Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Table saw or compound miter saw?

A beginning box maker asked "which is better for box making, a compound miter saw, or a table saw?" And the answer as in most cases is, "it depends". You can buy a very good compound miter saw for much less than what you would spend for a reasonably good table saw. So if you are comparing what you can get for the money in terms of accuracy and quality of cut you may get one answer. Ask a few other questions and you will come up with another view.

First of all you need to understand the tools. A compound miter saw was invented as a carpenter's tool, portable, to be taken and used at various job sites for installing moldings and trim detail. The good ones are very precise.

A table saw, on the other hand is designed as a more general tool, adaptable to a variety of wood shop functions. It will rip lumber to width, and cross cut lumber or small parts to length, and do lots of other things besides. But in order to do all those things with some degree of accuracy, you will spend a great deal more money on it. You lose the easy portability, as the good ones are heavy.

The real problem with compound miter saws in box making is when box parts get small. It is difficult to hold or clamp small parts in place on a compound miter saw. Clamps get in the way of the motion of the saw unless the parts are long enough that they can be clamped some distance from the blade. When using the table saw to cut parts of similar size, you can use a sled, and stop blocks and simple hold down stick to control the stock through the cut, so in my experience, the use of a table saw is preferred. And yet, there is the problem of cost. If you plan to do quality work, cheap table saws should be avoided. You would be better off buying a used, quality made machine rather than those on the market that are little better than an upside down Skil saw in a stand.

Buying tools is not the best way to learn their use. It can be good to take a class and get experience on real tools. I have three box making classes coming up this summer. The first is at William Ng's School of Fine Woodworking in California, June 8-12. Check it out. I would love to see you there. The photo above is from my class at William Ng's school, June 2007.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Brent Livingwell

A friend of mine's son, Brent Livingwell, is doing fantastic box making as you can see from the photos he posted on What beautiful wood! And the craftsmanship is exemplary.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Cutting miters on a router table?

Matthew asked a real head-scratcher:
My first project was a fairly successful open top box made of maple. I made a nice little jig for making 3/8" finger joints on my router table. Recently, however, I picked up a copy of your book Taunton's Complete Illustrated Guide to Box Making. Great book! I love your jigs. To me, it seemed the next great improvement on my box would be to try your suggestion of a finger joint with a miter at either edge. I also thought it would be nice to try a different wood, so being a sailor, I chose Mahogany.

I have a Craftsman table saw, and it is the style that, instead of a standard miter track, it has a sled. As such, I don't feel that it can make cuts as accurate as one might need for such fine detail. Maybe I'm wrong...

Instead, I've been trying to do as much as possible on my router table, including making the 45 degree miter cuts. To increase accuracy at the router table, I've even gone and upgraded the miter track on table as well as purchased a new fancy Incra miter gauge.

The problem I seem to be having is that when I make the miter cut on the table, with the gauge set for one 45 the cut comes out beautifully, but when I rotate the miter 90 degrees to do the other cut, the bit seems to chew up the wood, sometimes splitting off pieces all together. Attached is a picture.

Do you have any suggestions for me?
The problem you are having has to do with the feed direction of the router bit. On the cut that comes out clean, the bit is cutting downhill with the grain. On the other cut, the router is cutting uphill, against the grain, so it gets fuzzy at a minimum and at worst will tear out chunks. This has to do not only with the feed direction of the stock, but also is related to the rotation direction of the router bit. You could test some of how this works with a hand plane. Try to go against the grain and you get crappy results.

The illustration below shows a rather complex solution to enable your table mounted router to do the job. It entails a regular cut, similar to what you do that is successful, and a cut on the other side of the router bit to cover the part that is not working well. This involves a climb cut, which is generally not recommended because it will pull the stock into the cut and often out of control. But, in this case the cut is very small, extremely unlikely to throw the wood and jig across the room and you should be able to hold the stock securely by clamping it to the fence. The position of the fence in this jig is critical as it being tight on the cut (zero clearance) is required to prevent tear-out, and you will notice that the fence on the left is behind the work piece and the one on the left ahead. This arrangement is to provide backing to the cut.

This is a pretty sophisticated technique, so please let me know that you get it thoroughly before you try it. And this is not particularly an easy jig to make. To be honest, I've never made one myself, but just invented it in response to this request. But I believe it would answer the problems you are having. Let me know how it turns out. Matthew, this is a great question to help readers understand the impact of router bit rotation direction. Thanks for the question.

Monday, April 20, 2009

transfer punch

I learn something everyday. Sometimes I learn from the things I try by myself, and sometimes from what is suggested by others. Today's lesson involves a tool called a "transfer punch" which a fellow box maker suggested for marking the center of hinge holes for accurate drilling of pilot holes. The transfer punch set shown has punches far larger than I will ever use for making boxes, but the complete set cost only 9.95 at Harbor Freight and will last me a lifetime. You choose the punch that fits the hole, then tap it to mark for drilling.

Since marking and drilling pilot holes for teeny tiny screws is one of those things that can really bug a box maker, I expect this tool, acquired today, to make my box making even more fun.

Monday, April 13, 2009

drilling tiny holes for hinges

The following is from a reader, Jim:
When installing hinges on small boxes, I utilize the flip stick that you describe in your books and in a Fine Woodworking article. This procedure hasn't failed me as long as I cut the stick accurately. Where I have problems is in trying to center the pilot hole when using very small hinges that utilize no. 2 brass screws or smaller. This seems to be especially difficult in woods with prominent grain - no matter how precise I try to be, it seems that the awl never finds the exact center and I'm sure you know how a small error here can mess up your hinge alignment even with accurate mortises. The I have to sand the sides and/or top to align with one another, With larger hinges, I use Vix-type bits to center the pilot hole but haven't been able to find one that small.

You you have any suggestions that would facilitate properly aligning the pilot holes?
I wish they made a vix bit in the right size. The interesting thing about butt hinges when they are enclosed in a mortise on three sides is that the mortise will hold them in position even if the screws are slightly misaligned except when the screw is slightly misaligned toward the outside of the box in which case the screws pull the hinge away from its proper position. My answer, is to make sure that the screw hole is either dead on or slightly offset away from the back side of the box so that it pulls the hinge into position rather than away. When using an awl, make sure the hole is exactly where you want it before you drill, and this may take close observation and a bit of prying, particularly when the wood is heavily grained.

There is another problem with butt hinges that may be causing part of your problem. Sometimes on less expensive hinges the leaves may not be in exact alignment on the back side. So you need to check them carefully, and file them even on the back I show this in an earlier post "Hard to see but explains a few things."

Thursday, April 9, 2009

tapered blade and router table inserts

I had a couple questions today. The first was "where do I find the tapered sanding blade for the table saw." I had no answer for that one, and regular readers will remember that I discussed it in an earlier post. the same reader did some research on his own and shared a source, Woodworker's Supply.Another reader asked about the material I use for making router table inserts. Long ago I got a sheet of High Density Polyethylene which I have used over the years for making inserts. It is easy to buy in sheet form on-line. But don't overlook possible local sources. Check out your local Target or Walmart store for cutting boards in the kitchen supply section. Choose 1/4" to 3/8" thick material.