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SketchUp model of the Bedside Table showing the beveled top.One of my Beginner’s SketchUp students, upon finishing the course, decided to build the Bedside Table I used as the learning vehicle in the video series. He wrote and asked for advice on a safe way to cut the top’s bevels. I thought this might be of general interest. So here is one of many approaches; and it is a safe one.

Click on the picture at left to enlarge it. You will notice that the table top is 3/4” thick, begins to bevel on all sides 1/4” down from the top. The bevel is 2” wide. This works out to about 14 degrees. The table top is 18 1/2” by 23” with the grain running in the long dimension.

I chose to cut the bevels on my table saw and clean them up with a hand plane. Finishing them with a hand plane is particularly necessary with cherry because it burns so easily. More on that in a moment.

Beveling fixture with table top clamped in place.

To cut the bevels on a table saw you need to set the blade for 14 degrees (you can’t set it for 76 degrees) and hold the top in a vertical plane as you cut. The fixture at right is simple and safe. It is made from scrap plywood. The important features are: the vertical and horizontal members must be perpendicular; the horizontal member must be the same width along its length; the vertical member should be tall enough to support the size table top you intend to cut; and the length of the horizontal and vertical members must be a little longer than the width or depth of the table top you intend to bevel. When assembling it keep the vertical member in front of the horizontal member to provide a perfectly flat front plane. Make the braces large enough to firmly support the members and also allow you to use them as handle to push the fixture along.

Saw balade set to 14 degrees. Stiffener & zero clearance insert removed.

Notice in the picture at left that I have set the saw blade for 14 degrees. (You can gauge 14 degrees with your eyes, right?) Also notice I had to remove the blade stiffener  to get enough height on the blade, and my zero clearance insert. The clamps I used here I used for expediency sake. If this were a real cut on a real top I would have used Bessey Tradesmen’s Bar Clamps. They have two advantages. First they are stronger and clamp tighter. Second, they have clearance and allow you to reach further in from the edge. This is important, because all tops bow slightly, however slight. You may not notice it, but as you will see in a moment even an unnoticeable bow will show up as a curved bevel. Get you clamps as close to the blade as safely possible; dry run a pass past the blade to be sure they will clear it.

Safely pushing the fixture and top past the saw blade.Set the fence so that the bevel begins 1/4” down from the top face (the top face is the surface that is against the fixture). With you hands on the supports hold the fixture up against the fence and slide the top through the blade. Be sure to keep your arm high and to the support side of the vertical member. Push the fixture and the top all the way through. DO NOT try to pull the fixture back! Turn the saw off and set up for the next cut. The piece I am cutting here is scrap plywood. I couldn’t waste precious cherry on an demonstrationWinking smile But if it were cherry I would try to push it through as fast as safely possible to avoid burning. However, it is almost impossible to avoid all burning, and the saw blade leaves machine marks too. So get out you trusty block plan or smoother and clean it up.

Finished bevel on scrap plywood.

Remember my comment about good clamps and keeping them tight and as close to the blade as is safe? Look at the finished  bevel at left. This piece of plywood was quite flat but still produced a curved looking bevel. Fear not. It looks worse than it actually is, largely due to the parallel lines of a plywood cross section. It makes the curve look worse than is real. And your real piece will have curvy grain or end grain and it tend to hide the curve. Still, pay attention getting the clamping right, and pay particular attention to making sure any clamps you use clear the blade.

An alternate fixture that doesn't require tilting the saw blade.If you are going to do a lot of beveled tops, all of the same angle, you might want to consider a fixture which is itself beveled, such as that shown right. The advantage here is that you don’t have to tilt the saw blade, remove the stiffener and the zero clearance insert. Nor do you have to recalibrate your saw blade to 90 degrees when you are done. The disadvantage with this fixture is that the angle is fixed. But I am sure you could design a mechanism that would be adjustable.

In the second, third and fourth pictures above you can easily see that my cabinet saw is right tilting, that is the blade tilts to the right. I have to move my fence to the left side, which means I also have to change the side the fence attaches to the locking mechanism. Not a problem if you have a Biesemeyer fence. Also, the left side of the blade has a short table which limits the horizontal member’s width. Another reason for building the fixture with a built in angle. That would avoid the fence changes and I could then work on the right side of the blade where the table is wide. The fixture itself doesn’t care which side of the blade it is used on. If your saw tilts left you have no such problems. If it tilts right, like mine, I highly recommend the fixture with the built in angle.

I started out by claiming this to be a safe approach to beveling a top. It is, provided you follow normal shop safety procedures. If you don’t then there is no approach that is safe. This fixture keeps you hands and arms a safe distance from the saw blade. Each cut simply requires turning the top and re-clamping. Safe beveling!

High School Push StickFor those of you who took woodworking shop in high school you are likely to remember this useful safety device. It was typically made from scrap 1/4” or 1/2” plywood and shaped to fit your hand. The High School Push Stick is most useful for pushing narrow pieces through a table saw while keeping your fingers far away from the saw blade. For this reason I prefer the narrower 1/4” version.

Anyone who has used this handy little device will agree it is invaluable in the wood shop. So I have taken to providing readers my most complex SketchUp model yet; High School Push Stick.skp. Download it by clicking this link.

Create A Template

Open the model and choose Camera/Parallel Projection. Choose Camera/Standard Views/Front. Zoom Extents and minimize the amount of white space around the model by adjusting the window size (this is necessary to print this model on a single 8 1/2” x 11” page). In the Print Setup Dialog box choose the Properties Button. Choose the Basic Tab and select Landscape. In the print Preview Dialog box uncheck both “Fit to page” and “Use model extents”. Enter 1 and Inches for both “In the printout” and “In SketchUp” (this produces a 1:1 print scale). Now choose Print at the top of the menu bar. If you have trouble printing to scale read Printing To Scale In SketchUp.

Sandwich the printout between two sheets of Self Adhesive Clear Plastic which you can buy at any office supply store or Carefully cut out the template of the Push Stick and trace it onto a scrap of 1/4” plywood.

Cutout The Push Stick

There are three straight-line cuts that should be made on a table saw. They are: the 8 1/2” long line, the 1/4” short line and the 1” line. The three lines are perpendicular to each other. Cut these first. Next, use a jig saw, scroll saw or band saw to rough out the curves. Finally, with an edge sander and oscillating spindle sander (or just your hands) sand the curved edges to final shape. That’s it -  you now have a very handy and safe High School Push Stick.

Using The Push Stick To Shape Mullions & Muntins

Mullions Have A Through Mortise You can make a career out of searching for the correct definition of mullions and muntins but don’t waste your time. Suffice it to say they are both parts of a window or door, and they frame its lights. I think of mullions as the more complex of the two which has one or more through mortises and two tenons.

Muntins Have No Through Mortise Muntins on the other hand are less complex with no through mortise and two tenons. Definitions you will find on the internet vary all over the place; some even give the mullion a structural meaning similar to a stile. The tenons on a mullion usually fit into a stile or rail while those of a muntin fit into the through mortise of a mullion. Ok, with that as the definition for mullion and muntin let me demonstrate how the push stick can be used with both the router and table saw to shape them.

Feeding Narrow Stock Through A Table Saw The most often used application for the push stick is to feed thin or narrow pieces of stock through a table saw. In the picture at left I am cutting two rabbets in a muntin by holding 3/4” stock against the fence with a feather board and feeding the stock with the push stick. Notice my hands and fingers are well clear of the red area and at least six inches from the blade. (There are numerous feather board designs that can be used allowing for taller and still narrow stock.) In this case the push stick is merely feeding the stock, but not assisting in holding the stock against the fence.

The Push Stick Feeds & The Feather Board HoldsAnother application for the push stick is to feed narrow stock through a router. In the picture at right I begin the feed with the push stick held vertically and pushing the stock while my fingers hold the stock against the fence. The feather board does not engage until the stock leaves the cutting area. Because I don’t want my fingers to encroach the area above the metal plate I am limited in the length of stock I can shape with the router. These pieces are about minimum size.

The Push Stick Feeds And Assists The Feather Board As the feather board engages I tilt the push stick to about 35 degrees and assist the feather board in holding the stock against the fence. Here my fingers also help out. They have encroached on the area above the metal plate, but only after the stock completely surrounds the router bit, in essence shielding my fingers.

Shaping mullions and muntins are one of the more dangerous operations in a wood shop and for that reason many woodworkers build windows and doors that have lights using imatation mullions and muntins. I applaud that choice and understand it completely. But the push stick and feather board can go a long way in reducing the risk and making this operation much safer.

A reader wrote me in the comment section of one of my blogs and asked how I like the Performax Pro 22-44 drum sander. He was considering purchasing one and wanted my opinion. I replied “I can’t say enough good things about the Performax Pro 22-44 drum sander”, and I can’t. So much so I thought I would write a post just about this invaluable tool.

This is not a power tool that gets used only on occasion – no sir. Nearly every board in my shop goes through it during at least one process step. Mostly immediately following the planner. I use it for final thicknessing of all parts using 80 grit paper. I may also use it for finish sanding of panels and other parts with 220 grit paper. This is especially true for stock that has grain direction changes that would cause tear out with a hand plane.

Bringing Door Stiles & Rails To Final Thickness My thicknessing process starts with the planner where the stock is brought to within 1/16” or 1/32” of final thickness. If the stock is figured wood such as tiger maple or blistered maple I may even leave the stock 1/8” over sized because tear out on figured woods can be excessive. I will then bring the stock to within 1/32” or 1/64” with the 80 grit paper on the Performax Pro. Depending on other factors, I may even bring it to final thickness with 220 grit drum paper.

The drum sander has five significant advantages over the planner for final thicknessing. First there is negligible to no snipe at the ends. Hence you can save two to four inches on rough stock lengths.

Second, small nicks in a planner or jointer blade leave noticeable ridges in the wood. This only happens on a drum sander if you have a burn in the paper from clogging (generally caused by pitch pockets). But the latter is extremely rare while the former is quite common.

Third, with fine paper you can attain the final thickness while also leaving the stock with a finished surface.

Fourth, you can finish figured woods with no tear out, which is nearly impossible on the planner.

Thicknessing A Wider Than 22" Panel After Glue Up Fifth, and this brings me to another feature of the Performax Pro in particular, is that you can thickness wide panels. The 22-44 in its name means you can sand panels as wide as 22” in single passes, or up to 44” in two passes. Note in the picture on the right that the panel hangs out the edge of the drum sander. Simply turn the panel around to sand the remaining portion.

This can be a little tricky on long and wide panels, for example, 30” wide and 72” long table tops. You must be careful to keep the piece moving and prevent it from drooping over the edge due to its weight. It helps to have a helper in such situations.

A Simple Leg Taper Jig One of the things about a drum sander is that it is relatively safe. You might get pinched if you are not careful but it is very unlikely that you would lose a digit or suffer a significant cut. In fact, if you use your imagination you can use the drum sander to de-risk otherwise risky shop operations. For example, tapering table legs can be a risky operation, particularly on a table saw. But you can taper legs on a drum sander very safely.

In the picture above left I have rough cut tapers on four legs using the band saw in free hand style (this is not a necessary step but one that makes things go quicker). No need to be accurate, just be sure to leave the taper line. Stay an 1/8” away from it if you are not confident about your free hand cutting ability with a band saw; or skip this step all together and do it all on the drum sander.

Tapering Table Legs With A Simple Jig & Drum Sander The jig is simple; use either 3/4” plywood, or as I have here, a Formica covered piece of particle board. Using double sided sticky tape place two pieces of 3/4” wood in the direction perpendicular to travel through the drum sander. Space them for the correct taper by sliding one board closer to or further away from the other until the taper lines are parallel to the jig surface. Place the rough taper legs as I have in the photo with one piece keeping the legs from moving beyond the end of the jig and the other providing the correct taper. You may wish to tape the top ends of the legs together to keep them from slipping sideways. Start with 80 grit paper and finish with 220 grit paper and feed the legs through while monitoring the taper lines. See photo at right above.

Finished Tapered Legs - No Sanding Necessary The finished legs are shown at left; they are completed and require no final sanding. I have found this method to be not only safe, but the final product is more accurate than when cut on the table saw. In addition there are no burn marks from the saw blade which is particularly troublesome with cherry. Lastly, any significant grain direction change is no problem for the drum sander, but might be for even a hand plane. These legs were made for an Office Table which you can read more about by gong to

Flattening A Panel After Glue Up Glue ups can create wide panels and no matter how careful you are the individual boards do not align perfectly. I generally leave panel stock 1/16” to 1/8” thicker than finished width. After the glue is dried I scrape any excess squeeze out from the panel and then draw numerous parallel lines on each side with carpenter’s crayon. I sand one side keeping an eye on the disappearance of the crayon marks. As soon as they are completely gone I turn the panel over and bring the opposite side to parallel. With 220 grit I then bring the panel to final thickness. See the picture at right.

Two things you need to know about this tool: One, you must have dust collection connected and running at all the times when you are using the Performax; Two, feed the material at half speed, using 1/8 turn on depth adjustment for each pass and don’t let the material stop. I have ruined several pieces of cherry when I first used the Performax Pro until I understood these issues.

One last piece of advice. If you do buy a Performax, it comes with a drive belt that moves the material which is similar to a sandpaper belt. Optionally they sell a rubber surfaced belt. Buy it. It’s worth the extra cost. The grip is better and it doesn’t mar your surface.

As you can see, the Performax Pro 22-44 drum sander is an invaluable and frequently useable tool. Not only does it do a better job in many situations, but it is often more accurate and safer. Its snipe free operation can result in less material used. And it can handle wide boards and panels that the planner cannot. It is the only tool that can handle figured or difficult wood without any chance of tear out. Even my trusty hand planes cannot guarantee that. This machine has been a workhorse in my shop and it is rugged and reliable. I wouldn’t hesitate a second to buy another if I found it necessary to do so. But I have a feeling this one will last so long that buying another will never be an option.

Duelling Dubbys - Right And Left Dubby Jigs The title of this blog should be “Progress In Crafting American Chippendale Mirrors”, or some such thing. But as often happens to me while working on a project, a thought catches my attention and I can’t get rid of it. Over the last few days, while working on this project, it happened that I had to use a commercial fixture and build another fixture; or was it a jig? Woodworkers often confuse the two and use these terms incorrectly, as I have done here – and many times in the past. So I was compelled to do a little research.

It turns out there are many mechanical engineering and fabrication books written that give the definition of, and explains the use of, fixtures and jigs. They are perhaps the most useful source in answering this question. I have a number of woodworking books in my library that also give us some guidance. There is also the dictionary. After reading a number of these sources the difference is still not clear.

However, taking the common elements you can boil the definitions down to the following:

  1. A jig holds and guides the work piece
  2. The fixture holds the piece while it is worked on

Setting Blade Height Correctly & Dubbys To Cut 45 Degrees Produces Horizontal Corner Slices OK, so what is a tenoning jig? Does it hold the piece while it is worked on? Or does it hold and guide the piece. It is universally called a jig, but it does no more guiding a tenon than it guides a piece I cross cut without its use. I am doing the guiding, or perhaps you can argue it is the table top miter slot that is doing the guiding. But the tenoning jig certainly isn’t. So perhaps the definition should be:

  1. A jig holds a piece and is movable while working the piece
  2. A fixture holds a piece and is fixed in place while working the piece

With this definition I can actually determine what I am working with. Now I can clearly say a tenoning jig is indeed a jig, and the Supreme Drill Press Table I wrote about a few weeks back is clearly a fixture. More importantly, I can say the two helpful tools I use in this blog are clearly jigs.

A Jig Enables Cutting Vertical Corner Slices OK, having wasted a lot of time, energy and blog space on that overdone thought I can write about “Progress In Crafting American Chippendale Mirrors”. The picture frames thus far are joined with end grain to end grain joinery; a joint which is notoriously weak and needs reinforcement. There are traditional ways of doing this, one of which is to cut corner slots and use splines. For reasons to be explained later I used a modified version of this joint. To assist me I turned to one of my favorite and most used jigs, the Dubby from In-Line Industries. In the first picture above you can see Left and Right Dubbys set to 45 degrees. I am using them to cut horizontal slices in the corners of the frame. Two opposite slices are cut with each of the two Dubbys producing the slices you see in the picture ant right above. These are the first of two cuts needed to remove triangular shaped pieces.

The Weak Corner Pieces Are Cut Out And Roughed Out Long Grain Pieces Will Replace Them To make the second cut I needed to build a simple jig. Shown in the picture above left is a vertical board with support stock glued 45 degrees to an edge. The picture frame sits in these supports allowing a properly set fence and blade to cut the corner pieces out. These corner pieces will be replaced with similar roughed out corner pieces  with the grain arranged such that there is long grain to long grain joinery. I trace multiples of these corner pieces on a rectangular piece and rough them out using the band saw, leaving just enough along the edges to assure complete coverage. After they are glued in place I use a patterning bit in the table router to trim the edges flat.

You Can Visually See The Reinforcing Nature Of This Joinery Change In the picture at left you can see the results. From this picture it should obvious the improvement in joinery strength. Imagine picking up the end grain to end grain piece and snapping it with your fingers. No problemo! Now imagine picking up the replacement piece and trying to snap it. Good luck!

Another thing to remember is that a properly glued long grain to long grain joint is stronger than the wood itself. This has been demonstrated in numerous studies and wood working articles. You can demonstrate this in your own shop easily. Glue two pieces edge to edge (1/4” to 3/4” thick). Let the joint cure for 24 hours. Place it in a vice with the joint near the jaws of the vice and hit the protruding piece with a hammer or mallet. You will notice (provided the joint was glued correctly) that the board will split in the grain of the wood, not at the glue line.

So why did I use this modified spline instead of the traditional joint? Because I need to cut 1/4” by 1/4” groves along the top, bottom and sides to accept the scroll work. Doing so would remove a substantial amount of the spline. Further, the resulting joinery when the scroll work is glued in place would be long grain to end grain. Stronger than end grain to end grain but not as strong as long grain to long grain. Does this make a difference? Yes a little, especially if you are expecting your work to last for hundreds of years it does. That said, it’s six of one, half dozen of the other.

These Mirrors Are Ready For Staining & Finishing In the picture at right is the finished glued up mirrors ready for stain and finish. The strange uneven coloring is a result of using mineral spirits to search for unwanted glue spots before completing the sanding. It will disappear after drying. The mineral spirits also give you a good preview of what the tiger maple will look like when finished. You can see it is quite spectacular. The frame at right in the picture has a cherry picture frame and tiger maple scroll work. The one at left  is entirely tiger maple. I love mixing wood types. The cherry will darken over time and the tiger maple will lighten slightly making the contrast even more noticeable.

My wife and I are excited about finishing these mirrors and giving them to our kids for Christmas. A few hundred years from now I hope a descendant will write a blog like An American Chippendale Mirror Makes A Great Gift explaining their origin.

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