Wednesday, May 30, 2012

My Favorite Router Bits

I was typing an answer to a comment Jim posted on the OF-1400 demo when I felt a strange déjà-vu so I thought instead of typing it again, I'd make a posting instead :)

The déjà-vu was in answering which router bits I use the most.  Granted, that's just good for comparison if you have a drawer full of them, but if you're starting with an empty drawer, it might make a good start vs some 300-bit variety pack.

There's the motley crew:

There's a cluster of 3 spirals, a cluster of 4 "profiles", and a stack of slot cutters up front.  Lemme go through each.

The spirals:

The front two bits are basically the same except the double bearing on the leftmost bit.  They are 1/4" down-spiral bits from Eagle America.

The one with the double bearing (#120-0412) is used for flushing anything with a tight turn.  The double-bearing has better registration than just one.  I also used this in the MFK-700 for flushing banding nicely until I found an 8mm version (bigger diameter bits avoid 'scalloping' the surface).

The one without the bearings on the right (#106-0452) is for shallow cuts on the surface like for an inlay, mortise lock, etc.  The down-spiral will leave the surface clean although these aren't good for deep grooves since the chips get pushed to the bottom.  In fact that down-spiral is what I used for the French-knot floor inlay as well (not a typical use, I know, but any other bit would shred that cork; down-spiral left it pristine).

The bit in the back is a Whiteside 1/2" compression-spiral double-bearing flush trimming bit.  There are as many adjectives in that bit's name as the average Starbuck's order...  It's not cheap as it is solid-carbide so it'll last long.  Eagle America has an alternative like this one #120-0865 (nearly the same price).  For normal pattern flushing, I use this compression-spiral bit.  The fibers on the top and bottom surfaces are cut towards the middle ("compressed to the middle" ahhh....) so the surfaces have no chip-out or fuzzing.  When following a pattern, I prefer to put the pattern on the bottom of the stock to cut mostly so I can limit how far I extend the router bit; "pattern" bits with the bearing above the cutters on the shank require you to have the whole thing exposed.

For pattern flushing like that, you could just go with a down-spiral with double-bearing and get very nearly the same results (#120-0815 or #120-0835).  Why? Because the pattern at the bottom will back the stock being cut so the down shearing of the bit won't chip-out.  As you can see, though, the price of the 1/2" down-spiral is about the same as the compression anyway.

Using a router on a guide rail, I can also use the compression spiral to cut a very clean edge.  Rough cut the edge with whatever you like (bandsaw, rip blade, frenzied beaver).  Lay the guide rail so the bit cuts your final edge.  The bearings will be below the board in this case and not used.  Make sure the small bit of "up-spiral" at the end of the bit is against the bottom of the stock and the cut will come out fantastic even with curly grain.

As an aside, the CNC industry uses compression-spirals a lot for cutting stock cleanly like that.

Last bit that I neglected to put in the photo is a 3/8" up-spiral.  I use it for mortise cutting.  I use 3/8" because my mortise will be at least that wide; for wider mortises, I prefer a second pass anyway.  The reason mine isn't in the picture is it was a HSS bit that got way over-used and is all discolored :)  I'll be getting a new carbide version.  For spirals without bearings, I now always look at Vortex Tool first; great bits.  This three-flute will be the replacement: #1860 (or the cheaper two-flute #1260)  They make bits for the CNC industry (hence no bearings); these are competitively priced, but made to much higher standards than other spirals.  Have some fun browsing their bits; dovetail spirals? yeah, they have that, too.

Addendum: someone asked about plywood bits... :-/  plywood isn't a specific thickness so while those bits get closer to the correct size, they never are.  You'll have a gap or too tight a fit.  That's why I do dados/grooves in two passes with a smaller bit and use the Bridge City KM-1 to exactly size the dado.  Even if "plywood bits" were the correct size, straight flutes in plywood make a messy splintered top; the compression spiral is the solution to that.

Enough about spirals :)

The next group, "profile" bits:

The blue bit is a 45º chamfer bit.  Usually I'll use a hand plane to put a chamfer on something because the small variances add character.  On a large chamfer, I want a bit.  Another use for this bit isn't so obvious: jewelry boxes.  For a small box like that, cutting thin stock on a 45º bevel for mitered corners can be messy with chipout.  Instead, I put the squared stock in a coping sled (discussed later) and apply a perfect 45º bevel on the edge with the bit.  Just back the board in the sled to avoid splintering on the exit cut.

45º camfer bits can be had about anywhere.  The blue one is from Rockler and one of my first purchases. Since I have the Eagle America site open for links, here's theirs: #152-0645; they even give a table of degrees for such boxes.

The green bit to the far right is a dish carving bit.  That's a Woodcraft bit.  It basically has a flat bottom with vertical cutting sides and a radius.  Think of it as a cambered plane blade for your router.  As you move around (paying attention not to climb-cut) flattening a recess, the radius keeps you from getting "router tracks" that are a pain in the butt to sand out; ask me how I know...  that was the reason for buying this bit.  I got a couple of those green ones on a clearance sale; good to do since you tend to hog out a good deal.  But you can sharpen them up... more on that later.  It seems Woodcraft no longer sells the greens and have switched to Freud ("reds" :) so here is the equivalent bit Freud Dish Carving bit.  Oh, if you suspend a router on a track to 'joint' a board below it, this is the bit you want: the radius eliminates most of the router tracks and also makes moving the router easier than with a straight/spiral.

Big green bit in the back is a tabletop edge bit.  It has a second radius on it, but I don't use that often; typically I just use the swooping profile up top near the bearing.  Makes for a nice edge on the underside.  I cannot find this bit online from Woodcraft (Woodriver brand) or others.  It shouldn't have been in the picture; I use it often for parts of the profile, but I wouldn't say it's super handy for everybody.

The grey Whiteside bit in the back to the left is the Charles-Neil signature molding bit.  Over the years, he used a huge multi-profile molding bit, but only used one portion of it for nearly all his projects, so he refined that profile and had a custom bit made.  He gets a run of them made from time to time so if they aren't available, sign up for his email list and you'll find out when a run is being made (or send them mail so they know there's a demand!).  I don't put profiles on a lot of projects, but usually what I want is on this bit somewhere.  Whiteside bits are excellent.  As of this writing, he has 5 left.  No pressure :)  First consider if you plan on using profiles often; these are decorative ones.  Traditional furniture has lots of molding.

The last bits I showed in the first family photo is a screw with a bunch of slot cutters on it.  I bought this set from Eagle America: #199-4615.  That's the 4-wing set; they cut very smoothly, you can stack them for different slot sizes.  I don't use them a lot, but they seem to be more of a "only good thing to use here is a slot cutter"... there are times when they're the perfect solution, like routing a groove in thin stock you don't want to stand up on the router table or, more scary, table saw.

After awhile, you'll get a decent number of bits with bearings.  Getting a bearing kit like this isn't a bad idea; note that this kit is geared towards slot cutters.  I swap out bearings to change how deep a profile or rabbet goes; this is a good-to-have for later when you notice a lot of bearings on your bits.  Bookmark this page: Bearings and look at the bottom for related kits; all of those kits fit different needs; when you need a different bearing, go to that page and you'll find it after a minute or three.

So I mentioned a coping sled.  I use this Woodpecker's coping sled and really like it.  I like the easy adjustments, the quick ability to remove parts of it if you need more capacity, all the excellent hold-downs, lots of T-track for your own additions/jigs, and the best part: it rides against the fence, not in a "miter slot".  Since it rides the fence, you can do your usual fence adjustments on successive passes instead of readjusting the stock in the sled.  You can also use this against a start pin when using the sled to deal with small parts (oh, most "small parts" holders I've seen and tried were really lame; judge it in person before you buy one).  The only complaint I have with this sled? The top plastic that rides against the fence rides really close to a T-slot on my Woodpecker's fence :-/  Since I use a sacrificial fence on the fence anyway, it isn't normally an issue.

Last tidbit... get a bit cleaner and clean them; makes a big difference.  I also have a set of diamond sharpeners by Eze-Lap (here's a DMT equivalent)  Use these on the flat part of a bit's cutting edge to touch it up (never on the outside bevel).

Others that get used from time to time are bearing-guided rabbetting bits (I have two: one for 1/2" deep, and the other I swapped the bearing so it's a 3/8" deep rabbet).

Round-overs?  They seem like you'd use them a lot, huh... I use the 1/4" radius roundover for making shop-made oversized Domino tenons.  Everything else gets a hand-plane or rasp/file treatment.

Okay, sorry, that was longer than anticipated!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Bridge City Angle Master Pro Review

If you've followed my recent Angle Madness! project build, you know there are a lot of goofy angles compounding around the cabinet.  I wanted to use a measuring device that's highly accurate for setting angles so any mistake was going to be how I lined up the cut at the end.  The Angle Master Pro (AMPv2) from Bridge City was just the device I needed.

Truthfully, I thought of this Angle Madness! cabinet over a year ago, but just as I was considering starting it, Bridge City announced the AMPv2.  I put the project on hold (I have plenty to choose from :) and waited to get it.

This review discusses the parts, how to use it, the optional accessories, and lastly (so you can run if you want to...) the math behind the AMPv2.

Sadly, it isn't inexpensive, but the more I get into angles for projects, the more this device will find itself among the required tools to pull off a project without undue sanding, filling, and creative vocabulary.

The video makes a reference to the second episode of the Angle Madness! project.  You can get there from here.

In passing, I noticed that by morning, this lil' blog will have hit a half million views.  That's fantastic!  Thanks for reading; it's appreciated...

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Some interesting snail-mail...

The other day, a snail-mail came from Hawaii.  This was an unexpected treat from a reader who asked for my address.  I thought, "oh, maybe a carved keychain or something".  Not really...

Coffee, dry-roasted Macadamia nuts, BBQ sauce, really nice mustard, and some chocolate/Macadamia treats.  Yum.

The woods... the rightmost board is bird's-eye Eucalyptus and has some stunning figure.  Definitely going to resaw it to get as much out of it as possible!  It comes from a tree that the Maui Electric Company cut down to make room for a powerline.

The brown slab to the left is Mylo.

The piece of wood next to the coffee has rounded edges.  The story goes that it is a piece of a handrail from a night club in Lahaina owned by Jimmy Buffet.  So a small piece of rock-n-roll history.

It was a snail-mail day as there was a second package. Awhile ago, I placed an order with my Festool dealer for the new Centrotec 3/8" socket adapter and some sanding interface pads for a handrail I've successfully ignored for months now :)  The adapter was a preorder and the pads were normal stock, but I wrote in the comments to just ship it all together (it would help me further ignore the handrail project!)

Time passes...

I get an email "the adapter is here going out tomorrow; anything else before I ship?"  You see, I'm noted for "oh, I forgot..."  Scatter-brained.

Me being me and having huge cookie cravings that week... I wrote back, "nope, well, I guess oatmeal cookies would be out of the question".

Package arrived:

Thanks, Tom!

Now, my quandary... do I "ask" for the sapphire or black Mercedes SL-600 next order?  Decisions...


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Angle Madness! - Photo Update of Final Stock Dimensioning (from Hell)

I decided to tape up the shell of Angle Madness we cut in the last episode to see how the angles and edges lined up as well as how the grain wrapped.  There were some pretty big swaths of wood removed between adjoining pieces so I wasn't sure what to expect with the grain... tone and color, yes, but flow?

Here are some bad photos, but I'm very happy with the grain wrapping around the boxes.  On some photos, a joint line looks dark because some of the pencil line is still there; they all close up gap-free and stay flat on the bench, although you'll notice my assembly table (you know, the one made to be flat?) needs a new sheet of flat hardboard!!  I'm actually thinking of vinyl-coated 1/8" MDF instead to try out, but that's another story.

Lastly, tonight I needed a break from my day job (yes, I know it is Saturday!) so I went to cut the second Angle Madness cabinet I'm doing off camera.  I could have batched the parts with the first unit, but l was recording the first one.  Plus, I had thought about the idea that one botched setup while cutting that would ruin both cabinets.

For the curious, I was going at a casual pace while keeping tabs on my friend Chris Wong's Tweet-along build of his trestle table; final time was 2 hours 30 minutes to crosscut and rip cut the  parts just like we did in the last episode.  That's 42 compound cross cuts and 42 beveled rips.  Glad I only counted after I was done...

Next episode will Domino the shell parts together (what we've cut so far) and do the drawer webbing on the interior.  Hmm, I better get off my butt this week and get the substrates for the veneered panels!!  Suddenly I feel like we're moving again :)

Thanks for following along!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Angle Madness! - Final Stock Dimensioning (from Hell)

And the madness continues!

The last episode marked off the pieces for the shell of the diamond-shaped cabinet so all we have to do this time is crosscut and rip cut each piece appropriately.  As you'd suspect, the angles get in there and make a mess of things for this, too.  Fortunately, once we're done with the outer shell, the insides become more 'normal' with only a few minor changes due to the angles (at least that's what I keep telling myself!)

The cross-cut sled from the jigs episode gets used to death in this episode for doing the cross-cuts, naturally, but also for doing the rip cuts on those small pieces that have funky mitered angles on their ends.  It all can sound complicated, but really the process is pretty quick (uhm, sans cameras...) and easy.  Just requires some organization.  Along the way, I'll show you how to use previously-cut mock-up pieces to "square up" a piece for better reference (no mock-up? no problem, just cut some scrap with the triangle).

In the next episode, we'll use the Domino (surprise!) to join the boards then get started on the inner drawer webbing.  That webbing is very similar to what you'd do in a normal project with just a few projected boards being used to grab the angled shell as an anchor point.  So really, I think the hardest part is behind us after this episode... I hope!

Finally, last week someone asked for my contact email address since up until now, I've intentionally kept it off the site to avoid spam-bots.  I've since added it to my About Me page on the blog as an image to keep the spam-bots away.  I've been surprised that in a brief week, I've had a number of emails asking how to deal with angled projects!