There are many types of materials and processes that wooden construction can be built with depending on location and availability of materials. Materials and methods for constructing each structure or add-on can vary depending on location, usage, existing structure, desired performance, climate conditions, code restrictions, proximity to other structures and in place or planned landscaping. Wooden construction methods, costs and required skill levels vary for each type of material.
Most pieces express a number of techniques? And whether a piece is intended to be a visual feast, the importance of technique cannot be over-emphasized. The following entries of wooden construction techniques will allow you to build up a knowledge and, thus, your confidence when building wooden objects.
Abrading is the general term applied to smoothing wood before applying a finish, but it is also a term for shaping woos using hand or power tools. Although much abrading does consist of sanding for a fine finish, it would be limiting to confine the term to this function only, since abrading is also a very important shaping technique.
- BENDING WOOD
The natural characteristic of wood is that it bends. Some woods however are more bendy than others. Bending is an economic way to fashion the material because forming curves by jointing straight pieces and then shaping them is more complex and time consuming.
The main wood-bending techniques are: steam bending, laminating and saw kerfing.
- BISCUIT JOINTS
Biscuit jointing is a method of wood jointing which you can use as an alternative to many traditional joints. It is a quick and easy jointing system suitable for carcasses and frames in solid wood and manufactured board. The biscuit joints combines a simple butt or miter joint with an elliptical compressed wood insert called a biscuit which gives the joint its strength. The biscuit slot is easily located and cut with a biscuit jointer – a small diameter circular saw with a plunging cutter.
- BUTT AND RABBET JOINTS
The butt joint is the simplest of corner joints, as it consists of two square-ended pieces of wood meeting together without any overlap. Because of this, it needs reinforcement by gluing, nailing, or screwing.
Like sawing, chiseling is an essential woodworking skill. It is primarily a hand technique requiring some degree of dexterity. The hand chisel is used for cutting, trimming, and shaping, and particular removing stock or waste in joint cutting.
- CLAMPING AND HOLDING
The need to hold work securely is important in wood working. Apart from being a firm and solid base, the woodworking bench is the most basic holding and supporting device. Incorporated into it is usually a metal or wooden vice which supports work up to about 6 inches wide. Metal vices should be faced with sturdy hardwood to prevent bruising the wood being held. As a general rule, keep the wood as low as possible in the vice to avoid vibration or “chatter” when sawing or planing.
- DOVETAIL JOINTS
No other woodworking joint has the universal appeal of the dovetail. It seems to express the whole spirit of wood craftsmanship yet, paradoxically, as a joint it is virtually redundant today in its strictest mechanical sense. The dovetail will probably always hold great appeal, not just visually but as a challenge for woodworkers to make in its variety of forms. It can be made by hand or machine, and recent dovetail jigs involving the router now make the machine dovetail look as good as the traditional hand-cut version. There are various types of dovetail ranging from lap dovetails, secret-mitered dovetails, single dovetails, and common dovetails. All basically depend upon the same wedge shape to give them mechanical strength.
- DOWEL JOINTS
The dowel joint is quick and simple to make because it consists of using small wooden pegs instead of hand-cut wood. It offers a versatile and strong system of connecting wood, requiring limited equipment. The joint can form any configuration of pieces, such as “L” shaped, “T” shaped, “X” shaped, etc., and it is often used instead of the mortise-and-tenon. To ensure the joint is strong, several dowels are used instead of the single tenon.
The joint comprises two pieces butted or mitered together with a serious of carefully aligned drill holes to accommodate the wood dowel. Normally the dowel is made of a sturdy wood, such as beech or maple, manufactured in short lengths of three main diameters – 1/4, 5/16, and 3/8 inch – with flutings or grooves to allow the glue to disperse evenly. Without these the dowel can act as a piston and compress the glue in the hole. The quickest and most accurate method of dowel jointing is to use commercial dowel center points or a locating/drilling jig, both of which are readily available from good tool stores.
Many woodworkers regard drawing as an unnecessary chore; some even find it daunting. Indeed it is not vital to be able to draw when working with wood other than to possess basic measuring and laying out skills.
However, if you wish to become a versatile practitioner, an ability to draw and understand drawings is a great advantage.
Modern methods have made drilling considerably easier. Holes are “drilled” by the removal of wood fibers with an “Archimedes-screw”-type bit, which is rotated at speed in the chuck of a hand power drill. The fibers are severed and cleared from the hole by the drill flutings or grooves.
Holes can also be cut by the scraping action of a spade or flat-bit which is specifically designed for a power drill. Hand-drilling has been largely superseded by the more efficient power drill which can be hand-held or fixed in a drill stand.
- ADGE JOINTING
When wide boards or panels are required, you will find it is usually necessary to join together narrower pieces along their edges to make up the width. Boards vary in width, according to the species of tree from which they are cut.
If you look at the end grain of any solid board, you will notice the annual rings. A rule of thumb is that the annual rings will try to straighten out when the wood dries. This gives you an indication of which way the board will warp. If the annual rings are long, it means the board has been “plane sawn” from the tree and is likely to warp more than a board with short annual rings.
There are various methods of edge-jointing. The simplest method is to joint the boards edge to edge and glue and clamp them. For a stronger and more lasting bond, the edge joint can be reinforced with dowels, biscuits, or by using a long loose plywood tongue which slots into both faces of the joint. By using a special bit in a router, you can also make a “tongue-and-groove: joint or a milled joint. These methods not only improve the mechanical strength, but also lengthen the glue line across the section of the wood.
- EDGE TREATMENTS
Today there is a practical need for treating the edges of furniture for both tactile and visual reasons, especially as much of it is made of veneered particle board. The brittle edges of this cheap substitute for solid wood need reinforcing with solid wood strips called “edge banding”. This can be done before the panel is veneered, so that the edges blend in discreetly with the face veneer, using the same material for the edge banding. Edge banding is usually at least 1/4 inch wide, offering depth for molded profiles similar to those used in solid wood construction.
Traditional moldings used to be cut with differently profiles handplanes, and there is an interesting vocabulary of profiles such as carvetto, ogee, cove, reed, and astragal. Many of these planes are now collectors’ items, and woodworkers of all ages are keen to acquire them for largely sentimental reasons.
Present day routing technology has, to a large extent, replaces the old molding planes and a vast range pf profiles router bits for shaping edges is used instead.
Most objects in wood usually require a protective coating of some kind, depending of their function and environment. This coating is invariably known as a “finish”. It greatly enhances the visual appeal of a piece of furniture, and different finishes such as lacquers, oils, waxes, or stains.
Arguably a highly lacquered finish acts as a barrier to the natural material, and this can be a drawback, especially as wood is a warm tactile material. But generally it is an advantage to apply some kind of lacquer or oil to give a protective coating to the wood. Some woodworkers believe that the wood should always “breathe” and that a fine oil or microporous lacquer should be applied; others would prefer to totally seal the wood which helps inhibit wood movement, due to the loss or intake of moisture in the air. Conventional lacquers can be up to 40 percent impermeable whereas epoxy resin coatings are up to 100 percent impermeable and can withstand excessive heat. You should never be afraid to experiment with finishes, and you will probably establish preferences, not least because of the smell which some finishes have.
Prior to finishing, the project should be filled, if there are knots, holes, or blemishes, then sanded smooth by hand or power sander. All marks should be removed with edges slightly softened, or rounded, with the sandpaper.
Fretwork is a gentle and delicate technique in which wood as thin as 1/16 inch can be intricately cut, usually to a prescribed pattern, template, or line, for decorative or functional applications. Nowadays the electric scroll saw has superseded the hand fretsaw, and its quiet reciprocating action makes it one of the safest machines to use. Compared with most other woodworking saws, the scroll saw blade is fine-toothed and is easy to install in the machine. The scroll saw can cut all manner of curves, some extremely tight, in woods up to 3/4 inch or 11/8 inch, and some machines have tilting tables allowing angled cuts up to 45 degrees to be made.
Most items of woodwork rely on glue to hold then together. Very few wood joints or wood components stay together solely by mechanical means, unless they are specifically designed to do so. The notion of a “permanent” bond is as familiar in woodworking as it is in metalworking, where epoxy glues are often used instead of welds. Modern woodworking flues are stronger than the surrounding wood fibers, and when something breaks it is unlikely to be along the glue line.
Gluing can vary in complexity from the relatively simple gluing of a “rubbed” joint (two pieces glued edge to edge and slid against each other to from a suction) to the gluing and clamping of numerous parts of a carcass. Gluing usually requires constant pressure throughout the curing period, and hence gluing and clamping is an integral process and a vital stage in the making of a piece of woodwork.
- HALVING OR LAP JOINTS
Strong, attractive, and quick to make, the halving or lap joint has many applications. It is one of woodworking’s strongest wood joints because equal portions are removed from each member and optimum fiber overlap ensures the strongest leverage in one direction. Therefore one member is not weakened any more that the other because in all halving or lap joints, both members are always the same thickness. Where they overlap, that portion which is removed from one member is replaced by the wood left on the other. However, until recently, the joint relied on nails or screws as well as glue to hold it together. The advent of modern “permanent” glues has now made it a truly versatile joint for “L”, “T”, and “X” configurations in frames and some modern “permanent” glues are quite sufficient to hold it in both indoor and outdoor applications, without any further assistance.
- HINGES AND LOCKS
Some advanced woodworkers devise ingenious ways of opening cabinet doors or locking the lids on trinket boxes, etc., without resorting to metal hinges, locks, or catches. A poor quality mass-produced hinge, or crudely designed handle, will certainly let down an otherwise finely crafted cabinet. Most woodworkers however, whether beginners or highly skilled, will resort to standardized hardware, of which there is now considerable choice for most applications. Visual appeal, strength, durability, size, and specific function are important factors to consider when choosing the right hinge, lock, or catch. Once the choice had been made, you should then select the best tools and woodworking techniques to attach the hardware accurately.
- HOUSING OR DADO JOINTS
In its simplest form, the housing or dado joint consists of a shallow-bottomed groove running the full width of the wood, into which the square-edged piece sits. Variations of the joint include stopped shoulders – where the groove doesn’t run the full width of the wood, so the joint is not visible from the front – and dovetailed sectioned grooves for maximum mechanical strength, which are nowadays most often cut with a router.
The joint is normally glued, and in crude constructions pins or screws can be used to reinforce it; the groove prevents the pin or screw from splitting narrow-section wood and gives the joint added grip.
There are various ways to make housing or dado joints by hand, power tool, or machine, such as using jigged-tool-guiding blocks, ir with saws and chisels or by cutting with a radial-arm saw.
- JIGS AND JIGMAKING
A jig is a device used to hold or guide the wood while it is being worked on, or to hold or guide the tool being used often for repeat actions. Behind the art of jigmaking is the ability to improvise, and for many trained woodworkers if often means putting aside a rather rigid doctrine and thinking “laterally”, using whatever means are available. Jigs can be very simple or sometimes really quite complex. The are usually the brainchild of the individual and more often than not are quite simple solutions for very specific applications. Tis might mean the use of pins and nails, tape, a hot-melt glue gun, cutoffs of plywood, particle board, and MDF, and quick solidifying materials such as car body filler. Certain hand and power tools require jigs for specific tasks, either to make the task easier or quicker.
Jointing is at the very heart of woodworking. Most woodworking consists of jointing pieces of wood together for a variety of purposes – be it for changing shape, creating structure, maximizing strength, or dealing with wood movement. There are hundreds of joints in existence: butt joint, half lap joint, tongue-and groove, spline joint, mortise-and-tenon, dovetail, scarf, dowel joint, biscuit joint and milter.
Some understanding of the principles of wood jointing helps before acquiring the “knacks” of how to make a tight joint. A basic rule is to avoid short grain. If a joint is cut too close to the end of a piece of wood and the fibers are severed deeper across the grain than along it, the stress of the joint and any leverage bearing upon it will result in the “short grain” breaking along the grain.
- MEASURING AND LAYING OUT
It is very rare in woodworking to take the tools straight to the material without first marking the wood or setting everything out. Precision is crucial for accurate working. Often mistakes made later in the making of a piece can be attributed to poor measuring and laying out.
What is crucial to accurate laying out, whether you use a measuring stick, steel ruler, or other aids, is the choice of marker. Effective laying out is bold and precise, and the areas to be cut away as “waste” are shaded clearly. Traditionally woodworkers use a pencil or marking knife; increasingly, ballpoint pens are used.
- MITER JOINTS
A miter joint consists of two pieces with their ends cut at 45 degrees which meet to form a right angle. A typical example is the corner of a picture frame, but the joint can also apply to the corner of a carcass.
On its own the miter joint has no strength because the mating surfaces don’t interlock, they simply butt against each other. For this reason it is usually glued with some kind of reinforcement such as an internal tongue, or pins, dowels, or veneer inserts. Because there is no visible end grain, the joint offers some advantages; it is both visually pleasing and particularly suitable in constructions in which grooves can be later cut straight through to align in adjacent boards, or for continuous edge profiles. The glue area of a miter joint is curiously neither “end grain” nor “side grain”, but tends to follow the characteristics of end grain, absorbing the glue and not forming a very strong bond.
The miter joint can be cut with a handsaw, by various powered saws and also by special guillotines.
- MORTISE AND TENON JOINTS
The mortise-and-tenon – easily identified by its “tongue” and “mouth” components. Being widely used for doors and frames over the years, its place is firmly entrenched in history.
The mortise-and-tenon refers to a family of joints, and the most basic one is the through mortise-and-tenon, which offers maximum strength as the “tongue” extends to the full depth of the “mouth” The hidden “stub tenon” joint penetrates to about two-thirds the width of the wood. Long- and short-shouldered mortise-and-tenons accommodate rabbets on one face. Haunch mortise-and-tenons are used in corner frames of wide sections to deter warping. Bare-faced tenons have no shoulders and are therefore quicker to make, but in general a shoulder all the way around offers better anchorage and conceals the tricky part of making, which is the fit of the tenon in the mortise.
The mortise-and-tenon can be cut by hand- or power-tool methods, particularly the tenon which in essence is a double-rabbeted member.
There is hardly any woodworking which does not include planing somewhere in its process, whether it is smoothing a surface flat, trimming joints true, or shaping a piece of wood to a given dimension.
Despite its simple function, the handplane had to be perfectly “in tune” to perform properly and therefore understanding its mechanics helps. There are several shapes and sizes of planes. The importance of size (length and weight) is best described by comparing the behavior of an oil tanker on a rough sea to a small tug. The longer plane will cut evenly though the undulations of a wavy board with sufficient weight to give it momentum, whereas a smaller plane will dip into the troughs and be thrown about.
The electric plunge router is almost unprecedented as a modern woodworking tool because of its enormous creative potential. It is basically an electric motor with a sharp-edged rotating bit at the end of its spindle, and its simplest function is in converting a hole into a groove by simply plunging the bit into the wood and pulling the tool via its adjustable fence across the wood, rather like a marking gauge. When you extend the range of bits to include profiled shapes of different size and variety, and then expand the function of the fence, which serves as a guiding jig by using other types of jigging device, the router does not stop at just cutting grooves and rabbets.
It can profile edges, cut through wood to any shape, cut joints, trim wood flat, make screw threads, and much more. Despite its simplicity of concept, the router is indeed a very sophisticated shaping tool. The three main elements of routing are: the size of the router, the variety of bits, and the types of jigging devices.
You will probably find that sawing is your first task in woodworking. Before a piece of wood can be shaped or featured, it has to be cut from the board. Sawing is also an important technique throughout the making process – whether it be in conjunction with chiseling to cut joints, or roughing out tapers, curves, and other features, which are later finished smooth.
Because wood behaves differently along the grain from the way it does across the grain, there are saws for ripping and for crosscutting. These are differentiated by their number of teeth and pitch angle. There is a family of finer-toothed saws with thinner blades which are reinforced by a backing strip, and these are called “backsaws”, od which the tenon saw is the most common. The technique of sawing accurately by hand has to be learned by practice.
The action of a scraper is similar to that of a chisel, producing an extremely fine silk-like shaving. Because of this the scraper can be controlled to finish a surface delicately, especially where there is wild and irregular grain which might tear under a plane. Scrapers produce a superior finish compared to sandpaper, which can clog the grain especially when very fine grits are used.
The scraper is used particularly for finishing veneered work and – because of its ability to remove very fine slivers at a time – for removing excess glue.
- SHAPING WOOD
Most curves in woodwork are imposed onto the grain as opposed to following it, but you still have to observe the nature of the grain to obtain adequate strength. Wood can also be shaped or curved by coopering, bricking, stack laminating, saw kerfing, or simply cutting to shape from solid wood.
- SQUARING WOOD
Woodworking depends on accuracy – which usually means working to a line – it is important to make sure the wood is accurately cut to size beforehand. This technique is called “preparation of wood” or “squaring”.
When wood has been bought rough-sawn or even pre-planed it requires squaring, not least of all because there are likely to be twists or bows, especially in softwoods which are not fully seasoned. A piece of wood has been squared when all surfaces are flat, adjacent surfaces are 90° to each other and opposite surfaces are parallel.
- TURNING WOOD
Turning is one of the simplest technique in woodworking, and it has enormous universal appeal. On the lathe (a quiet power tool) you can turn small functional objects such as bowls, platters, goblets, and decorative items, as well as make turned components for furniture such as chair and table legs.
The principle of lathework is simply that a the wood is rotated at speed in a holding device such as a chuck, and these come in various shapes and sizes to suit the type of work being undertaken.
A variety of differently profiled scrapers or gouges are carefully fed into the rotating wood against the firm support of a tool rest which acts as a stationary lever. These chisels or gouges are hand-held and moved by the operator to cut various shapes. The final finish can be achieved on the lathe, either straight from the tool, by sanding, by burnishing with shavings, or by applying wax as the work rotates.
Veneering is an extremely efficient way of utilizing wood. A veneer is a wafer0thin piece of the tree, in fact, modern veneers measure about 1/50 inch in thickness. That is the equivalent of a piece of heavy paper. Veneer is glued onto a ground such as particle board or MDF, typically a table top. If a table top 11/8 inch thick is made of solid wood, it is easy to calculate just how many veneered table tops could be made from the same piece of wood, even allowing for wastage in cutting.
The advantage of veneer is that it gives the cabinetmaker a great deal more wood species to choose from. Today, particle board and MDF are excellent bases for veneered work because of their stability, and this coupled with superior glues such as white or yellow make it a technique which is appropriate in terms of conservation as well as being useful, reliable, and relatively inexpensive.
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