Tip Jar

Keepin’ It Flossy: 5 Insider Carpentry Tips

Image courtesy of Lauren Dombrowiak

Lauren Dombrowiak is a installation artist working mainly in ceramics and wood. She has an Masters in Fine Art from Tyler School of Art, Temple University. And has been featured at the Philadelphia International Airpot and most recently the Philadelphia Art Alliance. In the gallery she transforms functional objects into large sculptural objects that then creates an un-functional space. While in her career using mainly wood she creates visually dynamic spaces solely for the use of function in a retail environment. In either role the transformation of common objects to create interesting spaces is her passion.

Jessie Hemmons, curator

I make things out of wood for a living. It is a dusty job but I find it really rewarding to take a raw piece of lumber and transform it into something functional or cool to have in your home. This is a small sample of helpful hints mostly for the more novice woodworker, but hopefully anyone can find something useful in these basic tips.

Tools of the Trade

If you are a novice maker of things out of wood, there are a few tools that are a must.

  • A good drill is key. I personally like cordless drills. When it comes to purchasing drills, honestly, you get what you pay for. My favorite drill is 18V lithium ion cordless Makita impact driver, the reason I love this drill is the impact driver has a lot of torque which makes driving long screws a lot easier, it also has a hex chuck which makes changing the bit quick. A great thing to remember about drills is the trigger is like a gas pedal, the more pressure you put on it the faster it goes. So when drilling in screws it is best to start slow until the screw is started then ramp up to full speed.
  • A tape measure, I like the ones that don’t have metric measurements. For me, it is important that I don’t get confused as to what type of measurement I made.
  • If you are not interested in buying a lot of cutting tools to start your collection, a circular saw will make most cuts you want to make. You can cut with and against the grain of large sheet goods, as well as cut down 2×4’s and other long sticks, you can even make a miter cut. The brand is less significant when it comes to circular saws. I recommend one with a cord but definitely upgrade the blade—the more teeth on the blade the nicer the cut.
  • Lastly, I think owning two bar clamps with the trigger handle can be your best friend, and literally a second set of hands. There are a million more tools you can purchase often with a specialty purposes. A compound miter saw is great second saw to purchase for cross cuts, bevel and miter cuts. A plainer can even out a bumpy surface for tight joinery, routers are great for fancy edges, daddo’s and making rounded shapes, just to name a couple. For a basic start and a modest start up cost these few items can get you pretty far, after that I usually only splurge on a new tool once I really need it and find it worth the investment.

Plan your project

Planning your project can really cut the time it takes to make it. You can go as extreme as using a 3D modeling tool to draw it, or simply just use a paper and pencil. When planning, try and draw it to scale, it then becomes easy to make a cut list (literally a list of all the pieces you will cut to make your project.) Think of it like IKEA furniture with the addition of making the wood parts too. If you plan these out it can help determine your sheet yield,which can cut your cost. Another helpful tip is to plan the project from start to finish; do you need a special blade or tool? How are you going to assemble it? Do you need wood glue? What size screws should you use? Are you painting it? This way when you make a hardware store trip you only have to take one.

Don’t trust the factory edge

When it’s time to start cutting we all know the old adage measure twice, cut once, (this is true) but first cut off the factory edge when possible. Meaning if you are cutting a section of 2×4 first cut off a little bit from the end and then measure your length and make your second cut. This may seem silly but often the ends from the factory are cut crooked or have been beat up or become cracked in transit. So for tight joinery cutting off the factory edge of sheet goods or dimensional lumber makes for a cleaner joint. There is also an added bonus, because when they manufacture sheet goods they often spray paint the sides of the pallet, when you cut off the edge, there can be less sanding, and everyone loves less sanding!

Image courtesy of Lauren Dombrowiak

A cut guide or jig is your friend

Don’t be afraid to use a cut guide or make a jig. I don’t mean draw a straight line and try to follow it as close as you can with the saw. I mean, measure out the distance from your blade to the outside edge of the plate that surrounds your saw and add or subtract that amount to the cut you are making (often on a circular saw it is 1 ½” difference.) Then measure the piece including that measurement (ex: your making a 24″ cut 24′-1 ½’= 22 ½”) so measure 22 ½” from the edge, and clap a straight edge. Then run your saw along the cut guide pushing through the end of the board. You will get a much straighter line and avoid kickback if you are using a cut guide.

Make your project super flossy

“A buck of putty and a gallon of paint will make a carpenter what he ain’t” (this is true). Just add sanding in that phrase, because a lot of flaws can be saved with some wood putty and a fair amount of sanding (if you’re up for another tool, an orbital sander is a great buy). For the more advanced woodworker, a flush trim bit for your router can fix imperfect seams. It’s fine if you don’t know what that last sentence means; it is just a fancy bit for a specialty tool.

When applying putty to your project fill all the flaws, including the flaws in your lumber, with wood putty. Sanding the snot out of it, starting with coarse grit and moving to a finer grit sandpaper, can really polish any project. Finally, just remember that an expert at anything was once a beginner. Continuing to make things is the only way you get better. Happy Building!

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