Pilot Hole Woes

When drilling a pilot hole for screws, you want to make sure you make the right size hole. 

Match the bit to the gauge (thickness) of the shank and not the threads. This will allow the screw to drive relatively freely while the threads grab into and bit the wood. 

One way to quickly do this without a reference guide is to line up the bit in front of the screw as shown below. 

If you can see the threads and just cover the shank, you’ve got the right size bit. 

Why is this important? Splitting. 

DO NOT try to drive a screw into a hardwood, such as red oak, without drilling a pilot hole. The exception is when driving pocket hole screws (self-tapping) through the pocket hole into a mating piece. Pocket hole screws are specially designed for this purpose. Otherwise, you’ll split the heck out of the oak. 

Even denser hardwoods, such as walnut, will split even worse. I once saw a TV personality drive lag screws into a 2-inch thick slab of walnut being used as a table top. It split like crazy and I nearly cried. This personality commented “Sometimes that can happen.” Well, it will always happen if you don’t drill a proper pilot hole. 

Published in: Uncategorized on May 29, 2010 at 8:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

Use Recycled Water

Here is simple way to collect a fair amount of water each day for use during the summer that doesn’t involve a rain barrel or trying to save up gray water from your kitchen sink or your bathtub.

Collect water from your air conditioner’s condensation drain tube.

If I guessed right, you’re probably scratching your head on what that is. If you don’t know, its the tube that drains out water collected by the air conditioner while it cools the air in your home. This water is the moisture inside your home that is drawn out of the air during the process – essentially a dehumidification process.

Now you’re probably wondering where the heck that tube is.

If you’re house is like mine, you’ll find somewhere on the exterior of your home – a white PVC tube sticking out of the wall. It could be near your condensing unit(s), or in a random place (as mine is). Now, it’s best that you have this water draining away from your foundation – I had a downspout basin below mine that drained the water away, until I came up with my collection “system” you see here.

All I’ve done is add some pipe fittings to extend the tube to drain above a plastic bin. I just drilled a couple of holes in the top to allow the water to drain in, and a relief hole near the top on the end facing away from the foundation. I simply empty the container into a watering can when I want it.

Depending on your conditions, you can collect a fair amount of water this way – perhaps a gallon or two (or more) per day. It’s enough to water a few plants in containers here and there. If you create a large enough collection system, over the course of a week you probably would have enough to do some serious watering.

Published in: on May 25, 2010 at 8:10 pm  Comments (5)  

Don’t Be A Power Tool Snob

My advice if you’re getting into woodworking and you’re looking to purchase power tools: Buy what you can afford. 

Do your homework. Read woodworking magazines and look at their websites. You’ll get as many different opinions on what tools to get as there are sources, but you’ll get a general idea. My personal opinion? Make sure you at least own a drill/driver (18 volt cordless), circular saw, hand saw and miter box, and jigsaw. You can handle a wide variety of projects with that combination of power tools.

Think about where you can purchase tools. To get the most for your money, try garage sales, pawn shops, or even ask a woodworker friend – they may be looking to upgrade their tools and be willing to cut you a deal. Then look at retail outlets. You CAN try power tools from discount stores, but know that there is a reason you haven’t heard of the name brands they carry. I’d prefer you purchase the cheaper models of recognizable name brands at home centers or large retail chains.

As far as quality is concerned: If you’re just starting out, you won’t notice an appreciable different between a drill, for example, that costs half as much as another. Look for basic features, and as I said before, get what you can afford. If you decide you’re definitely going to continue woodworking and plan to do it often, then it’s advisable that you upgrade when you can. 

My personal philosophy is that the quality of your work isn’t, and shouldn’t be, a reflection of how much you spent on your tools, but rather the quality of your craftsmanship. 

Published in: Uncategorized on May 22, 2010 at 5:12 pm  Comments (2)  

Cut As You Go

Never, ever, EVER cut all of the parts of a project first, then assemble.

Why? No matter how great you think you are in the shop, there is a good chance you will be off just ever so slightly on a cut or measurement.

And, unless you plane all of your lumber to the same exact thickness, you could run into variations in the size of stock you purchase.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t follow measurements in project instructions, but you should always measure distances between parts just to make sure, then make adjustments as needed.

Being slightly off on project parts, particularly if you cut several identical parts, can create compounded measurement problems. Just being off 1/16 inch on 4 parts can create a 1/4-inch discrepancy.

In conjunction with this – always factor in the kerf, or thickness of a saw blade, when cutting multiple parts from one board. Kerf can vary between circular blades, but they also are different between band saw blades, jig saw blades, etc.

I always allow for a 1/8-inch kerf between cuts when determining a cut list and cutting diagram – both for rip cuts and cross cuts. This is VERY important because if you don’t factor in that fraction, you could come up short on a project part.

For example, you won’t get two 48-inch parts from on 8-foot (96-inch) board. Subtract the 48 inches, then the kerf, and you’re left with no more than 47 7/8 inches. And, if you are checking your board ends for square, and need to trim them up (which you should do anyway), you’ll have even less stock with which to work.

There are rare exceptions when you’ll wind up with a board that is slightly longer than the listed dimension. I’ve had that happen a few times with outdoor lumber. I’ve also had the opposite happen, where a board was shorter than its listed dimension. It can’t be said enough – measure twice and cut once.

Published in: on May 19, 2010 at 8:48 pm  Comments (2)  

Preparation Is 99-Percent

I’m the world’s worst at jumping into a project, and then realizing I need a dozen other things right at hand. 

This gets to be the most sticky when it’s time to apply a finish. It’s the part of a project I like the least anyway, so I find it difficult to be motivated and remember all the necessary little steps. 

I recommend purchasing a roll of contractor’s paper. It’s what I’ve taped down to the work table in this photo.

You can use a drop cloth or an old bed sheet, or even old newspaper, but I like this paper – it’s relatively cheap, thick (which is good in case you spill), and comes in the convenient roll. I simply tape it down, then toss it when I’m done. I’ve also found that finishes don’t tend to stick to it too easily.

You’ll also notice in the photo that I have several other items at hand – stain of course, and opener for the can, a couple of rags (wipe on, wipe off), a mallet (that’s one I made from scrap materials), rubber gloves, tape and scissors (for the paper), and a mask. 

The table I’m working on is 4’x4′ – I can easily walk around it and access the project I’m staining. Another point – make sure you have enough area in which to work that also has a clear path around it. And, be sure to have plenty of ventilation. You can’t see it in the photo, but to the left is an open window. I also have a floor fan that is blowing toward the window to help draw out fumes. 

All this prep takes a little bit of extra time, but you’ll save that time by not having to run around your shop or garage grabbing things as you need them. Make yourself a checklist before you start, and you’ll have a much more pleasant experience. 

Published in: on May 15, 2010 at 10:41 am  Comments (2)  

Filing Finishes

Keep tabs on the look of finishes, particularly stains, by keeping an index. 

Hold on to cutoffs from your projects for this purpose, and make sure you have a selection of lumber species. I recommend pine, poplar, and oak. If you work primarily with just a couple of species, just stick to those. 

Apply stain to only one side of these cutoffs. Let it set however long you like before wiping off the stain, but be sure to keep up with the amount of time. After it dries, apply a coat of polyurethane (semi-gloss or satin), allow it to dry, then write on the back (I prefer a fine point black permanent marker) the brand, color, amount of time the stain set, and the day’s date. Store these pieces in a place that will not see direct sunlight, so the finish won’t fade. I prefer a cabinet or drawer that isn’t near any chemicals. 

Every time you pick up a new stain, grab your cutoffs and do this indexing tip. Then, when you’re scratching your noggin trying to decide on a finish, you can simply look at your index for a rough idea. 

HOWEVER, always test the stain on a piece of scrap from the stack of lumber you are working with at the time you are building a project for the most accurate evaluation of the stain.

Published in: on May 10, 2010 at 7:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

Clamps, Clamps, Clamps

You can never be too rich, too thin, or have enough clamps. 

I don’t know about the first two, the last is for darn sure. So any time you have the opportunity to pick up more clamps, do so.

Look for them at your local home center – sometimes “old models” are discounted, or put on clearance. Trust me, clamps don’t have an expiration date or go out of style, so buy them on the cheap when you can.

Also try discount hardware stores. Yes, there is a difference in quality, but you’ll do fine for the most part with what’s there. I would, however, stay away from some of the bar clamp/spreaders at the discount places as they seem to be a little lacking in holding power. I’ve also found that you can pick up toggle clamps for a lot less than at premium woodworking stores. And spring clamps are a GREAT deal at the discount stores. The springs are quite as tight, but they do a decent job.

Go for a wide variety too, but be sure to pick up several of each size you choose. If you build a lot of large projects (benches for example), go for the largest bar clamps you can get (48″+) if you don’t use pipe clamps. I laminate a lot of boards for projects (making 1x into 2x or 3x), so I keep a lot of 4-inch F clamps and 6-inch bar clamps on hand.

And, with all these clamps around, you’ll have an excuse for building another project – a Mobile Clamp Stand!


Published in: Uncategorized on May 6, 2010 at 9:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

Preparing For Outdoor Projects

As you’re gearing up for building your outdoor projects this year, take a moment to think about the materials you plan to use. 


Essentially, you have two choices – a treated lumber (southern yellow pine or hemlock depending on geography), or lumber naturally resistant to rot, decay, and insects (cedar or redwood for example). Expect to pay more for the naturally resistant lumber than the treated material, but know that the treated material will require a bit more work. 


If the treated material is “wet” when you purchase it, you should allow it to acclimate and dry before you use it. Store and stack it where it won’t get direct sunlight, and sticker it (basically thin strips of wood that elevate each layer of wood). You can try to accelerate this process by storing it in your garage with a fan blowing on it. This process can take up to a few weeks. 

You’ll also notice the treated material may have (depending on the brand and treating process) and unnatural green hue. You can try to “lighten” this appearance by spraying a bleach solution on the wood, but you’ll extend the drying time by doing this. 

If you’re making outdoor furniture, I highly recommend you apply a finish on the treated material to create a barrier between it and your skin, and on table tops on which you plan to eat and drink. The treating process is less toxic than it used to be, but I recommend the finish. 

Note: With cedar, select boards that are darker in color. That part of the wood has more of the naturally resistant components. 


You can paint or stain your outdoor projects. I like a solid acrylic exterior stain produced by Cabot (PRO.V.T) that’s available at Lowe’s. It’s a sealer and stain all in one. I have several projects in my backyard covered with this stuff and I love it. Two projects have the same color on them, but were built two years apart. I swear, you can’t tell which is the oldest, so the stain obviously takes a long time to fade. That’s saying a lot in the harsh summer sun where I live in Alabama. 

I also like another Cabot product – Australian Timber Oil. It’s a stain that also has a great UV protective component that will reduce fading, and it doesn’t require an additional top coat. In fact, a spar varnish would blister and flake off the finish if applied. 

Olympic also makes a nice sealant – Olympic Maximum – that has a 2 year guarantee against graying. I like to use it on anything I don’t put a color. It’s available in a natural tone and looks great on cedar. 


Make sure you use fasteners rated for exterior use – coated screws, stainless screws, galvanized nails and brads. Treated lumber will need the coated screws for sure. Also, brass fasteners will not rust, but they are much softer than other metals. 

I also recommend using waterproof glue on projects. A lot of folks argue both for and against it, but I’ve built two of the exact same project (Adirondack chairs), one with glue in assembly, and one without. The one without was quiet rickety after 6 months of exposure. You’ll have quite a bit of expansion and contraction, which will cause the joinery to loosen, so that’s to be expected. Use Titebond II or Titebond III. If your project requires a lot of setup and you need a longer drying time, use the Titebond III. You can also use an exterior polyurethane glue, but be aware that it will expand as it dries. 

For wood fillers, use exterior grade that will not shrink. Don’t be afraid of using an auto body filler either, which will certainly not shrink. When this product first starts to dry, use an old chisel or putty knife to shave it down level with the surface of the wood – it will be a lot easier to do it then than when it fully dries. 

Contact Protection 

As a last little effort to keep my outdoor chairs and tables as protected as possible, I add plastic furniture glides to points on the projects (legs) that will come in contact with the ground, deck, or patio surface. The glides keep the parts from being in direct contact and will help deter the parts from wicking up moisture.

Published in: on May 2, 2010 at 8:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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