Occasional Table Class (Hand Tool Build) #13: Using the tools: Lesson 1 the Winding sticks and Straightedge.

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Blog entry by RGtools posted 10-10-2011 03:56 AM 5315 reads 4 times favorited 20 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 12: Freehand Sharpening Video Part 13 of Occasional Table Class (Hand Tool Build) series Part 14: Mortise and Tenon »

Hello again, before we get started today, I just wanted to say thanks for all your patience during my busiest time of year. Today we are going to get started on our active lesson plan…in other words we are going to start using the tools we have discussed in the previous chapters.

I just thought I would take this opportunity to introduce myself. My name is Ryan and I have been obsessed with building things since I was a little kid. When I was 17 I had the opportunity for formally apprentice as a jeweler. That experience has heavily influenced the way I have approached cabinetmaking over the years. As an apprentice, you don’t get a lot of what I would call practice, instead you are given “practical experience”. You are given a task that needs to be done for the shop, but it’s the kind of task that you can mess up a bit while you build your skills. Over time the tasks that are assigned to you become more and more complex as you build upon each lesson. That’s the kind of learning curve I would like to emulate for the class.

While we are on the subject of class format….A bit about the way these classes will be laid out: up until now I have either done picture and text chapters for study, or long form video explaining what we are doing. The videos take quite a bit of time to produce and I would like to keep the class moving at a reasonable pace…however, I really think you need to see some of the things we talk about being done to understand them better. To this end the future classes will be picture and text like the majority before, but I will add in short video clips demonstrating techniques.

Now that we have got that out of the way, let’s start making shavings. You need two more tools before we start building the table, the good news is you get to build them. A pare of winding sticks and a straightedge are essential when prepping work by hand…they also make good fodder to learn some of the fundamentals of woodworking.

Hand Planing
sawing to a line
Drilling a square hole

Not bad for a lazy afternoon.

First things is first. You are going to need a piece of wood that you can plane flat. I found a really dense chunk of oak that has been in my shop for 4 years or so…the longer it’s sat around and gotten used to it’s environment the better. 1” thick 8” wide 38” long should give us plenty of material for the winding sticks and the straightedge. Try to select something with a straight grain pattern as any tear-out on these tools will give you a headache.

Winding sticks can work well anywhere in the realm of 14”-36” long. The set I use the most is about 15” and they work great since my bench is up against the wall. They also allow me to balance them on my bow saw blade to make sure I have it set up without any twist. A longer set is more accurate as well as being more appropriate for larger projects, so I will be making my second set about 36”. If you feel confident hand-planing just stop at one, if not, the second set is valuable practical experience. Whatever your final dimension is give yourself and extra inch or so to remove after you have planed the wood…this helps eliminate snipe from poor planing technique, as well as giving you somewhere to goof up while starting your rip saw. The straight edge is best made from 30”-36” long.

We will start by ripping our stock to rough dimension. These tools work really well if they are in the neighborhood of 2” wide. So we will give ourselves some extra meat to work with and make our workpieces 2 1/2” wide (once your have become more proficient at sawing and hand planing this allowance of a 1/2” will shrink to 1/8” or less.). To make our mark we will set our combination squares blade to project 2 1/2” from the body. Set to body of the square on top of the workpiece, and the work piece on top of your bench. A bench-dog is really helpful to keep you work steady, you can also kneel on your work at the saw bench for the layout process. Place the tip of a pen or pencil on the end of the straight edge, now move both hands and tools as one, keeping the combination square against your stock and your pen against the blade…all moving down the stock to create your line.

It’s harder to describe than to do…just watch (take note of the shape of the straight edge I forgot to take a picture)

Once you have your line on the face side of the board, it’s a good idea to put one on the leading end. That makes life easier when you are starting your cut since it gives you the ability to visually determine square.

Let’s take the board to our sawbench and start making sawdust. Learning how to use hand-tools is a lot like learning to dance. You start with a theory, learn a rhythm, memorize a step, and build on those previous lessons until you learn a waltz or a tango. The skills you learn while roughly ripping a board will translate to making the most complex joints later on. Starting a saw on the right location is how we will start this particular dance.

To start a saw at the saw-bench (or whatever you are using for a sawbench).

Kneel on the workpiece.Use the thumb of you non-sawing hand to guide the saw into place on your cut line. Try to keep your thumb an inch or higher so the teeth of the saw are not a threat to your fingers (kind of like dealing with a really sharp knife in the kitchen). Tilt the saw towards the heel of the saw a bit. (this helps the saw take less of a bite and makes it easier to start). Lightly pull the saw backward to start establishing your kerf, and then lightly push the saw forward. If you do this right it should just take one stroke to get a good start. Sight down the mark on the end of the board to make sure you make your cut is square (tilting the saw forward as you do this). If you start your saw right and hold it lightly then it should very easily do the rest for you…however here are a few helpful tips.

1. Use the whole saw. It’s really easy to use short strokes that use only the teeth in the middle of the saw…this slows things down quite a bit.
2. Tilting the saw forward makes it cut fast but makes it less accurate (this is why you hear the axiom of 45 degrees for crosscutting and 60 degrees for ripping thrown around a lot….if your saw is anywhere in that realm you are going to cut just fine.)
3. Keep your dominant eye over the saw plate. This seem weird at first but it really helps you saw square.
4. If you get off of you cut line don’t try to twist the saw back onto the cut, it does not work, all it does is serve to take your cut out of plumb. Instead, pull the heel of the saw back towards the board as far as you can without leaving your kerf, use light pressure on the saw plate to push the teeth where they need to go and use light strokes until you have begun to establish a new kerf, past your previous error. Your saw will follow this new path.
5. Use different muscle groups…ripping is one of the most physically demanding tasks in hand tool work. Fortunately the simple demands of work holding provide us with a good opportunity to use different handholds. Once I am about halfway through a cut I like to sit the board and cut away from myself, using an overhand grip on the saw (sometimes called French Ripping). It’s a bit more difficult to make full strokes but if you are doing a lot of ripping this will hep save your arms and back from imminent doom…take look at what a mean.

6. Use your head not your muscles. The saw is not going to run away from you, hold it gently and let it do it’s thing. The more you try and force it to do it’s job the less it’s going to do what you want it to, take your time and use a light touch…it just goes smoother that way.

Now that we have our stock on the bench (2 pieces for the winding sticks and 1 for the straightedge), we need to true the useable surfaces on it. For the winding sticks we won’t bother with the faces, just the edges. Set the piece for the straightedge aside so you don’t confuse it as one of your winding sticks.

Use hand-screws, dogs, stops, or your vise to hold the work steady…any solution that holds your work steady while you hand-plane should work well. Take a wide stance, this lets you use your legs more than your arms when hand-planing, so you won’t tire out so quickly (your arms should do the finesse work, while your legs do the grunt work). Make sure your plane is set up right before you get started. The arc of the blade on your jack should be in the center of the plane body and should project 1/16th of an inch, give or take a bit based on how hard the wood you are working with is. For the jointer (whatever you have the straight ground blade in) the set up is a bit more picky, here is how I like to set mine up.

When planing stock by hand the most important thing to remember is to transition the pressure from your hands as you move the plane forward. in the beginning of the cut, you apply the most downward pressure to the knob (leading end) of the plane, as the back of the plane gains purchase to your workpiece you transition that downward force to your trailing hand, and continue that way through the cut. Put another way…try to make a bowl with the plane and the length of the plane will defeat you and cut straight as it was intended to.

You can just plane both sides flat and even on both winding sticks (clamping them together on the bench to plane them is a great way to make sure the winding sticks are parallel to each other). As long as the winding sticks are parallel to each other they don’t need to be of an even width (provided you mark them so you don’t orient them wrong), but let’s go ahead and plane these to proper width since it will help us understand how do do it when we need to on a component for furniture. Before we do that, put a squiggly mark on the planed edge as well as one face of each board. Good hand work recognizes that it’s next to impossible to get anything “perfect” by hand, so these marks will always represent your “one true face and one true edge” (even though we have not touched the face this is good practice) lay out all your marks for stock prep and joinery from your “true” surfaces and you will avoid a ton of mistakes (you will also save time because for many components of handwork you don’t need to true all six surfaces of a board). Next time saving tenant of hand work…remove the least amount of material necessary to complete a given task. Use your marking gauge to find the narrowest point of your two winding sticks, subtract a 16th of an inch or so (I use the word or so a lot with measurements because I mark more than measure), and use that setting to mark the second edge so you can plane to these marks giving yourself two parallel boards the same width. Go ahead and gang them up and take a few light passes on them when you are don just to make sure they are done right. Before moving them from this position make a mark in the center and at one end of each board (this way your can re-orient them later when we drill our “reference” holes).

To cut the pieces to length, cut one end square on each stick. Lay out your lines for the ends from your true face and edge, use a layout knife for this since it will help guide your saw as well as reduce tear-out, don’t forget to support your off-cut or you will tear out the underside of your board. You can also chisel a small notch where you start your cut. Follow your cut line with the chisel into the corner of you cut then cut a v shaped chip out of the waste side of your cut, this guides the saw right into place and is a good habit when accuracy is critical. Make sure that your stock is firmly supported so you can use the chisel with both hands…BOTH hands control a chisel, this will save you a trip to the hospital for stitches, I promise.

Next you will drill holes where your made your reference marks earlier. This gives you a permanent reference for how to lay the sticks on the board you are checking as well as giving you a good way to hang them up in your shop.

With any luck at this means you have a set of the most valuable tools you can make for the hand tool shop.

The straight edge is a similar process, only take the time to dress the faces and ONE edge with great care (plane to thickness the same way you plane to width), check for twis twith your new shiny winding sticks.

And don’t forget, one true face, one true edge. To make sure that the straight edge stays straight expose as much end-grain as you can by laying out a taper on the untrue face, (give yourself about an inch of room to re-surface the true edge over the years as well as a straight place to hold), just lay this out with a pencil and the edge of one of your winding sticks until it looks right. Use your jack plane to hog off the material at the thickest part of the taper (be sure to plane down the taper or you will go against the grain big-time and tear-out great chunks of wood) one hand-screw works great to hold your work at an appropriate angle when you do this. Ease any sharp edges on the untrue side with a block plane and your have got yourself another useful tool.

Go ahead and sweep up shop, you are done for the day…unless you are having too much fun.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

20 comments so far

View Hayabusa's profile


173 posts in 3657 days

#1 posted 10-10-2011 11:20 AM

Impressive work my friend ! so many things in this fantastic lesson I really enjoyed it, glad to see you, keep it up

View ratchet's profile


1391 posts in 4563 days

#2 posted 10-10-2011 02:24 PM

Very nice. I thank you for your willingness to share your knowledge with us.

View RGtools's profile


3372 posts in 3431 days

#3 posted 10-10-2011 02:57 PM

Thanks guys. This first entry in the active part of the class was pretty tough to write because there is just so darn much you need to learn. I did not want to leave anything out, but I also did not want to ramble on for several pages. I am still trying to select a practical project for mortice & tenon joints so the first one’s we cut are not in our furniture, I have a few candidates but nothing I am in love with yet.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

View Brit's profile


8079 posts in 3619 days

#4 posted 10-11-2011 01:05 AM

Wow! You’re really raising the bar with this series. Great format with the text and the short vids to cement the techniques. Thank you so much for all the effort you’re putting into this excellent instruction.

-- Andy - Old Chinese proverb says: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

View WayneC's profile


14358 posts in 4874 days

#5 posted 10-11-2011 01:46 AM

Great videos. Thanks for taking the time for this. : ^ )

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View woodzy's profile


418 posts in 3455 days

#6 posted 10-11-2011 02:13 AM

Thanks for the new Class. I wasn’t expecting this one. Each installment is stronger than the last.
It’s Thanksgiving here in Canada so i will be in the shop Monday night after all the fetivities. Hopefully working on these.

-- Anthony

View RGtools's profile


3372 posts in 3431 days

#7 posted 10-11-2011 02:48 AM

I have got to say I am really relieved with the reception on this part of the class. I put a lot of thought into getting it right. I hope I can keep them coming.

If anyone runs into an issue on these (work-holding especially) don’t be afraid to ask a question. Oh, and points (with no cash value whatsoever) will be awarded to the first person who gets pics of their winding sticks (or straightedge) posted here.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

View mafe's profile


12592 posts in 3865 days

#8 posted 10-13-2011 12:38 AM

Really fine setup, no wonder you need a little time.
And you acually did make a straight hole, I was looking really careful – big smile.
Best thoughts,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.

View RGtools's profile


3372 posts in 3431 days

#9 posted 10-13-2011 03:47 AM

I used to drill all my mortises out and then come back and pare the walls…that get’s you drilling straight in a hurry (otherwise your have a zigzagging mortice). I had a moment of terror when I thought that I was not drilling straight while demonstrating how to drill straight, funny how nervous you can make yourself about things you do naturally every day.

Happy thoughts to you and yous as always Mads.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

View mafe's profile


12592 posts in 3865 days

#10 posted 10-13-2011 09:00 AM


-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.

View Dallas's profile


71 posts in 3741 days

#11 posted 12-08-2011 06:22 AM

Great series. Really enjoying it. I agree on Tom Fidgen’s book. Very, very cool and ignited my interest in hand tools.

-- If a tree falls in the neighbor's woods, and no one is there to hear it...can you take it home, mill it and turn it into a coffee table without your neighbor making a sound?

View RGtools's profile


3372 posts in 3431 days

#12 posted 12-08-2011 03:46 PM

Thanks Dallas. While it might not have ignited my interest, it certainly fanned the flames. Paul Sellers recently added a log or two.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 3891 days

#13 posted 11-19-2012 11:03 PM

I just got back in the shop after a long down period
still restoring handtools though I need that special flat spot to
learn my planes the lapdance so they can find the soul
by having a flat true sole … I just had to start all over again
with your class even though its the third time I still pick-up
some gold here and there I have forgotten … its so easy to forget
things you donĀ“t use on a dayly base
once again thanks for have taking the time to do it Ryan

take care

View RGtools's profile


3372 posts in 3431 days

#14 posted 11-20-2012 02:57 AM

Thanks Dennis. The good thing is the class will always be here for your when you get back.

Hope all is well.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

View Robb's profile


660 posts in 4710 days

#15 posted 05-30-2013 07:34 AM

Hi Ryan, and let me take this opportunity to thank you for posting this class. I’m just going through all the segments now. Unfortunately, it looks like some of the video has disappeared from this one. I really enjoyed watching you sharpen some tools! That’s got to be the next best thing to being there. Thanks again for all the time and effort you put into making this series.

-- Robb

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