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Newsletter #106

Choosing the Right Tool for the Task

I just expanded my shop space and, of course, more space means room for more tools. I’m making my wish list, prioritizing and thinking. Since I am primarily a piano restorer and finisher, I considered which tools, like my drill press, would have just one unique task in my shop. The drill press is used, in my case, for drilling pin blocks. Some other tools have multiple uses, like my hand drill, which goes from my shop to my house. My scroll saw gets major use in my shop to repair or duplicate embellishments such as an intricate piano music stand. I can also use the saw to make gifts.

My tools for applying finish are limited to brushes and my Apollo Sprayer. Recently I started thinking about how different types of finishing systems can do the same tasks. You can brush the barn or spray it with airless. A turner can hold a rag dipped in stain while the project rotates on a lathe or finish it with an HVLP sprayer in the same way.

However, HVLP systems are unique. They are so versatile that even when they are not the main tool for a particular shop, they are a great companion tool. Painting contractors might brush or roll the walls and then use their HVLP to finish the doors, louvers and moldings. Electro static applications leave the inside joints bare and an HVLP system quickly follows up and covers the joints. Airmix is best used when in production. The finisher moves quickly and lays on a lot of material efficiently, but HVLP is more appropriate for super fine custom jobs. So a finisher might own two finishing systems.

All this thinking about tools led me to ask some of my best woodworking friends about their shops. I asked 2 questions: “what tool do you have in your shop that you can’t live without” and “what piece of finishing equipment do you consider indispensible?” here are responses from three of my friends.

Bill Boxer
Sr. Vice President and COO
Apollo Sprayers International, Inc.
[email protected]

Gary L. – The Story of Story Sticks

 The tool I couldn’t live without is story sticks. Take away my rulers and I probably wouldn’t notice for several days; take away my story sticks and I’d notice in minutes.

So what are story sticks? Story sticks are measuring tools originally intended for inside measurements (like inside a drawer, where a ruler is hard to fit). But they can be used in a wide variety of applications. They consist of two thin strips of wood (about 1/4″ by 3/4″ by 16″, for instance) which can slide past each other and then be locked in place. The idea is to slide the sticks past one another, extending their combined length, until the desired length is reached, and then lock them down. The locked story stick can then be used to transfer the length to a piece of work, or can be used to set a saw. There’s no need to convert to numbers at all! If the ends of the story stick are mitered to a sharp edge, it improves their accuracy, particularly when they’re used to measure into a corner (like checking drawer diagonals for squareness). I have a set of four of varying lengths (obviously an upper bound on what you can measure with story sticks is twice the length of each piece).

Good joinery starts with good measuring. Ironically, the best measurements don’t involve numbers – they are completely physical. The mantra is “you can see a difference you can’t measure, and you can feel a difference you can’t see.” Good measurement is mostly about feel, not numbers. Story sticks are an important part of this.

Gary L. – Scrapers, An Essential Finishing Tool

I’ll skip the obvious stuff like “orbital sander”. I couldn’t live without cabinet scrapers. I often use them for their intended purposes (i.e., as a substitute for sandpaper; they leave a very smooth finish, and are often quicker than sanding). But I use them most often for glue cleanup on inside corners. I scrape off the squeezeout with a piece of scrap wood, slightly dampen the joint with hot water (SLIGHTLY – you don’t want much water or it will seep into the joint and weaken it!) and then use the cabinet scraper to pull out whatever glue remains. I wipe the scraper with a damp rag between passes. After the joint is dry I check for any remaining glue by wiping the joint with mineral spirits (these will soak into wood and darken it, but any glue remaining will show up very light). Usually there is no glue at all. If there is, I use the scraper to remove it. Surprisingly, if you leave a layer of sanding dust on the wood when you glue up the joint, it helps the cleanup – the squeezed out glue is mostly on the dust, not the wood, and scrapes off readily. Of course a little dust has no impact at all on the glue itself.

Sharpening a cabinet scraper (also occasionally called a hook scraper) is a bit of a trick. You can find instructions on the Web. The key things are that the burnisher must be very hard indeed, and the thinner the scraper the easier it is to sharpen.

Finishing by Flexner

Each month Finishing Expert Bob Flexner provides an array of invaluable tips and tricks. Check out this month’s tips and browse through his library of articles and tips. Click the links below :

Mike H. – Micro-Mesh Is a Must-Have

For a finishing tool that is a must have, that would be my Micro-Mesh sanding pads. Micro-Mesh is a unique cushioned abrasive that produces a very fine and uniform scratch pattern. The nine grits range from 1500 up to 12000. The 1500 is similar in grit range to conventional 400 grit wet/dry sandpaper. The 12000 will leave a scratch pattern that cannot be detected by the human eye.

Wolfgang D. – Couldn’t Pick Just One!

The tool I can’t live without? Overall, that would be my router table. I believe that the router is the most versatile tool a person can have in their shop. The more you learn how to use one and become more comfortable with it, the more you will reach for it. I use my router table more than any other tool.

The tool in my shop I cannot live without, so to speak, is my cordless Metabo drill that I use mostly with screwdriver attachments. I made cat perches for my 4 cats. I have to remove the cat perches for every party, since the food is placed near there, and my cats would have a feast leaping from perch to food and back. It would take a lot longer and involve much more cursing if I had to do this using a Phillips screwdriver rather than the drill.

The finishing tool I can’t live without is my HVLP Sprayer. It is the old Apollo 800 with two hoses and a 5010 gun. I use it to refinish my decks every couple of years.

On the other hand, I could live without almost everything I have. It would be better to say I wouldn’t want to be without them.

Daniel H. – There’s No Tool Like a New Tool

My newest piece of equipment is always the one I can’t believe I ever lived without it. Right now that would be my Eract-a-Rack. It is multi-faceted in that I use it to neatly store my wood and I use it as a place to dry pieces when I am finishing. So far I’m using 8 levels and I am not planning to take it down even though it stores easily and build easily too. Obviously Erect-a-Rack is my favorite finishing tool too since previously I had to move things around in my shop to make room for drying. At the moment my list of things I need is very short so Erect-a-Rack will probably be my favorite thing for a while.

See You At The Show!

In the next two months, you’ll have a chance to see the new Apollo Power Series and other great Finishing Store Products at these Woodworking Shows: