Fair Woodworking

October 22, 2014

Easy Woodworking Projects for Christmas

Filed under: Christmas Gifts,Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog,Favorites — fairwoodworking @ 9:04 pm

It’s way, WAY too early to be thinking about Christmas gifts (that’s what Christmas Eve is for), but as it would happen. I ran into a couple of people today that had big plans for Christmas woodworking.

The funny thing was, that none of them were woodworkers.

So what is the ideal NonWoodworker Easy project?

Well, picture frames obviously!

I mean hey!? What other woodworking project needs just 4 pieces of wood, and 4 simple mitres to put them together?

It’s so easy that it hardly counts as woodworking…

So now that I have the chance to talk behind the backs of these nonwoodworking people, let me say this.

Every woodworker has had this very same thought before they tried making a picture frame. They all thought it would be easy. Most of them had no idea that their tools were nowhere near accurate enough to cut 4 perfect 45 degree miters.

And all of them gave their loved ones “Rustic” styled picture frames because there is no other way to hide the fourth miter that will hopelessly NEVER close up properly.


I wonder if rare earth magnets would help…

March 7, 2012

The project that changed my world

EDITORS NOTE *** This post is experiencing 3rd party photo hosting “issues”, that will be addressed as time allows. ***


If you have ever seen my avatar, you may have thought I was just trying to be cute. Well I do think I’m cute, but there is a story behind the smiley face.


I wasn’t always one of those hand tool types.
There was a time when I looked forward to Saturday as an excuse to go to Home Depot and drool over tools made of yellow, blue, and red plastic. Comparing RPM and 1/2 horse vs. 3/4 horse really got my juices going.

I was working as a trim carpenter at the time, and had gotten to know some of the guys. One day news got around that one of the other guys had a pretty serious accident. While ripping a full sheet of MDF, he lost control and ended up cutting off a couple of fingers and his thumb. Shortly after that another friend lost fingers using his chop saw. In both cases serious bodily harm resulted from them not respecting a dangerous tool, and did dumb things with them.

For a several years I didn’t go near a saw of any kind without thinking about those two, and during that time, good old fashion fear made me a much safer woodworker.

But, as years go by, life’s lessons fade from memory.

At about 2am, the morning of December 25th 2005 found me behind schedule on a gift for my wife.

I was almost done and it really wasn’t that big of a project. It was a simple book holder that she could place on her lap when reading in bed. All that was left for me to do was attach the ledge piece to the bottom that the book would rest on.

“How will I attach it?”, I asked myself. I thought of using my new biscuit joiner. “But how will I hold the piece against it?”, I asked.

I’m a bit of a night owl and was not sleepy, so I have no good excuse for what I did next. I flipped the biscuit joiner upside down, and held the piece against the fence with my fingers. Pulled the trigger and plunged the saw into the wood.

The next thing I remember, I was standing at the other side of the garage staring at a very tidy 1/8″ furrow through the tip of my left pointer finger and finger nail. The blade had kicked the wood out of the way and biscuited my finger instead.

Thankfully it missed the bone, but it did remove a good amount of flesh. Enough was missing that it posed a bit of a challenge for the Doctor. Well two challenges actually.

You see it’s not every day a guy walks in off the street with an injury from a tool as obscure as a biscuit joiner. Nor is it common at 3 in the morning to see woodworking injuries. Lump those together with it being Christmas morning, and you have a doctor that is laughing so hard that he can barely put a stitch in.

I’m glad I made his night.

This injury was pretty minor compared my friends in the past, but it really got me thinking. Does every tool I own need to have this much destructive power?

That was the day I first really looked seriously at hand tools as a viable option.

I kind’a miss that chunk of finger I lost that day, but I’m glad the event opened my eyes to the world of hand tools.

On a side note, This warning sticker is proof that warning stickers don’t work.

The wise don’t need them, and fools won’t head them.

January 13, 2012

Ladders for Santa?

Normally you would see topics like this before Christmas, but I just wasn’t able to write about it in time. So now, with the off chance the Mayans are right, I’ll share it now.

As I mentioned before, I took part in a Christmas Toy drive put on by the local Woodworking Association. The toys I made were Jacob’s Ladders.

I wrote about them a while ago along with the troubles I was having.

It’s a toy that I haven’t used since I was a little kid, and I don’t remember if they worked flawlessly or not.

I can say that not all of these do.

The first thing that hit me about this project was that it was not on of my usual one off projects. This was going to require a bit of an assembly line mentality, and no power tool snobbery.


I’m in the home reno business and one of the perks is that we salvage a lot of old well dried wood. Especially Birch and Maple stair treads. Usually they are laminated but for smaller work it’s great free hardwood.

My goal was to make as many ladders as one 36″ tread would provide for.

Since this was a toy I hadn’t seen since I was a kid, I had no idea how to lace the ribbon. After a quick search on the web I had some general instructions, but they were not clear enough that I felt I knew what to do.

My first prototype was made out of plywood and strips of newspaper taped on for ribbon. It was crude, but it worked well enough to confirm that I’d strung the ribbon in the correct pattern.

My second prototype was with the birch tread material and the ribbon I’d planned to use. It looked nice enough, but was laced so tight it wouldn’t work. I pulled it all apart and re laced it looser. Now the motions worked fine, but it would get hung up half way through.

As I studied the motion it appeared that the three ribbons not only needed a little bit of slack, they all needed precisely the same amount of slack.


I’d like to say I solved this problem, but I didn’t. I did get to the point that they worked fairly well, buy not flawlessly. For that reason, I’m not going to show how I laced them.

In the end, I made 16 acceptable ladders. 15 were for the toy drive and one I kept for R&D.

The one that I kept was toured around to any friends I have with children during the holidays. I was interested to see what the Nintendo generation would think of the traditional toy. What I found out was that most people of any age could hardly figure out how to work it.

Its not a toy for kids that are hard on their toys, and is best for kids with a mechanical, imaginative approach.

I’m a total geek, so I can kill hours playing with them.


After sawing the stair tread into strips,


I used the LAJ to remove the mill marks. It’s way, way too long for this process, and absolutely the WRONG plane for the job,

but at the time I didn’t have any shorter planes set up for that kind of cut. (I do now, but now is too late). I finished up with my smoothing plane, a much more appropriate plane, but it when set up for a fine shaving, it would have taken forever to finish. Now I have a second smoother that is set for a slightly more aggressive cut so I don’t have to settle for using the jack. The jack is a great plane, but less than ideal in this application.

After smoothing, I chamfered the edges with a block plane.

Does this block plane make my hands look fat?


With the strips chopped into little blocks, I decided to put a fairly heavy bevel on the ends. I think it helped them work just a little better. A scrap piece of lumber cut to a 45 helped get the angle right. Again, I can’t say enough about my Hotdog attachment. Each bevel required 15 passes to complete. Each block has 8 beveled edges. Each ladder uses 6 blocks. I made 16 ladders. That’s 11,520 passes with the shooting plane. I could hardly move my left thumb it was so sore from holding the blocks in place, but my right hand was completely at home on the hotdog attachment. In this configuration it is the most comfortable plane I own!

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