Having a Mental Block with a Thorny Woodworking or Start-Up Problem? Get on the Bike!

mountain bike maintenance
The Happy Machine Getting Some TLC

One of the hazards of being a maker is hitting the occasional mental block.  These blocks can strike woodworkers and entrepreneurs alike as we discussed in our earlier post about Clauzewitzian fog and friction.  Should we throw up our hands in despair and gnash our teeth?  Absolutely not!  There are tried and true methods to power through mental blocks and one sure fire cure is a bicycle ride.  You may be thinking “what on earth is he talking about?”  But think back to when you were a kid.  What were your memories of riding a bicycle?  Most likely it was a terrific sense of speed racing down hills.  Or the feel of the wind in your hair.  Or having an incredible feeling of freedom as you expanded how far you could ride away from home.  Does anyone ever have bad memories of riding a bike as a child?  So why don’t we ride more as adults?  Good question.  We should ride more because it’s a great cure for what ails us in the wood shop or as an entrepreneur.

I started out calling my bike “Gary” because it was a Gary Fisher mountain bike.  When I told Mrs Woodworker I was going for a ride I’d say “Gary and I are going for a ride.  See you in an hour!”.  Now I call it The Happy Machine because I’m almost always happy after a long bike ride.  It must be the endorphins (or the speed, or the wind through the hair, or riding far from home).  The Happy Machine is almost guaranteed to increase joy and help solve problems.

I’m finding whatever thorny problem I’m facing in the wood shop or as an entrepreneur is usually solved on a bike ride.  And I’m not the only one.  Brent Bellm was the head of Paypal Europe for 4 years and is currently CEO of a company called Bigcommerce.  Here is what he had to say about the magical quality of bicycle problem solving in the Apr 2016 issue of Inc Magazine:  “Every autumn, he ramps up of the Texas State Road Race cycling championship.  Las year, he finished fifth overall and third in his age group.  But to him, bike riding is more than mere competition.  ‘If there’s a problem at work or in my personal life, or an issue that needs to be resolved, that’s what my mind gravitates to.’ Bellm says. ‘It will work it through until it’s done.’ ”

One of the dilemmas we were facing in Traughber Design recently was improving the way we cut curves into our pieces.  It sounds easy, but in practice is not quite so straightforward.  I hopped on the bike and thought through some of the courses of action.  One thought was to just freehand the curves.  Another was to buy some french curves, but then you are limited to the size of curve you have purchased.  Another was to make something called a fairing stick.  The ride clarified that I should experiment with the fairing stick and see how it worked out.  It worked great!

Some of the most successful Americans in our history used cycling to recuperate and recharge their physical and mental batteries.  In Ron Chernow’s biography of John D. Rockefeller, he writes how Rockefeller’s doctors ordered him to rest in June of 1891 because he was overworked.  J.D. was in his early 50s at this point and was physically and mentally exhausted from building his business empire.  To recover, Rockefeller spent 8 months at his Forest Hills estate doing manual labor with his workers in the fields, cycling, and going for long walks.  Rockefeller said in one of his letters “I am happy to state that my health is steadily improving.  I can hardly tell you how different the world begins to look to me.  Yesterday was the best day I have seen for 3 months.”  Cycling was part of the cure to clear the fog from this titan’s brain.

There can be a lot of excuses for not cycling, but most can be mitigated:

If it’s cold, layer up.

If you’re too tired, sometime you have to give energy to raise your energy level.

If you don’t have enough time, you can’t find a half hour during the week?  Really?

What problem has cycling helped you solve recently?  Let’s hear from you.


Juggle Several Balls at the Same Time: Maximizing Efficiency in the Wood Shop and as an Entrepreneur

black walnut keyring holder in progress
Black Walnut Keyring Holder in Progress

An effective woodworker always wants to have at least two projects going on simultaneously in the wood shop.  Why?  In order to maximize efficiency.  If you are woodworking as a part-time gig, as I am, there is all the more reason to make every minute count as we discussed in the blog on making and managing.  There is not a minute to spare when you are working a full time job during the day and working in the wood shop on nights and weekends.  Let’s get into the mechanics.


How does it work?  

Woodworking by its nature entails a lot of waiting during certain portions of the build such as glueing or waiting for finish to dry.  It’s important to take advantage of these pauses to flip to another project(s).  For example, once a glue up has been done on one project, why wait for the glue to dry when you can just pick up where you left off with the other piece?  Another example is once you’ve applied finish to the first project, flip over to the second project.  However, it’s important to consider that if you are doing finish work on the first project, make sure the second project is not going to generate dust that will settle onto your finish on the first project.  A way to mitigate that risk is to rig a dust shroud around the first project while the finish is drying or to take the second project outside.  If you are looking for more information on finishing, check out our post on the cherry coat rack project or Marc Spagnuolo’s DVD on finishing at The Wood Whisperer.

What if I don’t have a commission right now?

If you are between commissions, I’m sure Mrs. Woodworker or your significant other is looking for something that needs to be made around the house.  These projects are great for continuing to build your skill set.  In addition, this valuable shop time may spark an idea for another project.

Another approach is to build something that doesn’t take a lot of time that you know sells well.  For example, it only takes me about 3 1/2 hours to build a corn hole set and I always like to have one set available in case a client wants one.  If I have some dead time and don’t currently have a set ready, I know that time is well spent to get another one built.  In general, I don’t like to build on spec as I’ve written about earlier, but if I know that something has sold in the past and is likely to sell again, then it’s pretty low risk to build another one.

Another reason to have multiple balls in the air applies to entrepreneurship in general.  If you get stuck in one area you can always shift focus to another area.  For example, if I don’t have a lot of work in the shop I can always spend more time working on the blog, or vice versa. We were working four commissions at once not too long ago, so I spent a little less time on the blog until we caught up in the wood shop.  You can extend that concept to entrepreneurship in general.  No matter what your business is, it likely involves sales.  If sales are slow, you can shift focus to other value-added tasks in the business that don’t involve sales.  If you are swamped with sales, you can shift to fulfilling orders until you catch up or hire more staff.

Better opportunity for flow

prayer kneeler in cherry and black walnut
Prayer Kneeler in Cherry and Black Walnut

When you have multiple projects there is also less starting and stopping in the shop and this can be less jarring to your system.  You are always seamlessly transitioning from one project to the other and it’s just part of your normal routine.  In addition, there is also a greater chance for serendipity.  You may learn something on one project that benefits the other.  For example, on one project I was contrasting light and dark woods, which gave me an idea to try the same thing on a prayer kneeler I was building (see picture to left). That wasn’t in the original design, but I went with the flow and I think it turned out pretty well as you can see in the picture.

Increase production.  If woodworking is your business, you need to be continuously producing and delivering in order to bring in revenue (you especially need to be producing if it’s on your honey-do list).  Advertising completed projects on social media generates new bids, which generates more production, which generates more advertising and bids.  It’s a  virtuous cycle.  In addition, increased production means you can build things quicker at the same level of quality and either pass on your costs savings to your clients (see our blog post about pricing for more information on what is reasonable to charge clients) which will make you more competitive, or you may decide to increase your profits, or both.

What efficiency hacks work well in your shop?


The RSS Hack, or How to Curate Your Favorite Woodworking and Entrepreneur Blogs

Feedly RSS feed aggregator
Feedly, an RSS Aggregator App

How would you like personalized information that gives you only the blogs you’d like at your fingertips?  With an RSS feed, you can have exactly that.  But what is this RSS feed thing all about?  It’s only the coolest thing ever and acts like your very own newspaper front page.  Newspapers used to be these arcane things made of paper that were delivered to your front door every morning, that had the news actually printed on them.  Now we have something just as radical as that newspaper, but updated instantly on your smart phone, tablet, or computer.  It’s made possible by something called RSS, formerly called Rich Site Summary, but now commonly called Really Simple Syndication.  But before we get into the “how to”, let’s first ask “why?”

Garbage In, Garbage Out

Why should we bother curating our information flow?  One of our most valuable assets is time and there is only so much of it.  This is all part of optimizing our lives (see related post on making and managing) and focusing on sources of information that add value.  For example, I was a long-time subscriber to the New York Times, but cancelled my subscription the day after the election.  I had liked nothing better than to have a cup of coffee and read that physical newspaper in the morning.  There was something about the tactile sense of a newspaper that was better than reading online.  However, I felt that given the results of the election, I was not getting objective news and that something the paper had totally missed what was going on in the country.  In fact, the editors of the newspaper were actively campaigning for one candidate and wrote many editorials about why that candidate was the right one.  That’s not what I want in a newspaper; I want one that at least attempts to be objective.  That’s part of the beauty of RSS aggregators.  You can assess blogs and other sources and add or trim them from that aggregator to receive the best content for you.  Speaking of curating things…

How to Set It Up

I’ve been using an app called “Feedly” which is a free app available in the App Store.  There are Android equivalents and Web-based versions, but I’ll zero in on how to set up Feedly, for now.  Once you’ve downloaded Feedly from the App Store to your smart phone, walk through the start-up screens provided by Feedly.  To add a favorite blog, type in the search terms then click on the magnifying glass in the upper right of your screen, then hit the plus sign when Feedly finds your favorite blog.  One of my favorite features organizes the blog posts on my smart phone in chronological order starting from the most recent to oldest.  Click on the parallel lines in the upper left of your screen, then click “All.” That will organize your incoming blog posts from most current to oldest.

Some useful blogs on my Feedly app and what they are about

Colby Aviation Thrillers (terrific blog by new author & Amazon Best Seller, see our interview with him here)
Horicon Marsh Nature Photography (absolutely beautiful photography)
Mr. Money Mustache (financial independence guru)
Pure Living for Life (how to homestead from scratch)
The Blog of Tim Ferriss (lifestyle design & traits of successful people)
The Minimalists (how to simplify)
Traughber Design (where woodworking and entrepreneurship meet)
The Wood Whisperer (probably best site I’ve found for learning WW)

Well, I hope that was useful for you.  What blogs are you following?

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Lifestyle Design: Tactics, Techniques and Procedures for Entrepreneurs, and Everyone Else

lifestyle design and entrepreneurship tips
A Powerful Time Management Tool

I’m so thankful to the military for all of the great training, education, and experience gained over the years.  Many of the TTPs (Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures) we’ve learned over the years have translated directly to being an entrepreneur.  Here are some of those TTPs.


Plan the Attack and Attack the Plan

One of the most effective time management tools I learned as a second lieutenant many years ago during an 8 hour Franklin Covey time management class.  Before taking the class, I was perplexed how we could possibly spend EIGHT HOURS on a time management class.  Boy, was I wrong.  I was a classic procrastinator in high school and college, but the time management class broke that habit.  Franklin Covey teaches that we should break our tasks into A, B, and C categories.  “A” tasks absolutely must be done that day and you can’t leave for the day until they are done.  “B” tasks are important and must be done at some point.  “C” tasks are nice to get done, but can wait.  Once all your tasks are written down, something to consider is does everything on your list need to be done (this also relates to our blog post on minimalism)?  Do YOU need to do everything on your list, or should your subordinates do it?  Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.  You are taking away an opportunity from your subordinates to learn under your mentorship.  I learned a very valuable lesson from a 3-star general during one of our pre-command courses.  He said “Only do what only you can do.”  That was pretty profound when I heard it.  His point was to focus on the tasks that only I as the commander could get done and delegate everything else.

Delegating a task is just the beginning, however.  Follow-up is extremely important.  I learned that from a 2-star General.  Some of his staff thought he would forget about some of the things that he had asked for.  He almost never forgot and those that didn’t follow through, paid the price.  The time management class taught us to post follow-ups forward in our calendars.  Back then we were using paper planners and today’s software makes this very easy.  For example, I use the Google Cloud calendar and if I need to follow up with something, create an event in the future.  If something is time sensitive, I usually give someone 2 days to work it.  For most tasks, I create a follow-up event a week afterwards.  Most of the time, I’ll find the other person has completed the task by then and I can just delete the follow-up reminder.

In addition, it’s important to plan every day.  For me, first thing in the morning works best, but for other folks the previous evening works best.  I also recommend hand writing the task list.  I had a Colonel boss several years ago who used to fold a piece of paper in half and write his tasks down.  I thought “how quaint”.  He also only had a handful of tasks on that list.  I can see now the wisdom in focusing on a handful of tasks every day.  They tend to get done that way.  Another advantage of hand writing the tasks is that you’ll have better situational awareness of what you have to do that day because writing aids in retention.

Another key aspect of making a task list is do nut update the task list once it is set.  Keep in mind you don’t need the perfect plan, you just need one that will work.  If you are continually updating the task list as new tasks come in during the day, you will not tackle those tasks you decided were important at the beginning of the day.  In addition, there is a psychological component at play here.  You will get discouraged if your task list continually grows during the day and is growing faster than you are completing task.  Instead, write down any new tasks and start them tomorrow so you can execute today’s plan.  Of course, if your boss asks for something or something absolutely has to be done today, then by all means get cracking on it today.

Time is one of your most valuable assets.

I hate meetings.  Don’t get sucked into meetings whenever you can avoid it.  Is there another way to accomplish the task?  If you absolutely have to attend a meeting, one technique is to just leave if the meeting goes long.  This requires some assessment.  For example, I typically don’t walk out of a meeting with my boss, but most other times there are few repercussions of walking out of a meeting that is taking too long.  Those wasted minutes are taking away your ability to knock out your task list.  Another tactic is to make sure there is an agenda for every meeting and to help the leader of the meeting keep everyone on track even if you’re not the facilitator.  For example, you might say “this sounds like a pretty involved issue, maybe we should work it offline.”

As Seneca said in “On the Brevity of Life”:  “We’re tight-fisted with property and money, yet think too little of wasting time, the one thing about which we should all be the toughest misers.”  Conserving time allows us to do important things, like make gifts for our spouses like we did with the picture frame project.  Or to do important things like spend time with our children.

Manage your E-mail or it will manage you.

E-mail is an activity, not productivity.  Just because you are reading or sending a lot of E-mails doesn’t mean you are doing what is important.  One tactic I learned early on is to turn off that automatic notification of inbound E-mails.  Studies have shown it takes several minutes to get back in the flow after switching gears to that new E-mail.  I have found that checking E-mail three times per day is very effective:  first thing in the morning, at lunch, and before leaving for the day.  Another aspect of that is to work any E-mail immediately that takes a minute or less to answer.  Other than that, I write it on the task list.  A related procedure is to clean out the inbox those three times per day.  That gives a clear visual that all tasks have been dealt with or added to the task list.

Another great time sink is looking at social media.  Ryan Nicodemus had a great tip on one of the Minimalists podcasts to only look at social media once per day.

Face-to-face is the best method of communication

Face-to-face communication takes longer but passes much more information.  60% of our face-to-face communications is non-verbal.  If you’re always communicating by E-mail, you are missing most of the information someone is sending you.  For example, if I need to work an issue with someone and they are in my building, I go to their office.  They almost always provide some nugget of information that would not have been included in an E-mail, because typically we just answer what is in an E-mail.  If someone sees you face-to-face you are likely to strike up a conversation which allows for more serendipity.

I’ve found the best protocol is to first meet someone face-to-face.  If that isn’t possible, I use the phone.  Last, I try E-mail.  E-mail, unfortunately cannot convey tone and can be easily misunderstood.  That is why it’s the last resort.

Sometimes, if you want to get a lot done, do nothing

If like me, you can’t sit still this strategy works well.  If you tend to like Netflix binge watching, you may need to tailor this strategy.  Recently we had a 3-day holiday weekend.  Typically I plan a weekend like this out to maximize the amount of projects I get done, but in this case my only plan was to read the newspaper, have a cup of coffee, and eat breakfast.  After that, the question was “now what?”  I had to do something.  I moseyed over to finish a painting project in the first floor bath, did some woodworking, and found I was naturally knocking out projects around the house but in a very relaxed manner.  Doing “nothing” was actually very productive.  Sometimes it’s a good idea to just pitch the to-do list and go with the flow.  Mrs Woodworker will be very shocked to read this coming from a Type A personality.

Well, Mrs Woodworker and I have a whole additional set of TTPs for running the household, but that’s for an upcoming blog post.  What TTPs work best for you in the workplace or at home?


Woodworking Glue Technique, a Metaphor for Life

woodworking glue up
Spreading the Glue

A woodworking glue up can go wrong in so many ways, but some solid preparation will keep one out of trouble.  One of the consequences of poor planning can be sections of a work piece hardening before you are ready to complete the glue up.  Another consequence can be having to sand away globs of glue after all the glue has hardened.  Yet another consequence can be something called “white haze” which won’t show up until you apply your finish and it is too late.  All of these issues can be eliminated with proper glue technique.  Sounds kind of like life, doesn’t it?  With a little preparation and wise living, we can make things a lot easier.  Let’s explore in more depth, Dear Reader…

Make the complex simple

It’s very important to think through how the glue up is going to be done before starting to apply the glue (Titebond III, available at Lowes is my go-to glue), because once it starts setting up, there is no going back.  I was working on a kitchen cabinet project a while back that had 38 tenons.  I was working as fast as I could to coat every surface with glue using a small brush along with coating every surface on the tenons.  Multiply this times 38 and that was just a bridge too far.  By the time I got to the last joint and had to adjust the first joint, the glue had set pretty well and I had a heck of a time adjusting the first joint.  Next time, I’ll break the job into smaller, more manageable pieces.  The same goes in life.  As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, we’re preparing to move to a smaller house.  It’s daunting to think of all the things that have to be done to prepare the house for sale.  But sitting down with Mrs Woodworker to write everything down that needed to be done and then breaking the projects up into small pieces made things much more executable.  We essentially split the house into three parts (each floor being a part), then went room by room until we were done.  Tiling the basement was probably the hardest part, but with the four of us working together and doing it in pieces, we were able to knock it out.

Take the time to do things the right way

Another element of proper glue technique is making sure every surface is coated well and that maximum clamping pressure is applied across the entire joint.  This will give you a rock solid bond.  After the clamps are applied, wait 20 minutes for the glue to begin setting.  Then take a dull chisel to scrape away the now-gooey (technical term) glue, and wipe off any excess with a wet rag.  I’ve experimented with the timing on this and 20 minutes seems to work best.  If improper technique is used, you may end up doing a lot of sanding of hardened glue.  If you try to wipe the glue with a wet rag right away, the glue will be absorbed into the wood fibers and create the white haze I talked about earlier.  You may not notice it immediately in a light colored wood, like maple or cherry, but after the finish is applied you will definitely see the haze.

How many times in life do we rush into something knowing that we should take a step back and be more deliberate?  One of the great things about military training is we are very deliberate.  As a cadet, we knew when we went on one of our summer field training events after sophomore year that we would have to execute something called “The 54 Commands“.  This consisted of ordering a flight (a couple dozen cadets or more) through a series of difficult commands over a large parade field.  The flight had to be positioned and moved perfectly in order to pass the steely-eyed gaze of our instructors.  The only way to prepare was to practice, practice, and practice (see our post on grit) some more back at our home bases before we went to training.  The cadets from our detachment did very well that summer because we had taken the time to do things the right way.

Make sure you are in alignment (also see our post about yoga and alignment)

Another element of proper glue technique is making sure the piece is oriented so the glue flows along the joint and not in rivulets along the joint.  This not only makes it easier to clear the glue, but exposes less of the wood grain to the glue which causes white haze.

In one of my earlier assignments I was the commander of a military recruiting squadron.  When I took over the squadron it was the second-to-last squadron in the country (out of 27 at that time).  The leadership team and I got together and decided that since we were in a competitive business (recruiting) we might as well go for broke and set a vision of being #1.  It seemed preposterous at the time, but that vision helped us align our people and resources.  After 1 year, we were #7 then after 2 years we were #1.  That would not have happened if everything and everyone had not been in alignment, just as our woodwork needs to be aligned for a proper glue up.

Just as in woodworking glue ups, we need to make the complex simple, do things the right way, and make sure we are in alignment.  The next time you are approaching a wood glue up, I hope you consider these existential questions ; )


How to Make a Kitchen Cabinet Door: Flat Panel Construction

kitchen cabinet panel
Final Kitchen Cabinet Panel

These panels have been hot sellers recently, so I thought I’d blog the directions to you.  There is another variant using raised panels in the center, but we’ll save that post for another day.  I’ll describe the process for making flat panels which typically use plywood in the center which can be very economical.  The panel in the picture was custom made with 4″ wide red oak edges in order to attach the panel to a metal dishwasher door.  2″ wide edges are pretty standard these days for kitchen cabinets.  These panels are relatively easy to make once you’ve made one or two and I’ll share some lessons learned that will make it even easier for you.

rail and stile bit set
Rail and Stile Bit Set

First of all, it’s important to understand the terminology of these panels so you purchase the right bits and understand the orientation of the directions.  The horizontal pieces are called rails and the vertical pieces are called stiles.  The stiles run the entire height of the door and the rails meet them (more on measuring rails below).  There are router bit sets specially made for these panel doors and I recommend Whiteside bit set #6001 (available at Woodcraft).  These run about $115, but will last forever and allow you to make hundreds of panel doors.  In addition, the contours from this bit are common today and appealing to the eye.  If you are redoing your kitchen, you may want to consider investing in one of these bit sets.  A kitchen remodel can run tens of thousands of dollars and making your own doors can save you a bundle (see our post about not skimping on tools).  Once you’ve made one door, the rest are easy.  In addition, you can run all the rails and stiles for all the doors through the router table at one time and really expedite the process.

Step 1:  measure the opening your doors will cover and plan for 1/2″ overlap all the way around.

the raw wood
The Raw Wood

Craftsman Tip:  the width of your door is NOT equal to twice the width of your stiles and the length of your rail!  Due to the nature of the cuts made by this bit set, the rails will overlap the stiles by 3/8″ on each end.  This means you need to add 3/4″ (3/8″ on left plus 3/8″ on right) to your beginning rail length or your doors will be too narrow.  I learned this lesson the hard way on an earlier project and had to toss out the rails and start over.  Said another way, the desired width of your door needs to equal twice the width of the stiles, plus the length of the rail, then add 3/4″.  You’ll lose that 3/4″ during the routing process.

flat panel rails and stiles
Flat Panel Rails and Stiles

Step 2:  cut your rails and stiles in accordance with the tip above.






stile close up
Stile Close Up

Step 3:  rout the edges of the rails and stiles.  Don’t forget to have a piece of scrap wood behind the piece as it passes the router bit to prevent tear out.




Craftsman Tip:  don’t cut the plywood to fit the gaps exactly because it may prevent a perfect seating of the rails within the stiles.  I like to leave a 1/16″ gap all the way around the plywood to allow for some slight wood movement due to humidity and temperature changes.

Step 4:  cut your plywood panel in accordance with the tip above.

rail and stile good fit
Rail and Stile Good Fit

Once you have all the pieces cut, put them together to dry fit everything.  There should be no gaps between the rails and the stiles.  If there are, it’s time to go back to the router table.  See our post about the gulag,  craftsmanship, and not leaving a job undone.

cabinet flat panel glue up
Cabinet Flat Panel Glue Up

Step 5:  dry fit the panel together then glue it up.  There is an old woodworking adage that you can never have enough clamps and this is definitely true.  There is nothing like extreme clamping pressure to make for an absolutely rock solid joint.  The Jet clamps in the picture are gifts from the Best Sister in the Whole World, but pipe clamps from Lowes will also do the trick. I have a mix of both in the wood shop.

Step 6:  either paint or finish the panel.  For tips on the finishing process, read our blog post on the cherry coat rack commission.

As you can see from the picture, these panels are beautiful when done correctly.  Please let me know how the directions worked for you in the comments below!

How to Make a Beautiful Custom Wooden Mitered Picture Frame

black walnut wooden picture frame
Black Walnut Picture Frame

Want a great idea for a birthday gift for Mrs Woodworker? She works hard and a custom made gift like this will go a long way to show your appreciation.  In our case, Mrs Woodworker’s grandmother was quite the artist and had done a neat charcoal drawing that was hanging in our house.  Unfortunately, the frame was not the right size and was falling apart.  The glass in the frame and mat had also discolored over time.  I thought a new frame would be a great gift to let Mrs Woodworker see a little return on all the tool investments I had made.

First, start with the print you want framed.  All of the dimensions will be generated from the size of that print.  Once you have the print in mind, estimate how big the visible portion of the mat should be.  In our example, the print is 9 1/2″ by 19 1/2″ and we overlapped the print by a quarter inch with the mat all the way around.  Given that we wanted a 2″ wide (visible portion) mat all the way around, our matt needed to be 14″ by 24″.  Keep in mind a quarter inch of the mat will not be visible because it will be resting inside the frame.  Continuing with our example, the inside dimensions of our frame are 13 1/2″ by 23 1/2″.

Select a wood type and color that complements the pictures in the print.  Before going to the wood dealer, read up on our post about buying lumber.  In our case, I had some 1″ thick black walnut left over from another project and decided to go with 1 3/4″ wide frames.  If your print is bigger than the one in this post, you may want to go with a wider frame to keep the entire piece in proportion.

cutting rabbet for wooden picture frame
Cutting Rabbet for Picture Frame

Rout your pieces first (see picture), then miter in order to clean up any tear out from the routing process.  One of the techniques that will prevent tear out is to always place a block behind the piece being routed.  This will usually give you a nice clean edge on the trailing edge of the piece after it goes past the router bit.  For our frame, I used a 1″ thick piece of black walnut and routed a rabbet (or notch) 1/2″ deep into the piece from the back and 1/4″ from the middle of the picture for the matting to lie against.  Use either a straight router bit (I recommend the Whiteside bit # 1086) or the bit from a rabbet bit set (Whiteside #1955).  Both bits are available at your local Woodcraft.  This leaves 1/2″ of wood showing in front of the glass and leaves enough room for the glass, mat, and any cardboard or plywood backing.  The rabbet should be 1/4″ wide all the way around the frame.

wooden picture frame tenon
Picture Frame Tenon

Join the corners of the frame with 8 mm x 40mm tenons (see picture) if you have a Festool Domino then glue up.  If you don’t have a Domino, you can make an oval hole with a router straight bit and use Festool tenons (available at Woodcraft), or clean out the corners with a chisel and use rectangular tenons.

After you’ve got the mortises cut, it’s time to glue it up.  Make sure the piece is square by measuring from corner to corner.  If it is slightly off square, use a long clamp to pull the long corners toward each other until the two diagonals across the piece are the same length.

Once the glue dries (best to allow 24 hours), it’s time to add the finish.  I prefer a clear finish on top of premium hardwoods so the grain is visible.  Check out our post on making a cherry coat rack to see the steps in finishing.

You probably don’t have a mat cutter at home and this is where your local frame shop can really come in handy.  If you live near Montclair VA I highly recommend The Framing Outlet.  Osman at the frame shop was extremely helpful in picking out mat colors and suggested the double mat design in the picture at the top.  You can Google “frame shop” and you should be able to find a shop near you that can help with the matting and glass.

Well that was a lot of math!  But if you methodically go through the steps above, you’ll have a beautiful picture frame in just a few hours!

How to Build a Simple Wooden Coat Rack in Cherry

wall rack in cherry with iron hooks
Wall Rack in Cherry with Iron Hooks

Would you like a quick project you can knock out over a weekend?  Or maybe produce something for Mrs. Woodworker to justify all those tools?

We recently received a second woodworking commission for one of these pieces so I thought I’d open source the instructions into the ether for you. You should be able to knock one of these out in a few hours before applying the finish.

First of all, why cherry? As you can see from the picture, cherry gives you a nice unique reddish hue and the grain really pops once the finish is applied. In addition, it’s very easy to work with. It’s harder than pine on the Janka hardness test, but not so hard that it is difficult to mill.

raw cherry board woodworking
Raw Board

First, plane the board to the desired thickness.  You can have the hardwood dealer do this when you purchase the board, do it with a hand plane, or better yet use a bench top planer, like my trusty Porter Cable (see picture).  In this case, the board was partially planed when I bought it from Woodcraft, but there is still some work to do as you can see from the scruffiness (technical term) on the right hand side of the picture.  Planers generate a ton of shavings, so I recommend doing this step outside.  In addition, most planers create something called snipe at either end which is an ever-so-slight indentation.  I recommend leaving the board with a couple extra inches at either end so this can be cut away in a later step.

squaring a board woodworking
Squaring up the board

Second, square up the sides by using your table saw or Festool Tracksaw to make one clean edge (see picture).  Then mark off a parallel edge on the opposite side and cut.  If you’d like some more intel on the Festool gear pictured in this post, please check out our post on tools.




squaring the end of a board
Squaring off the ends

Next cut the board to length, by cutting from both ends.  This will cut away the snipe mentioned earlier.  Make sure the ends are square.  If you have a sliding compound miter saw like the one pictured, they typically have a laser which will aid in this.  Otherwise, a carpenter’s square will do for drawing a square line perpendicular to the long edge.

keyhole router bit woodworking
Keyhole Cuts

Next make two keyhole cuts (you can pick up keyhole router bits at Woodcraft) in the back in order to hang the piece flush to the wall.  I like to make my keyhole cuts at least 2 inches long to account for the screws not being exactly 32 inches apart in the studs.  This way you can slightly adjust the piece from side to side without any risk of it coming off the wall.  Also, set the depth to 8mm so you get a nice 3mm lip for the screw head to pull against when the piece is hanging on the wall.  This will make it very secure.  I recommend making the keyhole cuts first before routing the edges, because they are the most difficult cuts in the entire process.  If you make a mistake with the keyhole cuts you’ll have to start all over again so it’s best to do the most difficult procedures first so you are not wasting effort if you need to start over again.

round over router bit
The Magic of a Quarter Inch Round Over Bit

Next rout the short edges, then the ends, then the long edges in that order.  The reason is that you’re likely to get some minor tear out when routing the end grain.  When you rout the long edges this will clean up any tear out from the ends.  I recommend a 1/4″ round over bit for the edges which give a very streamlined look.  If you get too fancy with the edge routing, it draws the eye away from the grain of the piece.



placing metal hooks woodworking
Hook Placement

Next drill the holes for the hooks by spacing the hooks equally across the face of the piece.  In this picture you can see the placement.  Be sure to also center them vertically.  In this picture you can see the client chose gold colored hooks to match the hardware on their door which will be located close to this wall rack.  Contrast that look to the photo of another client’s piece at the top of this post.

hand sanding edges woodworking
Hand Sanding the Edges

Sand the piece using increasing sandpaper grits.  I like to use an 80, 120, 180 combination.  Start with sanding the edges by hand using a sanding block in order to preserve the sharp edges from your routing.  Then sand the large faces using a random orbit sander, if you have one.  Random orbit sanders do a good job preventing visible sanding lines.  If you don’t have a random orbit sander, hand sanding will do, it just takes a bit longer.


oil & urethane finish General Finishes
A Fine Oil & Urethane Finish

Next, add the finish.  I recommend a clear finish, like General Finishes Arm-R-Seal which you can find at Woodcraft.  The Wood Whisperer has a five step wipe-on process we’ve adopted which creates a brilliant finish.  I highly recommend TWW’s finishing DVD which is available on his website.



To add the finish, follow this five step process:

Step 1:  flood the piece with finish then wipe off after a few minutes
Step 2:  carefully wipe on the second coat.  Let dry.  Sand with 320 by hand after finish is dry
Step 3:  wipe on third coat.  Let dry.  Sand with 600 grit by hand
Step 4:  wipe on fourth coat.  Let dry.  Sand with 600 grit by hand
Step 5:  wipe on fifth coat

There you have it.  This is a quick project that is an ideal candidate to impress your client or The Wife.



How to Make Curvacious Woodworking Arcs: the Fairing Stick

fairing stick woodworking
A Fairing Stick

One of the vexing problems beginning woodworkers face is how does one draw arcs on a piece so the piece can be cut on a band saw?  I’m currently working a commission for some dining room chairs and there are several long arcs involved.  There is a simple solution to making arcs that one can make with scrap from the wood shop.  It’s called the fairing stick.

Some woodworkers like to use french curves (available at Woodcraft), but you can’t beat the flexibility of a fairing stick.  French curves give a very solid edge to rest against, but are limited in size.  Fairing sticks can be made to any length and bent to just about any angle. In addition, they don’t require a run to the hardware store and can typically be made with things laying around the shop, which aligns with our minimalist philosophy.  Here is how to make one modified from the plan in Wood Magazine.


High Density Fiberboard (HDF).  This is the same material pegboard is made from and is also called “hardboard.”  There’s a strong probability you have some laying around the garage which will minimize your costs.

550 parachute cord fairing stick
550 Parachute Cord

Thick string or twine. I used some leftover 550 parachute cord from a deployment for my fairing stick, but you can use thick string or twine for yours.  No, I didn’t jump out of any airplanes over there, but I did use the 550 cord quite a bit.  It’s very versatile and strong (you can buy some at Amazon).


toggle fairing stick woodworking
Toggle for Fairing Stick

Cut the HDF into a strip 1″ wide by 2′ long.  Drill a hole in either end to accommodate the cord.  I used a 3/16″ bit which is slightly bigger than the plan in Wood Magazine to accommodate the paracord.  Cut a piece of HDF into a toggle (see picture) measuring about 1″ by 2″ .  Drill a hole in either end to accommodate the cord and an extra hole in one end to tie off the cord.  Weave the cord through the holes as shown in the picture at the top.  To adjust the amount of arc, just pull the string through the toggle until you have the arc required.  If you need to draw longer arcs at some point, just cut a longer strip of MDF.

This is one of those great projects to put on your “if I have time” list in the wood shop for when you are in-between projects.  We discuss this some more in our future post on efficiency.

drawing arc with fairing stick woodworking
Drawing the arc

I hope that helps and I’ll see you in the wood shop.

How to Buy Lumber: A Trip to the Hardwood Dealer

woodworking grain patterns
Quartersawn, riftsawn, and flatsawn grain patterns

A woodworker walks into a hardwood dealer and the owner says “Say, I’ve got a special on some S2S six quarter white oak.  Are you interested?”  Do you respond with “A”, the deer-in-the-headlights look or “B”, “riftsawn or quartersawn?”  “B” is the correct answer.


One of the most daunting aspects of getting into woodworking is buying the lumber.  Sure, you can buy wood at the big box stores, but eventually you’ll want to make something using premium hardwoods that aren’t available in the big box store.  In that case you need to seek out your local hardwood dealer.  I recommend Googling “hardwood dealer” and see which ones are closest to you and then doing some homework before going to visit. In my case, there are several dealers within about 45 minutes that have met all my needs so far and the service has been excellent.  You need to go armed with a few pieces of information, though.  As we talk about in another post, learn to fish before going fishing.

Before you start the project, ask the client (or whoever you are building the project for) a lot of questions such as: What color do you want?  What type of wood?  What is your budget?  Answers to those questions may drive you to a big box store if they are on a tight budget.  If they want something a little more heirloom-quality, you probably want to hit a hardwood dealer.

Wood dealers measure wood in something called “board feet” which is often abbreviated “BF” on their price sheets.  The cost per BF is the cost for a 1 foot by 1 foot by one inch thick piece of wood.  This equates to 144 cubic inches.  You’ll need to calculate the volume of wood for your project in order to get a rough estimate before you go to the dealer so you know how many board feet you will need.  For example, multiply the length and width and height of the wood for your project in inches and divide by 144 which will give you the estimated board feet.  You may be able to look up the wood dealer’s price sheet online in some cases and estimate the cost before you go.  In addition, dealers don’t measure thickness in inches they measure in quarters.  For example, an inch thick piece of lumber is called “4/4” or “four quarter” and a 2 inch thick piece of wood is “8/4”, or “eight-quarter.”  The nice thing about going to a dealer is when you buy 4/4 wood it’s usually very close (measure before you buy) to an inch thick, whereas if you go to a box store, an inch thick means 3/4″.

Before I lose that train of thought, take advantage of the tremendous selection of wood sizes at the dealer and design using non-traditional thicknesses.  It will make your piece stand out.  Anyone can buy 3/4″ lumber.

A couple more things you need to know are how milled wood is described and the description of grain patterns.

Milled wood is described as S2S, S3S, or S4S, which stands for Surface ___ Sides.  For example, S2S is planed on the two flat sides and the edges are rough.  I prefer this type of cut since I like to cut the edges at home.

The last thing you need to be aware of is the difference between flatsawn, riftsawn and quartersawn boards (see picture at top).  The rectangles in the picture represent where the various types of boards are taken from the log.  Quartersawn grain runs vertically when looking at the board’s end grain and is best because it is more stable, but it is also more expensive.  Flatsawn grain runs horizontally (more or less) when looking at the board’s end, is the least expensive, but expands and contracts the most.  Riftsawn is a compromise between the two and the grain pattern is approximately 45 degrees when looking at the end grain.

One more note for you…if you’re not buying a lot of wood, Woodcraft (www.woodcraft.com) can be a good option.  It’s a little more expensive, but for single boards may be more convenient.  In addition, the staff is very knowledgeable.  Most of the employees have been woodworking for decades and will help you do things the right way (more on that in another post).

Best of luck on your hardwood buying journey!  Let me know how it goes.