Training techniques for apprentice carpenters and serious DIYers
Use pocket holes for easy joinery
Experienced carpenters use clever jigs, fixtures and techniques for fastening two boards together in perfect alignment. Newcomers frequently give up before they learn how to succeed. Avoid failure and frustration by using pocket hole joinery whenever possible.
1. Clamp the jig to a work table. Secure the pocket hole jig to a piece of 1/2 in. plywood. To support the workpiece, attach short pieces of 1x to the plywood exactly the height of the jig. Always clamp the plywood to a worktable. [NOTE: Click any image to enlarge. Hit "Back" button to return to article.]
2. Adjust the clamping pressure. Lock the toggle clamp down, then thread the plunger up to the workpiece. Lift the toggle clamp and thread the plunger toward the workpiece one more turn, then back the lock nut all the way to the end of the threads.
3. Adjust the stop collar. Place the bit in any of the three bushings. Slip the stop collar over the bit. Lift the bit until the tip is slightly above the jig—so you won’t be drilling into the jig. Then tighten the stop collar with an Allen wrench.
4. Use the bushings. To drill pocket holes in horizontal material, use any of the three bushings. To drill pocket holes in the ends of 3-1/2 in. material, use the outer two bushings; for 2 1/2-in. material, use the left two bushings; and for 1 1/2-in. material, use the right two bushings.
5. Use a high-speed drill. For drilling a few pocket holes, a cordless drill works fine. For drilling a lot of pocket holes, use a corded power drill. Place one hand on the work piece, to steady it. Hold the drill in the other hand, squeeze the trigger, wait for the bit to come up to top speed, then slowly push the bit straight down into the bushing. Feather the trigger off and on while removing the bit.
The real trick to doing fine finish work is careful layout. For most tasks, you don’t have to be a journeyman carpenter to achieve success. Just plan ahead and work slowly, methodically checking your work as you go to avoid mistakes. Though the supports don’t have to be installed perfectly, take pride in everything you do and your confidence and work will improve quickly.
Install the supports
1. Layout the inside supports. To allow plenty of room for your saw, measure over 2 in. from the base of the saw.
2. Draw layout lines. Use a carpenter’s square to draw layout lines for both supports, perpendicular to the edge of the base.
3. Locate center supports. The end supports are easy, make them flush with each edge. Then measure over and mark the center of the center supports. Remember, those marks are centered on the support. Draw layout lines 3/8 in. to one side.
4. Glue and clamp supports. Don’t attempt to drive pocket screws, or any fastener, without clamping the material in place. Otherwise, the force of the screws will push the material off the layout line and the job won’t be successful or enjoyable.
5. Drive in Pocket screws. Set the clutch on your cordless drill to a low setting, so the screw won’t strip. Steady the support with one hand. Use a long square-drive bit, align the bit with the hole, and apply even but gentle force directly in line with the screw, the hole, and the driver bit.
Tips From a Craftsman
Don’t use drywall screws in pocket holes. Drywall screws are tapered beneath the head. As the screw reaches the shoulder of the pocket hole, the taper will split the material. Pocket screws have flat heads and won’t split the material.
Most carpenters learn by making mistakes—sometimes a lot of them. Unfortunately, the more mistakes we make, the longer it takes to build confidence. Here are two tips that will help you avoid frustrating mistakes:
1. Measuring and Marking
Always use a #2 1/2 (2 5/10) pencil. These pencils are available at office supply stores and online (www.officeworld.com: $2.00). Slightly harder than #2 lead, these pencils are great for carpenters because they leave a sharper, crisper line, and they stay sharp longer.
2. Use Clamps
Safety and craftsmanship are inextricably bound together. You can’t have one without the other. And you can’t do fine work if you’re using your hands as clamps. Before operating any tool, clamp the workpiece securely to a work bench or table. That way, rather than securing the workpiece, you can concentrate your mind and your body on the work.
Install the Top
Once all the supports are fastened, the top is easy to install. But don’t hurry the process. Set up the procedure carefully, so you won’t end up with any unnecessary holes or marks. Start by laying some scrap 3/4 in. material across the supports, so it’s easier to cut the top in half.
1. Cut the top in half. Some miter saws won’t cut all the way through a 12 in. wide board. No problem. Cut half way through from one direction, then turn the board over. Align the cut with the miter saw blade, then cut through the other half.
2. Position the tops. Lay each top upside down behind the supports. To allow room for the saw, slide the tops 1 in. past the inside supports. The top should hang over the supports and provide a 1-in. lip for clamps.
3. Mark center lines. Use a square to trace center lines on both tops for each support.
4. Glue and clamp the tops. Set each top on the supports, 1 in. past the inside support nearest the saw. Flush the tops with the base and the front edge of the supports, then clamp both tops in place.
5. Drill countersunk holes. Use a countersink bit to drill two or three holes on each support line, 1 1/2 to 2 in. in from each edge.
6. Fasten the top. Drywall screws are okay for many wood-working tasks, even for fastening down the top, but square drive screws are stronger and preferred by craftsman.
Soup up your saw
Installed on a good stand, a miter saw is more than just a saw, it’s a measuring, marking, and layout tool, too. Even the fence on a miter saw is important for layout and measuring, which is why I prefer installing an auxiliary fence on my miter saws. And because finish work is mostly repetitive—we rarely cut just one 32 1/2 in. head casing—a repetitive stop system is also a must: It takes too much time to pull out a tape measure for every cut, and besides, measuring and marking is more accurate with a jig. Here are two simple ways to improve your saw and your craftsmanship:
Attach an auxiliary fence
1. Cross cut the material. Rip or buy a short piece of material the same height as your miter saw fence. Cut the material the same length as your saw, measured all the way from one side of the saw to the other.
2. Fasten the auxiliary fence. The miter saw fence should have two holes in each side. Temporarily clamp then secure the auxiliary fence to the miter saw fence using four #10 x 3/4 in. screws.
3. Cut through the fence. Set the saw at 45 degrees and make a cut through the auxiliary fence. Swing the saw to the opposite 45 degree miter detent, and make a second pass through the fence. Allow the blade to stop each time.
Make a repetitive stop system
1. Install a wooden fence. Cut a 1 x 4 the length of the extension wing. Use pocket screws to fasten the wooden fence about 1 in. behind the miter saw fence. To prevent binding from bowed boards and moldings, do not make the repetitive stop fence flush with the miter saw fence.
2. Make repetitive stop blocks. Cut two pieces of 1 x 4, each about 8 in. long. Clamp and fasten them together permanently with screws.
3. Cut a 45 degree cleat. Cut the cleat off the end of a 1 x 6.
4. Drill pocket holes. Clamp the cleat securely in the pocket hole jig, with the right-angle edges down, and drill one pocket hole in each direction.
5. Fasten the cleat. Use pocket screws to secure the cleat inside the stop block. The cleat will create a perfectly square stop block.
6. Clamp the cleat to the fence. For repetitive cuts, measure and cut the first piece. Use the first piece to position the stop block, then clamp the block to the fence. Cut a second piece and check that it’s identical to the first piece before proceeding.