Posts Tagged ‘hand saw’
Coming down the home stretch now (finally). The pins should be cut, the waste removed, and the baseline chiseled square as discussed in Part 5. You probably have something that looks like this…
But will it assemble? Maybe, it depends how good you are with a dovetail saw and if your pin board is a softwood or hardwood. Softwoods are much more forgiving of a slight interference fit. Try to assemble the joint dry, just enough to get a feel for if the joint is too loose (gaps), too tight (get out your chisel), or just right (time to glue it up). The biggest risk here is if there is too much pressure on the outside pins. There is no wood supporting them and they can easily split at their base if the outer tails are too large, wedging the pins apart. This is why we size the outside pins a bit thicker than the rest, to add some strength and lower the risk of a split. So, if the joint slides together with almost no hand pressure you likely removed too much material with the saw and will be faced with gaps. Minor gaps can be addressed in a variety of ways. Some people use generic wood filler, some mix glue with saw dust from the wood being used in the joint for a better color match, you can also try to glue in some wedges of the same wood if the gap is large enough… though if it’s really bad you should probably just start over. It’s all part of the learning process, but after even a few test joints you should be getting respectable results.
Lets assume you don’t have gaps, but you don’t have a perfect saw-cut-to-saw-cut fit either. This is when a little chisel work may be required, but that’s not a big deal. Chiseling the sides of the pins (an operation known as “pairing”) is a lot easier than working on the tails because we have plenty of open room to work with. Never try to go back and tweak the tails at this point. Trying to identify where the excess wood is located can be a little tricky. Look for your knife line from transferring the tails over. If you didn’t split it there’s a good chance the knife line is still visible and the pin is fat in that area. Also look for pins that weren’t cut vertically. If the saw drifted away form vertical the pin will get fatter as it approaches the baseline. This means the tail may slide on nicely at first and then bind up when it’s part way home, never fully seating itself. If everything looks good but the joint is still a little difficult to assemble look for burnished areas at the top of the pins or any other signs that there is high pressure on certain areas that resulted from test fitting the top 1/8″ or so of the joint. What you want is a joint that can go together with hand pressure or light hammer taps. This is again something you will get a feel for after fitting a few of these joints together.
Once you’ve got the desired fit the joint is ready for gluing. I like to add a partial chamfer on the back of the tails as pictured (something I picked up from the Rob Cosman dovetail DVDs). This does a few things. If I have several joints in the works, the chamfer tells me “this one is done” and helps avoid confusion. It also eases the tails over the pins which helps avoid damage to the tops of the pins. Finally, it gives a little extra area for the glue to go and minimizes the squeeze out. Just be sure the chamfer is on the inside of the joint (where it will never be visible) and it doesn’t extend to the top of the tail.
Now add glue and clamp up the joint. I like to use small spatulas for working glue between the tails.
When the glue dries, the joint may look a little messy from the glue, pencil marks, and not-perfectly-flush surfaces. Plane the surfaces flush, removing any glue spots or other surface defects in the process. Be sure to plane away from the joint so you don’t blow out the end grain of the mating board. That’s a mistake you’re only going to make once. If this were a drawer you were making, this would be the time to plane the sides down to achieve a perfect fit to the case.
Below is the joint after its been cleaned up. I did no filling or “cheating” of any kind. The tail board is straight off the saw, no chiseling at all (other than chopping the baseline of course). The tail board is mostly off the saw, but a few of the sides needed some minor adjustments as discussed previously.
After gluing, cleaning up, and finishing the joint, it’s finally done. One thing worth discussing at this point is the baseline which is obviously still visible below the tails and pins. Is that normal? It looks ugly. Does it serve a purpose?
Well, the baseline knife mark is there because we made the joint by hand and a lot of people like to leave it visible for that reason alone. Another sign (along with skinny pins) that this joint was not machine made. That’s fine. Other reasons to leave it there is because it takes more work to exclude it than include it. If the joint isn’t going to be seen often (the back corners of a drawer or a case joint that will have molding covering it) than leaving it is just more efficient. If you’re making a box or something where it will be visible then it becomes a question of appearance and largely boils down to personal preference. If you don’t want to see the baseline in the end, there are two common approaches I take. First, I won’t cut the baseline so deep with my marking gauge, then when I’m done I just plane off enough material to remove the scratch. The other option requires a little more planning. You need to lay out the joint first and then only mark the baseline on the areas that will eventually be removed. So you basically end up with a dotted line instead of a solid baseline. Anyway, there’s no right or wrong here. It’s your joint, make it how you want to.
And that takes care of that.
If you have been following along in parts one through four, you should have your tail board finished and your pin board dimensioned. The next step is to transfer the tail locations to the pin board by using the tail board as a template. This is why you don’t need to precisely follow the angle you laid out when sawing your tails, any slight deviation from the pencil line will be transferred to the pin board and copied exactly. Missing your slope is purely cosmetic and the joint can still go together seamlessly. To transfer the tails, align the pin board so it’s even with the side of a bench plane or block of wood as pictured below, then clamp it in the vise. Slide the plane/wood back and use the tail board to bridge the gap. Now the shallow rabbet that was created in part 1 becomes extremely useful. Slide the tail board up to the pin board until the small shoulder from the rabbet hits the pin board. You should immediately feel the rabbet’s shoulder align the board. This accurately solves two of the three alignment problems you can encounter in this step: 1) skewing or rotating the tail board relative to the pin board and 2) sliding the tail board too far forward or not far enough. All you need to do now is slide the tail board side to side until the edges are aligned. A block of wood can help.
Now use your off hand to press in the middle of the tail board, locking it in place. Use your dominant hand to hold a marking knife and scribe the tail locations into the pin board. I’m using the thin kerf knife from Blue Spruce Toolworks as it can fit between any tails I cut. For larger work I typically use a larger knife. Press the knife firmly against the tail with the flat face touching the tail. If the beveled face of the knife is against the tail the knife line will be offset and your pins will be far too thick. Draw the knife along the tail with light pressure, but repeat this a few times until a clear line is visible. Again, be sure to keep firm pressure on the side of the tail so the knife doesn’t stray.
Once the tails are transferred, mark the waste (the tails obviously, we want to keep the wood that will go between the tails which are called the pins) and using a marking gauge, scribe the baseline as was done in Part 1, but this time only mark the faces. The edges will not be cut off so there is no need to carry the baseline all the way around the board. Be sure to reset the gauge to the thickness of the tail board as it is typically not the same as the thickness of the pin board. Having a dedicated gauge for each measurement is helpful when several joints need to be cut.
Now clamp the board in the vise for sawing, being sure to align it vertically first. If it’s clamped at a slight angle you will have a hard time hitting your vertical lines right off the saw.
Now use a square or dovetail guide to mark vertical lines, these will help guide your saw. I like to draw them in the “good wood” portion of the board so they aren’t sawn off. Then when the joint is cut I can see how parallel my cut was to the vertical line. This will give me an indication of any clean up work I’ll need to do with a chisel.
Now to saw the pins. The same sawing techniques apply that were discussed in part 3, but you aren’t sawing square across the board this time, you are trying to split the knife line. This means with saw cutting on the waste side of the line, the edge of the kerf should land right on the center of the knife line. The cut must then go straight down, parallel to the vertical lines that were just drawn.
With the sides cut, saw out the waste with a fret or coping saw, then chisel the baseline exactly as was discussed in part 4. Be sure to check that the baseline is square and without humps that could prevent the tail board from seating fully when assembled.
For the next (and likely final) part of this series we’ll be fitting the pins to the tails, gluing the joint, and cleaning it up. Until then, happy joinerying.
Part 3 of this series wrapped up the saw work for the tail board. Now there’s just a little chisel work to take care of before moving onto the pin board. For smaller work, I like to lay the parts on my shooting board. This gives me something to back the work against and also provides a sacrificial surface that can be gouged with a chisel on occasion. Make sure the board is clear of debris before you start working or you may press something into the face of your board, denting it. This is quite aggravating if you’re working on a drawer face or the outside of a box. I can say “quite aggravating” now because I’m typing, but if this happens in the shop and potentially ruins an otherwise flawless piece of work… well, my grammar may be quite different. The real issue here is at first the work surface may be clean, but as you start chiseling out the waste those bits of wood fall on the bench or shooting board. Then without thinking, you flip the board over and start chiseling from the other side and one of those stray wood fragments gets embedded in your board. So every time you move or flip the board, make a habit of clearing the debris.
When chiseling to the baseline, there’s a few things to keep in mind. First of all, unless you’re really good with your fret or coping saw, you probably have a decent amount of waste to clear… maybe 1/16″ – 1/8″ of material for most people. Typical advice is to remove half the waste at a time until there is such a small amount left that you can’t split it, then drop the chisel in the baseline and finish it off. That’s actually a good method to use. Chopping through too much waste at once drives this chisel back into the board, crushing wood fibers behind the chisel in the process. If you drop right into the baseline and the chisel is driven back, you’ve just crushed good wood and you’ll be looking at an unsightly gap when the joint is assembled. So don’t get greedy, take the 2-4 chops you may need to take and work your way back to the baseline. Another important tip if you’ve never considered this is which way to pry the chisel. If the chisel gets stuck in the board you need to pry it loose. Not a big deal, but you need to push it away from the baseline. Prying back against the baseline will again crush the wood fibers and carry the chisel across the baseline.
As to the chopping process itself, I stand on the side of the board hold the chisel vertically (basically what is pictured above). If you’re positioned in front of the board you can’t tell if the chisel is vertical or not. If you have to, undercutting the joint is perfectly acceptable 90% of the time or better, at least in my opinion. Chop about half way through the board, then flip it over and chop the remainder in from the other side. This avoids blowing out fibers which is almost a given if you chop entirely through the joint.
Once the waste is chiseled out between the tails, clamp the board back in the vise and clean up the outside shoulders, then check everything for squareness.
When checking for square, the smaller the tool the better. My square is a vintage Millers Falls model, but Starrett and Vesper Tools also offer nice squares similar to what’s shown. Check your shoulders, baseline, and the cheeks of the tails. Any humps in the baseline should be removed, with an undercut if need be. The tails should never need squaring if you’re sawing correctly… but if they are out of square you have to fix it now or you’ll never have a tight joint. If you can’t get a chisel between the tails to fix a skewed cheek you may be out of luck and need to start again. The joint can still go together obviously, but you’ll be filling gaps for sure. Again, with a little practice at sawing you should never need to adjust the tail cheeks, just the baseline.
Next up we’ll be tackling the pin board.
Accurate sawing starts with accurate layout which was covered in part 2, but there are several other factors that should be considered from body position to how the saw is held and more. For solid information on basic sawing techniques (and a whole lot more) I’d recommend The Foundations of Better Woodworking by Jeff Miller. What I will say here is that a moxon vise and properly tuned saw will make a world of difference.
A moxon vise raises the work to a more comfortable sawing height (your back will thank you). My moxon was made with the kit from Benchcrafted, but you can also get a more affordable kit from Texas Heritage. Your saw should be sharp, filed with a rip tooth pattern and a fairly high tooth-per-inch count, 15 is common. The set on the teeth also needs to be minimal, a couple thousandths on either side of the plate to ensure straight sawing. And when you clamp the board in the vise, align it vertically. If the board is tilted slightly hitting angles or sawing vertically becomes unnecessarily complicated.
Now lets get into it. When you start sawing across the end grain, sawing square to the front face is absolutely critical. A skewed cut will never yield a tight joint so you will either have gaps or have to do extra chisel work to square up the cut after sawing. This is okay, but chiseling takes extra time and adds another opportunity to make mistakes. What we’re shooting for here is saw-cut-to-saw-cut joinery. So how do you saw squarely to the face? Place the saw on the waste side of the layout line and lift the saw slightly. This means the saw teeth are only touching the far edge of the board and the saw can pivot around that point. Next, place the thumb from your off hand next to the saw plate and bias the saw plate against it. Using your thumb to steer the saw, align the teeth so they’re parallel to the layout line and start sawing with very light pressure. As the saw starts to cut into the board, lower the handle so you’re sawing straight across the board.
At this point the saw shouldn’t be very deep, just a light kerf cut squarely across the end grain. With this kerf established, focus on angling the saw to match the layout line and begin taking full, even strokes with the saw, not short, choppy cuts. I have found this to be an important part of saw-cut-to-saw-cut joinery. Full, smooth strokes means the cut can be finished in a few strokes, 4-8 is typical for most of my dovetails. This helps ensure a straight cut which is crucial. Short saw strokes means you may need 15-20 strokes to finish the cut… each time the saw may stray slightly. The kerf can also become enlarged which makes tracking the saw more difficult, so practice your sawing until you can fly through a cut smoothly and with confidence. A good way to practice sawing or just warm up for dovetailing is to run through several cuts on scrap wood.
Once you’re comfortable sawing to your line and squarely across the board, cut the sides of all the tails. I recommend cutting one angle first across the entire board, then go back and hit the other angle. This helps keep your muscle memory on track where as switching between angles can make it hard to get in a rhythm.
Before moving on, lets examine the cuts and understand what’s critical. We’ve already talked about cutting squarely across the board, but what about hitting the angle precisely? Well, having a straight cut matters, having that cut run to the exact angle laid out with the dovetail guide doesn’t really matter, it’s just for looks. In fact, you could cut the joint with no layout lines at all on the face, just cut squarely across the board and the angle can be whatever it wants. The reason to lay out an angled guide line is just to help keep the tails as consistent as possible, but it’s purely for appearance sake. For the joint to fit tightly you only need to saw squarely and in a straight line. Skewed cuts or wavy cuts will always result in gaps. The only other sin to avoid when sawing is cutting beyond your baseline. There’s really no fix for that besides wood filler.
Saw out the waste with a fret or coping saw (I opt for a fret saw) being careful not to cut below the baseline or into the tail itself.
The last step before moving onto the chisel work is to cut the waste off the edges. Flip the board 90 degrees (making sure to align it vertically again) and grab a crosscut saw if you have one. You’re sawing right against the baseline, so make sure to stay on the waste side of the line. One thing that can help is chiseling a small shoulder up to the baseline. This little valley gives the saw an accurate “kerf” to start the cut and leaves a super clean shoulder on the joint which will be visible when all is said and done.
Flip the board and cut the other shoulder, then it’s time to get out a chisel to clean up the baseline.
Last week I picked up an excellent 26″ Disston D-8 crosscut saw with 8ppi. When looking for saws I shoot for a plate that is in decent shape, some rust is okay, but I’ll pass on blades that are kinked, have damaged teeth, or excessive pitting on the tooth line. A nice handle is a bonus, but those can be restored or remade entirely if necessary. I also look for hardware that is complete and hasn’t been chewed up by screwdrivers. Below is the saw I purchased through Craigslist for $10 and considering what these go for on eBay (when you don’t really know what you’re getting) this was a steal.
The Saw Plate: The saw comes apart easily, but use an appropriate screwdriver so the brass screws don’t get chewed up. My Lie-Nielsen #3 driver worked nicely. To clean up the plate, I started by scraping the surface with a razor blade scraper. This knocks down any surface rust and removes any old finish or residue that may have dried on the plate which will prevent the rust remover from reaching the steel.
After the scraping I soaked the plate for 12 hours in Evaporust. I made a simple trough by wrapping some scrapwood with a garbage bag. It’s just large enough and deep enough to hold the plate and minimizes the amount of Evaporust required to keep the plate submerged. After a 12 hours soak, I scrubbed the surface with a Scotch pad, then soaked for an additional 12 hours. Finally, I cleaned the plate with a brass-bristle brush, Scotch pad, and steel wool. Rinse the plate off with water, dry, and oil immediately. The plate is now ready for sharpening.
I won’t get into sharpening handsaws specifically. That’s an enormous topic with several books, DVDs, and websites dedicated to it. I would, however, recommend Ron Herman’s DVD on sharpening handsaws if you’re looking for more information. For a quick overview of file guides for saw sharpening, click here.
The Hardware: The brass saw nuts are easy to clean up, though you can leave them alone if you like the patina. I gently chuck each half of nut into my drill press using only light hand pressure. Too much pressure will damage the brass threads or crush the tapped housing. I run the press at a moderate speed, somewhere in the 700-1,200 rpm is a good place to start, then start working the face with abrasives. I start with 220 grit sandpaper and finish at 320. Each grit only gets 5-10 seconds of light pressure to do its job. The 220 removes and surface patina or any various types of shop grime. It also eliminates (or at least smooths out) dents and scratches. The 320 simply refines the scratch marks left by the 220. After sanding, polish up the face with a Scotch pad and finally 0000 steel wool. This leaves a relatively scratch-free, shiny surface. You can also use fine sandpaper (up to around 1,000 grit), but I don’t keep much of that on hand, so I chose the Scotch pad and steel wool as it was more readily available.
The Handle: Saw handles vary in condition. They can be so bad that they should be discarded and a new handle fitted, they can require some simple clean up and refinishing, or they can be left alone entirely. This saw had a handle in great condition, just some minor wear on a few edges. I’m tempted to make it look like new again, but there’s really no need and I have enough to keep me busy at the moment so for now I simply re-attached it as-is. For more information on making a handle from scratch, click here and here.
The Finished Product: I ended up putting about 1.5 hours into the saw as well as the $10 it cost to purchase. I’m quite pleased overall, now I just need a full sized rip saw and then I’ll probably have to make a new saw till to hold everything.
Sharpening hand saws is intimidating for most people, but there are some readily available options that simplify the process greatly. Here’s a quick overview:
Angles: Before sharpening, you need to determine the angles you want to file into the teeth of your saw. The rake angle is the angle between the face of a saw tooth and an imaginary line perpendicular to the baseline of the saw teeth seen when viewing a saw from the side. It is generally 12 to 15 degrees on a crosscut saw and 0 to 8 degrees on a rip saw. You also need to control the fleam angle, the angle that is filed across the face of the teeth, creating a knife edge that slices wood fibers when cutting. On crosscut saws fleam typically ranges from 15 to 25 degrees, rip saws typically have little to no fleam. (read Understanding Western Handsaws for more info)
Control: Once you know the angles you want to create, holding a file consistently and accurately for dozens of teeth in a row is tough. Fortunately, there are several options available to you that make saw sharpening fairly straightforward.
Option one is to make your own file guide. I picked this up from Ron Herman’s DVD and it works great. I made my guide out of some scrap cherry in about 15 minutes. The pictures will help explain the details, but the idea is to hold the file handle in your dominant hand and the file guide (with the tip of the file buried in it) in your off hand. Hold the file level and the edge of the file guide perpendicular to the saw plate. If you can do this, the guide will control the rake and fleam angles for you, it’s easier than it sounds. (You may notice my guide is using a 30 deg rake and fleam angle, this is fairly steep for both but it was deliberate for this saw. You typically want something closer to the angles listed above.)
So this guide works well in a pinch, but if you have several saws to sharpen you’ll quickly realize you need a new file guide for every angle combination you want… this may only mean making 2 or 3 guides, but for others it would mean making many more. So for all your file guiding needs there are a couple adjustable file guides you can purchase. A reasonably priced option was recently released from Veritas and functions along the same principles as the wooden block, but you’ll notice a variety of angle combinations and file sizes can be accommodated with this single device. A second option from Blackburn Tools gives you the same functionality, but in a much classier package and at a premium price.
I have not purchased a file guide from Veritas or Blackburn so far, but I have more sharpening on the horizon so I intend to shortly. Hopefully this gives you the confidence to pick up a saw (preferably a cheap one that you won’t mind practicing on) and get sharpening. It’s really very simple and Ron’s DVD, as well as various free videos from youtube and Lie-Nielsen, will provide you with all the information you need.
One of the best parts about attending Handworks last week was the opportunity to try various brands of similar tools or variation of the same tool by the same maker. Here are my thoughts:
Dovetail Saws: While there weren’t many individual premium saw makers at the show (Bad Axe, Wenzloff, etc) the bigger companies like Lie-Nielsen and Veritas were there, as was Gramercy. Veritas saws don’t do it for me, period. I’m not a fan of the black backs or brushed saw plates (but you can’t argue with their price-point if you’re on a budget). As for Gramercy, their teeth are too fine for my liking when it comes to a dovetail saw and the handles feel a bit thin for me, but that’s obviously going to vary person to person, hand to hand.
What I really want to talk about is the wide variety Lie-Nielsen now offers. When I bought my dovetail saw from LN I only had one choice to make, 15ppi or progressive pitch teeth (I chose progressive). A few years later, the 9″ saw I have is discontinued as they are all 10, both dovetail and carcass. This is a definite improvement. When you consider most people only use 7″-8″ of their 9″ plate (if you’re good at sawing, some only use 3″-4″) adding the extra 1″ is around a 13% increase in your efficiency. The saw does not feel unbalanced in the least, in fact I felt it balanced the saw slightly better than the 9″ version. About the only thing going for my 9″ at this point is that it’s now a collectors item (if someone wants to offer me $500 it’s theirs).
Anyway, beyond the increased length, LN also offers a thin plate version (0.015″ thick vs 0.020″) as well as tapered blades. I’d not had the opportunity to try any of these until last week and the differences are noticeable. After playing with all the variations, two stand out to me as my favorites: The progressive pitch and the thin plate, no taper for either. The taper, in general, I do not care for on backsaws. I understand why it’s there, but it’s a preference thing and I prefer a non-tapered blade. The thin plate cuts faster than the standard saw because it’s removing less material, and it cuts very smoothly at 15ppi. The progressive pitch also cuts smoothly (with fine teeth getting the cut started) but also quickly (with the aggressive teeth at the heel of the saw). And again, thanks to the 10″ plate, they both cut faster than the saw I use today. I still do not care for the standard plate at 15ppi. It’s fine teeth cut smoothly, but without the thinner plate it’s a bit slow. How should you choose? If you’re new to sawing go for the progressive pitch, the blade is less kink-prone. If you like super-fine pins, get the thin plate.
Hand Stitched Rasps: Most woodworkers are aware of the French rasp manufacturer, Auriou (pronounced are-you). These are most readily available through Lie-Nielsen and come fitted with a LN maple handle. More recently, Tools for Working Wood started carrying their own hand stitched rasps under their Gramercy label. These are made in Pakistan, handles made in USA. I tried the Gramercy rasps at Handworks and noticed a couple of things I thought were worth mentioning. First, they are nice tools and could be a welcome addition to any shop. However, when compared to Auriou, I felt that the Gramercy handles were too small (and I don’t have particularly large hands either). A woman or younger woodworker might prefer these handles, but I immediately felt like the handle needed replacing. As far as the cutting is concerned, these bite the wood more than I’m used to after using my Auriou rasps for a few years. The teeth seem taller, more pointed than the Auriou rasps and made starting the cut a little more difficult. Once moving, however, they removed material in a hurry. This can be a good thing, but I’m more of a mind set that if you want to remove material faster get a courser rasp, not taller teeth (if that makes sense). I would imagine you could get used to the feel of how these rasps cut and they do leave an excellent finish, but I’d have to give Auriou the edge in user-friendliness. Auriou also has a wider range of rasp sizes, grain, etc. if you have extensive rasp needs.
Infill Hand Planes: The most unpredictable part of traveling to the Handworks event was winning one of the door prizes… in fact, I took home the most valuable door prize being awarded, a $1,200 Ron Brese block plane. I spent a few minutes trying out some of Ron’s larger planes at his bench (which cost between $2,000-$3,000) and they are sweet. But now that I’ve had some time to play with his block plane at home and compare it to my Lie-Nielsen low angle block plane, a lot of people have asked the obvious question, “does it work better than the Lie-Nielsen?”
In short, my answer is no, an infill block plane cannot do anything for you that any other well tuned plane can do. My Lie-Nielsen is just as sharp as the Brese plane, the bed angles are comparable, the soles on both tools are flat, and the mouth opening is very tight on the Brese plane, the Lie-Nielsen is adjustable. I planed some cherry and both tools gave fantastic results, as they should. So if the wood doesn’t care what is being used to cut it, why is a premium Lie-Nielsen $165 (already too much for some people) and a Brese plane $1,200? And why even buy one if it doesn’t leave a better finish? Here are my thoughts. First understand Ron’s price is not over-inflated. It’s a high price tag because each plane is hand made, the machining and woodworking are impeccable, and the tool performs beautifully. And that’s what you’re really paying for, the privilege of owning a functional work of art. Most woodworkers will never even see an infill plane in person, far fewer will own one, if you want to be in that group it comes at a cost. If all you’re after, however, is high-end performance, buy a Lie-Nielsen and don’t look back. It works great and to be honest, it’s more comfortable to use than an infill plane, it’s easier to adjust the depth of cut, and the mouth can be opened up for heavy material removal. So while my Brese plane will be put to use in my shop and cherished for generations, it will not be the workhorse. That remains the role of my LN 60.5 block plane.
That’s all for now, have a great day.