Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hand-Cut Dovetails - Houndstooth and Signature

In the first entry on hand-cut dovetails, I presented two videos showing how to hand-cut them by eye using a pins-first method and a tails-first method.  The idea was to show that you end up with dovetails either way.  In this entry, I present two more videos on hand-cut dovetails.

The first are houndstooth dovetails, a very nice decorative dovetail that can look amazing on an elegant box.  In my case, I used it for the top two drawers of the vanity since those have a special position versus the other 4.  These are done by eye and are done pins-first simply because they are much easier to do that way unless you really want to layout all the cutlines ahead of time (you don't, right?)

The second is what I'm calling a 'signature' dovetail.  A signature dovetail is one with a special design for just one tail, typically on the least used drawer; call it a sort of Easter egg for the owners to find.  I call it a signature since you could design the dovetail based on your logo or attributes of the style piece it is a part of.  The shop's heat killed my creativity that day, but I decided on making one using Greene and Greene elements.  Might be whimsical, but I like the look of it on the bottom drawer.  The idea likely came to my mind after having visited the Gamble House recently... (next time, I'll do the knot you'll see in the video).  The signature dovetails, regardless the design you choose, will be easier to do tails-first.

The point of this series is to show that while either method results in basic dovetails, some special dovetails may require one or the other method; both should be learned.

This series isn't done yet on dovetails.  The video is ready for 2 more types built on the first two method videos of the last post.  Hopefully you find them interesting enough to grab a saw and give them a try.  If the first couple tries are kinda ugly, well, that's what fire was invented for!

Oh, and I haven't forgotten the vanity.  We're tying heat records this week every day, but I have most of the next episode recorded.  We'll put it out before you get completely sick of dovetails :)

First up, Houndstooth:

Second, Signature:


Addendum: many people have asked me about the fretsaw I use. Enough, in fact, that it prompted me to make a review of the Knew Concepts fretsaw.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Benchcrafted Moxon Vise Kit - Cleaning Up Drawers

Tonight I decided to get back to those drawers I was making, oh, awhile ago :)

I never had a decent place to plane drawers; typically I'd clamp the drawer to the side of the MFT with a milk crate under it acting like a deadman 'platform'.  No wiggle since the MFT is anchored to the wall.  But it was slow to adjust the drawer and definitely not as stable on the side far from the MFT.

So... I made that little table on the back of the Moxon vise for my dovetail saw, chisels, and rubber chicken.  It is 24" wide by 11" deep measured from the front of the fixed jaw.  Turns out that I can easily straddle the table and clamp the drawer on the outside of the right acme screw. It's easy, very fast, and super stable.  This. Was. A. Winner.

Note that I scooted the vise over so the table portion was hanging off the side.  The piece of Maple you see sticking out the inside of the drawer is the piece that is normally clamped to the bench to hold it stable.  With the table being 11" to the back, I could take care of one side of the face, flip, repeat very easily.  Only the narrowest drawers for the top couldn't straddle as they are 8" wide.  For those, I clamped it in the jaw with the drawer out in front of the vise.  The 2" thick front jaw gave enough stability to clean them up, too, with care.

In these pictures, I'm showing planing the back.  Note how I have two pieces of scrap in the middle of the vise sticking down.  I did that to prevent the vise from moving back as I planed forward.  Thing is, I didn't need it; I removed them after the second drawer and it didn't budge at all.  If you look in this picture, I clamped the vise to the bench from underneath there.
What I also did later was take a piece of similar thickness scrap and set it in the vise above the far acme screw to set the parallel thickness (remember this needs to be done since we are on the outside of the rightmost screw).  I just left it there and could easily scoot in and out the drawers quickly and cinche them in place with a quick quarter turn.

This is the first time I enjoyed cleaning drawers.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Benchcrafted Moxon Vise Kit - Build, Mod, Demos

Benchcrafted recently released a Moxon vise kit (also available fully assembled).  I've wanted a "joinery bench" for a long time, but never found hardware I liked so I jumped at this kit when it was first made available.  Nice stuff!

In this podcast, I'll show you the kit, go through the rather easy build of it, and point out a couple changes I made to the vise chops as well as a jig for helping out with drawers.  Lastly, I'll show you how it works since it can be a bit different; for example, using the portion to the outside of the rods means you set the thickness differently than if you use the middle portion.  I've set mine to use the outside for faster and easier work with drawers so it affects me.  Getting to use the vise for a stack of drawers will be the test of whether using the middle or outside is faster.

Oh, I reference "Jameel" in the video.  Jameel Abraham owns Benchcrafted and produced a launch video for this vise that completely enticed me.

I was going to show using it with a bird's mouth like you would when cutting, say, abalone for inlay.  Mounting a bird's mouth is pretty easy in any vise, but the benefit of this benchtop vise is that it gets the bird's mouth to a much better working height.

As an addendum to this entry, Chris Wong of FlairWoodworks (and a great blog) asked me if I thought of putting a horizontal vee-groove in the jaws for clamping rods horizontally.  I had thought about it at one time, but forgot the day of the build.  So consider that; but don't use the bandsaw! ha ha, use a vee-groove router bit or molding plane.  The beauty of this vise is that you can retrofit that groove by removing the threaded rods and plowing the groove on the fixed jaw.  The suede-covered jaw would be too difficult to retrofit, but you'd likely only need the groove on one side.

I did get to use the vise often this past weekend while simultaneously working on 3 other projects.  Definitely glad I got it.

As another addendum to readers from Jameel's nice blog posting about this video, I've already added another blog entry about using this for planing drawers based on my table and the extra outside space.  Might be more by the time you read this :)  If you want to find those entries quickly, look in the label list to the right and click on 'Benchcrafted'.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Keeping your iMac 27" cool

My I7 iMac 27" computer had some issues a couple weeks ago; my local Apple Store, while very helpful, was unable to repair it within their usual window.  So they offered me a replacement.  That was unexpected and appreciated!  Thing is, the new 2011 models are faster so my 2010 I7 was going to be replaced with a 2011 I5.  True the performance numbers of that I5 are better than my 2010 I7, but I wanted the I7; I do a lot of processor-intensive and memory-intensive work on this box.  Easy, I could pay the difference between the I5 and I7.  I think my credit card was out before I uttered 'yes'.  This is a pretty good way to handle a repair that went too long.  Likely the ultimate problem with repairing my old 2010 model was availability of a replacement part.

The replacement only had a 1T drive while my old unit had a 2T upgrade.  They gave me my old drive with the idea of putting it in an external enclosure -wink-.  I swapped the internal 1T for the 2T and was up and running just fine.  For the record, that doesn't go fine if the difference in hardware is significant between the boxes (in the Mac or Windows world).  For me, it involved getting a Thunderbolt driver upgrade.  I didn't care as I was still on Snow Leopard and was waiting to upgrade to Lion until my project was over.  So much for procrastination!

Because I swapped the hard drive, I downloaded a couple diagnostic applications to make sure things were working correctly internally.  Let me assure you there isn't much room for fingers, hands, tools, or even that hard disk in a stylish iMac shell!  Because I was watching the temperature of things and fan speeds, I started checking around.

There's a fantastic free tool called smcFanControl that lets you change the minimum speed of the fans.  Normally OSX throttles the speed according to the temperature of the device it cools.  There are 3 fans: CPU, hard disk, and one for the optical drive.  The normal hysteresis OSX uses works fine, but you can keep a few things cooler with no ambient noise impact.

For me, when I edit video, the GPU (graphics processor) gets hot.  That's pretty normal for those things.  There isn't a fan for the GPU, but the optical drive's fan is positioned in the chasis in such a way that the air flows over the GPU.  Normally the optical drive's fan runs at a minimum 1,000 rpm speed, but I bumped mine up to 1,400 rpm minimum and the GPU routinely runs 10-12ºC cooler.  Cooler is always better!  I couldn't hear the difference between 1,000 and 1,400 rpm so no worries about a prop-plane landing on your desk.

A note about smcFanControl. You can choose which fan's speed you want displayed in the menu bar.  You'd assume the temperature shown is of that fan's target (CPU, HD, or optical), but it is always the CPU.  Just an FYI.

Another indispensable widget for monitoring things is iStat Pro.  A well done widget.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Hand-Cut Dovetails - Pins-First and Tails-First

Between the heat in my shop and needing service on my Mac, these videos have been very delayed.  Sorry!

My bathroom vanity project required 6 drawers so I thought to turn dovetailing them into an independent series of videos (so you don't have to watch the vanity series :)

The first introduction video goes over what I'm trying to show in this series then covers general drawer anatomy and how it affects the layout of your joinery.  No dovetails will be cut or harmed in this video!  That's for the other videos...

There are 5 different ways to dovetail a drawer shown in this series.

The first two methods produce basic dovetails.  The first method shown is pins-first using a Western-style saw, the second method is tails-first using a Japanese Ryoba.  The point of these two videos is to show that regardless which is cut first or which saw style you use, you end up with... dovetails.

Certainly each method has some benefits over the other, but to me, they cancel.  Pick what you like, what you are comfortable with, and have fun with it.  I've never understood the near religious arguments between the two styles or even saw choice; surely the time wasted arguing this in forums or pontificating it in chat rooms could be better spent in your shop building something with either method! :)

So... here's the introduction; no action shots, but the drawer anatomy might be useful.

This next video is the first basic dovetail method based on a pins-first cutting style.  I'm using a Western saw here.

The second basic dovetail method is based on a tails-first cutting style.  I'm using a Japanese Ryoba saw here.

These basic dovetail methods layout the pins and tails equally.  If you want to change their sizes, even gradually, go ahead! I wanted the drawers getting basic dovetails to simply be even plus it makes explaining the method easier.

I am editing the other three videos and will release them as they become ready.  These forthcoming three are not basic dovetails, but more decorative dovetails.  I'll show how to layout Houndstooth dovetails by-eye and an easy procedure for getting them done.  I also show how to make what I call 'signature' dovetails; that is, a dovetail that is loosely based on the idea of a dovetail, but made to be decorative or a 'signature' of your work.  The last method will be a purely off-the-saw dovetail and some tips to get them done fast; they are intended to be fast dovetails with a bit of 'slop' risk; perfect for the back of a stack of 14 drawers you're doing or utility boxes in the shop.

Now, if you don't mind, I need to find a chatroom to pontificate the right way of doing dovetails... :)

Addendum: many people have asked me about the fretsaw I use. Enough, in fact, that it prompted me to make a review of the Knew Concepts fretsaw.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Early Information on the Domino Self-Centering Guide (SCG-10)

This product has since come out.  In this entry, I described what the guides would allow you to do so there actually isn't one in the video, but I wanted to make people aware that they were coming out with some information in case they wanted to pre-order.
I have a review article and video on the Self-Centering Guide SCG-10 here.
So... the rest of this is for posterity... :)

Rick Christopherson is soon releasing to manufacturing a Domino Self-Centering Guide (SCG-10). Many people have asked me about the narrow-stock spacers I use on my pin Domino, but these only work for the older pin-style Domino.  Rick's new Domino accessory looks to be an infinitely variable version of those spacers that can use the entire width of the Domino.  This looks very promising to be the answer to the narrow-stock spacers for paddle-style Dominos and an improved version for pin-style users.

This video discusses what it is and how it works.  He is releasing it to manufacture very soon and starting a pre-order list.  I want you to know about it in case you are interested as this isn't a product that will get much publicity except through word-of-mouth.

Information on the SCG-10 will be posted on his accessory site:  Currently it only discusses some multi-stop accessories that are already out (and that you might like as well).  If you have specific questions about the product, its availability, or even being put on a pre-order list, send him an email at:

I have no affiliation with Rick Christopherson; I just see this as a very nice addition to the Domino my blog readers might like.

There's a nice thread on talkFestool about it here.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Random Drum-Sanding Thoughts

While drum sanding drawer stock for my bathroom vanity project, I realized there are a lot of small tips I picked up along the way that help make this tool even better.

In this video, I'll go through a number of tips and ideas.  If you have a drum sander, I'm sure you'll know some of them, but hopefully others will be new and useful to you.

I got lazy and didn't setup the softboxes so the lighting was a bit washed out; easy to get lazy in a 97ºF shop!  I think I'm still sweating from that day...

As a bit of an update to the vanity project, there are a number of small things to work on now that don't really merit a video.  I've sanded the two outside panels to P400 and we'll go over a wet-sanded finish for them; it feels like glass when prepared this way and so easy to do!  It's a great tactile finish especially to the sculpted surface that's purely there for the tactile experience.  Drawer stock is prepared and ready to become drawer boxes so those will be recorded this weekend.  Now, we'd really make progress if a cold front suddenly moved through the city :)