Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Files and the Gentle Art of Centrotecing

Since writing this entry, I rolled a video to show how to do it.  It ultimately has the same content as this posting (so people reading through translators will prefer this entry), but if you rather watch, here's the video version of this post.

The haulidays have kept me away from the shop so light on the useless insight... but I have a few other posts coming.  (Yes, "haulidays" because after the "holidays" you spend your time hauling your now fatter shadow)

I have a Festool C12 drill/driver.  Actually, 2, but that's a long story.  It's a 12V wonder with enough torque to winch your car out of a ditch if you're lucky enough to have its Systainer in the glove compartment at the time.

The problem is that I don't have any Centrotec drill bits or drivers.  Up until 2 weeks ago, there were only metric drill bits for this puppy, but this isn't about drillin'.  The drivers are what I really wanted.  I use the Centrotec Bit Holder to hold wire detent stubby drivers that conveniently stow on the magnetic handle of the C12, but they aren't the Centrotec driver bits made for the C12.

The differences between a regular long ball-detent driver bit and a Centrotec driver bit are:
- the Centrotec edges on the hex shank are softer ('standard' hex shank won't fit the hole)
- the Centrotec ball-detent is about 3/8" (er, 9mm) further up the shank.

The ball-detent position could smell of being non-standard for the sake of selling your stuff, but actually it is because the ball is in the Centrotec chuck while the base of the bit shank sits in the output shaft of the C12.

Tonight, I took 2 McFeely's Robertson drive bits (we 'mericans call those "square drive" bits and have no idea who Robertson is), chucked them in the drill press (individually...) and hit them with a flat bastard mill file to soften the hex edges.  Once they could be easily inserted through the Centrotec chuck, I marked the location of the ball detent based on its location in the bit holder, chucked again and ground out a fairly accurate, if ugly, copy of the Festool detent.

Photo below shows the Festool bit holder by the Kreg #2 long-ass driver to show how I marked the detent.  This photo also shows clearly how the 'standard' ball detent is much lower on the shank than the Centrotec detent.

Result?  These two sit perfectly in the chuck with no play and I cannot pull them out without releasing the ball.  Total time? 10 minutes including wasted time finding a file that went out for a ball of chalk.

In the photo below, left to right, the C12, the Festool bit holder, McFeely's #1 modified, McFeely's #2 modified, McFeely's #2 unmodified, and the bastards who did it.

I decided I should do the long-ass Kreg #2 driver that came with the pocket hole kit.  This puppy is apparently made with diamonds as it was a beast to grind.  I eventually pulled out the Dremel with a grind stone to work off most of it then used a rounded file to make it nice.  Again, this inserts and seats with perfection in the Centrotec chuck.

Photo is of the Kreg #2 chucked for milling:

Next up will be to buy 3 TORX (not shouting, it's how it is spelled) driver bits and grind away.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Floor-standing Planers vs Lunchbox Planers

No, no, no, a lunchbox planer does not flatten your lunchbox or your big heaping pastrami sandwich.  It's a cute term of endearment for a benchtop planer.

They are very different beasts and it is well worth knowing the differences.  Here are my observations after going from a Ridgid lunchbox to a Powermatic 20" floor-standing planer:

Lunchbox planers have pressure rollers.  Basically picture a long roller pressed down with a spring.  Floor-standing models have power rollers.  These press down with much more force.

Let's break down this observation to see what it means:

Since the pressure rollers are just rollers, it will press down until it hits the tallest thingumajig you are running through it.  If a board has a rough surface, the roller will follow the highest point.  This isn't a big problem.  The problem comes when you start a narrow board through and decide to push a second board through beside it.  If those boards aren't exactly the same thickness, the roller will press on the thickest one and leave the other one free to kickback (fly backwards) due to the cutter's direction of cut.  This means you can't run two boards through simultaneously without risk.  If you insist on doing so, you could put one on each extreme side of the planer's width and likely get away with it since the springs on each side of the pressure roller would get some contact; side-by-side, however, is bad news.

On a floor-standing planer, the power rollers look like helical cutters with a long spiraling tooth. It is also set with springs, but decidedly stronger ones.  Further, there are anti-kickback fingers hanging down in front of the roller.  Each finger operates independently to prevent a board from kicking back.  If you run two boards of significantly different thicknesses through simultaneously, the anti-kickback fingers will stop the thinner one from kicking back, though it won't make any progress through the planer unless you push it.  I say 'significantly different sizes' because I've found that some difference is easily tolerated by the stronger power rollers.  I still keep them to the outside edges, though, and resist the temptation to put a third board between them.

Another difference these rollers make is in the woodworker's saying "never run a cupped board through a planer as it flattens it, thins it, and it comes back out cupped".  The saying is true, if you are using a planer with strong rollers and you are trying to take a lot off at once.

Assume a board is going through cup-down in a lunchbox planer set to take 3/32" off.  The roller will press down relatively lightly and do nothing to deflect the cup before taking off 3/32" off the top.  In a floor-standing planer, the rollers are set to press hard right up to the level of the cutters.  On this planer, it will press hard through the 3/32" difference between the rollers and cutters and may be able to flatten the cup with the stronger springs.  In this case, the board is flattened, some removed, then it springs back with a curved surface.  Hardly useful.  For floor-standing models, flatten the top of the cup by taking very light passes so the rollers can't deflect the board

FWW's Planer Sled Notes

Awhile ago, I built the planer sled shown in this video on Fine Woodworking's online site: Keith Rust's Planer Sled.  I don't have access to the article so some of the observations below may have appeared in the article.

Voilà, my sled:

The first difference you'll notice is that I didn't use bungee cords to hold the levelers in place (my term for them).  Rather, they are in a box.  You'll see why later.

The base is a torsion box that I took care to make flat.  Turns out there is a slight variance over the whole length, but not too bad.

My levelers actually look a lot like Keith's including the bungee slot I decided against.  In my case, I put a fence near the back for the victim board to register against and prevent movement.  It is only 5/16" taller than the levelers.

The tape on the top of the levelers and the bottom of the wedges is 3M's safety tape.  Very sticky and very consistent grit; available at a borg near you.  Cheaper stuff at Harbor Freight was very inconsistent, which concerned me.

I drew a red mark on one side of the levelers.  Note the direction of the wedges.  When placing a board on the sled, I want all the red lines facing away from the back fence.  In this way, if the board moves a very little backwards during the planing operation (or after shuttling it back and forth for repeated passes), the planer will be pushing the leveler into the wedge tightening it rather than loosening it.  I didn't think of this ahead of time.  On my first trial board, it became an issue and thus the red pen pulled out.

The first board I had to run through had an evil twist/cup combination.  Normally you'd run a board through cup-down, but with the twist, I had places where I needed support for cup-up meaning support on the outside edges, but since it dipped down in the middle, there was no room for the full length of a leveler.  Follow that?!  So, I made a batch of "half-levelers" that I can put on any spot.  The portion that faces down (leftmost tape in this picture) is gently planed so as the far side is raised with the wedge, there is always flat contact somewhere along the tape.  The portion that faces up (rightmost tape in picture) is gently rounded so it, too, always has contact depending on the wedge angle.  This proved to be very useful for this odd board and likely will be useful in the future for a bloodwood board with serious attitude on my rack.

Here is a piece of sapele with a bit of twist.  The only wedge used is the one in the foreground.  Notice again how the wedge is on the fence-side of the leveler so the action of the cutters pushing the board towards the fence will only tighten the wedge, not loosen it.

Another important point has to do with the type of planer you have.  I have a floor-standing (floor-crushing?!) Powermatic 20"planer.  Unlike my Ridgid lunchbox planer, it has power rollers, not pressure feeders (after this post, I'll post about those differences).  "Power" in this case really means it, unlike "power" meaning anything in "power chord" of 80's metal.  Note the following picture:

this is the correct way to place the leveler... there MUST be a leveler at the board extremes.  If you do the following:

the power rollers will press down so hard on the first unsupported inch of the board that the other end will pop up in the air.  Likely your leveler settings will be in disarray or, worse, everything might go amuck while being fed into the planer.  While I'm sure you can see how this would happen on this tiny sapele board, the board from which it came from was 7' long, 11" wide 4/4 sapele.  I had about an inch before the first leveler like in this picture.  The back of the board popped up 3-4 inches as the roller pressed down then when the roller was over the leveler, it slammed it down.  I nearly had very embarrassing laundry.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Help when Eye-Balling Router Bit Height

I don't have any photos to include here as my router table is currently dismantled awaiting a weekend to install it in the right extension wing of my new SawStop.

Many times you know the bit height needed by relative measuring.  That is, you have placed a scrap piece into the project and marked it directly off the project.  This is always more effective than trying to measure "a heavy 1/4 inch" and marking it.  Normally, you sight down the edge of the table to see where the bit will cut in relation to the score line you made on the scrap.

What I do instead that helps greatly is to put a penlight flashlight on the table casting the bit's shadow onto the scrap.  It is very clear, even in daylight, where the top of the bit is located.  If the penlight is small and the bit height quite high, you can get an error due to the predominant incidence angle of light, however the error will be in cutting shy not too heavy.  Generally my 1" diameter penlight gets me dead on first try with the scrap with no squinting.

Domino Butt-Joint to a line

This is a post I made on The Woodwhisperer Community forum about how to butt-joint a member into the middle of another with a Domino joiner.  Normally you use registration surfaces to create Domino'd joints, but here you have a line.  Voilà the post:

When you have the Domino standing up on a board, the tenon's centerline will be 10mm up from the bottom edge of the Domino. Note that this is to the centerline so it does not matter which size Domino tenon you are using (4, 5, 6, 8, or 10).

Here's a walk-through:

Voilà, two boards to butt joint:

The line on the wide board represents where the reference edge on the narrow board will line up.

Next, set the Domino on that line and line up the mark on the bottom of the unit to the tenon's position.
Notice how the centerline of the tenon is 10mm up from the reference line. This is constant since there is no adjustment for it.

Now, you'll need the mortise centered 10mm down from the reference surface of the second board to join. Since this other board uses the 90-degree fence, set it to center the mortise 10mm down from the fence; since the gauge on the side centers the mortise on a thickness, you set the gauge at 20mm to put the mortise 10mm down from the fence.

Mortise the end of the narrow board using the 90-degree fence like you are used to.


One other important point: when you adjust the height of the 90-degree fence, adjust it with the fence in the upright position. If it is tilted down 90-degrees when you set it, I've noticed that the fence may lock tilted. With the fence up during the adjustment, I can't get it to lock tilted when trying.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Rebar for Mitered Frames

A neighbor asked for a favor: she wanted a frame for a bathroom mirror, but the mirror could not be removed from the wall.  Effectively she wanted a frame applied to the mirror's glass since there was next to no clearance on the sides.

I created the frame from quartersawn sapele just 1/8" wider than the mirror so the existing inch of clearance to the walls would still show.  This will be applied with a bead of silicone directly to the glass.

The trick was she wanted a mitered frame.  Since it was to be applied, it was really just the top portion without the typical back.  So rather than the frame being 5/8" to 3/4" thick with a groove for the glass and a beveled front, all I had was a 3/8" thick top portion that was beveled.  There's no room for a miter key, dowels, etc.  Sure, with 3/8" thickness, a 1/8" thick kerf cut in the side would help, but the bevel started close to the outside edge so you'd only have a key going in perhaps 1/4"; not terribly helpful.

This is what I decided to do:

I cut a shallow recess in the back of the frame in both pieces at the mitered corner.  I also gently chamfered the edges of the miter.  I glued up the frame with regular PVA glue, but naturally the glued miter is very fragile (though I was surprised it was more resilient than I thought it would be).  This glued up corner was enough to let me do the 'rebar' glue-up.

The piece of 'rebar' is a corrugated metal fastener.  This adds a little thickness, but greatly increases the surface area of the metal.  I rubbed them down with P320 sandpaper, placed a little epoxy in the recess, pressed the 'rebar' into the magic goo then topped it with enough epoxy to bury the rebar and stay flush with the wood surface.  Naturally some epoxy flowed into the channel formed by the chamfer.

The result is a joint held with epoxy across its length and with a fairly large island of epoxy with embedded metal holding it together.  This joint is going nowhere.  Since the strong epoxy island is centered, it is capable of keeping the miter from opening from either side.

Best Varnish Jars

I had some canning jars (Mason jars) laying around for who-knows-what reason.  I started using them for varnish and they are easily the best.  The wide-mouth pints (shown here) have easy access and the two-part lid seals very well (and trivial to add plastic wrap if you like).  The lid portion is sold separately so you can toss them when they get junked up beyond reason.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Varnishing Observations

Yesterday, I varnished a new shop hanging cabinet... something to do during blazing summer that isn't too picky if I make some mistakes due to sweat dripping off every part of me.

(It isn't done yet; hung, but the shelves are being assembled)

It was super humid yesterday and actually the several nights before. A friend thought I was nuts. Maybe, but this is why I knew it would work out well.

For the first coat, I was wiping on a thinned varnish/oil mixture (Tried & True). Since I'm putting it on very thin, it seems to me that the atmospheric humidity plays much less a role in its drying than the moisture content of the wood. I'm in Arizona so the moisture content of the wood is typically single digit. Even after humid days, the surface of the wood isn't appreciably more moist, at least not enough to affect how the varnish flows and sets up. Despite the humidity, the first coat went on well and setup with no tackiness after 6-7 hours. I could have recoated, but left it overnight.

Today, equally humid. Now, if I were to put on another oil/varnish coat, the humidity will play a role since the first coat sealed the wood (taking it out of the equation) so now it is just the atmosphere setting the second coat.

But I want a second coat cuz I'm tired of this thing taking bench space plus the pile of things to go into it is getting equally annoying.

For the second coat, I need something that will dry regardless the atmosphere so I put on a thin coat of Epifanes' Matte varnish. The matte sheen is what I want (don't like '70s high-gloss plastic oak) and it happens that Epifanes accomplishes that sheen by adding Japan dryers. Others may, too, but I know Epifanes matte will dry -really- fast.

I applied a 50/50 Epifanes/mineral spirits mix in a very thin rubbed on coat. Honestly, when I worked my way to the right and finished the right side, the left was already dry to the touch with no tackiness. Likely not set enough for sanding between coats, but this went on so well that I would only need a quick pass with a Scotch Brite.

Naturally 'dry' and 'cure' are different and this will continue to cure long after I hang it on the wall (it is garage furniture). But it is nice to know that you can get one oil-enriched coat of varnish followed by possibly several matte coats in a couple days regardless the humidity forecast. That's a nice change from the usual 1 coat/1 day-or-more schedule varnish usually entails.

Offsetting Domino depth

Currently, I'm waiting for the new 4mm Dominos and cutter to arrive at a local store. These would solve my problem immediately.

But, no need to wait.

I need to put Dominos into 12mm ply sides and into 1/2" wide oak "banding" that will form a flat sideless drawer for my shop (all my drawers are like this in the shop and I find them too useful).

Problem: 5mm Dominos will fit into the 12mm ply, but the minimum depth of cut is 12mm, which is 1/2mm shy of punching through the banding. Just say 'no' to punching through.

My solution is likely inspired by those narrow stock spacers I discussed earlier. That is, I took 2 rare earth magnets that were 2.5mm thick and stuck them on the end of each registration pin. Now I can mortise on the 12mm depth and get basically 9.5mm deep mortises. I won't punch through. That leaves 20.5mm of the 5mm Domino to go into the ply, which I prefer anyway, so I can set the depth of those cuts to 20; the Domino really isn't 30mm; it's shy of that and everything works great.

Naturally, use strong magnets for this to make sure they stay put. I didn't have any problems. A non-magnetic version of this trick is to rip a small piece of wood 2mm thick and carpet-tape it to the face around the pins.

Domino offset pins

There's a guy on eBay selling aluminum offsets for your Festool Domino; you need a Domino with the original registration pins (round metal pins) as the new square then square plastic then plastic tab registration pins won't work with the system.

I'd post a link to the product, but it changes every time he relists. So, search for "Festool Domino Narrow Stock Spacers".

The idea is simple: cylinders of specific sizes that you can slip over the registration pins (held with a magnet) and use to register against your stock. The spacers put the mortise in the middle of stock from 1.5" wide through 2.5" wide. A side of the cylinder is flattened to allow you to drop the surface registration fence.

When building something with rails and stiles, you tend to have them in a particular dimension and likely there is a spacer for that dimension. You can now slip one on the correct pin (left or right) and drop a mortise right where you want it.

Since I got it, I originally used it on a few stiles; nothing spectacular. The latest hanging cabinet, however, used the spacers exclusively. 56 mortises in record time (besides the Domino's speed). All with no slop.

They seem pricey for what they are, but then they are exclusively for a Festool Domino so the guy knows you have money burning a hole in your pocket. Still, $55 was well worth it. If you can turn aluminum, make your own.

Digital Angle (Tilt) Gauges

I always thought those digital angle tilt gauges were cute, but not something I needed. Was I wrong.

Recently, Wixey angle gauges were on sale and I snagged one thinking it would be great to use to calibrate my SawStop that was arriving the next week. Silly... who needs it calibrated when you can simply slap the tilt gauge on the table, zero it, then put it on the blade while you set the bevel.

While playing with it, I used it to set my bandsaw blade to 90* and set the set-screw of the table so I could return it conveniently. Well, the set-screw seems to move when the saw starts up so forget it; use the simple gauge each time for accuracy to +/-0.1*.

Here's the short list of the things I used it on in the first week, and the list will grow:

  • Setting the drill press table to 90* to the drill (use a long 1/2" bit for this); remember to do it in side-to-side and front-to-back directions.
  • As a digital level; I stuck it to a 4' spirit level set level then zeroed it. Now I can put the gauge on anything and treat it as a digital level (only as accurate as the spirit level, but in this case, the digital level is only 1.5" long!)
  • As a digital winding stick; I put a level across the front of a board with the gauge on it and zeroed it. As I slid the level back, I watched the gauge to see how level the board was. I could certainly see myself using it for rails for a router in the same way. Note that I used the level because it has a flat base; you could stick it to anything.
  • Clamping up a cabinet; I happen to be making a hanging cabinet for the shop (stupid projects over summer cuz it is just too hot to be serious!). The base of the cabinet sat on the assembly table that is flat. Zero the gauge there. Now, when I put parallel clamps on the sides of the case, I pushed them up until the bar touched the cabinet on top and bottom. Now, stick the gauge on the side of the bar to ensure it is 90* to the assembly table. Perhaps a silly use, but I thought it had promise.
  • As already mentioned, setting the bandsaw table to 90* to the blade; also used it for two other odd-angle cuts for a ramp and for glue blocks.
  • Oh, yeah, setting the bevel angle of the table saw blade. :)
Other uses I can see in the future:

  • I need to put in a concrete pad on the side of the house. It needs to dip away 5* from the house to keep from accumulating water. Set the concrete form by the house and set it level with a level. Now set the form for the other side and set its height with a straight beam going from the first form to the new form; use the gauge on the beam to set a 5* drop consistently. For a guy like me who doesn't do concrete very often, this will be useful.

Now, I did see a gauge I believe in Woodcraft's catalog that allows you to hit the zero button twice in a row to make the gauge zero to true level. That would be worth the extra $2.

SawStop PCS

I received my SawStop PCS last Monday. Freaking humidity and heat kept the assembly slow.

I didn't take pictures like I intended so here are some observations I recall. Use your imagination. Add a bikini where necessary.

The saw came in 5 boxes: #1 - the saw, #2 - the extension table, #3 - the extension rails, #4 - the mobile base, #5 - the fence.

Everything was meticulously packed. All parts were laminated onto color-coded and labeled carboard. The saw, fence, and mobile base each had their own manuals since each is a choice for your system. I chose the 36" fence since my shop is crowded and honestly I prefer to breakdown sheet goods with the Festool TS75 plunge saw. Cabinet shop folks think this is a weird method-of-work.

The mobile base is integrated into the saw's base. You see two pedals sticking out the side along with two wheels out the other side. The saw sits on its original base when deployed so it isn't on wheels and won't move. The base is able to lift the whole saw, extension table included, in one easy foot-press. Lowering is trickier in that you press the release pedal with the main pedal to let it down slowly. The motion is easy, but I'm still mastering the soft landing.

Fit and finish: spectacular. I cannot find a single flaw anywhere on this puppy.

The manuals are incredibly well illustrated, photographed, and documented. The main saw manual is 113 pages and covers assembly, calibration, and usage. It also includes some simple shop projects for decent push sticks and other safety items near the back.

Overall, my calibration was limited to putting the miter slot parallel to the blade. I used the Woodpeckers' saw gauge to easily calibrate it to 1/2 a thou front to back of blade. The gauge is well worth the $70. Normally this adjustment is a time consuming frustration of whacking the tabletop with a mallet to finesse a displacement only to have it all screwed up when you tighten the trunnion bolts. Not so with SawStop: loosen the table-top bolts and use 2 hex screws to scoot the table top clockwise or counter-clockwise around a pivot point set to the front of the table. The screws push into stiff rubber blocks to be gentle. Once set, tighten the screw you loosened then tighten the table bolts; they didn't move the table top at all with the adjustment screws tightened slightly.

Holy crap, the dust collection. I have a decent DC, but I am waiting for the proper connector to arrive to connect the SawStop to it. The SawStop doesn't need a DC, but I'd imagine that the DC hose in the cabinet would get full and cause grief without an occasional connection to a DC.

With the blade guard on, the laminar flow of air from the spinning blade creates a vacuum under the guard and directs dust into the cabinet hose. When the wood actually lifts the front of the guard, you hear the vacuum open up. The dust is directed down the hose and actually ejects out the back of the saw's DC port. I had a nice pile back there that was easy to sweep up. I broke down a half sheet of 12 mm ply into 9 drawer bottoms then straight-lined 4/4 oak before ripping it into 9 1/2"-strips 60" long. The dust on the table could be swept up to a pile that would neatly cover a poker chip. The pile out the back port was fan shaped, but had definite edges so sweeping it up would be trivial. Hooking up the DC for a moment to the dust port pulled a crapload of dust from the hose. The laminar flow is definitely working well.

The fence is in Imperial and metric, which is a plus. There's a gauge on both the left and right sides of the fence (this is a left-tilt saw). It comes with hangers for your blade guard, riving knife, miter gauge, and blade change wrenches.

Speaking of blade guard, yes, I use it on a SawStop. The ney-sayers of SawStop say that it promotes unsafe practices. Dude, please... I'm not going to start putting a Jack-n-Coke on the extension table and pushing boards through with my nose because of the safety mechanism. Even if I was stupid enough to say "party on" and do stupid stuff at the saw, my wallet would remind me I'm stupid: the cartridges aren't that expensive but it will blow out your Forrest WW2 blade in the process. Add to that new underwear.

If I were forced, at gunpoint by a gun with no brake mechanism, to find faults in this saw, here's the list (YMMV):

1. I'm 6', which isn't that tall by any standard, but to see the status lamps, I need to step back and bend over a bit. I think this will go away as I get comfortable with the saw; effectively, you use it like any other saw, but if you want to touch the blade with a finger or tape measure, make sure the status lamps think the blade is stopped even if it is to your eye.

2. This fence is a nice fence, but I was awesome at moving and locking my previous fence in a fell swoop dead on. This one wiggles more in the track before the lock; I think I can fix it with the parallelism screws, but right now it is a minor inconvenience.

I will, however, feel a certain Zen for all the hotdogs I'll save with this choice.

For the curious, this was an upgrade from a Powermatic 64S. A sweet saw in its own right, but I gladly pay up-front to avoid paying for physical therapy.



My name is Paul-Marcel St-Onge and this is my blog about woodworking observations. I got into woodworking via 'remodeling' about two years ago. Not really sure what triggered the interest, but I generally tell people that I had too much discretionary savings lying around that needed to be spent and woodworking is easily the fastest (second only to gambling) that I know of to mow through money like it grew on trees (while mowing through trees, naturally).

I don't plan on putting up long dissertations on why your planing angle sucks and mine rocks, or why you shouldn't worship the 'Delter Unisawyer' simply because it inhabits most cabinet shops in the country. No, rather, I plan on putting up those silly observations I get from time to time and feel they might be useful. Think of this as a twit, er, tweet stream permanently homed for your Googling pleasure.

I also occasionally stream from my shop while putzing. You can find that stream at: lets me tweet when I start a broadcast, which generally lasts hours. My Twitter page is and is generally not enlightening. I haven't streamed as often lately since my dad fell ill; instead, I do video Skype directly with him to let him pass the time as though he was in the shop.

blah blah blah, less boring crap and more observations!