Dug’s Automata Tips, Techniques and Tricks No. 12
September 30, 2013 by Dug North
10 Handy Tricks for Woodworkers & Automaton-makers
We’ve focused on techniques in this column up to this point. Now it’s time for some small tips that can make a big difference! Here are some woodworking tricks that I have found useful for automaton-making.
I often use carbon paper — the kind used for making duplicate copies on a typewriter — to transfer patterns from paper to wood. The process is as simple as placing the carbon paper on the wood, then the pattern on the carbon paper. Finally, trace the design with a ballpoint pen. In a pinch, you can make your own transfer paper. Take a plain sheet of paper and cover every bit of it with pencil marks. Next, dampen a rag with a little lighter fluid. Wipe the surface of the paper with the rag to spread the graphite around evenly. Your homemade carbon paper is now ready to use.
For years, I thought that when I bought a new woodworking tool it would be ready to use right out of the package. Not true! If a new tool isn’t performing as expected, this could be the reason. Chisels and planes often have milling marks on surfaces that should be mirror-smooth. Saw teeth are often set too aggressively and carving knives are not truly honed to a sharp edge. Whether it’s a power tool or a hand tool, do some research about how to setup and maintain any tool you acquire. You will be amazed at the difference this makes!
Carving tools need to be protected. You may have spent a lot of time sharpening a tool. You certainly don’t want to ding that perfect edge. For safety, you also don’t want to that sharp blade exposed when it is not in use. Wine bottle corks — real or artificial — make great covers for carving knives and other tools. Simple press the blade into the cork until it covers the sharp edge.
4 – You Can Make Your Own Wood Filler
Oops! So you drilled a small hole where you weren’t supposed to. Now what? You could start over, or you could mix some of the leftover fine sawdust and ordinary white glue into a putty. While still pliable, press the putty into the space that needs to be filled. When it dries, sand it smooth. The repaired spot should be a fairly close match to the wood itself.
The cosmetics section of your local store has many useful tools and supplies including tweezers, lacquer-based paint (a.k.a. nail polish), acetone, cotton swabs, and cuticle scissors. Emery boards used for fingernails make handy sanding sticks. Not only are they inexpensive, but they often have two different grits of sandpaper. They are great for getting into tight areas where a sanding block is too big and a folded piece of sandpaper is too floppy.
Even when you have pre-drilled a hole into the wood, sometimes woodscrews just don’t want to go in. This is especially true when drilling into hardwood. To make things easier, rub an old candle on the screw and try again. The wax acts as a lubricant to help the screw go in. ChapStick also works great for this purpose. At last there is a use for that last little bit of ChapStick left in the tube!
Drilling round holes can really help your machines run more smoothly. Standard drill bits have a tendency to make holes that are not very round. Brad point drill bits do a much better job. Not only does the sharp point help you to position the hole more precisely, but the two outside cutting tips score the perimeter of the hole, while the inner edges chisel it out. This helps to ensure that the resulting hole is round and smooth.
Working with small pieces is a big part of making an automaton. Sometimes these pieces can be very hard to hold, and to work on with a tool. I use a jeweler’s ring clamp to hold small parts. The part is placed between the leather tips and a wedge is driven in the opposite side, holding the piece firmly. The leather doesn’t mar metal pieces like a vise might and you can bring the piece to a stationary tool such as a belt sander.
9 – Masking Tape Helps You Drill to Depth
If you ever need to drill a hole to a specified depth, wrap a piece of masking tape around the bit at the desired spot. Leave some extra tape to form a flag that sticks out from the bit. Drill the hole and watch as the spinning tape approaches the surface of the wood. When the tape sweeps the wood shavings from around the edge of the hole, you know you are close.
This little gem of a tool is a measuring gauge made out of aluminum. It has many sides, each of which is a specific measurement. There are 14 in all. This is really handy for marking commonly-used measurements. You might guess that I found this at a specialty woodworking store. Actually, I found it in the quilting section of a fabric store!
Super Glue cures very quickly, but it doesn’t hold up to shock very well. Depending on what you are gluing, a different type of glue might be a better long-term solution. Why not use both? For example, you can use some spots of yellow wood glue to hold the pieces together long-term and some spots of Super Glue to serve as a clamp while the other glue cures.
Dug’s Automata Tips, Techniques and Tricks
A quarterly column by automaton-maker and enthusiast Dug North
Copyright 2013 Dug North
Warning: The topics covered in this column include the use of tools and materials that have the potential to cause damage to property and/or bodily injury. Your safety is important and it is your sole responsibility. Always read and follow the safety instructions that come with tools and materials you use. Wear safety glasses, use guards and other forms of safety equipment, follow safety precautions, and use good judgment. Seek the guidance of experienced outside sources whenever required.
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