Several readers asked how to use a laser for drilling compound angles in chairmaking after I posted my love letter to green lasers.
Here it is with some important caveats:
- Yes, you can use two lasers like Greg Pennington does. If you have two lasers, go for it. I have only one.
- I use lasers as a teaching tool or when I am drilling weirdo angles that are unfamiliar to me. Once you get the feel for drilling routine mortises you might set the laser aside. You might not. Either way is fine by me and the portion of humanity that is kind and decent.
- Yes, alternately you can use a mirror. Or a spotter who holds a stick or a bar clamp or straightedge. Or the Force.
So here’s the deal: When you drill an angle – any angle – you can easily see whether you are tilted too far left or right. It’s difficult, however, to see if you are tilted too far forward or backward. The laser acts as a spotter to guide you forward or backward.
To do this, position the laser 90° to where you are standing. Shoot the laser so its line intersects both mortise holes in a chair (or tilt it to the desired angle, such as 81°). Now stand in position to drill the hole. Tilt your drill left or right until you are lined up with both mortises.
Then tilt the drill forward or back until the laser line shoots up the middle of the drill bit. Drill – and keep the laser line centered on the shaft of the bit. After you drill through the arm, position the lead screw of the bit on the mortise location on the seat. Again, line up the laser. Use your fingers to keep the bit centered in the mortise in the arm. Drill the mortise in the seat.
Move on to the next hole, moving the laser so it is always 90° to your drilling position.
And that’s it.
— Christopher Schwarz
13 thoughts on “Use a Laser for Compound-angle Drilling”
Are you using a spade bit there?
Yup. I prefer spade bits. They are cheap and easily sharpened and modified.
Thanks. And now that I look at the image closer I see you have a backer clamped to the arm to help with blowout.
Does anyone make a hand cranked laser, for my hand tool shop?
Thank you so much for discussing this trick. I didn’t even know about the green lasers. I’ve got a self leveling laser (red) that I bought years ago and use it for a lot of things. But it doesn’t project the lines and it is not green and yes it’s difficult to see sometimes.
How are you doing that interesting texture on the tenons that you leave slightly proud on the arms? I’m assuming you started doing it after the new book since it just seems to cover cutting and finishing them flush.
I make them with a scorp. I do show it in the book. It is part of the process of leveling the proud tenons. After you shave them with the scorp, you stop. Then they are pyramidal and proud. Or you can finish the job and flatten them flush.
Cool, thanks. I must have missed that part. I haven’t read it cover to cover yet, I’m waiting on my printed copy.
I still have enough materials for several Jennie chairs. Once those are finished, I plan to tackle a stick chair.
Nice demo (the photos helped more than the sketch, IMHO) and discussion of how it should be done, version 21b.3. Takes some of the fear out of the angles and dangles.
Wow! Cool shit.
As soon as I get off my ass from some back problems I will check this out .
Maybe you can teach an old dog new tricks!
Yes I’m an asshole, yodio yodio.
With the Extension for the drill bit, how does one get the alignment so true between the spade bit and the extension. Those set screws never seem to be able to set the spade bit true ,for me, with respect to the extension. Thanks
It is certainly close enough for a chair making. Anyway, a little tension is a good thing and a handmade chair
I just realized I could have used something like this when I made a chair a few years ago. I had a spotter at the time, but I could have used my “sight lines” to keep left and right on track. I could have used a laser for my forward an back by using my bevel gage to get my angle set before I started drilling, then place a laser dot on the bit from the side. that way if I moved forward or back while I was drilling the dot would not be in the center of my bit. I hope that comment made sense.
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