Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ron Wenner Made my Day today

In 2006 Festool released their Domino joining system. At the time, I was working at a store that sold them. I can say with a fair amount of perspective that there was a large group of woodworkers who were collectively wetting themselves over this machine. Incontinence isn't something to make jokes about. Communal voluntary incontinence is something else, though.

As things would have it, early adopters learned pretty quickly that it was great... but there were issues. That's one of the perks of being an early adopter of any new product, so I'm not picking on Festool here. Not all of the fences on the early versions locked down the height adjustment adequately. As a result, joints weren't lining up as cleanly as they should have. Some of the brave souls took to performing their own modifications. Others simply cranked down on the tightening knob and learned to deal with the fence when it deflected. Festool eventually released an updated fence, and I'm told that the problem was solved. I'm still having problems with mine, because I've heard stories about damage due to over-tightening.

So who is Ron Wenner? He's the guy who made using this machine a lot easier.

As a  result of their frustration with the fence, and the fussiness, someone on Festool Owner's Group had taken to bolting a piece of plywood to the bottom of the Domino. The idea was to make a rigid, fixed fence, and simply using the machine upside down. It wasn't the most eloquent solution, but by God it worked. Not long after, Ron Wenner shows up on the scene with a milled aluminum plate. It has a slot down the middle, to make it easy to see the alignment mark that's scribed on the bottom plate of the tool. It's beefy. And it has different offsets: Positioned one way, it centers the mortise in 3/4" stock. Flipped over, it centers in 1/2" stock.

What I like about Ron's jig is that it's made the process a little more analogous to a point-and-shoot camera. It substitutes ease of use for adjustability. Just line up with a pencil mark and shove.

I received mine in the mail the other day. I was excited to see what it could do, but I had to wait until I was at that step in the project... which was this morning. In short, the jig really made my day. It was everything I hoped for. During my first trial run, the joints I made were dead flat when everything was clamped up. If I'd had one of these on my last job, with all of the frame and panel work, it would have saved me at least a day or two of planing and sanding out uneven joints.
What I realized, as I worked with it, and grinned like a monkey, was that there's more going on with this version than I'd originally noticed. The plate is beefy. And flat. And it hangs WAY out there. In other words, it's provided a great clamping surface. When the time comes, and it will to start mortising out narrow pieces of wood, I'll be able to clamp directly to the work, before mortising. That's going to eliminate A LOT of user error problems, and make using the domino on small pieces a lot easier.

I wrote to Ron earlier today to let him know how happy I was about his jig. For those of you who are interested in getting one for yourself, look for response #188 on page 7 of the above mentioned thread on FOG.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Shop Tips

A few recent simple things...

Drawing the curtain down:
This is an old one, culled from my days at school. Somehow I've been getting by without it, but the current project has enough going on that I really want to keep all of the drawings handy. So, I bought a window shade, and mounted it in a convenient place. The drawings get mounted to the shade, and that way I can pull them down quickly to look at, and give a tug and put them away just as quickly to get them out of the way.

One thing I noticed... this particular one was marked at Home Depot as one that couldn't be cut down in the store. Turns out the reason why is that it's mounted on a mostly metal tube. Go figure.


Tenon cutting on long pieces with the new crosscut sled.

I had to do this today on the side of a bed frame I'm building. Normally when I cut tenons I'm cutting them on smaller pieces, and I can use the table saw fence to gauge the length of the tenon. This piece was almost 7 feet long. I played with the idea of using an end stop at the other end of the board, and decided it really wasn't worth it. I don't like using subtractive cuts* if I can help it. So, referencing small cuts at one end of the board by hooking onto the other end of the board didn't seem like a great idea. So, I set up the stop on the sled, and used a scrap of wood to bump the end I was working on to the proper measurement in relation to the blade... and not the other end of the wood.

*Subtractive versus positive cuts/ measurements: This is a term I came up with recently, I don't know if it's the real term, that was buried in my subconscious, or if it's just one that I made up. Either way, I like it.

A positive measurement is a measurement that's taken directly... in the case of a table saw fence, it's the space between the fence and the blade. The cut that is being made is directly referenced. A subtractive measurement is typically a workaround. For example, cutting a 7 foot piece of plywood is impractical, because the fence on the saw doesn't extend that far. So, I'd set the fence to 11 7/8", to subtract 12 inches off of one end. (11 7/8", + 1/8" kerf width) Another example is cutting a 1/2" thick tenon this way on the saw. I'm not actually cutting a positive 1/2"... I'm subtracting incremental amounts until the tenon is thin enough to fit into the mortise. It's one way to work, but it's not ideal for production work, because any variance in thickness between one board and the next will result in tenons of different thicknesses. Any clumps of dust under one board will cause issues. There are ways to make it work, but the difference here is that to cut a 1/4" tenon in the middle of a 3/4" board, I wouldn't actually be cutting a 1/4" tenon... I'd be cutting two 1/4" rabbets, one on either side of the board. It's not a recipe for reliable accuracy. But it's currently easier than setting up a jig that would positively cut a 1/4" tenon.

In the end, a positive cut is one that is determined in the setup. It's impossible to cut a 6 1/2" wide piece if the fence is set to 6" from the blade. A subtractive cut can be accurately made, but it requires a lot more setup and futzing. That 7' piece of plywood can be cut, but first, you have to make sure that the plywood is actually 96" long, and not 96.5", and that the kerf left by the blade is actually 1/8".

Sunday, April 3, 2011

We now resume our regularly scheduled...

So, I've added more things to the portfolio section over the course of the week, and finally decided that my efforts are better spent on a real website. It's amazing what going public can do to one's mindset. Nothing's actually been published yet, but the domain name has been set up, and it's being hosted.

Shop news... the project I'm currently working on is in the sowing and planting stages, lots of milling going on, but nothing really happening just yet. That said, there will be some interesting stuff to read about when I get going. I bought a custom jig to make the Festool Domino easier to use. I learned a few things about the virtues of using dividers when doing drafting and design work that I have to write up. I recently tuned up an old Pootatuck Lion trimmer, and I have some notes from that which I need to put up. And I still have to wrap up the cutting table project. And so on.

In other news, my wife will be graduating from Nurse Practitioner school in a little over a month. And the check just cleared for me to display at the Furniture and Furnishings show in Providence this October. So once this current job is over, I'm going to huff and puff and blow myself a whirlwind of creative and productive energy.

And despite last Friday's snowstorm, Spring is finally in the air.

I've been waiting anxiously for things to start moving, and it feels like they finally are.