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Note that the original posting dates for these articles were lost during a site move... My apologies!

Popular Woodworking #173 (December 2008) is Now Available

posted Feb 3, 2012, 8:21 AM by Michael Dekker   [ updated Mar 16, 2012, 6:18 AM ]

Popular Woodworking Dec 2008 cover
Yes, the folks at Popular Woodworking have another issue for us to drool over. 12" sliding compound miter saws, how-to build a wooden jack planes, nesting trays in the Shaker style, drawknives and spokeshaves, and my current favourite topic - how to recreate a Stickley mantle clock from an original design.

Add to that the 2008 "Best New Tools" list, and you have a winner of an issue.

Pick up your copy today, or visit your local library for this and other backissues.

Using the Lowly Measuring Tape

posted Feb 3, 2012, 6:34 AM by Michael Dekker   [ updated Mar 16, 2012, 6:17 AM ]

Every woodworker has one. Every woodworker uses it every time they work on a project. And yet not everyone knows how to use it to its full advantage. Yes, we are talking of the lowly measuring tape.

Though measuring tapes come in all shapes and sizes, for the purpose of this article I am referring to retractable metal or fiberglass tape measures that have a hook (also called a tang) at the end.

A simple example can demonstrate almost every feature of the measuring tape. This example is the simple "L", where the vertical "I" is joined with the horizontal "_".

If you hook the end on one end of the "I" and draw the tape to the other end, let us say it measures an exact 10" in length. If you measure the width of the "I", say it measures 3/4".

If you hook the end on one end of the "_" and draw the tape to the other end, let us say it measures an exact 5" in length. If you measure the height of the "_", say it measures 3/4". This example uses 3/4" stock, of course!

If you place the "_" against the long edge of the "I" to form an "L", logic says that the height should be exactly 10" and the width from the left of the "L" to the point farthest to the right will be exactly 5-3/4". Go ahead and measure it. See, I told you so! Now say you were in a situation when you could not measure from the outside. If you press the hook against the inside corner of the "L" and draw the tape out to the point farthest to the right, you will see it measures exactly 5".

"Wait a minute," you say, "The hook is 1/16" wide. Why wasn't the last measurement 1/16" shy of 5 inches?"

The answer is because the hook floats. When you press the hook in, the scale on the tape measures the length from the end of the hook. When you pull the hook out, it measures the length from the inside of the hook.

I've seen many woodworkers "tighten" the rivets holding the hook to keep the hook from floating, in a misguided belief that the sliding hook is inaccurate. This does fix the hook's accuracy, but only for on circumstance, and not the other.

Because of all this, it is very important to treat your measuring tapes with a fair amount of care! Never let your measuring tape retract at high speed, with the hook slamming against the body as the tape finishes its retraction, since this will extend the rivet's hole and introduce inaccuracies. Never step on your tape's hook, or allow it to be pinched between other pieces of wood since this may change the angle of the hook, and also ruin the accuracy of the tape.

Want more of a lesson? Look at the hook of your tape measure. You might notice a small notch taken out of the bottom of the hook. This notch is to help with measuring point-to-point instead of the normal flat-to-flat. Take the example of the "L" again. If you measure from the top-left to the bottom-right, the notch helps keep the hook firmly hooked to the point, freeing your attention to read the sale instead of trying to keep the hook in place.

Something that is of use to construction workers but of little use to average woodworkers is the amount of standout the ruler provides. This is the amount of tape you can pull out horizontally without having it snap or bend downwards. This is useful when you have to span a large distance with your tape and you do not have an assistant to hold the far end for you. This standout is actually a disadvantage to fine woodworkers because to achieve this standout the blade of the tape must have a large amount of curve. The blade on the tapes with the largest standouts looks like a garden hose sliced in two. This makes the edge of the tape standoff from the wood by nearly 1/2", and makes the measurements and markings you make less accurate since you have to roll the tape to one side or another to make the markings flush with the wood. Tapes with less of a standout tend to have flatter blades, thereby making measuring and marking more accurate. This accuracy is what you, as a woodworker, are truly striving for.

So the next time you go shopping for a tape measure, keep some of these uses in mind, and maybe you can get more use out of your tape measure.

Renovation Feature Creep

posted Feb 3, 2012, 6:31 AM by Michael Dekker   [ updated Mar 16, 2012, 6:18 AM ]

Original vanityOriginal entrance to bathroomFeature creep is not just something that happens to computer projects. It can happen to home renovation projects as well. I remember those old woodworking shows, This Old House I believe, that had the famous "Ya might as well" line sprinkled throughout.

Original toilet area
So the idea was to simply redo the bathroom: new tub, new sink, new cabinets and countertop. Add to that new tile, and you have a nice, shiny, new bathroom.

Original bath/shower
The image to the right shows the view in the bathroom doorway. The old vinyl floor, yellow melamine countertop, and a relatively impractical counter with limited storage (left image). The painting job was just done a couple of years ago, and I would like to keep that, and the fish are just stick-on for ambience.

The tub and toilet are likewise dated, with a powdered yellow motif. It's all got to go!

So of course the demolition begins by removing the major fixtures (sink, toilet) then a bit of demolition for the countertop. So far, so good. Then comes the floor...

The demolition begins
The floor was one layer of vinyl over what looked like actual linoleum (early 1960 house). Once that was up, I used the circular saw to start cutting up the floorboards, and discovered that the floor had already undergone some prior renovation. No big problem... so I keep working...

Area under the bathtub
The original shower wall
The tub was enameled cast iron, and must have weighed nearly 300 pounds! To get the tub disconnected from the drain (all copper piping, even the 1-1/2" waste), I had to cut an access panel in the small wall that holds the taps etc. Another
Floor rot
un-desired hole in a finished wall I would have liked to keep intact. But anyway, under the piping for the tub, I found a fair amount of rot. No, let me be honest... there was alot of rot. So the wall that I made the nice neat access hatch has to come down. I have by now decided to remove the ENTIRE bathroom floor and replace with new. That way it will be nice and level, strong, reinforced, and will not have cracked tiles. The left image is what the floor looked like at the entrance. The 2x4 that held up that mini wall was totally rotted, and could have been removed with a toothpick.

Wall mould behind the old tub
Well, that is all for now. I have to offload some images from the camera to show you the rest of the progress. It's exciting, because I'm almost ready to... no, that'll have to wait until tomorrow (or the day after) when I can take some time to post an update.

And let me know what you think!


posted Feb 3, 2012, 6:17 AM by Michael Dekker

You may have noticed the slow pace of updates recently... And there is a good reason!

First, I have added a new feature to the website: An events calendar! On this events calendar I plan to add links to all the woodworking events I can. I have many in my database, and I just need time to do some data entry and verification of the stats. I hope to have a more convenient way for event organizers to enter the data themselves, but that may have to wait a while...

Another task that I am working on is my vacation! Well, not much of a vacation, really. I am renovating my master bathroom - a complete gutting and re-installation. I am even removing the subfloor and installing new dual-layer OSB to suppress movement for some nice tile. I will also be installing the cabinets that I built, which I will be writing a series of articles on their construction in the coming months. That is something exciting that you have to look forward to. These are a combination of birch plywood and solid birch edging, with solid birch doors. They are not that difficult to build, however they do take a bit of an investment of time.

So that is all for today, and I look forward to posting some pictures of the finished bathroom, with the cabinets installed, over the next two weeks! And then I can get down to telling you how to make the cabinets for yourself.

Mirror, Mirror, On The Wall...

posted Feb 3, 2012, 6:15 AM by Michael Dekker   [ updated Mar 16, 2012, 6:19 AM ]

Wooden high-tech mirror

Woodworking and high-tech engineering are joined together to create high-tech art.

The viewer's image is captured, and the 'mirror' tilts the blocks to create an abstract image from hundreds of blocks that are tilted to reflect light or cast shadows.

Read the entire article at

Being Driven By Your Woodworking Skills

posted Feb 3, 2012, 6:02 AM by Michael Dekker   [ updated Mar 16, 2012, 6:22 AM ]

There are many people who would say that they are driven by the desire to compete, or driven to madness, but in truth very few can say they are driven by their woodworking skills. Literally, not figuratively.

The notable exception to that statement is Joe Harmon, the creative genius behind Splinter, the 700 horsepower supercar that he built with his own hands. That's impressive, but not entirely unusual. There are many grease monkeys putting together their own fibreglass cars in their garages, and though it does make a rare care, Joe Harmon seems to have upped the ante and entered the realm of the truly unique.

By now, you are wondering what the relevance of Joe's supercar project is to this blog...


Splinter, the 700 horsepower high performance car is built almost entirely out of wood. No, we are not talking about a "woodie", where some of the exterior body panels were trimmed with wood; that's been done before. And no, we are not talking about some wooden interior trim like a dashboard; that's also been done before.

Wooden wheel hub

This car is made almost entirely out of wood. Carved, woven, bent, you name it and this car probably incorporates it. From the wooden I-beam chassis to the balsa-weave-cherry-veneered body panels, and from the wooden wheel rims to the all-important steering wheel, this car is made out of wood.

Some unusual wood is used in the car, such as osage orange, a wood with a history in bowmaking. Balsa wood, traditionally though of as a model-building wood, is actually very strong when properly treated. Cherry and oak round out the wood selection

Splinter's body shell being laminated
And don't get the impression that this car is just a model car carved out of wood either. The pieces were individually designed and crafted. The body shell was manufactured virtually as one continuous woven and veneered piece that once cured had its doors and window cavities cut. The wheels are rotary cut oak veneer, each piece rotated 36 degrees from its mate to maximize strength, and a walnut starburst adorns the front and a cherry starburst on the back, with only a hint of aluminium used for a flange and to distribute load during acceleration.

With a projected top speed over 200-mph, and a curb weight of around 2500 lbs (near that of a late-model Miata), this car will surely turn heads, even if it is in a parking lot. I don't see it being driven much for fear of it getting scratched, but it is truly a work of art, sure to inspire many other woodworking endeavours.

Has all this tempted your curiosity? Head on over to or, the new sponsor's site, for full information, a plethora of photos, and more information about the process than you could comfortably read in one sitting. Check it out!

I'll never look at basket-weaving the same way again...

Book Review: Toys, Games, and Furniture

posted Feb 3, 2012, 5:57 AM by Michael Dekker   [ updated Mar 16, 2012, 6:21 AM ]

Toys, Games, and Furniture
Keeping with the theme of wooden toys for children, I thought I'd present another book review. Again, I am searching for gift ideas for my 14 month old daughter's first Christmas, when she will be almost 18 months old.

The book I have before me today is Toys, Games, and Furniture from the Family Handyman series by Reader's Digest (1995, Roundtable Press, ISBN 0-89577-790-8)

The book is hardcover, approximately 8-1/2" tall by 11" wide (an unusual format), and is just shy of 200 pages long, with heavyweight paper and a good binding. I should point out that the sewn binding is sturdy, but avoid laying heavy objects on the book when it is open, since it is bound to "crack the spine", and spill pages.

Like most books of its type, the book starts with safety: The elements of a child-safe toy are laid out for you, to keep you from incorporating inappropriate elements into the toys you might choose to build. The book is divided into four major sections: Toys, games, wagons and rocking toys, and finally furniture and storage.

There is not much in the way of introductory material, and the book delves straight into the projects. Each project has the expected breakdown of parts list, step-by-step instructions, exploded-view diagrams, and occasionally a grid-view of key project parts to allow for easy transfer to your actual finished size. Read the instructions with a close eye to detail, since it appears some of the instructions are glossed over. Make sure you understand the flow of the steps before you proceed!

The projects themselves are interesting if not eclectic. Rocking horse, pull toy, advent calendar, sled, airplane, vehicles, games, Lego table, beds, storage boxes, and many more. Most projects involve only moderate woodworking skills, making these projects well within the realm of a hobby woodworker with limited tools.

All that being said, this book's projects are sure to delight children aged 3 and up, with some of the toys and games being the most interest to children 6 and up. For me, my search continues for age-appropriate toys for my little girl!

Book Review: Making Heirloom Toys

posted Feb 3, 2012, 5:54 AM by Michael Dekker   [ updated Mar 16, 2012, 6:22 AM ]

Making Heirloom Toys
With my daughter Amber being just 14 months old, my thoughts turn to toys, toys, and more toys! Christmas is fast approaching, and already my wife is planning presents. Whether I have time in my workshop or not, it is always easy to do a little research and dreaming aided by books.

Today, I thought I'd share my thoughts on a book by Jim Makowicki titled Making Heirloom Toys (1996, The Tauton Press, ISBN 1-56158-112-7).

The book is hardcover, approximately 9"x13", with sturdy pages and a good binding to keep the pages together as you enjoy it. A quick flip through the book quickly finds its best feature: 16 full colour pages collected at the centre of the book that illustrate the toys from the book, shown in a variety of angles and finishes. This lets you look at all the finished projects in one easy pass. Each image also has a caption beside it letting you know what page to find that project on.

The first section of the book goes over the basics of toy building: safety, tools, and details some of the jigs that let you build small toys with accuracy but most importantly with safety in mind.

The projects themselves are mostly vehicles of various types, trains, boats, cars both modern and classic, planes and even a fire truck that is sure to delight any boy. Some balance games, a magnet-clock, and a clever little grasshopper rounds out the selection.

The projects are laid out in a straightforward fashion. A brief introduction is followed by instructions broken down into individual assemblies, presented in clear and concise language. A cutting list with suggested woods is provided, as well as scale diagrams with measurements and angles clearly marked. Each page with diagrams is marked with an enlargement scale, for those who like to work from full-sized images to simplify the cutting process.

In terms of practicality, this book seems more geared towards making toys for boys rather than girls, and the intricate nature of many of the toys would suggest an appropriate age of at least three, with the possible exception of the grasshopper.

How To Make A Panel Cutting Jig

posted Feb 3, 2012, 5:47 AM by Michael Dekker   [ updated Mar 16, 2012, 6:19 AM ]

Panel cutting jig for circular saw
Plywood is a great building material. It is strong, dimensionally stable, and is available in large sheets, up to 4' x 8'.

That last benefit is also a problem for most of us woodworkers, since we are often working alone and it is unsafe to wrestle a 4x8 sheet of plywood over the table saw, at least without the aid of a couple partners or the judicious use of infeed and outfeed tables.

The one-person solution is to reverse the situation. Instead of moving the wood over the blade, move the blade over the wood! Just use a guide of some sort to ensure a straight cut. This allows you to cut plywood, MDF, particle board, or any other large panel down to size with accuracy that approaches that of dedicated panel cutter machines.

And the best part of all? It is made from scrap lumber - birch plywood offcuts or old glue-ups! 

Tool Choice 

The choice of blade is between a jig saw and circular saw. Now the jig saw has a narrow blade and it is designed to allow for tight curves, but it does allow for straight lines when the occasion arises. The problem is that the rate of cut offered by the jig saw is rather limiting when a large number of cuts is desired. Also, the small blade and reciprocating action does not lend itself to the smoothest cuts. And using a blade with more teeth (offering a smoother cut) slows the jig saw down to a crawl.

The circular saw, on the other hand, has a large blade that acts as a rudder as the cut is made through the wood, and its rotary action holds the blade in a perfect line once the blade is spinning.

Circular saw and wood
The Jig

The jig is essentially a narrow plywood board glued to a wider plywood board. The trick is that the wider plywood board is not trimmed to any particular width until AFTER the narrow board is firmy glued in place. After glueup, the circular saw is run along the jig, with its side snug against the narrow rail which acts as a straight-edge, and the circular saw cuts the wide board to the exact width of the circular saw's base.

Sand and wax the boardFor the top piece, ensure it is straight and true along its narrow edge, since it will act as a straightedge for your circular saw. Also, select a piece that is wider than your circular saw's motor, since it simplifies clamping the jig to panels. 

Because this jig will be used on fine wood, knock off the sharp edges with a bit of light sanding on the corners. The faces of my jig did not need any attention since they were made of scrap birch plywood with good faces. I also like to apply a coating of wax to the top side of the plywood since this will ease the running of my circular saw.

Using the Jig 

Using the jig is as simple as using a ruler. First support the panel. Remember that the panel ends will separate, so each end must be well supported so they do not fall once you have made your cut. If the cut piece is allowed to fall, it may tear the surface wood, and leave an unsightly blemish that will be hard to hide.

Place the jig along your panel with the edge of the jig precisely on the line that you want to cut and clamp the jig in place. Remember that the blade will remove the wood right up to the jig, so mark your lines and setup the jig appropriately. If your circular saw body threatens to hit your clamps as you run it along the jig, adjust the blade height so that saw body is raised. Just make sure there is enough blade in the wood to cut through in one pass!

Then place the circular saw on the jig, start the blade, and start your cut. Be careful as you approach the far end of your cut because unless you are as tall as I am, you will probably be leaning or reaching. DON'T. Stop the blade and slide back the jigsaw an inch or two, move to the other side of the panel, then continue the cut from the other side. The following sequence of images demonstrates the action.
Starting the cut
Quarter way through
3/4 way through
Cut all the way through


Still haven't gotten enough? Here's a helpful YouTube video of a similar jig in action.

Making Straight Cuts WIth A Homemade Jig

Escapement Models

posted Feb 3, 2012, 5:36 AM by Michael Dekker   [ updated Mar 16, 2012, 6:20 AM ]

Beeler Gravity Escapement
Always striving to be unique in my creation efforts, it is often advantageous to look at the products of the giants who have paved the way before us. Still on my inspirational journey on wooden clocks, I ran across the National Watch and Clock Museum's web page on "The Beeler Escapements." These are not constructed out of wood, however the science and innovation are similar to those involved in wooden clocks.

Though the site does not give any technical details on the different escapements, they do show a little of the various visual elements each escapement offers. You can Google each escapement to get more details of each, but it is interesting to see Beeler's reproduction of the various escapements of the time.

My personal favourite, from a visual and dynamic standpoint, would have to be the Gravity Escapement.

If you're ever in the area, go see them yourself. The collection is at the National Watch and Clock Museum, 514 Poplar St., Columbia, PA 17512-2130.

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