Shop Tips & Tricks

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Blog series by GnarlyErik updated 12-24-2020 06:13 PM 28 parts 290701 reads 212 comments total

Part 1: Shop Tips

12-03-2012 10:03 PM by GnarlyErik | 13 comments »

In the past, most old guys like me jealously protected their shortcuts and tricks to guard their job from competitors. I’ve seen many old fellows actually turn and place their bodies in front of their work to keep someone else from seeing how they did something, and they were not too bashful about doing so either. But, a lot of the old knowledge is disappearing now and some hard-learned things may disappear forever. I’ve learned a few tricks in my six decades of work related experience, and w...

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Part 2: Dividing a line or space into equal parts

12-04-2012 06:43 PM by GnarlyErik | 19 comments »

I’ve heard people say ‘What good are learning things in school if you don’t use them?’. After my lifetime of careers, I realize you never know what may be useful to you later. One of my most useful high school classes for example, was a one-semester class in typing – a ‘fill-in’ course – way back when they taught ‘Typing’. I guess it is called ‘keyboarding’ if anything similar is even taught today. Geometry was another, which at t...

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Part 3: “Declivity” - a trick for dealing with things out of level or plumb

12-05-2012 11:13 PM by GnarlyErik | 10 comments »

With shipbuilding in the past – and for some larger vessels even now – boats were built ‘on the shingle’ (beach), meaning they were built on a slope, sometimes quite steep. In fact, before the days of modern machinery, the slope of the building site enabled the builders to move and launch a vessel of many, many tons. And, unless the builder compensated for the angle of the shingle, many items could end up out of kilter once the vessel entered its working environment af...

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Part 4: Centerlines - Finding, Marking and Using Them! (Part One)

12-06-2012 09:35 PM by GnarlyErik | 8 comments »

When working with non-squared and oddly shaped things – like boats, you generally need starting and reference points. The most convenient usually being from the “centers” of something. One general approach is to ‘work from the centers out’, which seems to work well overall too most times.  For a simple example, suppose you must install a seat in a boat (or, a seat bottom in a chair). You may know the seat width or depth, but ends are not squared to that. Working fro...

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Part 5: Centerlines - Finding, Marking and Using Them! (Part Two)

12-08-2012 12:32 AM by GnarlyErik | 9 comments »

Here’s a little esoteric ‘how-to’ for those times you can not buy the ‘round’ you need in the size or material you want. This is a basic spar or mast builder’s technique which works for making things round and long. Almost all wooden masts have traditionally been built with a changing taper, diminishing towards the top. In ancient Grecian and Roman times, many of their architectural columns in their buildings were gracefully tapered from base to capital, and in fact often, the tapers began...

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Part 6: Measuring Things - Rulers Versus Tapes

12-08-2012 10:31 PM by GnarlyErik | 16 comments »

“MORE THAN YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SIX-FOOT FOLDING RULES!” Most people today use a flexible metal tape for measurement, except for some old-timers. There are reasons for this besides stubborn intransigence – although that surely plays a part. First, most set-in-their-ways people like me suspect metal things are more affected by temperature than wooden things, which is correct. Steel thermally expands or contracts roughly three times as much as the wood in a ruler. For example,...

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Part 7: Measuring Things - The Two-Foot Folding Rule

12-09-2012 09:08 PM by GnarlyErik | 6 comments »

“More Than You Ever Needed to Know about Two-Foot folding rules” Let me say up front that I am most familiar with the six-foot folding rule. That said, I will share with you some things I have learned about two-foot rules. Most common are those with four joints, known as ‘Two-foot, Four-Fold Rules’, and you can do many things with them.These were typically carried in a workman’s shirt pocket, or in the side pocket on the right leg of most overalls of the time. There were also two-foot, six...

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Part 8: Laying out irregular areas and surfaces

12-14-2012 02:57 AM by GnarlyErik | 10 comments »

The “Tickle Stick”Here’s a layout tip for boat work, and it comes in handy for other things too. This technique is used to accurately pick up the edges of irregularly shaped areas or surfaces and transfer them to the material to be cut. The original purpose was in taking off (measuring) bulkheads to fit accurately against a curved boat hull. The idea can also be used laying out a seat for a bay window, a countertop notched around obstructions, chair bottoms and other things....

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Part 9: Preventing End Grain splitting

04-05-2013 08:50 PM by GnarlyErik | 5 comments »

You are faced with end grain splitting or tearing out when working some woods. Most woodworkers know to clamp a piece of waste stock hard up against the material being worked to prevent this when planing across end grain. But what about those times when you are simply sanding or doing some other operation on end grain? Some materials have a bad tendency to tear out slivers at the ends of narrow stock, such as a chair or table leg. Sometimes simply sliding a wooden chair leg across the floo...

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Part 10: Clamping Big Stuff

04-05-2013 09:00 PM by GnarlyErik | 9 comments »

Here are some little tricks you can use when you are trying to clamp something bigger or longer than your available clamps. ‘Joining’ clamps: Sometimes it is possible to simply clamp one clamp to another, with their business (working) dogs to the outside of your work as with pipe clamps, but in the case of door clamps this is hard or impossible to do since you can not rotate the dogs of the clamps. Once neat solution is to use a piece of scrap as a ‘joiner’, sandwiching it between the c...

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Part 11: MORE than you ever wanted to know about HOLES!

04-09-2013 09:06 PM by GnarlyErik | 9 comments »

Don’t get too excited – this isn’t an article on porn or sex, but only about making holes in wood! There are times when you need a hole in wood which becomes a challenge, even with the right sort and size bit. Here’s how to deal with some of the more common challenges: 1. Drilling long holes accurately:  A. By far the easiest way is by making a shallow saw kerf in the “Faying Surface”①. These are then joined together by glueing or other means, with the kerfs mirr...

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Part 12: Making Long, Round Things in Wood - with the Norwegian Dowel Cutter

04-15-2013 11:10 PM by GnarlyErik | 5 comments »

Sometimes you need long round parts made from wood. Prior to the 19th century, specially made wooden dowels often served where nails, screws and bolts are used today. For instance, in barn building and shipbuilding, ‘trunnels’ were used to fasten timbers together and planks to a ships ribs. Outside of lacking the strength of of metal, trunnels are not affected by electrolysis and do not rust, important considerations in ships – although of course they can eventually rot. The word ‘trunn...

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Part 13: Duplicating Parts in Wood and Smoothing Curves

04-17-2013 09:14 PM by GnarlyErik | 2 comments »

Let’s say you need to made two, three or even four parts in wood, all precisely the same size and shape. It is straightforward and fairly easy to make your parts if they are all rectangular and can be done on the table saw. But, what if they are curved or irregular in shape, and you only need a few? The following technique may seem elementary, but it is surprising how many people aren’t familiar with this idea. Simply put, this is as easy as making two or more parts at once, in one setup, th...

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Part 14: “Repeat After Me”: Making identical parts in wood

12-12-2013 06:01 PM by GnarlyErik | 6 comments »

Mold makers often use of this technique when making castings patterns. Layers of wood are temporarily glued together in a way to be easily pulled apart after the carving or milling work is done. After a casting pattern is made, it is often separated into two or more parts for making a sand mold for casting. This is a useful trick when needing multiple identical parts in wood – say two identical halves of an item, etc. Of course you can use it for making more than two pieces too, within ...

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Part 15: Down and Dirty Proportional Dividers

03-09-2014 04:03 PM by GnarlyErik | 4 comments »

Have you ever wished to scale something up or down, either from plans or from actual objects? Then, you looked around the shop only to realize you don’t have any convenient tool other than measuring with rulers and then trying to convert using sometimes shaky math – especially if using English measures in feet, inches and fractions? (A quick aside here – metrics are so much more convenient to use! Although, it is ever so hard to make the initial roll-over and adjustment into me...

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Part 16: How to Plane Stock very Thin

08-08-2014 07:15 PM by GnarlyErik | 33 comments »

Planing very thin stock: Recently another Lumberjocker (John Hutchinson) asked for tips for planing stock down to 1/8” or so. Several people made good suggestions and I shared my own simple method which I worked out by trial and error years ago. I figured this would be a good tip to share in my sporadic blog on Shop Tips and Tricks. Power planing thin stock can be a challenge for several reasons. First is the danger of damaging the cutter head and knives by their contact with the planer...

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Part 17: Making Painting & Varnishing Easier, Cleaner and Cheaper

08-06-2016 08:30 PM by GnarlyErik | 5 comments »

Today it occurred to me while working in my shop, I have used a little trick for decades which is handy, saves money, is neat and tidy, and costs almost nothing. I didn’t think to pass this on before. To make up for that, here it is now: Using paint or varnish out of a can is always kind of a messy operation. This is not an issue if you are going to use the whole can of paint, but if you only want part of it for a smaller project, it is. You pour paint out of a can into another conta...

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Part 18: The Zen of Sandpaper and Sanding

11-19-2016 01:34 AM by GnarlyErik | 5 comments »

Many wood workers will already know these things, but for those who do not, here are a few pointers and shortcuts about sandpaper and sanding – things I’ve learned after decades of wearing my fingerprints off. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS ‘NO SAND FINISHING’, and never let any smooth-talking paint salesperson tell you otherwise! Almost all woodworking projects need finish work. Most finishes require smoothing before the finish is applied. Normally, that means SANDING ...

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Part 19: The Art of Middles of Symmetries

11-20-2016 03:12 PM by GnarlyErik | 3 comments »

I don’t know why I did not think to include this as a part of my blog about centerlines since it is very closely related. I will call this notion ‘The Art of Middles of Symmetries’.  Simply put, all symmetrical shapes by definition have a ‘middle’, or centerline. Stating that notion as a corollary to centerlines, you might say: “All symmetrical shapes have an EXACT middle centerline.” Take advantage of this simple fact by using it when laying out ...

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Part 20: Curves, Fair Curves and the Lack of Them

03-26-2017 09:04 PM by GnarlyErik | 3 comments »

”My curves are not crazy.” ~ Henri Matisse “There are no straight lines in nature.” was a truism in the School of Architecture when I attended college. This is not strictly true for the human eye at least, when you consider crystalline structures and such things. Perhaps there it still even holds true in the sub-atomic world. But, it is true in almost all of the visible natural world. There is something about curves we all seem to like. Men in particular certainly s...

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Part 21: Jacking sideways, or "Walking the Jack."

05-25-2017 12:38 AM by GnarlyErik | 6 comments »

Here’s an idea you may find useful some day. This trick uses a jack to safely move something horizontally. You can turn most jacks on their sides, but then must have something solid to jack against. Did you know you can use a jack by itself to move something sideways without needing a side purchase at all? It’s a pretty simple notion, but it may not occur to you. This requires a jack with a rigidly solid, flat base like a bottle jack. Other types of jacks may work too, but most will carry ...

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Part 22: How to Stabilize Anything With Legs

05-25-2017 11:41 PM by GnarlyErik | 1 comment »

How to stabilize anything with legs – except maybe some politicians! It does not matter how many legs the item has either. (Anything with just three legs is self-stabilizing.) We’ve all been irritated with a jiggly chair or table which just doesn’t want to be steady. This is a simple little trick which makes it easy to correct the problem – and maybe be a hero to your lady or friend too. The idea is very simple, but I’ve noticed that many people approach this ...

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Part 23: Drywall Screw Helper Kit

08-12-2018 09:30 PM by GnarlyErik | 0 comments »

Here’s a little hack that I find very useful around my shop. Over the years I’ve realized how handy self-tapping drywall screws can be and I keep an assortment of them from 1” up to 3-3/4” on hand. They come in handy for many projects. Done right, a screw can take the place of a clamp, especially in tight spots, or where you’re gluing angled pieces that are difficult to clamp. There are a couple of drawbacks though. One is there’s a small hole left when the screw is removed. This is...

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01-05-2019 11:05 PM by GnarlyErik | 4 comments »

Maybe the least fun part of any woodworking project requiring a nice finish is the smoothing and sanding. Over the years I’ve been taught or learned by trial and error a few little tricks to make things easier and better. Many years ago a boat-school-taught guy in the boat shop saw me whaling away with a big disc sander on something and made a snotty remark saying, ‘Anybody can WEAR wood!’. The implication was that ‘purists’ like him depended on very sharp tools only. Some may disagree...

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01-14-2019 04:32 AM by GnarlyErik | 3 comments »

The older I get the more I become compromised in physical flexibility. These days it can be a struggle to raise something up off the floor or retrieve something which has rolled into an impossible place (don’t they ALWAYS do that)?. If I actually get down on my hands and knees it can be a hassle to get back up again, so I’m always looking for ways to avoid doing that. Over the years I’ve devised little ‘helpers’ for use around my shop. These cost little or nothing and can be extremely hand...

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Part 26: Naturally Grown Wooden Crooks and Knees

09-11-2019 08:33 PM by GnarlyErik | 1 comment »

The subject of wooden ‘crooks’ (naturally grown ‘knees’) seems esoteric today, but some people may be interested. After all, when we allow all the ‘old school’ crafts and skills to be forgotten, they will need to be re-learned if they’re ever needed again, won’t they? Old School boatbuilders usually called grown crooks either ‘crooks’ or ‘knees’, and used them extensively as knee brackets and bracing to strengthen and reinforce ‘joins’ of two components which meet a right angle...

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Part 27: Small paint jobs and touch-up painting.

11-12-2019 01:27 AM by GnarlyErik | 2 comments »

Sometimes I use only small amounts of paints and varnishes out of a fresh can. I use only oil-based finishing materials since I can get a much better finish on wood with those. Plus, as an ancient old codger, almost all of my finishing experience has been with oil-based materials, so there’s that. I feel like a vanishing breed since good oil-based paints are getting harder to find. A common problem however, is once you open a can of paint and use only part of it, the remainder skims over ...

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Part 28: Pencil Nub Therapy

12-24-2020 06:13 PM by GnarlyErik | 16 comments »

Woodworkers use lots of pencils. We wear them down to nubs, which then get lost in our pockets. I’m so miserly I always feel bad about tossing three or four inches of good pencils. Some years ago I got tired of contouring my elbows to dig around for nubs in my shirt pockets. So, I came up with this simple little hack which makes me feel better. This can easily be done in one of those times between jobs when you are looking around for something to do. Scarfing a painted wooden tab...

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