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Bob Wilson

A brand new old finish

Reader Dick Webber wrote us to say: “I have seen many crafts that are painted white that looks eons old. I know they are new, but darkened to look old. How do they do that?” Finishing expert Jeff Jewett covered that back in our Feb./March 2006 issue (#168), (http://www.woodstore.net/paseofpro.html), but here’s the short answer: Stain over paint. Read more

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Stock up on the screws you use

Sometimes, I  actually pay attention to my junk mail, especially when a mail-order supplier offered nearly free shipping on fasteners. The problem was, I’m never sure which ones to buy in boxes of a 1,000, 100, or a dozen. So one evening I sat down with all the WOOD magazine issues dating back a little more than the past two years and added up the types of fasteners used in our projects. And just so you don’t waste an hour of your own time doing the same thing before stocking up on fasteners, here’s what I found:

We used #8x1¼” and #8x1½” flathead wood screws at least twice as much as any other fastener (20+ projects). Both definitely go on my box-of-1,000 list. For the next size smaller carton (100?), I’m going to pick up #8x¾”, #8×2″ and #8×1″ flathead wood screws. (If you hang a lot of cabinets or other wall-mounted projects, throw in a box of #8×3″ flatheads.) And because I can’t always find good square-drive versions of these at the home center, I’ll add a box of #8x1¼” panhead screws. Feel like covering all your bases? Add boxes of these to your order: #8x2½”, #8x1¾”, #8x1½”, #6x½”, and #6x1¼” flathead wood screws. You won’t need many, but that’ll save you a drive to the hardware store.

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Be an angel for an angel

If you can make a simple box, you can make a difference for parents in need.

The Des Moines Woodworkers Association always looks for ways to help others, and we’re probably not alone when it comes to woodworkers. One cause that’s allowed our members to put their skills to work involves the Precious Angels organization.

Precious Angles started about 30 years ago to help parents whose premature or newborn children have died. When the 2-lb daughter of the group’s founder died, she discovered there were no sources of infant burial clothes and many families in need lacked the resources for an infant-sized casket. So she and the group’s volunteers sew tiny outfits, blankets, and accessories. Volunteer woodworkers make infant-sized caskets—more than 360 of which were sent out last year.

The task sounds pretty grim, but making caskets became a way for DMWA members to work together in groups and turn scraps into something more valuable than just cutting boards. Last year, DMWA members built more than 160 caskets like the one shown here, many from plans drawn up by our own Jeff Mertz and offered at the group’s Web site. (Go to “plans” under “support menu” for a PDF.)

So check out the Precious Angels Web site, ask them about offering to make wooden caskets, and maybe help them out with some cash. You’ll know that some family will appreciate your skills more than you can imagine.

New lumber from old pine

It’s not often you get a peek at local history from a woodworker’s perspective. Bloomfield United Methodist Church, a small country church built south of Des Moines, was expanding for the first time since the original building went up in 1869. That meant tearing out part of one wall and cutting away a couple dozen pine planks about 14′ long. These were so old, they didn’t even have the lumber dealer stamp I’ve seen on some old barn timbers. So, for a small donation to the church, project editor Kevin Boyle and I brushed the snow off and hauled them back to the shop for a closer look. Part of what we found were some good lessons on reclaiming lumber. Read more

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An accidental discovery

That cliché about how nobody expects to have an accident couldn’t be more true than in a woodworking shop. Here’s your cautionary tale of the day: I was changing bits on the router table shown here. The switch works by pulling the red handle up and to the right, and the idea behind mounting it on the front edge of the router table was that you could bump it off in an emergency.  I thought, what could be safer? Unplugging it to change bits would be overkill, right?

Pull-on, push-off switch

Pull-on, push-off switch

Then one late afternoon, I wanted to chuck a round-over bit. Like dozens of times before, I raised the collet close to the top of the table and fished the wrenches from the router bit cabinet. Leaning over the table from the front, I turned ever so slightly to the right and got the surprise of my life as the router magically turned itself on with the wrenches only a half-inch away. Thank goodness the soft-start feature on this router gave me the split second I needed to back away from the bit.

The mystery took about 10 seconds to solve. The fly on my jeans had caught on the switch and pulled it on as I leaned against the table edge. (Please, no jokes that end with “…or were you just glad to see me.”) The moral: Nothing slices fingers faster than a shortcut. Now I take the extra five seconds to pull the plug on this router before I reach for the wrenches.

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Wax on, wax off

After its time in front of the camera for issue 180, the Mission bookcase was moved to our display area—props and all. Unfortunately, those props included two maroon candles with nothing between the wax and the wood. Sure enough, the wax from the candle fused with the lacquer finish.


Kevin Boyle, our senior design editor, suggested lacquer thinner, but I didn’t want a reputation as the guy who ruined a perfectly good bookcase by scrubbing off the finish. In the past, I’ve used mineral spirits to remove any wax you couldn’t pop off with a plastic scraper. That’s because mineral spirits will soften wax but its doesn’t damage lacquer. This time, though, a spirits-soaked rag didn’t budge the wax. So I took Kevin’s advice and tried wiping lacquer thinner only on the areas discolored by the wax. After a couple minutes, the wax (and a little of the lacquer finish) wiped off enough to call it good. That left a few pale areas in the Varathane Early American stain, but nothing that couldn’t be touched up. A quick shot of aerosol lacquer to even up the sheen and our bookcase was as good as new. If you ever wonder why you’d want to finish with anything but polyurethane, imagine what would have been involved in removing that wax-damaged finish.

After: no more wax

After: no more wax

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Store earphones on a spool

As much as I appreciate having my MP3 players during these winter months, I really get tired of sorting out the tangle of earphone wires. To keep them organized and protect the delicate earphones, I came up with a simple spool I could build from scrap without freezing in the garage in front of my lathe. (You turners south of the Iowa permafrost can punch out your own versions no time.) Pulling a scrap of ¾” cherry from the cut-off bin, I managed to resaw and plane blanks ¼” thick while they’re stuck to a ¾” MDF carrier board using double-faced tape. Here’s what to do next:

print out circle at 3" diameter

print out circle at 3" diameter

1 three circlesCut out the pattern (right)  and attach one to your blank with spray adhesive. (I also printed out plain 2″ and 3″ circles, but they didn’t work on this post, so you’ll have to draw them with a compass.) Bandsaw a pair of discs 3″ in diameter and one at 2½”, but sand only the 2½” disc to the line. (A disc sander or belt sander resting on its side makes this easy.) Then use the pattern to bandsaw two notches in one of the 3″ discs (photo #1) and drill a 1/16″ hole at the center and two ¾” holes for the earphones. (Safety note: Clamp the disc to your drill-press table to keep it under control or it will spin around and bite you.)

Flip that disc over and use a compass centered on the 1/16″ hole to lightly mark a 2½” circle on the underside (photo #2). Use that mark as your guide to glue and clamp the 2½” disc centered on the drilled and cut 3″ disc. Later, center, glue and clamp those twodiscs to the other 3″ disc. Using the pattern on the top disc as a guide,

2 positioning circle

sand both 3″ discs to the pattern line (photo #3).

With a ¾” Forstner bit, drill the center hole through all three pieces and make the earphone holes deeper as needed to store the earphones flush with the top of the spool. Again, use clamps. I hold the spool on one finger using the center hole, so I routed a 1/8″ roundover on the bottom disc and on both outside faces using a jointer push pad to keep my fingers away from the bit. Also, sand off any sharp edges that could cut into the earphone wires. I finished the project with Waterlox (photo

3 circle sandwich


This is one of those projects that begs for design improvements and custom touches, so I’ll give you a little head start. First, I quickly learned that you really don’t need a center disc that’s ¼” thick to spool the average set of earphone wires. You can probably get by with 3/16″-thick discs and still fit the earphones inside the two holes. Second, those two notches for the earphones need to end along the disc edge as close together as possible, not spaced out as on my prototype. (Projects always become “prototypes” when they don’t work perfectly the first time.) Otherwise, you get loose loops poking out of the spool. Third, not everyone needs a ¾” hole in the center to hold the spool and a slightly smaller diameter may give you more clearance for the other two holes.

Let me know what you think (and how you’ve improved on it).

4 finished spool

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Math pop quiz

Just when you think you only need high-school math to figure out the losses on your 401(k), along comes a reader with a question. Barry Randell plans to build a cover for a 16″-diameter cistern. The cover would have six or eight sides, and he wanted to know how long the pieces would be. My plan was to draw an octagon on paper, so here’s how that worked:


1. You know a 16″-diameter circle (shown in blue on the illustration) can be captured in a square with 16″-long sides, so draw a square that size using a yardstick and framing square.

2. Draw diagonal lines between opposite corners of the square to find the center at the intersection of the lines.

3. Set a compass for the distance between one corner and the center. (You can make a crude beam compass by clamping a scratch awl and a pencil to the yardstick 16″ apart.

4. Place the point of the compass at one corner and mark where the arc (shown in red) intersects two sides of the square. Do this again at each of the remaining corners until each side has two arc marks on it.

5. If you want to stop there, you can measure the distance between two arc marks on any line to discover the length of the inside face of a mitered frame piece. Or connect the arc marks closest to a corner and repeat at each corner to create the octagonal shape.

Now, in fairness, Barry did ask for a formula and not a geometry exercise. So I’ll open the question up to anyone whose math skills are better than mine. In other words, everybody. And in the words of my high-school math teachers, remember to show your work.

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Wixey tricksy

I’ve hit on a way to dial in miter gauges for tricky angles, such as for a seven-sided frame. Cut a piece of 3/4″ MDF a few inches longer and wider than your miter gauge. Then cut a centered dado the width of your miter-gauge bar. Attach blocks to the back for stability when you stand the MDF on end and add such options as a hold-down toggle. A 2″ block at the end of the dado helps support the miter gauge.

Attach the miter gauge to the jig, and stand the jig on end on your tablesaw. Turn on your digital angle finder (in my case, a Wixey),  and zero it out on your tablesaw with its edge against the base of the jig. Loosen the scale on the miter gauge and place the angle finder on the face of the miter gauge (with or without an extension). Tilt the miter gauge until the angle finder reads the correct angle and tighten the gauge (as in the photo).  Recheck your angle to make sure nothing shifted when it was being tightened. Now you’re ready to make some test cuts in MDF strips to confirm your settings.Miter gauge adjustment jig

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A workbench finish that works

For something that gets its picture taken on a regular basis, our workbench in the WOOD magazine photo studio could have looked better. The tinted Danish oil finish on the maple top was easy to touch up, but came across as yellow and blotchy in photographs. (See the  ”before” photo.) But not any coating would do as a replacement. The new finish would need to make the maple more attractive, be easy to touch up, and because the bench is often a photo background, contrast with the unfinished wood on projects being photographed.

A workbench finish from Steve Mickley, our finishing forum host, seemed to meet all those requirements. Read more

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