Woodwork Questions

I have made several attempts at erecting shelves and making small cabinets. They look all right, but when I measure them to check for square, I find they are inaccurate. What can I do to correct this?

What are you worried about ? Home woodwork is not like building a precision clock. If it looks square arid level, what more do you want ? And don’t let the ‘craftsman’ tell you that perfect squares and dead straight lines are essential. The Greeks built the Parthenon, the finest example of their architecture, deliberately to look well, but most ‘straight’ lines in it are curved!

I want to erect a strong set of shelves in my garage. What sort of wall plugs should I use? For maximum strength attach steel shelf brackets direct to a piece of wood which is screwed first onto the wall. This piece of wood, called a ‘pattress’, spreads the strain over a large area. If you have a good drill, you can use the heavier sorts of Rawlplug to attach the pattress. If not, find a joint between the bricks, chisel out the cement 3 in. wide and drive in a specially shaped plug of wood. Saw this flush with the surface and drive a pattress screw into it. If the wall is plaster, make a stronger job by cutting the plaster away under where the pattress is to go, and mounting it directly onto the brickwork.

My mortice and tenon joints sometimes turn out loose because I make the tenon too thin or narrow. Can I correct this without using a whole new piece of wood?

Pull the tenon from the mortice. Make saw cuts in the tenon end and insert small wedges of hard wood. Do not drive them right home. Then re-glue and drive in the tenon. The wedges will expand the tenon and make a tighter fit.

I want to make a large kitchen cabinet. To save cost I propose to use chipboard. Will this make a satisfactory job?

Plain chipboard is difficult to finish off well, being rough-surfaced, especially at the edges. You can get boards with plastic surfaces which are all right for panels that are to have a framing of timber around the edges. Remember that chipboard will not withstand direct blows, or heavy pressure. On the whole, it is better to use blockboard if at all possible.

I have been told that modern glues are often stronger than the wood itself. But my glued joints often fail. What am I doing wrong?

It is true that many adhesives are immensely strong. They only work, though, when the wood faces are closely matched to each other. To beginners in woodworking this is not always easy, and the result may be that the glue is not holding over the whole area. Take pains to get a flush contact and follow the glue maker’s instructions to the letter. And where possible reinforce with pins, dowels or screws.

I was once asked if I wanted ‘quarter-sawn’ timber. What does this mean? The terms ‘quarter sawn’. ‘plain sawn’. ‘rift sawn’ and so on describe the way in which wood is cut from the trunk of the tree. There is no particular advantage in knowing all these terms, especially since many ordinary woodyard workers rarely use them. Check the grain on your timber as shown in our drawings and never mind the jargon.

I have tried to make a dovetail drawer but the joints always come loose, and I have difficulty getting a firm fit ready for glueing.

What am I doing wrong?

Possibly nothing. Dovetails are more difficult to make in softwood than in hardwood, and you may have bought a particularly soft variety. Treat your first job as a ‘practice piece’ and try again using hardwood. We are sure you’ll find this better, and your previous attempt will mean that you are less likely to waste expensive wood by wrong marking and cutting.

When I finally sandpaper my work, I never seem able to get a perfect finish as a craftsman does. Is there some secret to this job?

Always sandpaper with the grain, never across it, or the scratches will be very difficult to remove. But really perfect smoothing is often done with scraper tools. They have flat metal blades with burred edges and are drawn across the work whilst held nearly vertical. Like using a plane, work ‘with the grain’ or the result will be poor.

I find when making joints that my wooden mallet sometimes makes marks on the timber. How can I prevent this?

Interpose a piece of soft waste wood between the mallet head and the work. The beechwood of the mallet head is harder than most softwoods.

I want to put up pelmets at my windows. How do I set about this? You can make pelmets with any stiff, flat material. Hardboard is cheapest, and very suitable. It can be sawn easily. For curves and complicated shapes you will need a narrow saw, often called a keyhole saw, or a fretsaw. Often though, the simpler shapes look best.

Decide whether the pelmet is to be inside the opening, or outside. Measure the full width of window opening. The height of the pelmet will depend on the amount of concealment you need, usually about 6 in. Make a temporary pattern in cardboard or very stiff paper and pin this in place to get the effect.

Windows up to about 3 ft. wide may have pelmets supported only at the ends on wooden blocks screwed to the wall with Rawlplugs. The blocks will be either on the wall itself or within the window opening.

Wider windows may call for a central support too, often consisting of a steel shelf bracket, screwed to the back of the pelmet. A stiffening strip of wood along the back of the pelmet may also be helpful.

I have been told that it is wrong to hammer screws in. Is this correct? It seems a much quicker and easier way than pre-drilling holes.

It is much quicker and easier, and many woodworkers do so, in the privacy of their workshops! For fairly rough work, especially where it is to be hidden, as in framing to be covered later, you can hammer the screw through the top piece and a little into the bottom piece, and then screw the lot tight. This gives a connection adequate for most practical purposes. Disadvantages are that the screws may break, as they are more brittle than nails, and of course they shatter the wood fibres as they are driven through. The wood may split if it is fairly small in section.

You cannot hammer woodscrews through any hard wood without meeting trouble, but we have put together rough framing, such as used in the kitchen cabinet, quite satisfactorily in soft wood.

Where maximum strength and a good appearance are needed, always pre-drill.

I want to build a small drop-leaf table for my kitchen dinette. How should I tackle this? Use a heavy ply, about in. thick, for the top. You can stick plastic sheeting over this. Hinge it to the frame of a cabinet, or to a wall. Using ‘Piano Hinge Strip’ which you can buy in Nylon, cut to length. To support the raised top, use more ply hinged down the side as a pull out leg. Note that the hinges of the top must always be a little further out than those of the leg, by the thickness of the leg material. Otherwise the top will not fold down over the closed leg.

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