3G Woodworking

© 2014 Greg McNabb aka 3Gwoodworking

Setting Up Shop Part 4: Sanders

Of all the tasks involved in a project, probably the one that is almost universally hated is sanding. It’s noisy, messy, takes a long time and can make your hands hurt. It doesn’t have to be that bad if you how to do it correctly. The first mistake is that people are using poor quality sanders. Just because if vibrates does not mean it is working in a manner that is fit for woodworking. A lot of inexpensive sanders work well for sanding tasks when you are painting around the house. Let’s take a look at the sanders I have in my shop and why.

First on my list of sanders is a 5” Random Orbit Sander (ROS) with a hook and loop sanding pad. This sander is very versatile and user friendly. Most come with either a dust collection bag or cup but I normally hook mine up to my shop vacuum for dust collection. I highly suggest the hook and loop pad, this allows you to easily replace your sand paper and you don’t have to worry about not being able to get it off the pad. Be sure to buy the proper hole pattern of paper for your sander. I actually have 3 of these sanders in my shop. I will load different grits of sandpaper on each one.

I also have a 6” ROS. I use this sander on large panels almost exclusively. Not that its any better than the 5” models, it’s just bigger so it takes a little less time.

The hand held sander that I have is a belt sander. This can be tricky to use when you are first beginning. Some people find them difficult to set the tracking on the belt. It only takes a bit of patience and practice to get this right. Once you have the belt tracking well (not throwing the belt off the sander or shedding it on the inside frame.) it’s time to get sanding. There are a few key things to keep in mind; realize that the belt is moving in one direction; a firm grip is required; and you must keep the sander moving. I have been using a belt sander for 30 years so I tend to forget that it can be intimidating for new woodworkers. Don’t be afraid of this tool, it can save you a lot of time. Take your time and practice until you’re comfortable.

I have one stationary sander in my shop. It’s the Rigid Oscillating Belt/Spindle sander. I love this machine. Its great in both roles and for what it does, it’s a great value for the money. It uses a similar size belt as a portable belt sander. It’s a great tool for cleaning up curved cuts from a bandsaw. You will need to be careful, this tool can grab a piece right out of your hands.

Now for a few things on safety. No matter how you sand, either by hand or with a machine, you will create a lot of dust. Unless you are properly prepared, you can endanger your long term health. Fine dust particles can hang in the air for a long time and will get into your lungs. The key to good dust collection is to capture it as close to where it is created as possible. Most modern sanders come with some form of dust collection. I have found that the best way for me is to use a good quality shop vacuum and attach the hose directly to the sander. You will need to use a dust collection bag inside the vac. Some even come with HEPA filters which add another layer of protection.

If you are hand sanding, use a high quality dust mask and make sure it fits well. If you have gaps around your nose, the dust will work its way inside the mask. Also take breaks to vacuum up the dust as you go, this will help keep the problem under as much control as possible.

Last item on dust, some exotic woods can cause allergic reactions in some people. Even if you have used a particular species of wood before, it can still happen. I have developed a reaction to Padauk. It now really irritates my eyes, making them red, itchy and generally irritated. 

Setting up Shop – Part 2: Routers

Routers may be one of the most popular tools in a woodworking shop. Most woodworkers have several of them, each set up in different ways. Routers can be set up in a table or used free hand. Routers come in a number of sizes and bases but I will break them down into 3 categories, Compact, 1 ½ HP and 3 HP.

Let’s take a moment and discuss base styles. There are fixed bases, plunge bases and D handle bases. Fixed bases are adjustable but are locked down before you start cutting. Plunge bases are spring loaded on 2 posts and allow the user to plunge the router down into the center of a piece with more control and accuracy. D handle bases are typically used when cutting edge profiles. They give the user great control helping prevent the router from tipping while making the cut. Some D handle bases also incorporate a dust collection feature.

Compact routers are the smallest sometimes known as trim routers. These are typically light weight 1 HP routers that are easy to use with one hand. They have a ¼ collect although some micro routers such as a Dremel will have and 1/8 collect. These are great routers for light work such as cutting hinge mortises or light edge profiles. They do not have the horsepower to make deep cuts but they are good for light work and are affordable ranging in price from $50 to $200.

The most common routers are the 1 ½ to 2 ½ hp routers. The lower hp range usually comes only with a ¼ collect. The upper end can come with the ½ collect which will allow the use of larger router bits which can take the torque of heavier cuts. These routers can also be mounted to a router table. This allows for better control by allowing the user to move the wood instead of trying to control the tool.

The last one I want to discuss is the 3hp routers. These are heavy and have a lot of torque. They are seldom used free hand but are more commonly mounted in router tables. These can take the place of a shaper in most shops. They commonly come with both ½ and ¼ inch collects although there will be a few models that will only have the ½. These routers have the hp and torque to use very large cutters, like those used for raised panels and crown molding.

When shopping for a router, I recommend starting with a combo package. These will come with a 2 ¼ hp router with both a fixed base and a plunge base. These are large enough to be mounted in a router table and yet still can be used hand-held. 

Key things to look for when selecting a router; First off is to check and make sure that there is no play in it. (make sure it doesn’t wiggle in and out) This can be a real problem with the low cost imports and can be dangerous to the user as well. Also look to make sure that the base locks down with no play. If the base moves while you are using the router, it can dangerous for the user and may ruin a piece.

There are a number of accessories that are available aftermarket. The largest and probably the most important is a router table. When selecting a router table, several manufactures have packages that will include the mounting plate, fence, leg set and table top. Again, the rule of you get what you pay for applies. I started with low cost table and it worked well for me for years, but over time, the lack of fine adjustments bothered me more and more. 

Let’s finish up with a quick talk about router safety. First and foremost, always wear eye and hearing protection. Router bits are a very fast moving cutter on the end of a motor. These motors have torque and when you start them they will want to twist in your hand. Manufactures have started making soft start models that come up to speed a little slower but they still have torque. Routers can also act a bit like a gyroscope and will want to twist if they are tilted. Make sure you have a good grasp of the handle or body depending up on the model. Make sure the base of the router always has good contact with the piece you are working on. When working on a router table; Never run pieces between the bit and the fence, this will launch the piece like an arrow from a bow. Lastly, if you feel uncomfortable doing something, take a break and ask for advice or help.

Setting Up Shop

I’ve been asked a few times for advice on what you need to get started in woodworking. That is a really complicated question with no truly right answers. I know this sounds like I’m dodging the question, but I’m not. How you go about setting up your shop and what tools you buy really depends upon what aspect of woodworking you’re interested in exploring. The set up for woodturning is much different from carving. That said, let’s start with assuming you want to start with a general woodworking shop. There are a lot of tools that will be applicable with most shops.

For this installment I’ll just address the key tool for many shops: the Table Saw.

Let me first talk about safety. All table saws come with safety devices; blade guards, splitters/riving knife, etc. Regardless of all the safety features installed at the factory, the biggest safety feature is you. I will have an blog that deals specifically with table saw safety in the near future. In the mean time, please use the safety features that come with your saw, wear eye protection and use common sense. If something doesn’t feel safe, don’t do it. Ask for help or advice.

Table saws fall into 3 categories: Job Site Saws, Contractor’s Saws and Cabinet Saws. Each comes in at a different price range, size and capabilities. Keep in mind as you shop around that you do get what you pay for in tools. The cheapest tools do not always have the best quality control or accuracy. 

The first category is the Job Site Saw. These are small table saws with direct drive motors. Some come with foldable stands to make it easier to move from site to site. These will range in price from $100 to $600 or more. These saws come with light weight guide fences and small miter gauges. Since these saws have the blade directly attached to the motor, that may increase the wear if you cut thick, heavy hardwoods. These saws are good if you have limited space or budget. 

The second category is Contractor style saws. The most notable feature is that the motor typically hangs out the back of the saw with a single belt running to an arbor attached to the underside of the cast iron table and fixed open frame legs. They motors are typically 1 ½ hp running on 110v. These saws are heavier due to the larger cast iron tops. These saws can handle heavier wood, have professional “Bessemer” style of guide fence and removable inserts around the blade. Users can upgrade these saws with zero clearance inserts and dado sets to cut grooves and dados. It is difficult to control the dust from these saws so that is a drawback. They are typically the saw most contractors start out with in their shops.

The last category is the Cabinet saw. This is the type of saw I use in my shop. These have and enclosed base and heavier duty motor typically running on 220v. There are some that are labeled as Hybrid, they have the enclosed base but the motor of a contractor saw usually 1 ½ hp. They are the heaviest of the three styles which helps dampen vibrations and gives you a better quality cut. They also have better dust collection and are typically easier to adjust. They tend to be the most durable of the saws, with many lasting decades. Due to the weight, they are usually not moved around the shop but mobile bases are available either as a feature or as an aftermarket add on. They all have heavy duty guide fences and better miter gauges. Most users of these saws will buy aftermarket miter gauges to improve accuracy.

There are a lot of saws on the market, from Christmas specials for about $100 to heavy duty professional models that will run into the thousands of dollars. There are several options out there, from used saws listed in the local paper or online sites like Craigslist. I strongly urge caution when buying a used saw. Make sure that all of the safety equipment comes with the saw and if at all possible ask to see it run. If the top is rusted, you will need to spend a good deal of time cleaning it off to be able to use the saw safely.

My personal recommendation is that you decide what you want to do in your shop, how much space you can dedicate to your tools and your budget. If you have limited space like a small garage, a job site or contractor style saw will fit your needs. If you have a dedicated area and can leave a tool in the same place, consider a cabinet saw. Either way, buy the best tool you can afford and avoid poor quality or abused tools. Poor quality tools only cost you more money in the long run either in replacing them or in injury.

Woodworking Safety

When I left the US Army, I headed off to attend college. After my freshmen year, I needed to declare a major so I started looking at the programs around campus. My first love is woodworking and had seriously considered Industrial Engineering but the professor who ran the woodworking course was a real jerk. Needless to say, I only took one class with him and changed my mind. I was talking with a friend of mind at the Student Union and he suggested that I take a few Industrial Safety courses and see how I liked it. I did and quickly declared my major to Industrial Safety.

I learned a lot during those years. First, OSHA has a bible and everyone sins (they are pretty much self funded through the fines they impose) Second, Safety begins with the operator.

Every tool made today comes with a pretty good owner’s manual (I know many will disagree with that statement) and the first thing you should do is at least look through it closely. You will find all kinds of stupid warnings (Don’t use this electrical appliance in the shower or bath.) (The beverage produced by
this coffee maker is hot) BUT not all of them are useless. Things like, “Don’t cut the grounding prong off your power tools cord”, “Use the safety guards that come with your tool.” and my favorite Norm Abrams saying “above all, use these, safety glasses.”

Let me start this week with a few key items about one of the most popular woodworking tool, the Table Saw. This tool is infamous for causing major injuries to woodworkers. In reality, most of the injuries can be traced back to Operator error. Either the user had removed the safety devices from the tool or they were not using it properly.

The most important safety device on the table saw is YOU. Here are few key rules to follow.

1- Never make a cut without an edge support (Free hand.) Always use either serviceable fence
that is properly adjusted or a miter gage. A fence must lock down so it does move during the cut and it must be square to the blade.

2- Never turn the saw on when you are impaired. If you are tired or have had a few beers, leave
the saw turned off. It only takes a fraction of a second for your attention to fade for something to go wrong.

3- If at all possible, use the blade guards that come with the saw or an aftermarket replacement splitter.

Last year there was a law suit brought against Ryobi for an accident by a construction worker. In my humble opinion, Ryobi’s lawyers must have been idiots in presenting their case. The worker was provided a saw with no blade guard, not properly trained in its use and was attempting to use it for a purpose that it was never intended.

I know that there is a huge push for implementing the Saw Stop or equivalent technology on new saws. I have a few problems with that. First, it will drive prices much higher for entry level saws (Saw Stop’s own entry level contractor model saw is around $1500.) Second, it does not address the millions of saws already in the public’s hands. Table saws tend to be around a very long time, there are thousands of old Delta Unisaws still out there being used and many either did not come with modern safety features or have been lost long ago.

The key to reducing tool injuries is public awareness on their proper use and above all, common sense in their use. If it doesn’t feel right to do something, don’t do it. Ask for help. There are many woodworking forum out on the internet and most of the people on them would be happy to help.

Remember Safety begins with you. In homage to Smokey the Bear “Only You can prevent Shop Injuries”

Lessons from Grandpa's Shop

I was blessed to have 2 great men as grandfathers when I was a boy. I later, was blessed again with another grandfather, my step-dad’s father. Each of them taught me some very important life lessons. There is something about grandfathers that kids seem to take to; they aren’t mom or dad so they
tend to listen to them more often.

My grandfather Sylvester McNabb was the first I got to know and from whom I get my love of woodworking. Long before I was born, he was injured in a mill explosion which damaged his hearing and as a result, was given the opportunity to go through training as a woodworker and upholsterer. I remember as a very young boy, tagging along with him to his shop in downtown Glenburn, N.D. It is a small town near Minot Air force Base which at the time was a big part of the Strategic Air Command. A lot of his customers came from that

He made a modest living repairing, refinishing and making a few of his own pieces. I remember he would make my grandmother so mad when he would bring a customer home and sell their dining room set, always promising to get her a better one, which he did. I think it was the fact that it was never really hers and always subject to sale.

I don’t think many of the family knew that we would spend countless hours talking about a wide range of topics. He was always very patient with me and I can’t remember a single time he ever told me to be quiet,
but I sure it happened as some point.

He taught me a lot about workshop ethics. A few of my favorite things are posted as quotes on the home page but are paraphrased a little.  He instilled in me that every piece I make should be made to last for generations. It should also stand as an example of your work, there is no better advertising than word of mouth and if you’re work isn’t worth talking about you’re in trouble.

I always knew him having this weathered face that would grin easily, most of the time having a cigarette dangling in the corner of his mouth. He had these huge rough hands that had an amazing ability to feel the wood. He could feel imperfections that I couldn’t and could tell me where a piece needed work.

As long as I knew him, he only owned one stationary power tool, a lathe. Everything else, he did either with hand tools or portable power tools like sanders, routers, and an old metal body skill saw. Even with those limitations, he would turn out the most amazing work.

I was in the Army when he had his stroke. He survived but it left him paralyzed on one side of his body. Unable to work, it didn’t take long before things had to be sold off. Unfortunately most of his tools and personal effects were auctioned off so he could be place on full medical assistance for his nursing home care. I’m not sure how much my family was able to keep, I have always been afraid of asking; it’s rather painful for me.

He eventually was brought down to Oklahoma after I left the Army. My wife actually took a job at the nursing home he was in so she could get to know him better. She loved him as much as I did. I recall the great times we had when my Dad would bring him to his house on the weekends. We would sit around
and crack jokes and he would tell stories of my dad growing up. He passed away soon after my wife and I told him we were pregnant with our son Ryan. I can only hope he heard and understood what we shared with him that day. He was one of my Heroes and I still miss him to this day. I look forward to having a grandson some day, and I can only pray that I will be as good a role model to him as mine
was to me.

Student Art Show

I was out with my wife this weekend walking through the mall late on a Sunday afternoon. She was actually the one who spotted the sign, Art Show, back in one of the corners. I almost didn’t go down the hall, but she sort of nudged me a little.

Turns out it was a Student Honors Art Program from the local High Schools. I was amazed at their work. They had done an outstanding job with setting up the exhibit which featured both 3D work as well as various styles of 2D and photography. The young lady sitting the gallery did an excellent job of guiding us through the gallery and she was very knowledgeable of all the artists and their work.

It is heartening to know that some of our local schools districts have committed to having a great Art program. You may ask why this interests me; why not push an Industrial Arts program. I actually am pushing for both programs. Sam Maloof for example, one of our modern woodworking masters, was   heavily involved in the Arts community. His work touched not only woodworker but other artists. He was also an avid collector of art in many forms. I firmly believe that woodworking is a marriage between Art and Industry. Art guides our design and vision while Industry guides our technical skills and execution in  bringing our vision to reality.

I want to take a moment to thank those teachers out there who put their hearts and time into these programs. They enrich us all with effort they put forth. Does your local school system have a good arts program? Did you know that kids who have access to the arts perform better in Math, English, and

The sad part is I don’t think my own school district has this level of commitment. I will be reaching out them in the very near future to see how I can help. I challenge everyone to become involved. You will find out that working with young people can be very rewarding. Plant some seeds and watch what blossoms.

Country Roads

If you are over 40 you probably remember a singer named John Denver. I love his music. One of his songs was written about the area where I live. “Take me home, Country Roads” describes Jefferson County, WV more than anywhere else in the state. Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah River are only located in one place, Jefferson County. John was an avid spokesman for the environment and in some ways I agree. I think we are called to be good stewards of the world in which we live. This is not only relevant to the environment but in the way we approach woodworking.

I like to work primarily in native hardwoods from my area, and especially from a known source. I normally purchase my wood from Local Woods (see my links page for their website.) Scott is very helpful, friendly and seems to be an overall good guy. They have great prices and usually a pretty
good selection available.

I am pretty frugal (ok, I’m a tight wad) and I tend to save even the smallest cut offs. The pieces I don’t use go into fireplace for those cold evenings. I even think I’m pretty responsible with the finishes I use. I like to use shellac the most, it dry fast, easy to repair and for most of the products I put out, it works well. For the item that I make for the kitchen, those are finished with Walnut oil. I find it easy to use and it works just as well as or even better than mineral oil.

I don’t like using water-born finishes other than paint. I think that it leaves the wood looking lifeless which goes against what I am looking for in a piece. I will occasionally use a wiping varnish but that is normally over several coat of shellac and then only to give a piece more water resistance.

As a fellow wood worker, ask yourself these questions: Are you being responsible with your materials? Are you getting the most out of that piece of wood? Are you responsible with your finishing material; is there another option that will work just as well or better?

As spring approaches, I would encourage you to go take a walk in the woods. Enjoy the renewal of life; it’s really an amazing thing to see. If you have the opportunity plant a few trees, not for yourself but for the future wood workers. And by all means, share woodworking with a child and teach them to be good stewards of what the world has given us.

Immortal Wood

While driving down one of our many country roads (yes, that was an intentional hint for upcoming blog) I realized how amazing woodworking is in what it does.

Woodworking takes the body of a living organism that has lived for up to hundred or even thousands of years then takes those remnants and transforms them into to something beautiful that can last another lifetime. We take this material and open it up for the entire world to see the beauty that was trapped inside. May times this beauty comes from the stresses that that tree experienced while it was growing, the high figure of maple is believed to be related to stresses as the tree reacted to wind or other external forces. Burls on many species of word are basically warts that infect the outer layer of
the tree.

 If you look back at some of the most beautiful pieces of woodworking across the ages, they all have one thing in common. The displayed the natural beauty of the wood, either with highly figured veneers or excellent selection of grain patterns. The art of woodworking entails many things, but one of the most visible is the ability to help something else express the beauty that was hidden within.

Do we do this in other aspects of our lives? Do we take as much care to help someone express the beautiful soul that hidden within them. As a husband and father, it is my job to help my family express that inner beauty to the world. Give your family a safe space to show that side of them. Help them
through those stressful times of life, that stress builds inner strength and
beauty that will show later in life.

Pencil Problems

Those of you who have known for a while may recall that I have love/hate relationship with a certain item in my shop, my pencil. While my shop was in its former location, they would get upset with me and disappear at an alarming rate. Now this was not totally unjustified by them, I would often blame
them for my errors; cuts too short, cuts too long, mortise in the wrong location, you get the picture. I would blame the pencil when it reality it was my own inexperience or inattention to detail. I would curse at them, slam them on the table and just generally treat them unfairly. As result, they would hide from me at every opportunity. I would set one down on the bench and turn away for a moment and it would be gone. If I added it up, I must have brought over 200 pencils into that shop. When I moved the shop, not a single one was found.

Now that the shop is mostly moved, I have resolved to stop blaming my pencils. I see now that I was wrong in blaming them from someone else’s errors. I have found the true culprit for the errors, my tape

In truth, the lesson here is simple. In our haste, aggravation and inattention, we often take out our frustrations on the ones around us who do nothing more than support us in our endeavors. Perhaps today is a good day to thank that significant other who puts up with our antics, and let them know we really do appreciate their suppor


As I thought about what to title this blog, one title that I like was "Wisdom of Woodshp" but I had second thoughts about it. I could never promise to be wise or sage like in every post. I'm just a common guy who loves to get covered in fresh saw dust. I hope to pass on some of the lessons I've learned from my family and a few that I had to learn the hard way.

Let me tell a little be more of my back ground. I'm am deeply rooted in woodworking, My Great Grandfather Alexander Mooresfeilder, my Grandfathers, Sylvester McNabb, Ralph Walker and Walter Thompson, my Father Gary McNabb and my Brother Adrian McNabb. Each has had the call of the woodshop at one degree or another.

I like to think that I am carring on a family tradition and in the process live up to the expectations of those who came before me. I was blessed to be able to spend many hours in my Grandfather Sylvester's shop up in Glenburn, ND. I learned so much in that shop, both about woodworking and life. I'm not sure he understood how much of an influence he had on me.

My Grandfather Ralph was also a major influence in my life. I get my sence of Honor and Duty from him. He was veterian of WWII and Korea. He tinkered in the shop but it was his strength and loyality that impressed me.

My Grandfather Walt, well in actuality was my step-grandfather, He was one of the most loving, accepting men I have ever known. He welcomed me to a new family like I had been a part of it from birth. He loved his small shop and would put out all mannor of projects.

Each one of these men had a significant impact in my life and each taught principles that guide me  to still today.  My hope is that you will take the time to have a positive impact in a childs life. You can make a difference, you may never see it but that seed will still be there.