Tools to Improve Accuracy

As Guenther Woodworking continues to grow I’ve been fortunate to be able to add new tooling to the workflow that increase capabilities, speed, and accuracy.

General 14" benchtop drill press.

General 14″ benchtop drill press.

My most recent project involved a number of tall, narrow doors. For simplicity’s sake I opted to use 35mm Euro hinges — and a small drill press allowed me to accurately and quickly drill the hinge holes. As a house carpenter I’m always walking the line between absolute accuracy and “git-‘er-done” — in this case the doors and cabinets were fine enough that hinge holes drilled hand-held just wouldn’t be good enough.

Basic dial calipers and sweet Starrett 4" double square. New favorites.

Basic dial calipers and sweet Starrett 4″ double square. New favorites.

For some reason I’ve always thought that calipers weren’t necessary for woodworkers. I’m glad that I’ve given them a chance. Excitement over the new drill press yielded a few too many (twice as many) bores for hinges. I opted to fill the extras with a square inlay and found that the combined capability for inside/outside measurement afforded by the calipers both sped up my work and allowed for improved accuracy.

The four inch double square is a sweetheart, and my new favorite layout tool; absolutely perfect size. I’ve long been aware of Starrett tools but never quite pulled the trigger. Should be a lifetime tool. I’d like to sprinkle a few of these throughout my workshop and toolboxes.

Shooting board, 4" double square, vernier calipers, and new Unication fire pager. Fancy!

Shooting board, 4″ double square, vernier calipers, and new Unication fire pager. Fancy!

Shooting board. Another in the long list of “Wish I’d done this sooner”. Simple, quick to build, elegant, and so good at doing one thing well: creating perfectly square ends on handsaw-cut boards. I’ll add miter-shooting capability as I need it. Got my fancy new digital fire pager recently too.

Piston-fit pine plug.

Piston-fit pine plug.

There’s the goal: clean, beautiful work done quickly and efficiently. Even though inattention at the drill press created wasteful extra work, I try to approach each task with care, do it well, and learn something in the process.

Festool Domino for Cabinet Doors

Now that the temperatures have warmed to the balmy mid-twenties and the sun is shining a bit stronger day-by-day I’ve finally been able to get back to the shop and make some progress on long-delayed doors for a pair of free-standing cabinets. The cabinets themselves were installed back in November and are filled to the brim and in use already. I’m thankful for a patient client.

I’ve made several doors and cabinet face frames using my Festool Domino and feel like I’m getting the speed and accuracy I had hoped for when I made the substantial investment in the tool. There was a surprising learning curve involved with the Domino; It’s a tool that magnifies operator error.

I’ve found that eliminating variables yields more consistent results. Typically the tool rests on its base, not on the fence. I ignore the flip-stops — the folding bits that supposedly allow for easily replicated offset placements in favor of simply marking the plunge position of the initial mortise.

Marking the centerline has to be included in the workflow.

Marking the centerline has to be included in the workflow.

Here I’m using the face frame accessory to mortise the door rails. After setting the tool, and before plunging the cut, I mark through the alignment sight with a sharp pencil.

The Domino alignment sight allows direct marking of the centerline.

The Domino alignment sight allows direct marking of the centerline.

Manual alignment and transferring marks seems to work best for me.

Manual alignment and transferring marks seems to work best for me.

Carefully aligning the calibrated sight to a transferred mark is the easiest and most reliable method for precisely aligning the opposing mortise.

I’m more comfortable making consistent, accurate pencil marks and carefully aligning the Domino than relying on the flip stops. I’ll likely remove them permanently from the tool.

Don’t throw away the pieces!

Occasionally, even with all due care, a “value-added” piece of woodwork gets broken.

This shot is a close-up of a repair to a broken 12′ long, multi-window sill that I spent quite a bit of time scribing to fit. While maneuvering the nearly finished piece into the room where I was fitting it, I inadvertently bumped the sill into my workbench. The piece failed from the corner of the notch visible in the photo below, and followed the short grain — a clean split.

Headphones thrown, curses uttered. Calmly put the woodwork down and step away! Don’t throw away the pieces!

If I had taken out my frustration on the workpiece I’d have been out over an hour’s worth of work, as well as the only quality piece of stock on the jobsite. Instead, the glue bottle, some clamps, and overnight rest yielded a perfectly serviceable sill, with a nearly invisible repair. Probably stronger than the original.

Simple repair to a "catastrophic" failure

Simple repair to a “catastrophic” failure

Air Sealing in Contemporary Stick Frame Construction

Day to-day my primary vocation is homebuilder. In the small company that I work for we do everything aside from concrete, plumbing, and electrical. The control afforded by doing all the finish trades ourselves allows us to take the time required to focus on the energy efficiency details that are so important to contemporary construction best practice.

Among the details that we’ve been focusing on, air-sealing the building envelope holds our focus most consistently. In a heating climate any uncontrolled air movement from the conditioned/heated interior space into the wall cavities can cause significant moisture problems. We’ve been following air-tight sheet rock protocols on our last jobs, which in itself is fairly straightforward. The most significant problem we were encountering was air-sealing the electrical penetrations.

On our current job we’ve been solving the electrical penetrations issue with boxes made by Airfoil Incorporated. The boxes are robust plastic construction with a substantial ring for sealing the box to the sheet rock as well as foam reservoirs at the wire penetrations. Boxes are mounted to the stud face with drywall screws for a strong connection; the sealing ring is the mounting mechanism, assuring consistent depth.

Airfoil single gang box, front view. The foam voids are visible here.

Airfoil single gang box, front view. The foam voids are visible here.

Once rough wiring is completed the upper and lower voids are filled with foam, sealing the wire penetrations. This effectively keeps the box on the conditioned side of the building envelope and prevents any air/moisture movement into the wall cavity.

Airfoil single gang box, back view

Airfoil single gang box, back view

While hanging sheet rock the flat sealing ring is caulked along with the window/door openings and the top and bottom plates, completing the air sealing process.

A simply designed, robustly built product that installs easily, integrates effortlessly into traditional stick-frame construction, and makes completing the tedious-but-essential air-sealing details quite a bit quicker and more efficient. Excellent. I’ll use this product on my own jobs in the future.

Recent Carvings

Partially completed.

Partially completed.

I’ve had the opportunity to revisit some carving work recently– some older, some newly created.

Three flowers.

Three flowers.

An attempt a copying some elements of a Thomas Dennis original. The flower on the right has been giving me some troubles. This one is the best so far.

A complicated knotted vine. Follansbee would say that you need to have several successful consecutive thoughts...

A complicated knotted vine. Follansbee would say that you need to have several successful consecutive thoughts…

This last is carved into a beautiful old-growth…

SPF 2×12.

Really a lovely piece of framing lumber. Shame most of it got turned into stairs.

New tools

I recently added several German-made Festool tools to my woodworking quiver: the smaller Domino joiner, the smaller track saw, a nine-foot saw track, and an MFT/3 work table. I spent the past two evenings breaking down 3/4″ birch plywood for a pair of tall cabinets that I’m building for a repeat client. I’ve got to say, the track saw concept as executed by Festool is hands-down one of the finest power tool systems I’ve used — quick, easy, accurate, portable. I won’t ever bring plywood to the table saw again. Tonight I was able to make use of the MFT/3 table in its cross-cutting capacity — a shorter guide rail for the saw arranged perpendicular to an adjustable miter fence with an integrated length stop. The table itself is designed for modularity — all the accessories are field-adjustable, and the table top itself is designed for integrated clamping. I’d say that using the combination of these tools saved me at least an hour in time-on-task while simultaneously increasing accuracy and providing a cleaner finished product. Yep, drinking that green Kool-Aid for sure. 

What’s going on here?

guentherwoodworking.com is one of several paths that are paving the road to building a working opportunity for myself outside of my day job. It will serve as a web-presence and email contact for Guenther Woodworking, as well as a forum for some writing on craftsmanship that I’ve been contemplating for some time. More to be forthcoming, but slowly.