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 3: Clamps

Clamps, you can never have enough of them. That is one of the universal laws of woodworking. You will always run into a situation where you either need more clamps or the ones you have are too short.
As you start building your clamp set, you will need several different styles. I’ll just touch on the basics and what works for me.

Small F-style clamps are designed for small work. The decent ones will have a rigid metal bar (usually chromed or black) with a fixed arm on the end. The piece that slides on the bar will have threaded rod with a pad on one end and a handle on the other. When using you will want to turn the handle until the pad is just about all the way back. These are usually pretty bullet proof, no matter who makes them, however, the cheaper brands will flex under pressure. One good way to check the quality is if you can flex the bar, don’t buy it. I have a lot of these, mainly Jorgensen and some from Rockler both work equally well.

Pipe clamps are one of the best values in the market today. They are designed to be attached to either black iron or galvanized pipe. They come in two sizes based on size of the pipe. The pipe used will be in either ½ or ¾ in pipe. The clamp comes in 3 pieces, the head piece, the adjustable foot and what looks like a spring. You can buy the pipe in various lengths from the local box store and it will come with the ends of the pipes pre-threaded. The head piece will screw on one end, the foot piece will slide on the other (note, there will be a spring loaded lever that will hold the foot in place, it can be tricky to slide on the first time) and lastly the spring will screw on the opposite end. This is to keep the foot from sliding off the clamp. The nice part is if you need a longer clamp, you just need a longer pipe.  In my shop, I have several sets in both sizes.

Parallel clamps are very popular today. They are distinguished by the large plastic boxes covering the head piece and the foot. They work very similar to the F-style clamp in that the adjustment is made on the sliding head of the clamp and the foot is stationary.  Parallel clamps excel in helping keep work square during glue up. The large plastic covers also help spread the force of the clamp over a larger area and minimize clamp marks that are a common problem with F-style and Pipe clamps.

There are several other style of clamps but these tend to be more specialized. There are band clamps that are very similar to cargo tie down straps; wooden parallel or hand screw clamps are large wooden blocks with two threaded rods to adjust the clamp; and Spring clamps which work like a lot like spring loaded clothes pins.

A few things to keep in mind when buying clamps; a lot of the very cheap Asian clamps are poorly cast and have weak metal. I tried a set of four and three broke when put under normal clamping pressure. I also avoid aluminum bar clamps. My wife gave me a set for Christmas one year and they didn’t last too long. There are several good brands out there from which to choose, it doesn’t matter what the brand is as long as it is well made.

Shopping Tip, buy clamps in sets of four. You almost never use and odd number of clamps during a glue up.

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.