Woodworking is my hobby, my passion, and what I really wish i was doing for a living. Check out woodworking projects and tips here.

How to Make a Doweling Jig for a Bit and Brace

Today I’m responding to my first viewer email! Michael sent the following message:

PROJECT SUGGESTION: I wonder could you make cheap but effective doweling jig all the ones i see online are for use with electric drills etc. Could you come up with one that I can use with a BIT/BRACE? as you need two hands to use the brace. It would need kept in place somehow? without the need for clamps.

Well Michael, I can try. If I understand the problem, Michael doesn’t think he can use a standard doweling jig with a bit and brace because you need to hold the drill and the jig, and a bit and brace requires both hands to use. Clamping the jig is an option, but the clamp can interfere with rotation of the brace. I think we can come up with a solution, But first, some terminology!

What Is Doweling?

Doweling is a woodworking technique that joins two boards without a lot of skill or expensive tools. You drill matching holes in the mating pieces, and then glue pieces of dowel rod or dowel pins into the holes to connect them.  Doweling is a low-tech way of producing a loose tenon similar to systems like the Festool Domino. Unlike the Domino and its massive price tag, all you need to carry out doweling joinery is some dowel rod, a drill, and a drill bit that matches the size of your dowel.

An image of dowel pins being used to attach shelves to their case.

Some random craftsman uses dowel pins to attach some Walmart-quality shelves.

What is a Doweling Jig?

A doweling jig is a tool that keeps your drill bit perpendicular to the work piece. Doweling is difficult without one: even a small error in your drilling angle can ruin the fit of your joint. Use a doweling jig to keep your drill at 90 degrees to the wood and a uniform distance from the edge.

Using a Doweling Jig with a Bit and Brace

Michael’s difficulty with using a doweling jig with a bit and brace stems from the fact that a brace requires two hands for operation, and so you can’t use one to secure the jig. Clamping is difficult because the clamp can interfere with the brace. Personally I have a hard time coming up with a scenario where I can’t clamp the jig in such a way that the clamp doesn’t interfere with the brace. As long as the long end of the brace is below the work, I don’t see a problem.

But Michael asked, so I delivered.

I first experimented with how the doweling jig that I own worked with a bit and brace.  It has a built-in clamp and it’s profile didn’t interfere with the brace. Unfortunately the jig itself is flimsy and inaccurate. The guide is plastic and wobbly. If you’re not holding your brace at 90 degrees, the guide conforms to your angle and not the other way around. That defeats the purpose of using a jig, so I ended up throwing it out.

Make a Doweling Jig for a Bit and Brace

I started sketching ideas on the whiteboard.  Michael specifically asked for a jig that didn’t require clamping.  As I started designing I realized something. I was drawing the doweling jig I had just thrown out. I liked some features of that jig: it had a low profile and integral clamp. But a home-brew version would be complicated to build and just as useless as the original. I tossed that idea and started from a clean slate.

There was no way of getting around a clamp’s necessity. Making a clamp part of the solution felt like over-engineering. A jig with a lot of surface area to use a quick clamp solves that problem.

I tossed a couple of scraps together with pocket screws. The base of the jig is about a foot long which leaves clamping space away from the brace.  The guide itself is an “F” shaped structure. Your bit must pass through two guides to drill through the work piece. The guides keep the bit straight. I marked the center points on all sides of the jig so it’s easy to align the holes.

A Postmortem Look at My Doweling Jig

Is my doweling jig functional?  Sure.  It it big and ugly and totally unnecessary? You betcha. It’s massive, and awkward, and solves a very specific problem I’ll never run into (I get no joy from using a brace). At the very least I hope I’ve solved Michael’s problem, provided some direction towards a solution.

For me the best solution is to buy a doweling jig. A quick search of Amazon returns pages of high-quality and affordable solutions. Many doweling jigs are self-centering and have a clamp integrated into them. See a highly rated jig without a built-in clamp? You can still secure it with a quick clamp from below as to not interfere with your brace. If you’re unsure, ask a question on Amazon and see if owners of the doweling jig have the answer.

So at the end of the day I have to say, sorry Michael! While I didn’t fail to deliver, I think there are better (and fairly cheap) solutions available.

The Restored and Refinished Leg Vice

Restoring an Antique Leg Vice


A workbench without vices is just an ugly buffet table.

But quality vice hardware is expensive, as you can see by visiting Benchcrafted and checking their prices. Woodcraft sells a more traditional set of hardware that will still set you back the cost of a few good chisels. I lucked out. I stopped at a local shop called Conny’s Constant Clutter and my eye caught an old leg vice rotting in the elements amidst a pile of ahem… “reclaimed” wood in front of the store.  I left with everything I needed to install a leg vice on my workbench including the metal hardware, oak jaw and horizontal guide, for ten dollars.

Of course, now I had to restore it. 

Restoring an Antique Leg Vice

Before I could do anything else I had to disassemble thevice and decide what could be salvaged. Once again I got very lucky and felt like I had struck gold, or at least struck cast iron with a little surface rust. All of the metal components were rusty but in good condition. The two wooden components, the jaw and wooden horizontal guide, were weather worn and had pretty significant twist.

I decided to scrap the wood and make something new. This gave me a chance to at a little foreign flare to my domestic hardwood bench by making the jaw out of bubinga.

I loosened and disassembled all the pieces with a little help from my good friend, WD-40.  Then it was time to clean up the screw components.

The original leg vice as I found it.

The original leg vice as I found it.

I Remember the Days When Screwing was Dirty!

How’s that for a click-bait-title?

Next I had to clean up all of the metal screw components. When I’ve got large pieces of rusted metal to clean, I use a process called electrolysis. The short explanation is that you submerge the metal in an electrolyte solution and apply electricity to the piece to be cleaned and a sacrificial piece of metal.  Through the magic of science that I really don’t understand, the rust moves from the metal to be cleaned to the metal to be sacrificed.  Yay, science! I have a video explaining electrolysis, so check that out if you’re curious.

This is what the screw looked like after going through electrolysis

This is what the screw looked like after going through electrolysis

Final Cleanup

After I removed all of the metal components from the electrolysis bath I dried them up and gave them a good polish with a wire wheel chucked onto my angle grinder.  Yeah, I know, in the video I’m not wearing gloves. What’s not seen in the video is how bad I regretted it later. Always wear hand and eye protection when using an angle grinder if you value your delicate skin and eyeballs.

I did the final cleanup of the screw with an angle grinder and wire wheel.

I did the final cleanup of the screw with an angle grinder and wire wheel.

Designing the New Jaw

I might have been able to salvage the original oak jaw on the vice, but I used this as an opportunity to add a little flair to my workbench.

I decided to make a new jaw by laminating douglas fir and bubinga, but doing so meant I needed to design and mill the new piece. The new jaw needed holes bored for the hardware as well as a mortise to accept the horizontal guide. The decision to use douglas fir on the inside and bubinga on the outside was intentional.  Bubinga is foreign, interesting, and incredibly hard. It’s a great show piece. But my concern was that bubinga is so hard that it could leave impressions in the work I lock into the vice. For that reason I laminated it along with a piece of douglas fir fitted to the inside of the jaw.

When I was restoring the vice it was still too cold outside for wood glue, so I brought the jaw pieces inside for the glue-up. A little Titebond 3, six quick clamps, and a few hours later the new jaw was ready to be cut to it’s final form.


Shaping the Jaw

In my design, the jaw is the same width as the workbench’s leg at the bottom and flares out to about twice the width towards the top. The easiest way I found to make that cut was to draw it out with a pencil and follow the line with my circular saw.

After cutting the jaw to the final shape I used my low angle jack plane to remove the saw marks and smooth the sides, then added a roundover to the edges the whole way around the jaw using a block plane.

Cutting the taper on the jaw of the leg vice

Cutting the taper on the jaw of the leg vice

Modifying the Leg

Because the workbench’s leg becomes the back half of the vice, it needed some modifications. First it needed a hole to accept the screw. The tricky part is that the hole must be larger at the back of the leg where a metal piece gets inserted to catch and lock the screw in place.

The way I solved this problem was to trace a line around the leg that represents the center of the hole. At the back of the leg I begin by drilling with a 2” Forstner bit to the depth of the hardware I need to install. Then I finish at the back using a 1” Forstner bit drilled to about half of the leg’s thickness.  Then I started from the front of the leg and drilled until the holes met in the middle.

By drilling only halfway from either side I limited the amount of error in my angle, and I prevent any blowout from my bit exiting the surface of the wood.

Next I needed to chop a mortise at the bottom of the leg to accept the horizontal guide. This was by far the most difficult part of the whole process and could have been made easier by dismantling the bench and working from an easier angle. I started by drilling out a rough opening for the mortise my making several holes with a ¾” forstner bit. Then I squared up the hole with chisels, rasps, and a metric crap-ton of test-fits and patience.

Modifying the leg to accept the vice hardware.

Modifying the leg to accept the vice hardware.

Installing the Hardware

It was finally time to install the hardware that connected the leg to the jaw.  I pounded the metal piece into the back of the leg that caught the screw.

I had a few more modifications to make to the leg. I drilled a hole in the front for the screw and fastened the front hardware with the original wood screws. I chopped a mortise the the bottom of the inside of the jaw which accepted the horizontal guide. I flared the mortise out at the bottom and added wedge to the end of the guide. For a better understanding of wedged mortise and tenon joints check out this Popular Woodworking article.  I thought this was a more elegant solution than doweling it into place like the designer of the original hardware had done.

After I installed the hardware into the jaw I installed the assembly into the workbench’s leg. I slipped the screw into the hole in the leg and the horizontal guide into the mortise at the bottom. It everything was cut correctly the screw would turn freely and the horizontal guide would glide through the mortise.

It didn’t. But about a half hour of fine adjustment later, the vice glided as gingerly as a young Brian Boitano. Or maybe even an old Brian Boitano. I can honestly say I don’t know what that guy is up to.

Test-fitting the leg vice

Test-fitting the leg vice

Sanding and Finish

Now that the leg vice was functional it was time to tweak the form. I removed it from the bench and sanded it to 220 grit with my random orbit sander. I used a belt sander to delicately trim down the top of the jaw to match the top of the bench, and then I used the sander to trim down the bottom of the jaw so it didn’t scrape the floor. I wiped up the dust and then I applied a few coats of teak oil, which is the same finish I used on the rest of the bench.

Final Thoughts

Like I said at the beginning: a workbench without a vice is just an ugly buffet table. It’s a workbench’s ability to hold your work in place that makes it useful, and for that you need things like vices, dog holes, and holdfasts. Installing the leg vice has literally changed the way that I woodwork. I spend far less time figuring how how to secure lumber to my work surface and far more time actually working with it.

Whether you buy a top of the line BenchCrafted vice kit, the economical version from Woodcraft, or you luck out and find a great hand-me-down vice that you can retrofit to your bench, the important thing is that you have one. And before you settle on a particular vice, I really recommend reading Workbenches by Christopher Schwarz. This is a great book on designing traditional workbenches and has a long section discussing the various types of bench vices, the pros and cons of each type of vice, and plans on how to integrate them into your workbench.

The Restored and Refinished Leg Vice

The Restored and Refinished Leg Vice

The full library of wood grain materials (fills) for Sketchup.

Wood Textures for Sketchup

The full library of wood textures for Sketchup.

The full library of wood grain materials (fills) for Sketchup.


Wood textures for Sketchup are pretty limited by default (they’re called materials in Sketchup Land), and if you spend a lot of time in the program you’ll soon be bored and annoyed with them. The limited variety makes it difficult to add visual appeal to your drawings that accurately represents your work. Sketchup is great at conveying shape and dimensions, but not so much a wood grain finish.

Fortunately someone took the time to make a pretty decent library of wood textures (ahem… materials) for Sketchup.  You can download them at the Sketchup 3D Warehouse.  I did not create them.  A user named Edward F., converted them to the most recent Sketchup format and uploaded them to the Sketchup Warehouse.  Alan Bennet at sawdustroad.com created the originals. Thanks to both for making Sketchup even better for woodworkers!

It’s important to follow the instructions to load them into Sketchup. If you have trouble, feel free to ask for help!

Wood Textures for Sketchup 2014 or Above

The instructions on the page above are for older versions of Sketchup. If you’re using a newer version (2014 or higher), follow these instructions to add wood textures for Sketchup:

  1. Download the file from the Sketchup Warehouse.
  2. Go to File > Open and select the SKP file you just downloaded. If you get a message about the file being created in an older version of Sketchup, just press OK.
  3. If it’s not already open, show the Materials window by selecting Window > Materials.
  4. There is a drop down menu that lets you select Materials collections. Click the dropdown menu and select In Model.
  5. Click the Details button (the arrow next to the drop down menu you just clicked), and select Save Collection As…
  6. You’ll be asked to browse to a folder.  Select your My Documents Folder, then click Make New Folder and name it “Wood Species”, or whatever you want your new Materials Collection to be called.

More Wood Textures for Sketchup

As I find them, I’ll post additional wood textures for Sketchup here.

A set of bench hooks made from two 12" scraps of 2 x 4.

Bench Hooks Inspired by Roy Underhill

The deeper I fall down the woodworking rabbit hole, the more I’m drawn to shop-made solutions. I discovered a video of Roy Underhill of the Woodwright’s Shop making something called a bench hook, and it was a real forehead-slapping moment for me. Woodworkers spend a ton of time and money on work-holding clamps and jigs. This video serves as a reminder that tons of forgotten knowledge exists  about how craftsmen did things before the dawn of the modern clamp. Fortunately folks like Roy feel a responsibility to pass down old but far from obsolete knowledge to schmucks like me who would otherwise solve their problems with an army of Bessy clamps.

A set of bench hooks made from two 12" scraps of 2 x 4.

A set of bench hooks made from two 12″ scraps of 2 x 4.

What The Heck is a Bench Hook?

A Bench Hook is a workbench accessory that uses the momentum of your own woodworking movement to limit your work’s ability to shift across the workbench. A traditional bench hook consists of three pieces of wood:

  1. One piece stretches partway across your workbench and your work rests on top of it.
  2. A second piece is fastened to the bottom of the first which will lock against the front of your workbench.
  3. A third piece is fastened to the top of the first, which will prevent your work from pushing across your bench as you saw, plane, or chisel.

Shown below is a video shot by Roy Underhill for Lie Nielson Toolworks on how to make a bench hook out of a single, foot-long piece of wood. I really like this design, and Roy conveniently offers dimensions such that you can make a bench hook out of scrap 2 x 4 if that’s your wish.  You can see in the picture above that that’s exactly what I did.  Using about 2 feet of scrap 2 x 4, I created a set of bench hooks that should work great, you know… once I finish building my work bench!

Upgrading a Dewalt DW735 Planer to a Shelix Cutterhead

I’m just going to put it out there: out of the box my Dewalt DW735 was a huge disappointment, and it continued to disappoint me through two years, hundreds of board feet of stock, and multiple blade replacements. I finally convinced myself to invest in a Shelix Cutterhead. This post documents the experience.

Why I Purchased the Shelix Upgrade to my DW735

From the day I bought my DW735 about 2 years ago, I was disappointed in it.  The blades that come pre-installed wear out quickly. Fortunately I knew this at the time of purchase, so I immediately picked up a pack of carbide-tipped replacement blades. The carbide blades are expensive and, while they don’t lose their edge as fast as the factory blades, their performance wasn’t much better. My DW735 fed slowly, burnt the face of my work, often stalled out and tripped breakers, and all this while taking off an absolute minimum of material.

This is what was left of one of my planer blades when I took the cover off the machine.

This is what was left of one of my planer blades when I took the cover off the machine.

Then there was the blade shrapnel incident. While hogging through a not-particularly nasty knot, about a third of one of my planer’s knives went flying. I had a replacements on-hand, but just knowing that this was a possibility put me incredibly on edge every time I fired up the machine.

About a week and a half ago I decided to start building my Roubo workbench.  The top of a Roubo workbench is made by laminating a bunch of hardwood into one beefy rectangle.  It was a joke to think my planer could handle the job as-is, so it seemed like the right time to upgrade.

Installing the Shelix Cutterhead in the DW735

I purchased the Shelix Cutterhead from Amazon and it took about four days to arrive (one day ahead of schedule). I didn’t bother recording the installation because there is already great content available.  Byrd (the manufacturer of the Shelix) provides PDF-format Shelix Installation in a DeWalt DW735 Instructions on their website. Fellow YouTuber Chris Wong recorded his entire installation in a three-part video series, the first of which is included below.

I must be some sort of planer modding savant, because the installation took me about 45 minutes,  about half the time I’ve heard from others.  The one piece of advice I have to offer is this: order snap-ring pliers when you order your Shelix. There are three snap rings that need removed and re-seated during the process, and you’ll spend more time trying to remove them without the proper tool than you will for the rest of the installation.

How the Shelix Cutterhead Performs in Practice

My DW735 with it's new Shelix cutterhead.

My DW735 with it’s new Shelix cutterhead.

After installing the Shelix I sent a piece of white pine through the planer just to verify that I hadn’t accidentally built The Mangler. No one died and the test piece came out smooth, quietly, and far faster than it would have with any of Dewalt’s blades.

I decided to do something that would have been laughable before: I started planing the top of my Roubo workbench.  I glued two pieces together, let the glue cure, then planed them.  Next I glued 4 pieces together, let it cure, then planed. Finally I glued 8 pieces together: that’s 4″ thick x 12″ wide by 96″ long. I think I actually heard the Shelix laugh at me for ever thinking this would be a problem. My work came out smooth, flat, and with no burn marks.  Using the Dewalt 13″ blades, the unit would have tripped the breaker in seconds.


Upgrading my DW735 planer to the Shelix Cutterhead made the machine a pleasure to use and allows it to produce the sort of results that I had hoped for when I bought the planer. It’s simple to install and the process is well-documented.  If you’re not satisfied with the performance of your Dewalt DW735, I highly recommend investing in a Shelix before dumping the planer for a different model.

Rugged Stair Treads Using Butterfly Keys

Decorative Stair Treads Made From Cracked Oak with Butterfly Keys

What do you do if you have the perfect piece of lumber for a project, but it’s strength is compromised by a crack?  Or what if that crack is just what you’re  looking for in a natural or “worn” project, but the lumber must be stable for your project to function? Butterfly keys are the perfect solution!

Unfortunately this post is not about how to cut a butterfly key. That’s coming up later.  This post exists exclusively to gloat about my first project that incorporates a butterfly key: the steps leading into my master bathroom. The steps are made out of three 4/4 oak slabs I found covered with dust and dirt in my basement when I first moved into my house.  A few trips through the planer rendered some gorgeous red oak, but two of the three slabs had a pretty serious crack.

My first inclination was to cut out the compromised section and glue it back up, but then the idea occurred to me that this was the perfect opportunity to try out a woodworking technique I’ve been itching to try: butterfly keys.  A butterfly key (or bow-tie key) is a piece that’s basically just a piece of wood shaped like a bow-tie. If you want to be all geometrical about it, it’s two trapezoids that mirror each other.  The butterfly key is then inlayed into the primary workpiece, right across the crack you wish to secure.  The shape of the key locks the two sides of the crack in place and provides a pretty significant increase in stability for not a whole lot of work.

Or course the video above won’t show you how to do any of that.  I’m just gloating because I’m so thrilled with how my butterfly keys turned out.  But I will be doing a tutorial video on how to cut butterfly keys in the near future.

Replacing a Switch on a Grizzley G8027 Dust Collector

I recently purchased a Grizzley G8027 dust collector from an ad I found in CraigsList. It worked great for a couple of sessions, but I quickly found that the switch had problems and eventually it just stopped clicking on. This model comes with a locking switch that allows you to lock it into the on position, which is nice if you’re going to control it from elsewhere in your shop.

Unfortunately I had a hard time finding an identical switch for a reasonable price.  But I found a dirt-cheap switch on Amazon that will do just fine for my purposes:

The switch is simple to install.  First unplug the dust collector from power.  Unscrew the faceplate. Once you can get to the back of the switch, pull the wires off the terminals on the switch.  To remove the switch from the faceplate, push in the sides of the switch, then push it out the front of the faceplate.  Slide the new switch in the same way, hook the wires up, reattach the faceplate, and plug the unit back in to test it.

Poor Man's Jointer

Poor Man’s Jointer

A jointer is one of the most indispensable tools you can put in your hobby wood shop, not because it can perform a large variety of tasks but because it does one common task incredibly well: making the edge of a board straight. But what if you don’t have the money or space for a jointer, or just prefer to use your resources on a tool does more, or is at least more exciting? Or maybe you’re like me: I learn to appreciate these modern toys by doing things the hard way.

I call this project the Poor Man’s Jointer. Basically I made a crude fence for a hand plane that mimics the 90 degree fence of a jointer. There are products on the market that do the same thing, but a similar jig is so easy to make, I’m not sure why you’d buy one.

Making the Fence

First you’ll need a pretty substantially-sized hand plane. It doesn’t need to be expensive: I picked up my Stanley #32 Transitional plane at a yard sale for $10 and spent about the same amount cleaning it up. I did, however, buy a Veritas blade, but after sharpening the original that was definitely unnecessary.

(Note: I’m intentionally not providing measurements because your plane will, undoubtedly, be different from mine.)

To make the fence you’ll need some straight and square scraps about the same length as the body of your plane. The first piece should be the length of the plane and about three times the height. The second piece should be the same length, and the height of the first piece minus the height of the plane’s body. Screw them together such that three edges line up perfectly, leaving a gap to the top the same height as your plane.

Rest the plane on the inner strip and mark where the throat of the plane comes into contact with it. Notch out the fence in this area so that, when the plane iron descends, it descends into the open notch. The whole point of the smaller strip is to eliminate the edge of the plane’s sole where the blade cannot come into contact with the work piece. Now as the fence glides along the edge of the work piece, the plane iron will be able to hit the entire surface of the edge you’re trying to joint.

Finally, use a couple of C-clamps to hold the fence to your plane and you’re in business!

White pine spoon with mineral oil finish

My First Spoon

This isn’t an instructional post.  In fact, this time around I’m writing an “Am I Doing it Right?” blog post.  Pictured here is my very first spoon.  It’s made out of a scrap of white pine because that’s what I happened to trip over upon entering my shed.

The tools involved were a gouge chisel I picked up at a flea market and my new Stanley Sweetheart chisels for carving, a coping saw for cutting out the rough shape, a spokeshve I borrowed from work for rounding it over, and a sandpaper from 80 down to 1500.

I don’t know if white pine is appropriate for contact with food.  And the only food-safe finish I could find at the town hardware store was mineral oil.  They had boiled linseed oil, tung oil and teak oil but all seemed to have additives and an explicit “DO NOT INGEST” message on the label.

So I’m asking folks who make wooden kitchenware: what did I do wrong?

White pine spoon with mineral oil finish

White pine spoon with mineral oil finish

Build a Sawhorse for Ripping Lumber with a Handsaw

Ripping a long board with a handsaw is no easy task. Take the amount of muscle required out of the equation and just consider the skill involved in cutting a perfectly straight line for more than a few inches, and you’ll understand why people rush to the table saw.  Yet somehow, before the days of power tools with long, straight fences woodworkers managed to make beautiful, precise masterpieces.

Enter the Ripping Sawhorse

A beautiful, precise masterpiece this project is not. It’s made out of scraps of 2×4 and plywood whereas the Fine Woodworking project on which it was modeled (and luthier who apparently had the same idea) is built from quality lumber. Personally I don’t see a point in spending a ton of money on something that is purely function, not form.

I took Tom Killen’s design and made one critical modification: I ripped the saddle down the center and reassembled it with 1/16″ filler strips at either end.  This created a top in which I could clamp my workpiece and easily saw through it lengthwise using the gap as a saw guide.

A Tip From a Tablesaw

Do you know why your table saws and circular saws all have a riving knife behind the blade (that you probably removed for convenience)? It’s to prevent the two sides of the workpiece from binding back together when they clear the back of the blade.  On a power took that binding can create a difficult situation. Binding happens using a hand saw too, but it’s more likely to just make sawing harder than it is to throw a board at your face.  To prevent binding put a nail or a shim in your saw kerf after you’ve worked far enough into the rip cut that it won’t interfere with your saw blade.