Posts Tagged ‘wood working’


In:Tool Review, Vintage Tool Talk

Comments Off on Which Drills and Why

The biggest issue when getting started in working wood with hand tools is wondering, “what tools do I need?”  I remember thinking I needed all bench planes #1 – #8 and every saw or chisel size sold by a given manufacturer.  After all, if I didn’t need all the sizes they wouldn’t be offering them, right?

Well, as you spend some time in the shop and read a few books you will quickly learn that is very wrong.  And while there is a lot of information out there on which planes or saws you should get, I’ve seen little to no words of wisdom around what drills are useful and why.  So here is what I’ve found most useful:

First, no single drill will handle all your hole-boring needs (or to some, your boring hole needs, but I digress).  The diameter of the hole you want to drill determines how much torque your drill will need to provide.  A traditional hand drill (or “egg-beater drill” as they’re often called) can only handle small holes, up to about a 1/4″ in diameter.  They are fantastic tools that can be easily found on the vintage market at a very affordable price.  Take the time to get a decent one that is complete and in good shape and/or fix it up yourself (see my restoration advice here).  I own two of these drills, one smaller than the other.  The larger (a Millers Falls #2) is my workhorse.  It does the bulk of the drilling in my shop and if I had to live with the absolute minimum number of tools, this would be one of the two drills I would own (I actually own five drills total).  My second hand drill is smaller (a Millers Falls #5a) and is nice to have on hand for very delicate work or if I’m alternating between different drill bit sizes, I can dedicate each of my drills to a different bit size rather than switching bits back and forth between the same drill.  I also find these drills easier to keep vertical compared to a cordless drill which is always trying to tip over due to the offset handle and battery weight.

My Millers Falls #2 and #5a hand drills

Perfect for general drilling up to 1/4″

When I need to drill small holes horizontally, I prefer a breast drill.  The name is derived from how the tool is used; the pad at the top is pressed under your… well… breast and your hands align and crank the drill.  I own a two-speed version (a Stanley 905) that allows me to choose between faster drilling or more torque, just like with a battery powered drill.  I find this drill easier to support, keep flat, and crank when drilling horizontally, but as this is not something most woodworkers do very often I wouldn’t go nuts trying to track one down.

My Stanley 905 breast drill

Tool-free speed change. Just press a button, pop out the drive gear, and place it in the other hole.

My favorite method for drilling holes up to 1/4″ horizontally

Now for the larger holes.  From about 1/4″ – 1″ diameter holes, hand braces are awesome and readily available… the bits (called auger bits), on the other hand, can be a little tough to find in a complete set (sets typically range from 1/4″ – 1″ sizes in 1/16″ increments).

Vintage auger bits made by Irwin

The term “brace” is based on the older wooden versions of this drill which were reinforced with brass plates, or braces, to avoid cracking the wooden frame during use.  Hand braces have two major features that differentiate one from another.  First is the sweep size.  A 10″ brace, for instance, is one which has a handle offset 5″ from the chuck, thus creating a 10″ diameter circle you must sweep the brace around to turn the bit.  The larger the sweep distance, the more torque you can generate (nice for your largest drilling needs), where smaller sweep distances allow for faster drilling (preferable for smaller bits).  The second feature to look for in a brace is ratcheting chucks vs solid chucks.  Ratchets allow for reversing the direction of rotation when an obstruction prevents the brace from making a complete circle.  This sounds like a big advantage and indeed if you find yourself in a situation where you can’t make a full sweep of the brace you will want a ratcheting chuck.  However, this shouldn’t be a regular occurrence and the ratcheting mechanism can add a sloppy feel to the drill (depending who made the tool and how well it’s been cared for).  Thus, I have two braces.  The first is an original (before Stanley bought them out) North Brothers Yankee 2101A brace with a ratcheting chuck and 12″ sweep.  This would be the second of my two essential drills and can handle any large-hole-drilling need I may have.  However, when drilling a smaller hole (maybe 5/8″ or less) and assuming there is nothing in my way, I will often reach for my Millers Falls brace without a ratcheting head.  These tools are so cheap it’s worth having a couple around, especially if you vary the features they bring to your shop.  These tools work well drilling vertically or horizontally, but the way I use them differs based on the situation.

My Millers Falls brace (top) with a 10″ sweep and solid chuck, followed by my Yankee brace with ratcheting chuck and 12″ sweep.

For vertical drilling, the right hand holds the pad, the left hand spins the drill.

For horizontal drilling, I hold the pad against my chest with my left hand and drive the drill with my right. Here I was adding holes in my bench legs to store my holdfasts when not in use.

A few tips on the bits themselves.  For hand drills, you can use the vintage bits that accompany some drills, but I just use brad point bits.  They are just easier to find and cut cleaner.  For the auger bits, two common styles exist: Jennings and Irwin.  I can’t say I prefer one over the other, but if they get dull they can be tuned up with an auger bit file (check Lie-Nielsen’s website to buy one, they are only $8.50).  Finally, if your auger bits are blowing out the back of your board, stop drilling as soon as the lead screw pokes through the back.  Then flip the board over, line the bit up with hole, and finish drilling from the backside.

Brad point bit in a hand drill

Auger bit file

Have a great day, -WMT




In:In the Shop

Comments Off on A Simple Box, Made Simple

For any beginners out there, or just someone looking for a simple-to-make project, boxes are a good and inexpensive option.  I recently made a batch of display boxes that required me to come up with something that looked nice, but didn’t take a long time to make.  There are a few tricks-of-the-trade I used that others may benefit from, so here goes…

The sides of the box are naturally all going to be the same height and thickness, but I also made the top’s length, width, and thickness match the bottom (though these dimensions are different from the side’s).  So, start by flattening and bringing your wood to thickness in your preferred manner, for most that will be using a powered planer.  Then rip your boards to width on the table saw. Pretty straight forward, but here is where some of the tips start to come into play:

Clean up the top edge of all the sides, not the bottom edge, that will get cleaned up at the end.  This will be your reference edge for all future cuts and will not be easy to smooth out once the box is assembled.

Cleaning up the top edge with a block plane.

The joinery for the box will be glued mitered edges.  This allows through-grooves to be cut in sides to house the top and bottom panels.  It also looks nice.  Yes other joints work well and can even be stronger, but they are more complicated and this is meant to be simple and mass-producible.  So with that in mind, use a mitered cross-cut sled to cut one edge at a 45 degree angle, then flip the board and reference it against a hard-stop. This ensures the box sides are the same length.  If your sides are slightly different lengths OR if your angle is not exactly 45 degrees, your joints will not be tight in the end.  Make sure to get this right, especially if you’re making a large run of these boxes.  After the board is mitered into the box-wall components, label them with some form of mark on the outside face, towards the top edge (your reference edge).

Cut the first mitered edge…

…then reference a stop block and cut the other edge.

Miters are cut, parts labeled on outer face,           towards the upper edge.

Now for the grooves which  I do after cutting the miters.  If the grooves are cut first and then you cross-cut the miters, you risk small blow-out as the blade crosses the grooves.  A minor detail, but it’s simple enough to groove after mitering, so I do.  Two things to be aware of here:  first, both grooves are cut with the top edge registering against the fence.  This ensures the grooves will be parallel to each other, even if the bottom edge of the board is slightly off.  It also ensures your top edge will align nicely when the box is assembled which ensures a gap-free top panel and because we already cleaned up this edge, you won’t have much to do here after glue-up.  Second, the groove cut in the side for the lid is the same as the groove cut in the lid (the bottom doesn’t get a groove).  You don’t have to do it this way, but it’s a lot faster than cutting an arbitrary groove in the box side, then moving the fence and trying to dial in a different groove for the top panel.  The pictures should help this make sense.  The bottom groove is wider because it has to house the entire bottom panel.  I used a stacked dado set for this, but didn’t have it installed when I took the picture (sorry).

Lower groove about to be cut (dado blade not shown). Label is face up, towards the fence.

Side walls about to have top groove cut in. Notice the label is again face up, towards the fence.

Orientation of the groove for the side relative to the lid panel. Notice the blade and fence do not change for either cut.  This makes for fast work.

The end result, a nicely captured raised lid.

And with that, you’re just about there.  The top and bottom panels should fit nicely in their grooves, tight enough that there isn’t rattling, but loose enough that they can float freely without binding to allow for expansion.  Dry-fit your box, see how it looks, and when the joints look tight, glue it up.  I use packaging tape stretched across the miters.  It pulls the joint tight, it’s cheap, and it works.  After the glue dries, check the bottom edges.  They probably don’t align perfectly and that’s okay.  We deliberately did all our referencing off the top edge and ignored the bottom edge error until now.  You can use a block plane or belt sander to flush up the bottom edges and make a flat-sitting box.

Packaging tape “clamps” the box for gluing.

Bottom error quickly flushed up at the end.

Finally, sand the box and cut off the lid, either by hand, on a band saw, or a table saw.  You’ll have a little glue squeeze-out on the  inner corners to remove, then you’re about done.  All you have to decide is how to attach the lid. I like a press-fit liner, but hinges will also work.  If you do make a liner, it should match the box walls in grain-orientation and be mitered in the corners, held in by friction alone.  Gluing the liner in isn’t a terrible idea, but it’s nice if the liner can be removed if it gets damaged or if you want to change the configuration of the inside by adding divider walls, etc.

Completed display box (still needs finish applied). This lid is cut at an angle and required a non-conventional liner, but you get the idea.

To spice it up a bit, you can add mouldings, glue in keys across the mitered joint for added strength, or look into other methods for wrapping the grain pattern completely around the box without interruption, but again, those are a bit more advanced and this simple box is a good place to start.

Tips and Troubleshooting: -reference all joinery off the top edge, clean up the bottom after glue-up. -top panel groove should be identical to the groove in the side wall that houses the top panel. -top and bottom panels are identical except for groove added to the top panel. -pick a good proportion for you box, mine was around 6″ long x 4″ wide x 3″ tall.  An awkward proportioned box will never look good. -miters don’t pull tight?  check the following: 1) are my miters at 45 degrees exactly? 2) are my opposing side walls exactly the same length? 3) are my top/bottom panels too wide or long, preventing the corner joint from closing completely? 4) is there anything (wood chip, etc) stuck in my groove, preventing the top/bottom panel from seating properly?

Enjoy and have a great day. -WMT