The most labor-intensive part of preparing for classes is, by far, the stock prep – especially for the tool chest classes I teach. For those classes, I crosscut pairs of ends, and pairs of fronts/backs, together so that they’re the same length. That was difficult with our old shop-made crosscut sled. When crosscutting the front/backs, more than half the length of them clamped together was unsupported, so I had to hold them both tight to the sled’s fence and down at the same time. (The only good thing about that was the upper-body workout.)
So Chris – exceedingly kind man that he is – bought (me) a sliding crosscut fence. We looked at a few other brands, but after talking to people who already owned one, we decided on the SawStop slider.
Right after the box arrived we shut down classes for 2020…so there will be no massive amounts of stock prep until there’s a COVID-19 vaccine. But in the meantime, we’ve had time to put the new slider through its paces.
Chris has set up five or six different sliding tables over the years, and he says this one was by far the easiest; he had it up and running in about an hour (my only contribution was helping to adjust the leveling feet – it’s really a one-person job). There’s the option to bolt the slider to the table saw’s wing, or to remove the wing and bolt it directly to the main table. But either way, you almost certainly have to cut the rip fence’s rail. I believe the instructions said to do that with a metal-cutting band saw. But Chris used a recip saw with a home-center carbide blade (you could also use a metal-cutting jigsaw blade), then he filed the cut edges; the cut took less than 5 seconds.
In all honestly, we don’t have the fence perfectly set above the table’s height; it rides up the bevel on the front edge of the table by maybe 1/32″ every time we push it forward. Not a big deal – it works fine, and you can’t hear the fence hitting that edge over the noise of the saw and dust collection anyway (and you get used to the feel of it after a cut or three).
Among the nice things about this sliding table is that it can be pulled back far enough to allow us to stand in front of it for most rip cuts – which means we don’t have to take it out of square to get it out of the way for most rips.
Getting this one back to square is a lot easier than on my JessEm Mast-R-Slide at home, which requires Allen wrenches to adjust the setting blocks. This slider locks in place not against a block, but in the T-track. So all you need is a framing square to set it square to the blade. Still, once you have it square, why move it unless you have to?
I’ve heard a few complaints about the flip stops on the fence slipping or bending, but I was taught to always gently push my stock again a stop, so I haven’t had any trouble with the stops losing their settings so far. I also had one person mention that if you have a substantial angle set, the end of the fence is far away from the blade. Ninety-nine percent of our cuts are at 90°, so we’ve not yet had to tackle that issue. I imagine that whomever has to make that first 45° cut will make an auxiliary fence that fits in the fence’s T-track.
In addition to the extra support and ball-bearing sliding action, what I like most is the flip stops. It used to be I would crosscut one end of all my stock, then clamp a stop to the sled to cut it to final length. I save a lot of time now by simply flipping the stop up to square one end, then flipping my stock, and putting the stop down to cut the second end. Heaven. I’m very much looking forward to finding out – hopefully in the near future – how much easier this new setup will make cutting stock for seven tool chests at a time!
I don’t know why my brain refused to acknowledge the two frame saws in my chest while I was writing part 2 of this series. So here’s part 2-1/2 of the series on my coping saw and fretsaw.
Ah, now I remember why my brain froze, I didn’t want to revisit the topic of coping saws. I’ve still not found one that satisfies me on all fronts. I’ve tried, cheap, expensive, vintage, yellow and rare. All have some aspect that I don’t like.
So I’ve given up and reverted to the German-made Olson coping saw I bought in 1996 or 1997. It’s been modified significantly, especially the blade-tensioning mechanism, and I’ve stretched the frame. And you can’t buy this saw new anymore. The Olson saw is now made overseas and I’m not a fan of what’s happened to it.
What I can recommend, however, are the blades for whatever coping saw you do end up settling for. I have been very happy with the Pegas coping saw blades, which are made in Switzerland and cut like a dream. And they are tough; I’ve had individual blades last for more than six months.
For fretsaws, I also went full-German. I’ve had an old German jeweler’s saw since the 1990s that tensions blades to a remarkable level. Why? Because I filed grooves into the pads of the blade-clamping mechanism. That improved its grip to “Coach Stan Turnipseed’s Handshake” level on the EU’s fretsaw clamping matrix.
You can find these jeweler’s saws on ebay for $10 to $20. The old ones are better than the new ones. Be sure to get some Pegas blades for these as well.
I adore my Millers Falls mitre box, and I’ve been bemused by a recent backlash against mitre boxes, which ruled the American worksite and garage during the first half of the 20th century.
The argument against a mitre box is that you don’t need it. You should develop your sawing skills to the point where you don’t need a mechanical contrivance to hold the saw for you. The things are training wheels. And you are a candy-bottom wuss girl if you use one.
To these people I say this: You don’t cut many miters, do you?
Metallic manual mitre boxes are more accurate than the electric miter saw in my experience. They allow a level of finesse and control that you aren’t going to get with freehand sawing. And chances are, if you aren’t a nincompoop, your miters will be dead-on off the saw with a mitre box.
Oh, and when armed with a shooting board they radically decrease your need for a table saw.
If you own a mitre box, you need to know how to maintain and use it.
So this evening I present to you a scan of a vintage Millers Falls manual for using the company’s mitre boxes. I guarantee that even if you are an ace, you are going to learn something from this short little manual.
The manual was given to me by the late Carl Bilderback. During my last visit to his home, he asked me to take his library. To keep the books that I didn’t have. And to give the rest away to deserving young woodworkers.
This vintage manual is one of about 100 books and manuals Carl owned that I did not.
So I present it to you in a free pdf you can download here:
In the Baltimore-Washington D.C. area we have three IADs. Most people aren’t aware of the first one, the Institute of American Deltiology, part of the University of Maryland Special Collections. There you can find over one million postcards and related materials! I wonder if they have this one by Mainzer:
Then there is IAD, as in Dulles Airport. Besides a lot of people flying in and out, Dulles has hosted the arrivals of pandas, a Komodo dragon and a lowland gorilla to name a few. The traffic you might encounter on the way to the airport is also very famous. From my house the trip should take about 1-1/2 hours; I plan on at least 2 hours, three if it’s raining.
The IAD you might be most interested in is the artworks of the Index of American Design in collection of the National Gallery of Art.
The idea for documenting hand works and decorative arts started as an effort to define the American aesthetic. During the Great Depression the Federal Arts Project, part of the Works Progess Administration (WPA), employed more than 300 artists to draw and paint a huge variety of items. The project ran from 1935 to 1942. The artists were paid a weekly wage of $23.86, an amount that enabled many of them to survive the Depression.
The artists drew and painted clothing, textiles, all variety of household items, toys, furniture, tools and so on. The output was over 20,000 images. The National Gallery of Art has more than 18,000 images available online. When furniture was documented it might be done as a watercolor, a measured drawing or a combination of both:
Within the overall project there was an effort to document three uniquely American design groups: Pennsylvania German, Shaker and Southwestern. Furniture designs range from the very simple to the refined work of 18th and 19th century urban cabinetmakers. The Index is a great resource for furniture makers and historians, especially since many of the documented pieces could now be lost. In the gallery below there are several examples of furniture and as many woodworking tools as I could find.
Earlier this year film maker, Michael Maglaras, released “Enough to Live On – The Arts of the WPA.” In a short intro segment he sums up the purpose of the Index of American Design as “…to copy the work of the great, and many anonymous, hand skill artists of the past.” We in turn are the recipients of the work done by the hands of the WPA artists. The Index of American Design is our family heirloom.
You can read much more about the Index here. Once on the page there is an option to “Tour the Index.” You can select several surveys (overviews) such as Furniture, Metalwork, Shaker, etc.
If you would like to go to the online listings of the Index at the National Gallery of Art go here. In the search box you can search for chairs, setttees, desks, spurs and so on, but keep in mind the results will include artworks outside the Index.
To watch a brief (4 minute) film by Michael Maglaras introducing the Index on Vimeo go here. Maglaras’ company is 217 Films. You can also look for another short piece on the WPA artist by Carl W. Peters.