Engineer & Entertain

Ideas I grapple with

Archive for the tag “woodworking”

Get off your high horse

Traditional Japanese woodworking is performed while seated on the ground. So as to not cut into your tatami, saw horses low to the ground are used.

I do not frequently crosscut while sitting in seiza, but I have found many uses for the horses

  • Several sets of them on the floor of your shop make it very easy to break down sheet goods
  • Take a pair and a saw when you go to purchase lumber. Yes, most places will cut the lumber for a small fee, but where is the fun in that?
  • Use them on your workbench to lift work off the bench.
  • Push up bars. Crank out a few push ups while you contemplate your next saw cut.

The low horses are also a great project to help you bootstrap your wood shop. They are cheap and easy to build. Also, they can be built with only hand tools.

I largely followed the procedure laid out by Make Skill Builder: Building Woodworking Low HorsesI cut four legs at 8 inches long and two beams at 22 inches long.

Some assembly required.

I found the center of the beams’ thickness. I also found the center of the legs’ length. These marks allow for dead-on layout for the Lincoln log notches which will be sawn out.

The notches are 1/2″ deep. I did not measure their width. I marked where I wanted the notches and then used the connecting piece to mark the width. Measurement is the enemy of precision. I used a coping saw to cut the walls of the notches.

I then used the coping saw to remove the waste from the notches.

Cut as close to the line as you can. It will make for less clean up with a chisel & mallet later.

A chisel will clean up the notch. Like an electron killing psychopath, I used a trim router with a straight bit to square everything up.

I cut relief with the coping saw in the bottoms of the legs to create feet. Again I used the trim router to tidy my cuts, but a mallet and chisel could be used.

I applied glue to the notches and clamped everything together.

The other one looks exactly like the first. I love a good set of twins.

I skipped cutting any design into the legs. Despite my aversion to aesthetics, sawing curves into the horses provides practice for curved cutting and makes them easy to identify as yours.


Spiraling into control

I am building a table for my Handibot as one of my biggest challenges thus far is registering the machine in the same spot when I move it to change bits. The table will have dog holes bored every 3 inches. The Handibot will have a fence and work pieces will be clamped against the fence via offset clamps.

The screw does not go through the center of the circle. It is offset so the circle rotates like a cam.

Rather than cut circles and mount them offset, I decide to make cams based on the Fibonacci spiral. I am not sure if there is any advantage or disadvantage to this. My reasoning was that a spiral would have a smoother transition in clamping. We’ll see how this works in practice.

I laid out a rectangle and spiral based on the Fibonacci numbers with a pair of dividers. Alternatives to using dividers/compass include:

  1. Multiplication – the 3″x3″ square is effectively the number 8 square in the picture below. To make the 5 square, multiply 3 by 5/8ths. The 5 square is 1.875″ x 1.875″. To make the 3 square multiply 3″ by 3/8ths and you will find the 3 square is 1.125″ x 1.125″
  2. Print a spiral. Adhere the paper to your work piece with spray adhesive and cut it out.

I laid out a 3″ x 3″ square on a scrap of 3/4″ thick plywood. I set my dividers to divide the square into 8ths.

The 3″x3″ square can effectively be thought of as the 8 square

From the outer corner of the 3″ x 3″ square I paced out five spaces. This is the corner for my 5 square.

Five little steps and I made the 5 square

I repeated this process to create the 3 square, 2 square, and 1 squares.

I used a compass with a pencil to trace the arc in each square. The compass legs are spaced the length of a side of a square.

Then I cut out a small rectangle from the 8 square. This provides a handle for me to grip when tightening the clamp.

Cut with a handsaw.

Next I used my fret saw to cut the spiral. I used a sander to sand down to the line.


I drilled a 3/4″ diameter hole in the spiral for a dowel. The dowel is 1.5″ long and glued in place.

Looks like a duck

The clamp does hold pieces against a fence, but I am unsure if it will be strong enough while using a CNC router. I’ll report back with those results eventually.

My most recent failure

There is really no such thing as failure, only more data. Here is my most recent bout of data collection.

I attempted to make a Roubo book stand. This stand is made from a single piece of wood and has chiseled hinges.

The hinge is laid out on the side of the board and its dimensions are carried across the front and back of the board. The board is divided into five equal segments which are then alternately chiseled down at a 45* angle from the center line. The board is then flipped over and the opposite segments are chiseled down at a 45* angle from the center line.

My next attempt will involve using my combination square as a 45 degree angle jig.

Next the stand and feet are rip sawn down the center of the board to open the hinges.

I look forward to using a proper ripsaw like this guy at the Woodwright’s School


Only at the end of all this work do you learn if you made a book stand or firewood. I made firewood.

When testing where I needed to remove waste to open the hinges I split the stand. While I am out a book stand I think I understand where I failed. My cuts were not complete; I chiseled too shallow on some of the segments.

I made this!

So what did I learn?

  1. I need to give more attention to the chiseling.
  2. I am taking a class on the Roubo book stand with Roy Underhill in the future. Consulting with an expert always helps to learn the nuances of a project or process.
  3. I dislike resawing by hand. I can understand arguments for and against using hand tools in any process, but I cannot understand an argument for resawing by hand. A band saw will be in my future.
  4. I am proud of the ogee I made at the base of the stand. Laying it out with a ruler and compass was enjoyable. I am always pleased when I can apply something I learned (especially if that something is geometry).

Ogee! O wow!

If you want to make your own, Roy Underhill will provide you instruction courtesy of PBS. View it here.

Tooling Around

After running Shopbot’s hello world, my first project was Shopbot’s accessory holder. The project takes you through the basics of designing in VCarve Pro, creating tools paths, and running the file with a CNC.

Tooling around

So as to get more practice, I made some revisions to the tool holder to store the accessories I received with my Handibot. I removed the three large holes which hold spare collets, three of the 1/4″ bit holders, and reduced the rectangular recess. I added six 3/16″ holes at the top to hold allen keys and a second slot to hold a 7mm wrench.

Tooling around

The 3/16″ holes were milled first with a 1/8″ single fluted bit. I marked the location of the Handibot by tracing around it. I switched out the 1/8″ bit for a 1/4″ upcut spiral bit. The rest of the tool holder was milled and cut out.

The redesign worked well in that it gave me more practice, but admittedly it is not how I prefer to store tools and accessories. Even though I thought I was thorough in realigning the Handibot with the pencil tracings when switching out the bits, I was still off. Thankfully the design had loose enough tolerances to accommodate a less than perfect alignment.

I CNC what you did there

I make it a point to not purchase a new tool or material unless it is truly needed. The basis for this rule:

  • I do not want to buy a tool that I will not use frequently enough to justify its cost.
  • Often I can use a tool I already have or build a jig to allow the necessary process to occur.
  • Having a limited set of tools puts constraints on my work and constraint breeds creativity.

Recently though I made a purchase which violates this very rule.

I have no need for a robot which can perform routing, engraving, cutting, and milling operations. But I have wanted one since I used a computer numerical controlled mill in my high school engineering class. Creating with a CNC machine provides an abundance of possibilities. The Handibot has an astronomical amount of potential.

My main attraction to the Handibot was twofold. First, I did not have to assemble it. There are many plans and DIY kits to assemble your own CNC for far less than purchasing a ready-made machine. Knowing that accuracy would be paramount in a DIY kit I opted to not go that route. I know others have built their CNC machines accurately and easily, but I do not have the patience to do so.

My second draw to the Handibot was its size. CNC mills range in size from small enough to fit on your desk to large enough to handle a 4 feet by 8 feet sheet of plywood. You bring the machine to the workpiece with a Handibot. While its cutting area is 6 x 8 inches I can move the Handibot anywhere on the workpiece and run a process. I am not sure how often I will mill on a sheet of plywood, but it is nice having the ability without having to dedicate the space to a large machine.


The software installation was fairly straightforward; I followed the dialog boxes as directed. I did have a run time error when I tried to run ShopBot 3 because it tried to divide by zero. Turns out I was supposed to run ShopBot_PRSDesktop2418.

It comes with VCarve Pro which is the design and layout software. PartWorks 3D is CAM software. These two bits of software can either be downloaded and installed from a zip file or with the included flash drive. The flash drive also has ShopBot Design (communicates between the device and computer) and ShopBot Editor (reads and edits the ShopBot files).


After installing the software, I zeroed the XYZ axes as directed. I then ran Shopbot’s version of “Hello World”.

The Handibot carves Shopbot’s logo with a 90 degree V bit. It provides fairly clean edges, but the detail will be dependent on the sharpness of the bit and the material being cut.

All of the fuzzy wood chips could be brushed away with an old toothbrush.

Cutting the birch plywood produced very little dust. I ran the sample twice – once with a shop vac attached to the dust port and once without. In both cases there was no observable airborne wood chips or dust. Regardless, you should always wear respiratory protection, but I am not concerned about my computer being near a router.

With and without a shop vac for dust collection.

On Deck

The main limiting reagent is my lack of knowledge of VCarve Pro. The last time I used CAD, CAM, CNC, or any other engineering software my roommates were my parents. Thankfully Vectric provides resources on how to use the software and there are other tutorials on YouTube and Instructables. My attempts at making some other logos and text in plywood were met with failure. I am sure I will figure it out in due time. Or I will become so incredibly frustrated with it I will sell it on Craigslist. Either way.

I am not sure what projects I will attempt with my new tool. Suggestions are always welcome. I love the promise and bright future it offers.

Oh Snap!

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

I certainly have no need for another old, lame magic trick like the snapper. I made the device so I could appreciate the lesson Roy Underhill provided when he made it on The Woodwright’s Shop.

The snapper could be made could be made by cutting the pieces first, drilling the hole, and then shaping it. You could drill the hole, shape it, and then cut the pieces. You could shape it, drill, and then cut. You could . . . as you see, Grasshopper, there are many wats to the tree. So, why do we do it the way we do it? We drill the hole first, shape it, and then cut the individual pieces because it is easier to work the wood as one unit. The lesson is in order of operations: leave it long, trim to fit.

Let us move from theory to practice. The wood is 3/4″ Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos
And about 4″ long. Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

A 1/4″ hole is drilled in the center of the square end. Photobucket Pictures, Images and PhotosThe hole runs the length of the block. A 1/4″ diameter is used because that is the size of the dowel rod used to make the hook of the snapper.

One end is chamfered by cutting the corners with a saw. Photobucket Pictures, Images and PhotosThe chamfers were then shaped with a rasp. Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

The individual pieces were then cut. The body is 3″ long and the snapping end is 1″ long.

A small plug for the bottom of the body was cut from the dowel rod. Photobucket Pictures, Images and PhotosIt is glued in place with a rubber band. Photobucket Pictures, Images and PhotosAs the rubber band does not actually do any thing, there is no particular method needed to secure the rubber band in place. I simply shoved it in with the plug and glued it all with wood glue.

Notch the dowel rod to make the hook. Photobucket Pictures, Images and PhotosLike the rubber band, the hook serves no purpose. It does need to look like it could hook the rubber band though to sell the trick. The hook is then glued in place. Photobucket Pictures, Images and PhotosOnce it is dry, the dowel is cut flush with the head. Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

To use the snapper, squeeze the chamfered ends to shoot the end into the body. To make this entertaining you need to act like there is some skill and dexterity needed to hook the rubber band. Also, to make this entertaining, it helps if your audience consists of your young nieces and nephews.

Router Table Saw

On Router Forums (there is a forum for everything just as there is adult content for everything) a user posted an insert made for the extension on his Ridgid table saw. I have a different router and table saw, but the same desire for maximizing utility in a small garage workshop.

The router table rests on 1/8″ thick angle iron (made of aluminum). The router table has 1/8″ thick flat bar running across a 1/2″ thick plywood bottom. The top is 3/4″ melamine.

The 1/8″ + 1/8″ + 1/2″ + 3/4″ brings the melamine flush with the table saw top. The router top being flush with the saw top allows me to use the table saw fence and miter gauge.

The angle iron was cut to 21 15/16″ in length. The extension arm has a depth of 0.617″. 1/2″ wide piece was removed from both ends of the aluminum angle so it sits in the extension arm groove.

Holes were drilled in the 1/8″ thick flat bar with a step bit. The bars were screwed to the 1/2″ thick plywood. The plywood was mounted to the melamine with screws as well.

A fitted recess was cut in the bottom of the melamine using a straight bit.

Toggle clamps hold the trim router in place. A 1 3/8″ hole was drilled for the router bit.

The space savings and ability to use the tablesaw’s fence & gauge do not make up for the fact the router shifts in use. The torque of the router shifts the table top ever so slightly. Fine if the project has loose tolerances, but not so for something more exact. I may try to remedy this with a heavier router or locking the router top down to the table saw or the angled aluminum pieces.

A Class Cut Up

My goal in life, aside from being better than sliced bread, is to engineer and entertain.  I want to make things and entertain people. Roy Underhill does this effortlessly. The main instructor of the Woodwright’s School and personality of The Woodwright’s Shop also enlightens, engages, and educates like a fish swims.

The school is in downtown Pittsboro, NC. It is a quaint town that has not forgotten its 1785 establishment. While waiting for Roy to open the school, I chatted with my classmates. Most of them were from North Carolina and the rest were from the East Coast. Out of no where, Roy turns the corner carrying a 10 foot board of tulip poplar with a box of donuts balancing on it. Clad in a gray vest, a flat cap, and a smile, I was surprised when “Kildare’s Fancy” was not playing.

Our benches were decorated with models of the joints we would soon be learning and cutting. Mr. Underhill quipped we could just take those home and go to the bar now rather than learn the skill.

Guess whose bench this was?

Roy warmly greeted all of us and asked us about our experience levels in woodworking and creating dovetails and mortise & tenons by hand.  There were people with no experience all the way to more experienced than St. Roy. If you think you are not good enough to take a class taught by Roy, you are wrong.

Roy demonstrated the through dovetail and along the way shared hilarious anecdotes and delightful feghoots. He then set us to task and we created our own dovetails. At one point in time I was having difficulty paring. Rather than removing thin curls with my chisel, I was pulling off chips. I called the Master over and he performed the same task with the same results. He blamed the chisel and I was relieved that he used that excuse as well.

He set out to sharpen the chisel and this came to a tangent on sharpening tools. What is typically a 4 minute shop task became a 40 minute discourse on grinding and honing.

With no tools to blame, I finished my through dovetail. There are many dovetails, some better and some worse, but these dovetails are mine.

Shake your dovetail feathers.

After lunch at a soda shoppe next door, we made half-blind dovetails. Half-blind dovetails are like through dovetails, but the tails are shorted and sit in a socket.

Half-blind dovetail wears an eye patch

The method Roy taught us to make half-blind dovetails could easily be used to make through dovetails and vice versa. There are many ways to the tree, Grasshopper.

We then moved on to making a mortise and tenon joint. Mortise and tenons are frequently used in making tables. Roy imparted some great wisdom about making tables, “How long do you table legs need to be? They must reach the ground!”

The joint is very simple in that we are cutting a peg to put into a chiseled hole. That said, I still managed to err the layout of my mortise and tenon. Roy shrugged it off and said I am just creating a new school of art.

What you see on The Woodwright’s Shop is exactly what you get when you take a class from Roy. He is a warm and entertaining teacher. Not only does he teach you a skill, but he teaches its application to bigger projects. With practice, I will be making neater and tighter joints. And in no time, I will be applying them to making tables, drawers, keepsake boxes, blanket chests, and plenty of other items my family will hate to receive for Christmas and gift-giving occasions.

Yes, I am holding a 4 foot dovetail saw.

He signed my lab notebook. “Thank you, Benji. May the grain be with you! Roy Underhill 2013”

Crate to meet you

Over the weekend I built a Japanese tool box for no other reason than I thought it looked neat. I really enjoy the aesthetic of Japanese woodworking and their tools and tool chests do not escape that enjoyment.

I especially like the way the lid works. It slides in place to close securely rather than rely on a lock or latch. Further more the lid can be flipped over and used as a work surface.

If I make another I am going to make four changes.

  1. Add feet on the bottom that will fit between the lid supports. Hypothetically this will allow the boxes to stack securely.
  2. Add a till that will slide along the length of the box.
  3. Add a piece on the bottom of the lid to work as a plane stop
  4. Cut a rabbet on the bottom of the lid to work as a shooting board

I really like this project because of its flexibility. It can be built with the same amount of effort with hand tools, powered hand tools, or stationary tools. It can be secured with glue, nails, screws, or traditional joinery. The list goes on.

The plans are from Make 34, but there are many plans and design variations available from Giant Cypress, Lost Art Press, or on Lumberjocks by member, MaFe.

Flags of our fathers

My dad died on 04 Apr 2013. Having served in the army in his younger days, he earned a flag on behalf of a grateful nation. The build details of a flag case from an honored and grateful son are below.

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

The box is 16 inches tall and about 25.5 inches long. The boards were ripped to 4 inches wide. A rabbet was routed to hold the back and a groove was routed to hold the plexiglass.

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

The back is thin plywood. Spray adhesive was used to attach felt to it. The photos were also glued on with spray adhesive. The plaque was mounted with bolts.

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

A miter hand saw was used to cut the ends at 45 degrees. Despite using a miter box, one of the ends was not at 45 degrees, ergo the miters were not tight.
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

A common woodworking adage is that a master carpenter is not someone who makes no mistakes, but is able to hide them. I am no master woodworker, but I did hide the gaps with a moulding I routed with a roundover bit. I double checked my angles and was able to cut gapless miters for the moulding frame. The frame was glued on.

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Distracted by the miter issues, I forgot to create small recesses for the shell casings from my dad’s 21 gun salute. I epoxied them in place which worked out just fine, but what was not what I originally intended. The casings are spaced one casing length away from each other.

Casing test fit

Once glued and nailed, the whole thing was given 3 coats of boiled lineseed oil. 15-20 minutes followed each coat. A coat of spray shellac was applied a day later. Once the shellac dried, a coat of wax was applied and buffed by hand.

Tons of credit goes to Steve Ramsey of Woodworking For Mere Mortals. This design was taken from him and would have been copied exactly if I could have cut tight miters the first time around. Thank you, Steve. Thank you, veterans. Thank you, dad, for being awesome.

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