Ask a Woodworker

Do you have a question? Drop us a line at questions@woodworking-news.com. We will try to answer your question as best we can.

I’m making some toy cars for the grand kids, what type of finish do I use that its non-toxic?

You can treat the toys in the same manner you would for a cutting board, utensils or turned bowls – there are several options.
 

FIRST…DO NOT use vegetable oils they can become rancid after a period of time. You can use a specially formulated cutting board oil or salad bowl finish – they are safe for food contact after drying.

  • Walnut oil: It is available grocery stores or some mail order woodworking supply stores. Nice thing about it is that is a true drying oil that reacts with the air and hardens. Oils are generally safe for food or toy use after they’ve dried for 30 days. I’m not sure Walnut Oil can cause a problem with “nut” allergies however..
  • Pure Tung Oil. It has no driers or solvents. It is essentially just a vegetable oil but produces a nice finish that won’t go rancid. Use only Tung Oil that is “pure”.
  • Watco® claims its oils are suitable for food or baby use if they’ve been allowed to dry for 30 days or more. They say it takes this time for full polymerization.
  • Rockler’s Toymaker’s Finish
  • Shellac: Those who think shellac is something that once coated furniture and has been replaced by polyurethane should think again. Shellac is one of the oldest substances for food coatings. A resin secreted by a tiny, female beetle as a means to hold her eggs to the bark of a tree, shellac is produced in India or Thailand. After shellac is harvested, it is used to formulate confectioners glaze, which lengthens shelf life by providing a glossy finish for pan-coated candies such as chocolate covered almonds. Pharmaceutical companies actually use it for pill coatings.
  • Most water-based polyurethanes are often non-toxic when dry BUT check the label to make sure.
  • Latex Paint. Some paints claim to be non-toxic when dry, but again–check the labels.
  • You could just leave items unfinished.

In any event, if you are unsure about any finish you plan to use, contact the manufacturer and request the information. You can also request an MSDS (Materials Safety Data Sheet).


I recently got at auction a Skil 7 1/2 worm drive circular saw. The gear case seems to need oil. Any info on what type of oil is generally used would be appreciated.

There actually is such a thing a Worm Drive Lubricant. It is formulated by Manufacturer/Model. ACE Hardware carries the oil — Sears, depending on location will also have it.


I bought an old No. 44 Buss Single Surface Planer at auction and I am looking for a manual and replacement parts: Motor Pinion for the bed power elevating mechanism and grinding wheels. Any idea where I can get Buss Planer parts, drawings and manuals?

Don’t Panic, you are in luck. Buss Planers have been the wood furniture manufacturing standard for a long time. There is a company in Holland, Michigan (Kenrie) that has the parts, documentation and the engineering services you are looking for. You can download Buss Planer operating manuals and illustrated parts listings at their website – no charge. You can contact Kenrie sales and support staff using a convenient form on their website. Visit Kenrie-Machines.com.


I recently edge joined oak boards so I can make an entertainment center. This is the first time for me in regards to gluing up boards for a project. Until now, I have used laminated plywood. I used a jointer and the boards glued nicely, however, there was a very, very, small lip in places were the boards were not quite level. I bought a small 3 inch block plane to remove the high spots. When I tried the plane, it gouged my wood and left deep scratches in the face of the boards. I adjusted the blade numerous time but could not get it to work well. Am I using the wrong plane for this type of application? Should I just sand the high spots next time?

Yes, you are using the wrong tool. A block plane is used on end grains of wood. When gluing up stock, use a scraper to hit any glue that has extruded at the joints, and then use a belt sander to take down any high spots.


Is there any advantage in adjusting the blade height based on the thickness of the wood being cut or just keeping the blades height to it’s max?

Only use what blade you need. Keeping the blade about an 1/8th of an inch above the stock when cutting reduces wear and tear on the blade and makes for a more accurate and smoother cut. The more blade you have exposed the more vibration you’ll see and the more non-cutting area of the blade makes contact with the wood, the more heat is produced.

If you don’t go by the 1/8″ rule, just set the blade so the gullet of the cutting tooth is a hair above the stock.


When filling holes in wood using stainable glue and saw dust should you use a tooth pick to apply glue sprinkle on saw dust press saw dust in with finger, let dry, sand, then repeat again and again until level?

Mix the glue and saw dust into a paste and apply with a good clean putty knife. It is a good idea to protect the area surrounding the hole with masking tape so you only get the hole and not the “area.”


I have purchased a kitchen cabinet made of unfinished pine and I would like to know what polyurethane to use so the cabinet will match the yellow of the other cabinets that were done appox: 20 years ago?

You won’t be able to match the finish “out of the can” – the quality and source of the wood has just as much to do with the color and hue that comes with finishing. I suggest you remove a door from one of the old cabinets and take it with your new door and go to an independent paint store (e.g. Sherwin & Williams ) and have them help – they can use their experience and product knowledge to get you pretty close. Check with area professional painters for the stores that they buy their paint & supplies.


Hello, I’m a first time scroll saw user. What causes the hanging up or slapping in the middle of a cut? Blade, machine or something I’m doing wrong?

Without looking over your shoulder it’s hard to tell. That said, the most common reasons that come to mind are:

  1. a dull blade
  2. trying to make too tight of a turn, too quickly
  3. trying to cut green or wet wood
  4. incorrect blade for the cut or material to be cut
  5. improper tension set on the blade
  6. trying to cut faster that the wood will allow

When all else fails, read the owner’s manual that came with your saw.


Hi, I’ve read several of your answers on line, and have a question. I have a modest shop, space isn’t an issue, I have a table saw, but can only rip up to 2″. I would like to be able to rip up to 4 inches (or even slightly more if possible). Whats the best tool for ripping? I was thinking about a large radial arm, setting the blade sideways to the normal direction. Or would a huge table saw be better? I am making furniture out of small logs, and some of these 4″ logs need to be ripped in half.

A table saw is the best tool for ripping wood. That said, your description of the task is not that of ripping but “re-sawing” and neither radial arm or table saw is the right tool for that job – only a band saw is up to the task. Resawing 4″ thick stock will require at least a 14″ model. Those bench top models you see on sale all the time ( Home Deport, Lowes, etc.) for $99.00 are 9″, 10″, 12″ and can only do 2 to 3-7/8″. A 14″ saw will do up to 6 inches. It is a sizeable investment however. Good saws in the in the $400-$600 range

A few recommendations:

  1. Grizzly G1019 14″
  2. Grizzly G0555 14″
  3. Grizzly G1148 Heavy-Duty 15″
  4. Craftsman 14″ Professional

To do the job safely, you may also want to consider reading ‘ The Bandsaw Book’ by Lonnie Bird.


I am a beginning wood carver and have a stockpile of pine to practice on. My problem is that the wood is cracking ecspecially on my projects. Is there something I can do to pretreat the wood to stop cracks and something to fix the current cracks?

There are two schools of thought on carving pine:

  1. Only carve kiln dried wood, because it is stable and cracking/hardening has been controlled or stopped.
  2. Only carve green wood or pine that is soaking wet (like pulled right out of a bucket of water).

If you are getting pine from the source (the tree), try to use the sap wood (closest to the bark). Soaking will limit the cracks there.

Worth mentioning is that BASSWOOD is often the wood of choice for most carvers not pine.


I’m a wood carver and there were white worms in the cypress wood. Under the bark and boring holes in to it. Do you know their name and what to use to get rid of them?

This isn’t really in our area of expertise (identifying insects). That said, you can hire a pesticide person to gas the wood with methyl bromide or, you can kiln dry it with a finishing temperature of 160 degrees for a few hours.

If the wood will fit in your oven, you can do this KILN thing at home. Just place it in the oven and then set is at 170 (since most ovens only go down to 170). Keep it in there for 3 hours. That should kill the little critters. If not check your area to see where the folks who cut down timber take their wood to be kiln-dried and have them do it for you. I hope they (the worms) were creative and give your piece some character… Good luck!


I am building a block plane in my workshop. The plans were featured in Shopnotes No. 79 and call for me to cut the shape of the plane out of 1/8″ flat brass stock with a bandsaw. It does not however tell me I need to use a metal blade or a special blade for this. Is it ok for me to use a 3/8 in bandsaw blade on metal?

Metal and wood blades don’t mix – even the slightest contact with metal will dull a wood cutting band saw blade. Use a blade that is designed to cut non-ferrous metal. That said, a metal cutting blade doesn’t turn your band saw into a power hack saw. Your band saw needs to have adjustable speed settings – wood and metal are cut at different speeds.


Can I use a regular finish nailer (Dewalt 51275) to install tongue and groove flooring or do have to rent a flooring nailer? Isn’t it all about getting the nail in at a 45 degree angle?

Your nail gun’s safety mechanism may not allow you to nail where you want and at the angle you want. That said, this is a case of the right tool for the job. A Dewalt 51275 is not the right tool for this job – a floor stapler like the Bostitch Mark III FS is. They are available from rental stores (Home Depot, DIY, Nations Rent, Lowes, etc). It uses a 2 inch long 1/2″ wide 15 gauge staple.

Your gun – is great for light work and trim, but not installing hardwood flooring.


I recently glued oak boards together. One section was 25 3/4″ wide by 42″ long. This section was made of about 10 boards and held together with cheaper clamps. The problem is the end boards curled up and made and therefore I have a warped board. The second section was 22″wide by 32″long and held together by expensive clamps. This section is flat. Will cheap clamps result in warped boards or did I possibly glue them up wrong?

Warping is a function of moisture change not clamping. Clamps may affect the joints but they won’t warp the wood. That said, it is possible your job is not warped, it just looks warped.
 
If the laminated board just isn’t flat, that does not mean its warped. You could have over-torqued the clamps and “pulled” the edges up so that the joints were not true. a 1/32 error across 10 boards = 10/32 of rise (corner to corner).
 
A little trick that we always use is to do the clamp up on an old sheet of 3/4″ ply. “Just snug” the boards together, then clamp all 4 corners to the ply. Then cinch up the cross clamps to get the seams tight. We also use biscuits at the joints. To glue up multiple boards and get a good flat laminated board, your need to (not having any of these can cause your job to appear warped):
 

  1. edge the boards,
  2. alternate the grain (see illustration – Figure 1)
  3. have uniform moisture content in all boards,
  4. good glue coverage on the joints, and
  5. a nice tight (not too tight) clamp job.


Figure 1


My new amateur shop is in my attic. Tonight it is 14 degrees farenheit up there. My table saw seems to have more trouble ripping a piece of oak. Is it a bad idea to try and cut wood at this temperature? Is it because of the function of the saw or the characteristic of the wood?

Of course it is a bad idea to cut wood at 14 deg! Tools are not made to run a low temps. Most lubricants in sealed units tend to degrade at 40 degrees. Hand tools are a bit tougher, because they are made for outdoor use. But not 14. Wood also contains moisture–which freezes at 32 degrees. So its a function of both. You are making the saw work harder with less internal protection. Besides, don’t you find it difficult to concentrate on woodworking at 14 degrees?


What is the correct/best way to drill holes for dowels on the same angle? I don’t want to spend a lot of money on some elaborate jig. Is there a method of accomplishing this?

A Drill press – works every time! But if you don’t have one there is an easy jig you can make to handle right angles. Just drill through two pieces of 1/4″ hardboard, than separate them with a scrap piece of 1 X. Line the holes up and tack the hardboard to the 1X and you’ve got a jig. Clamp it to the board you need to drill. You can do the same thing for other angles, it just takes a little more effort.


I have a 1952 Powermatic 24″ planer. I need to know how the blade height is determined after the blades have been sharpened. Is there a jig available or a measuring technique that needs to be employed?

Setting the blades is more hazardous than difficult, since the blades can slice your fingers while handling them. And that’s where a jig comes into play. You must set all blades the same height – roughly 1/8″ . The actual height is not as important as getting them all the same – some planers are 1/8″, a few are e 3/16″. You could fabricate a jig yourself. The purpose of the jig is to set the blade height at 1/8″ and hold the blade in place (without cutting your fingers off) until you can tighten the set screws down. The best option however is to buy a jig. They are magnetic blocks that set the blade height and hold the blade in position. They are about 2.5″ by 6″ in size. For a 24″ planer you need three (3).
 
They run about $69.00 each and you can get them online. The nomenclature is Woodstock International G1755 Planer Pal® – Standard Each


I have built some bedside tables and a pair of book shelves with cypress. I applied a stain and a wash and am pleased with the finish but I have applied the first coat of polyurethane and it seems to be taking a while to dry. Is there something about cypress that would be delaying the drying time?

Cypress takes all finishes quite nicely. I suspect your problem may be one of two things:
 

  1. The wash you made was an oil based mix (turpentine+)?? and it needs at least 30 days to dry, or
  2. The poly you used was old or not mixed well – the hardener was all at the bottom of the can.

I am planning on making some outdoor planters using Cypress Wood. Do I have to use any special glue for the Cypress Wood or is any good outdoor glue OK to use?

Cypress is always a good choice for outdoor projects – it offers good stability and excellent decay resistance. It’s also reasonably easy to work with although it tends to be quite “knotty” (It is even referred to as Gopher Wood). You will need to take extra care when sawing, jointing, or routing to prevent chip-out on end-grain.
 
No special glue is required. Basic rule of thumb – outdoor use requires exterior grade glue. I prefer polyurethane glues for exterior work. If your local hardware store doesn’t stock it, you can get “Titebond” from Rockler.
 
“Titebond” also makes a less expensive wood glue and is great for all uses. It is their Titebond™ III Ultimate Wood Glue, also available from Rockler.
 
Tip: Take care when gluing — try not to get it on areas that are to be finished, Cypress does “show” glue stains more than some other varieties wood. Sometimes I even treat glue just like paint and mask off areas that I don’t want the glue.


I’m refinishing the exterior front door on an old farm house – I’m confused on my options – any suggestions?

For the combination of price + good results + availability, MINWAX products are a good choice. For exterior woodwork, I like their Helmsman Spar Urethane. First thing is remove the old coating (shellac, lacquer or varnish). After you have the door cleaned-up and sanded (the grain was raised during the stripping process) apply a Tung Oil finish to add additional oils to the door surface before applying the urethane.
 

  1. Let the Tung Oil cure for 30 days.
  2. Lightly scuff sand the door with 220-grit sandpaper.
  3. Remove sanding dust using a soft, lint-free cloth dampened with pure mineral spirits.
  4. Let mineral spirits evaporate (door dry off)
  5. Apply 1-3 thin coats of urethane following the label instructions

I purchased a JIG IT® Shelving Jig from Rockler for book shelves I’m making from 3/4″ sanded plyood. It works great, love the ease of use but my drilled holes look like crap! Blow-out all around the edges. Is it me, the drill, what?

I’m guessing that you are using a battery-powered hand drill. The key to drilling clean holes for your shelf pins using the JIG IT® Shelving Jig or any jig, for that matter, is ‘drill speed.’ Corded drills work best for this task. Let the drill get up-to-speed (highest RPM setting) before plunging it into the plywood. Many of the battery operated models just can’t crank the RPM required or a low batter condition prevents it from getting up to the proper speed for a clean cut.


I recently purchased a stacked rail & stile bit. Using it with poplar, I’m getting chipping vs a smooth cut?

Speed is usually an issue. We usually recommend cutting these bits at a speed somewhere between 16,000 and 18,000 RPM. The chip out most likely is being caused by running against the grain instead of with it. You’ll need to read the grain lines on the face of the stock and determine which direction will allow you to go with the grain instead of against it.


I used wipe-on polyurethane on a desk that I’m refinishing and it was a miserable experiece. The finish was blotchy and did not go on smoothly at. Everything I’ve read about the wipe-on finish has been good. Why are my results so crappy?

I suspect the product you used was outdated. Yes, glues and finishes have an expiration date. The clock usually doesn’t start ticking until you open it and let the air in – but it will definitely go bad. Wipe-on poly should flow like oil, not like syrup, which based on your description, sounds like what you experienced. If any finishing product is cloudy and pours slowly, properly dispose of it and buy fresh.