Practical carpentry and cabinet
making under Australian conditions.
for the practical woodworking amateur
copyright: this article is copyleft. you are free to do with it as you wish, no rights are reserved
by Ralph Klimek
Abstract: Some practical advice about wordworking for hobbyists under
Australian conditions. The article contains the authors observations
and experiences and write ups for significant projects. How to apply a piano grade finish using only home garage technology
In Australia it is possible to purchase a general purpose carpentry
machine called the Triton Workcentre. I purchased some twenty years ago
one of the very early models of this device after watching the
promotional video in the local hardware, I was transfixed by the video
which was showing of all the very cool things that you could do with
nothing more than a circular saw and a Triton Work Centre.
Prior to the invention and marketing of the Triton practical carpentry
for the home handy personage was dictated by how friendly your lumber
yardsman was. He certainly never suffered fools, only talked to the
tradies, and unless you knew the trade jargon your friendly lumberman
wasnt very friendly and didnt even want your money. When you wanted timber milled to some
particular shape for a project you had to search and weadle your way
around the yard. They didnt like handymen or hobbyists, they didnt buy
"house lots" , and didnt know what they were talking about. No money to made here. I used to watch lovely
second hand timber get cut up for firewood because "you cant use
secondhand wood for furniture or whatever because...yada yada ." Made me very sad.
I watched the Triton promotional video, awestruck, as we saw,
weathered, rough sawn timber being dressed and milled to your precise
specification...right in your workshop. But better than that, it was
now possible to make repetitive machine cuts that were identical and
were always true, in even the most hardened of secondhand hard woods.
Tungsten Carbide has presented itself as a miracle in the woodworking
scene. I learned to handle wood with classical steel tools, my cuts
were never true, and repetitive cuts were never identical. My poor
efforts would never has been presentable as display furniture,
perhaps only adaquate for workshop shelves. With classical tools,
planes, chisels, saws the only timber that is useable is softwoods and
nearly green hardwood. With Tungsten Carbide the most intractable
secondhand hardwood timber can be formed exactly how you want it as one machines metal.
Even Red Gum which real chippies consider only fit for firewood can be
made to render beautifull and indestructable objects.
As I have learned it takes years , many long years, to learn how to
handle a hand wood saw with any degree of competance, I now can
actually make a true cut, it only took me forty years to learn how! It
is a skill well worth learning because your Triton is never where the job
I purchased a Triton a maybe only a few months later I had recouped its
cost in money and time saved by not visiting lumber yards and completed furniture
grade projects. The one thing that still appeals to me is to see a
smashed packing crate on the road somewhere, I used to see junk, now I
see good raw material just waiting to be milled !
Practical furniture biulding should start with something you actually
need, that way you will be inspired or rather compelled to finish it!
She-who-must-be-obeyed most often will dictate to you what it needed
and she is impressed by the things you can do for her...for a while, at least.
The practical home wood workshop is this day and age must be a slave to
time, we dont have time to cobble away with classical tools, practical
projects done by people with only hobbyist skills must be completeable
by next month, otherwise they are non-projects. Purchase labour saving
and time saving power tools, at todays prices you have no excuse not to
have a Triton, circular saw, power plane, router and belt sander. Other
tools you will find to be required will be some good chisels. Dont even
bother looking at cheap made in China chisels. They cannot cut warm
butter without resharpening. A good chisel costs A$30 minimum
is so sharp that the wood wants to carve itself. You will need a rubber
mallet so you dont put dings into wood when you are knocking things
together. A doweling jig will give you professional dowels at
very modest cost. You might still like to have a classical wood plane,
they are not cheap, but with practice you can create a better finish in
wood than a power plane or belt sander can do. A good hand plane costs
about the same as a power plane.
Joints in furniture
All wood to wood joints, no matter how you bind them with fasteners
should always be glued with PVA wood glue. Poly Vinyl Alcohol glue
reacts chemically with the cellulose in wood and forms a true chemical
bond that is permanent. A well constructed joint that is glued has a
solid feel to it. Use a marine resorcinol glue if the bond is subject
to prolonged moisture, like in bathroom furniture. Never use
nails for permanent work, they always work loose, only use them for
temporary false work or temporary bracing and put them where the nail
holes remain invisible in the final project assembly. Allways drill and
use wood screws. I have found that plaster board screws are the ideal
wood screw, they dont need a tapered wood bit, are forgiving of small
errors, are cheap, strong, and can be inserted with a power drill. If
you have made a mistake you just unscrew, if you have nailed you must
bash your work to bits. The screw heads can be completely hidden with a
plug of wood cut with a plug cutter ( they are cheap ) and with a bit
of care the screw holes can be made invisible. Brass screws
should be used where there is risk of moisture exposure and where you
may be required to disassemble your work some years down the track.
Brass will not bind to wood unlike steel. You will need to use more
brass screws than steel because brass lacks the tensile strength of
steel and you will have to take this into account. Let common sense be
The best thing about drilling and screwing compared with nails is that
when you have carefully lined up your work pieces, they stay aligned.
When you bash a nail in the force will always mess up the alignment of
the work and result in a joint that isnt true.
Real chippies can do this and get it right, all the time, but
I and presumeably you, cannot.
The reason that the real chippies reject secondhand hardwood
of hand is because it is intractable with classical hand tools. Cutting
it is hard, nailing it is impossible, chiselling it just wears out the
chisel, planning it is allmost impossible...and worse, much worse
either has contained nails or actually contains a nail to put a ding in
your precious tool! Well, whats good about secondhand timber. It is
extremely hard which means it has dimentional stability. It is
seasoned, it has been part of a wall or chook shed for only
Lord knows how long. It is cheap, and sadly these days is a piece of
what is now probably rare or just unobtainable timber. Old hardwood
take a mirror quality finish , in fact a "piano" grade polish without
effort if you plane it. It is also immenseley strong and rigid which
is, surely, a desirable attribute for your project. "Real furniture
biulders never use secondhand timber". It is my quest to expose this
traditional attitude for the load of bollucks that it is.
It is certainly true that it can contain a nasty surprise
nail or embedded stone that escaped your attention. Tungsten Carbide
does not care a jot
about nails. I once accidently sawed through a 6 inch nail that had
been embedded in some old lump. I noticed a few sparks and felt the saw
struggling a bit. I persisted in cutting, and when the wood seperated I
saw two 6 inch nail halves. I had sawn down the nail the long way. My
saw ! ( I
wailed ). On examination just one of the TC teeth had a small ding in
it. The Vermont American company will sell you a TCT saw blade that is
DESIGNED to cut through nails! A nail will still put a ding in a TC
plane so still be carefull. Never nail secondhand timber, its too hard
and you will just split the wood. Drill and screw. Hand Plane it
it you dare, if
you value the edge on your plane use a belt sander, they dont care
about nails and carefull belt sanding gives allmost as good a result as
planning. The Triton® random orbital sander is not to be overlooked.
I mainly use my small router to put decorative edges on timber. Allways
put a decorative edge on your work, it makes it look classy. A very
complete set of TCT router knives costs less than $100 that will give
adequate life and performance for the hobbyist. Never use a cheap made
in China TCT router bit for commercial service, they just are not that
well made. They are fine for hobbyist use. The large half inch routers
scare me, I dont have one, and I cannot concieve of me wielding one
free hand. Use a small rounding over bit when your project is allmost
complete to break all exposed sharp edges. A small router also permits
you to engage in decorative wood surface carving which is now a lost
art. (see my tree trunk coffee table) Use an edge trimmer bit when
things must be flush. Cut a little bit oversize and then use the
trimmer bit to make the joint PERFECT. These edge trimmer bits were
meant for laminate but they are much more usefull than that.
Buy a 10 inch or 9 1/4 inch saw for your Triton, the smaller 7 inch is
not satisfactory. Dont scrimp on this. A good quality saw has a firm
sole plate and no longitudinal slop on the saw axle. This means you get
a true furniture grade cut. I dislike having to weild this large saw
freehand, its heavy and exceedingly dangerous. A freehand
circular saw is usefull for rough cutting large panels or planks and a
7 inch saw is light and relativley safe to use in inexperienced hands.
For the Triton, lash out and buy a 60 tooth saw blade, they cost a bit
more but produce a beautifull allmost polished cut. The harder the wood
the better! After a lot of work with old timber the grit, the whoops,
sorry saw...nails and some timbers have embedded silica, even the
remarkable TCT teeth become dulled. They can be resharpened with a
diamond hone available from Bunnings® (if you can find this small
object) or from gun shops where they are sold to fishermen to sharpen
their hooks. Do not believe the silly old codgers that tell you TC
cannot be resharped. A Diamond hone will even put an edge on a worn out
masonry drill bit ! Its true ,though, dont sharpen TC on a whetstone
because TC is harder than whetstone material!
Buy the widest one on offer consistent with your budget. They all have
tungsten carbide blades now, buy a spare set of blades because one day
you will hit a nail or embedded sand grain. Replacement blades are not
expensive. They give a near perfect finish on wood that is smaller than
the width of the blade. It is nearly impossible to plane a wide board
without cutting unsightly ridges, I havent found a way to do it yet.
That is why I still finish wide boards with a hand plane in the case of
softer woods, old hardened hardwood is nearly impossible to hand plane,
finish it with a belt sander always along the grain. I believe the
problem with the power planner is that the blade is perfectly straight.
If the blade was curved at the edges it should be possible to place a
wide board without cutting ridges. The ridges result from the fact that
the human skeleton cannot produce perfect linear motion, this results
in irregular downward forces on the plane that tend to skew it. I think
the Triton range now includes an arrangement for power planes that
reduces the scope of this problem, sort of like a poor mans
thicknesser. At some point in the future I will try to modify
some TC planer blades to give them a rounded over edge profile to
minimise the ridge cutting effect on wide boards. I will let you know
how it goes.
You still need some classical hand tools. Chisels still are required
for finishing a mortice and for decorative carving. A hand plane is
still required for truing an edge or removing the splintery edge on a
freshly made rip cut. A chisel needs a bench grinder and needs it
often. You need a drill for holes and a battery powered drill for
putting in wood screws. You cannot have too many G Clamps I have ten of
them and its not enough. A glued joint must be clamped for 24 hours or
so either with clamps or fasteners. Use a G clamp, they exert far more
force than can be provided by wood screws. A sash cramp is really good
for large projects. A hand saw is still needed for rough cutting and
quick and dirty cuts when its too much trouble to run the power saw and
when you are in the roof! You need a ruler, a meter stick is the most
usefull size. A rubber mallet is required when pushing a mortice and
tenon together or mating dowelled workpieces. Dont spoil your nice work
by dinging it with a steel hammer. You must have a tri-square for
accurate marking and for checking if your cut is true. Did I mention a
hammer? No, only use hammers for demolition and removing nails in
Still needed , even in this day and age. I like to buy my handsaws from
flea markets because the old brown wooden handled traditional hand saw
was made by people, usually in Birmingham England, that actually
understood steel and how to laminate and temper it so that the blade
had the right amount of rigidity and flexibility. The modern cheap hand
saw is a pain to use because the blade is not rigid enough, or cannot
keep an edge or just wont cut. Do not buy a so called hard point saw
and expect to keep it long. They have a superior edge of case hardened
steel. They work for a while and cannot be resharpened because you only
remove the tempered steel edge. However, they may be a good buy but you
must consider them to be a consumeable item. learn how to sharpen
your saw blade, either with a traditional saw file or rather, I use a
Dremel with a mounted stone. Using a Dremel, you can sharpen you oldest
saw blade in a few minutes and put an edge on it, like that can only be
given by an old, gnarled and grumpy saw doctor from ages past.
Still needed even in this day and age. A good hand plane costs more
than a power plane which is crazy, but then most of life is beyond the
rational as you well know. In Australia the Stanley Plane
to be one of the few still available, the longer the plane the better,
if you have a monster get a smaller block plane for small jobs. You
have simply superior control with a hand plane and it
wont chomp your finger off either. A hand plane
comes with a hardened tool steel blade which will need constant
sharpening. Get a sharpening guide and whetstone, dont try it
freehand, unless you try long and hard you will be dissappointed with
your freehand edge. Wash the whetstone with kerosene, a clogged
whetstone cannot sharpen. A hand plane requires a lot of practice to do
a board nicely, thats the problem with classical tools. It is also hard
work. Traditionalists still insist on a wooden plane, you can still buy
them, but I say dont waste your time. It is true, a wooden plane may
give superior results but only in the hands of a master craftsman which
we most certainly are not.
Drills and holes.
I dont think nails have a place in furniture, so if you drill and screw
you need a drill. Get a drill press, cheapies and nasties that are
adequate for hobbyist use are on special for $50. The bigger the
better, let your budget be your guide. A hand held drill is essential,
a half inch chuck is mandatory! Wood is an irregular material, there
are harder bits and softer bits. That means that the hole
you are trying to drill will wander, this is tragic if you are drilling
doweling holes, your dowells wont line up. Allways drill a pilot hole,
a 1/8 drill is about the maximum size for a pilot hole and you can get
extended length drills too. A hand held drill never gives a hole that
is "true" ; that is perpendicular to the work. This can cause problems
in alignment when the work pieces are bonded. Allways use the
bench drill if possible, if not make a drilling guide by drilling
through a block of waste wood with a bench drill so you know the hole
is true. clamp the guide to the work and drill your pilot hole or final
hole through the guide hole . It will be very close to perpendicular if
you do it this way.
Cutting larger holes is a problem. Spade bits are availble up to 30mm.
If you can afford it get some good quality Sutton hole saws, otherwise
the cheap and nasty hole saws are effective in softwoods, chipboards
and plywoods. Cutting with hole saws takes some practice, always
periodically withdraw the blade to unclog the cut in progress. Drill a
pilot hole and also drill a hole through which the blade will pass.
This extra hole will allow the blade to unclog while you cut.
Never waste your money on cheap spade bit sets from China. They are
poorly made from mild steel, they are toys, not tools and dangerous
too. Butter is the only thing they can cut. Buy good branded spade
bits, you wont regret it.
For drilling doweling holes it is possible to get special doweling
bits, I have tried them with good results. They have two extra cutting
flutes on the outer circumference and this minimizes the tendency of
the bit to wonder about while cutting.
is how to put a piano quality finish on your timber project.
You need, an airless sprayer like a Wagner which are the best of the
hobbyist kind. You need grain filler compound. You need fine grit
alumina sandpaper. The rubbish from the two buck shonky shop wont do, its
glass grit and the grit is poorly bonded with only starch paste. Good
quality sandpaper is worth its weight in money. You need a Tak Rag,
these are made from lintless cheese cloth and impregnated with beeswax.
You need a belt sander to finish the work and a high speed
orbital sander (with dust extractor) for finishing. Your enemy is dust
and this method is designed to cope with the reality that real
workshops are not dustless and finishing wood is a very dusty business.
Finish your work with the belt sander's finest grit belt until you are
satisfied with the smooth finish. Vacuum of all dust with a vacuum
brush attachment. This fine dust is very adhesive, it must be brushed
off. Now apply end grain filler. This compound is made from fine clay.
Its purpose is to fill the minute holes and pores that is
It is particularly good for fining up end grain. Use it very sparingly.
Apply it with a course hessian cloth and remove it immediately with
towelling. Let it dry and harden overnight. Then with increasing finer
grit paper use a high speed orbital sander to give it the final
smoothing finish. Again remove all dust with a vacuum brush. Then use
the Tak Rag, wipe the surface, this will pick up the last dust
Apply the first varnish coat. I use poly urethane. It is cheap, very
durable, very easy to apply and dries completely in twenty four hours.
Use the spray gun, never use paint brushes. Large horizontal surfaces
should be slightly tilted so that puddles dont form and vertical
surfaces must be lightly sprayed so drips dont occur. The purpose of
the first coat is to fix and immobilize dust and attached wood fibres
that point upwards from the surface. Let this coat completely harden.
Now very gently sand this coat by hand with the finest alumina
sandpaper. This serves only to seal the surface and reduce the small
air bubbles that came from the pores in the wood, eliminate the small
bumps that the residual surface dust caused and to shave off the tiny
wood fibres that now point vertically. Clean this polished surface with the
Tak Rag. Now apply the finishing coat of varnish. It generally is not
required to put on extra coats, only do this if you are expecting heavy
wear, like a kitchen table. Every other coat should be very lightly
sanded , again to remove the inevitable dust grain that has fallen onto
the wet varnish. Apply the last coat and admire your work forty eight
hours later. The older coats must be hard before a new coat is applied
otherwise unsightly blistering will occur and if that happens you must
go back to the bare wood to remediate it. Follow this method and I
warrant you that you get a show room floor result. Do not place your
work directly under a light. This is very practicle advice. There is
allways some wretched insect that gets attracted to the light and then
lands in the middle of your hardening varnish. That is a show
Looking after your
airless spray gun.
As marvellous as these things are , they are very fiddly. The varnish
must be thinned to the right viscosity or it wont atomise properly,
instead of a mist it behaves like a water pistol. It must be
scrupleously cleaned after each use or it will clog up. The secret to
maintaining your airless spray gun between coats is kerosene. When you
have finished a coat remove surplus varnish and immediately spray out a
glass of kerosene. Leave kerosene in the reservoir and leave it. The
kerosene will not dry out and will prevent residual paint or varnish
from hardening in the sprayers conduits and pump. The residual kerosene
is compatible with most oil paints and
use, blow out the Kero from the gun with whatever you are thinning your
varnish with. Let it run with varnish for a few seconds to establish a
pure flow. Then paint your work. Dont hover above your work, the gun
will drip ! Inverted Horizontal surfaces will form drip icicles, as
they form wipe up them with a solvent soaked cloth.
When the project is complete clean the gun and leave some kerosene in
the gun and its reservoir. never let a used airless gun dry out, paint
and varnish traces in the pump will harden and jam it.
Never clean it with shellite or methylated spirits, these will attack
and destroy O rings and other seals.
Never put acrylic paints in your airless spray gun. You can never
properly clean it out and the filler and some pigment material in these
paints are abrasive and will destroy the pump. There is a compound you
can add to arcylic paint to render it more tractable for spraying, I
havent tried it as I still beleive that enamel or polyuerthane is the
proper finish for furniture, however thats only my opinion, other
people have had good results spraying acrylic.
Some wood projects of mine.
Home made tools for wood working
A jig saw guide.
A jig saw is a very effective way of cutting thin plywood
sheets and thin sheet metal. Cutting straight lines is hard with a jig
saw, they were not designed to cut straight lines. This is a
clamp on cutting guide that permits perfect straight lines to be cut in
any material that can be cut with a jig saw. The spacer should be cut just a little below the width of the sole plate to permit the clearance to be adjusted with shim stock.
improved. the sole plate now moves suspended over the work piece with
light angle stock. The work piece is now not scratched by the
saw's sole plate abrasions. It would help if compressed air blew away
cuttings as they were created. Another day perhaps.
A router guide
For cutting arbitary sized slots in large boards or sheets
The small quarter inch hand hand routers are not really suitable for
use with the Triton. There is simply too little of the router knife
showing. This guide is really designed for the routing of slots in
boards and heavy sheets. It is a set of adjustable parallel
guides to permit the routing of slots of any size. This is to help cope
with the situation of not having a rebate bit of the right size. One
can select the router knife that gives the best result forthe material
|variable parallelogram guide fence||wing nuts' bolts, welded flush||this is the only way to route long trenches||shape is secured with wing nuts|
screw bolts have been welded to the angle stock and ground flush.
The parallelogram is measured and then secured with wing nuts.
You only need to calibrate the positioning and opening for each
particular router knife.
A roller stand for the Triton work centre
roller stand is essential accesory for ripping long feed stock
and for cross cutting long stock. It should allways have been
part of the complete package, but you can now get roller stands for a
few dollars at the two dollar shonky shops. My roller stand was biult
long before cheap-n-nasty roller stands were commonly available.
This roller is actually a photosensitive drum from a long dead
photocopier. I found the drum in a skip and it came complete with a
pair of precision bearings. The bearing housings were machined
out of solid wood with a router. The welded screw jacks are
artifacts made with the welder-o-doom.
It has proven to be completely practical, the use of scew jacks
for the feet permit it to be used on uneven surfaces. A steel rod
and screw jack serves to hold the roller stand stable in relation to
the workcentre. Anchor points are provided on all 4 sides of the
workcentre. Scew jacks for the foot of the roller are essential. It is
otherwise impossible to make the roller parallel with the bed of the
I dont recommend trying to replicate this design,
the cheap roller stand will do. It will require one modification
however. The commercial roller stand is self supporting and this is
unsafe when used with the workcentre. You must design and make some
arrangement that holds the stand stationary with respect to the
workcentre. The commercial stand does not come with adjustable srew
jacks for the feet, so it must be used on totally flat surfaces.
|steel rod and boss permit spacing and alignement to be exact||screw jacks on foot|
but wait...there's more
another day perhaps
mod record : updated and improved useability with tables Fri May 9 19:14:14 EST 2008;Fri Nov 20 19:58:59 EST 2009homepage