face to use as a reference point. So the first milling operation is to joint one face flat. This is usually done at the jointer. However, if you don't have a jointer, it is also possible to build jigs to face joint a board using a router or even your planer. If your jointer isn't wide enough, you'll need to rip the board in two and then re-glue it back together or else use a hand place to flatten the surface.

4. Plane to Thickness

Once you have one flat face, it's off to the thickness planer. The planer's job is to make the second face parallel to the first and give the board a uniform thickness. Place the jointed face from the previous step against the bed of the planer, so the cutter head removes material from the opposite side. Once the second face is flat, flip the board end for end after each pass as you bring the board down to it's desired thickness. By removing roughly the same amount of material from both sides of the board, you keep the moisture content about the same on both sides, which helps keep the board flat after you're done. Depending on how much material you're removing, you may want to stop before the board is it's final thickness and let it rest a few days, giving it a chance to adjust the moisture level before continuing.

5. Edge Joint

Now that we have two faces that are flat and parallel, we're going to turn our attention to the edges of the board. We return to the jointer to make one edge straight and square to the faces. Before you start, double check that the jointer fence is 90 degrees to the bed. Hold one of the freshly jointed faces tight against the fence as you run the board across the jointer. If possible, joint the concave edge first, as that is easier to straighten than a convex edge.

6. Rip to Width

Placing the freshly jointed edge of the board against your table saw rip fence and rip the board to the desired width. Some like to leave the board about 1/64 inch wide so that the freshly sawn edge can be run over the jointer.

7. Crosscut to Length

You now have a board with two parallel faces and two parallel edges that are 90 degrees to the faces. The last step is to crosscut the board to length. Using your miter gauge or sled on the table saw or a chop saw, cut one end square. Measure for the desired length of the board and cut the other end.

Congratulations! You should have a board that is flat and straight with square edges and ready for use in your project.