15 Headache-Preventing Woodworking Tips


Ever been working on a woodwork project and realized you made some dumb mistake?

And then you had to go through the headache-inducing hassle of fixing it?

Follow these 15 tips to protect your future time and sanity.

1. Lay out Your Lumber Beforehand

Lay out your lumber and figure which board will be used for what part, taking care to observe grain and color. Try to make each part compliment other related parts. Example: don’t laminate a straight grained piece to a wildly figured piece, unless intentionally.

2. Be Sure Before You Cut

Don’t cut any wood until you are sure of where you want to cut. Think and re-think this point, as it only takes a second to screw up a lot of planning.

3. Cut Pieces Larger Than Needed

Whenever possible make the piece a little larger than needed. There are many things which can screw up a cut.

Such as: internal stress can cause a perfectly straight board to move, planers can snipe, jointing and sanding/planing can take more wood then expected. It is far easier to remove a little wood than to replace it.

4. Mark All Pieces as Soon as Possible

Mark all pieces as to where they go as soon as you determine this, unless you enjoy jigsaw puzzles. 😉

5. Test First on Scrap Lumber

Always test any machine setup on a scrap piece, preferably from the same lumber as the piece. Be careful that the scrap isn’t off the end with snipe. This will make it thinner.

6. Plane the Backside First

When hand planing a surface, do the backside first. This will prepare you for any surprises.

The same applies to sanding, so the face side doesn’t get damaged while sanding the back.

7. Clean Up the Dust

Always dust everything off. Many mysterious dings, and poor fits are the result of a small chip or two.

A small chip against a fence can cause misalignment. Chips under a board going through the surface planer can cause uneven planing.

A small chip on the shoulder of a tenon can keep it from snugging up. etc.

8. Try to Split the Line

Try to split the line when sawing. Sawing on either side of the line can make for an almost perfect joint, splitting it will usually be right on the mark.

This depends on the the thickness of the line. A thick line will be easy to split but you can still be off. Keep your pencil sharp.

9. Mark Chisel Cut Lines with a Knife

Any lines which will ultimately be cut with a chisel should be made with a knife. A knife mark will act as a guide for the chisel. It is hard to keep a chisel straight on a pencil line.

Also any crosscuts should be scored with a knife first. This eliminates any tendency for ragged edges.

10. Test Fits Before Gluing

Always test your fits prior to gluing. It is best to clamp your pieces together as if you were gluing, first off.

This will prevent any surprises with glue on the pieces, and will assure that you have all the clamps that you need and ready to use.

If you find that you need to really crank on the clamp to get a good fit, you probably need to make an alteration. The quickest way to glue failure is to put unnecessary stress on the part.

If you haven’t done so now is the time to mark every piece as to where it goes. If everything fits fine in that order why take a chance, even though many parts are `identical’.

11. Get the Glue off Right

It is best not to wipe off the wet glue after clamping, as it will spread the glue around and make finishing difficult.

However the glue should be removed before it is cured, if it is a water based glue.

The moisture in the glue raises the grain a little and when it hardens the moisture is trapped.

Then when it is removed later the wood shrinks and a glue line becomes perceptible.

If you use a scraper or chisel when the glue skims over it will come off in nice strips.

Washing the glue off with a wet cloth works but you must be careful to get all off or it will be everywhere.

12. Use a Chisel to Remove Glue from Tight Spots

A very sharp chisel will remove any glue from inside corners.

If carefully done you can skim a little wood with the glue, making sure there is no glue left to obstruct the finish.

13. Use a Hand Scraper For Mating Surfaces

A sharp hand scraper works very well to even up mating surfaces, after gluing.

14. Allow Your Finish to Dry Before Processing

When finishing its VERY important to allow the finish to dry well before sanding or steel wool between coats. Bits of sand dust or steel wool in the corners are a tell tell sign of preceding to fast.

Use a vacuum and tack rags judiciously throughout the finishing process. It is imperative to treat the finishing process with as much care as you put into the building process.

A good finish can make a mediocre pieces look great and a poor finish can make a great piece look mediocre.

15. Be Realistic

Keep your expectations high, but realistic. Fine workmanship is acquired through practice. If each piece you make is a little better than the last than you should feel good.

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