10 Woodworking Tricks the Pros Use

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Introduction: 10 Woodworking Tricks the Pros Use

About: I'm Mike and I make crazy things at Instructables HQ in San Francisco. Follow me and try a few of my projects for yourself!

I'm always looking for shortcuts in my work, either to save time or make my life easier. Over time, I've come across a new way to do something I've done a hundred times before and wonder why it never occurred to me to find an easier way.

In an effort to share some of my experiences in the shop, here are 10 woodworking tips that I've learned from professionals or on my own. These tips are simple yet effective ways to stay organized and efficient when working with wood. If you have any of your own tricks, share a picture of them in the comments below and help out others. Be sure to check out the second part I made based on some of the responses in the comments, 10 MORE Woodworking Tricks the Pros Use.

I hope these woodworking tips help you in your next project!

Step 1: Wood Layout - Triangle Registration

When laying out wood pieces it's easy to get them mixed up, especially when you've got multiple cuts of a similar length. Numbering the pieces and where they join is fine, but an even easier way is to use a triangular shape. When the pieces are moved, you can quickly visualize their position relative to each other since there will only be one way that triangle shape can be made when together.

Scribe a triangle onto your wood when they are laying in the correct position, ensuring some part of the triangle hits all the pieces you want to register with each other. Using a straight edge makes this a quick and easy method to keep even the most complex glue-ups properly references.

Whether you've got boards laminated together in a particular orientation, or just multiple pieces that need to be in a specific place, the triangle registration mark is a great tool to use.

Step 2: Marking Cut Lines

When measuring material to be cut I find it helpful to put a little tick mark of the side to cut on. This simple action saves countless time remeasuring and helps me account for kerf, the thickness of the blade you are cutting with.

Kerf is the divergence between the left and right sides of the saw teeth, and any cutting will result in some loss of wood that is turned into sawdust. If you just cut directly on the marked line the blade kerf would eat into your measured piece, causing your cut to be inaccurate. This may not seem like a big deal, but if you've ever had a project be a 1/8" out of measurement you know how frustrating this can be.

The solution is to measure your piece and make a small tick to one side of the measured line, indicated which side to cut on. Once measured, line your blade up to the line with the blade on the ticked side, so that the kerf will be on one side of the line and not into your measured area. If you ever work with a buddy and are dividing labor this is a great trick to keep each other informed of the areas to cut.

I use this every time I mark cut lines, and it's a great habit to fall into.

Step 3: Straight Lines on Dowels

Making a straight line on a dowel is something that comes up every so often and can appear to be a tough task, despite all the fancy measuring tools you may have at your disposal. However, the solution is simple: just place the dowel into any straight slotted surface. In the workshop, that can be the track of your table saw and laying a pencil against the track and dowel to create a line.

Don't have a table saw? Just use any door jamb or casing. This trick can work on all kinds of cylindrical objects you need a bisecting line on.

Step 4: Story Stick

Making accurate measurements is important but there's an easy way to cut down on repetitive measurements by making a story stick, a measured reference that can be easily made out of any squared scrap laying around.

Story sticks are great because they can be as specific as you need, are less cumbersome than a tape measure, and once you have the measurement marked there's no chance of a misread measurement.

Taking this concept further a story stick can also be used from drilling holes a consistent distance from an edge. Make a story stick as usual, but this time drill an opening at the measured mark. Now your story stick can be used as a drill guide.

Step 5: Drill Depth

Not every hole that's drilled needs to be completely though the material. Though setting up stops on a drill press is easy enough, there are plenty of times when using the press isn't the best tool for the job (portability, size of material, etc.). Making a depth marker for a handheld power drill is as easy as using a piece of tape to mark the intended depth of that bit.

This is the same tip discussed in the Drilling Perfect Holes lesson in the Woodworking Class.

Step 6: Glue Cleanup

Glue is a great tool for lots of woodworking projects. Applying glue is simple enough, but sometimes there can be a bit of a mess. While the glue is still wet, cleanup of glue squeeze-out is as simple as applying sawdust to the glue and rubbing it around to absorb the excess glue. This is a preferable method for glue removal over a damp cloth or sponge, as moisture can cause wood to swell.

Glue cleanup from your hands is even easier. If you get any glue on your hands after your piece is secure you can easily remove it by just rubbing your hands together. Wet or still damp glue should just flake off.

Step 7: Keep Slippery Glue-Ups Steady

Not every glue job going smoothly, and sometimes wood pieces are want to slip apart when being clamped together. This is especially true if you have multiple pieces that are being glued together and secured in a single clamp. An easy fix for this is sprinkling a small amount of salt onto the glue before clamping.

The salt crystal shape act like square wheels on a car, preventing the pieces from sliding around. In the above image I used too much salt for illustrative purposes.

When clamping the salt is embedded into the wood and is untraceable from the outside.

Step 8: Wax Paper Cover

Accidentally gluing your work to the bench is a mistake that usually only happens once. Keeping a roll of wax or parchment paper under your glue-up will not only keep your workbench clean by catching glue drips, but will also prevent your work from sticking to the bench while it's drying

Rather than use the serrated edge on the roll, I find it easiest to unroll more wax paper than I think I'll need and trim it to the specific shape once it's under the work. A shop ruler works great for ripping a clean edge on the wax paper.

Step 9: Hold Glue-Ups Instantly

Sometimes a clamp just won't fit into where I need to hold a piece during a glue-up, and sometimes I'm too impatient to wait for the wood glue to set before needing to move on to the next part of the build. In cases like this, hot glue is a great crutch to use with wood glue and hold the glue-up instantly.

Plug in your hot glue gun and let it come to temperature before applying any wood glue. Once your hot glue is ready, apply wood glue as usual but leave small gaps every so often in the piece to be glued.

Once your wood glue is applied add a squirt of hot glue in the gaps of wood glue. Before the hot glue has a chance to set, join the wood pieces together and hold in place for a few seconds. The hot glue bonds the two pieces together with enough strength to keep working, and holding the wood in place until the wood glue can take hold and make a stronger bond.

Step 10: Sandpaper Organization

I have all kinds of abrasive paper on hand, just in case I need a specific grit or type. As such, my sandpaper storage was a mess. Since almost all sandpaper is the same size as printer paper, I keep it all neatly organized in an inexpensive accordion-style file folder.

I pulled all of my sandpaper out of it's packaging and sorted it by grit. Each grit has it's own slot in the folder, with the front pouch reserved for smaller scraps of sandpaper.

Now my sandpaper is all in one place, and I can just grab the folder and bring it to my work and have all the sandpaper I could ever want.

Happy making! :)


Do you have your own woodworking tips that keep you productive or organized? I want to see them!

Share a photo of your great tip or trick in the comments below and get a freePro Membership to Instructables!

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131 Comments

drawing a triangle is a very good idea, the only problem i see is getting rid of the pencil lines at the end of the job especially if you intend varnishing your work.

I always numbered my corners 1/1, 2/2 etc which sometimes got confusing when dealing with lots of pieces. So I will use the triangle method along with my numbering system.

My tip - If your worried about getting rid of the pencil marks is to get a roll of masking tape and do all your numbering or draw in your triangles on the tape.

Using masking tape is a good method if you are taking already painted or varnished jobs apart which will need assembled at a later date.

10 replies

Denatured alcohol on a rag will remove pencil marks, at least on tight-grained wood. Doesn't raise the grain either.

Pick your tape carefully. I purchased a poplar handrail that had its barcode on the top. No amount of sanding, solvents, or re-staining were able to remove the "light rectangle" after staining.

To clarify, the sticker had already come off (charged as it was one of several); but the adhesive had penetrated the wood. It was sanded and stained. At that time, the spot stood out similar to a glueing mistake. The sanding, etc. that followed did not change the effect.
I use the triangle method and don't make a groove with the pencil. A little sanding should come at that point anyway.

Try a heat gun to warm the label befotre you remove it. The leftover glue rectangle you mentioned will be gone.

Cheers!

I think EwaldG might be referring to a difference in colour where the label had been due to light/sun bleaching everywhere but beneath the bar-code sticker

It's taken me years to realise that the bog standard "masking" tape, the beige "crepe" stuff, has few uses in woodworking or anything else other than sealing up the rubbish bags.

The more expensive, "low tack" tapes are pretty much the only ones I use now and I'm picky about the brands. Tesa and Scotch are by far the best and Tesa is my favorite. If you dealve around a bit and find a decent stockist, you can find tapes for any job. The Tesa tapes leave no residue, have pin sharp edges and pull off cleanly even after years

You need "GooGone" get it at your hardware store.

my thing was to used multiple tick marks on the insides of the pieces, 1 matched up with 1, 2 with 2, etc. Its quick and you can mark with pen, keel, even scratches or slight indents.

We always used chalk. It comes off super easy with a light sanding.

Cheers!

good idea - its nice to have a few choices

Cheers

Love the sandpaper organizer idea most of all!

A couple of measuring and layout tips.

Measuring to mark up with a tape measure can be a pain, especially if you starting in the middle of a length. Instead of measuring from the hook of the tape, start somewhere else like the 10-cm mark and mark the other point, not forgetting that you've added 10 to the total.

Use a Stanley knife (Stanley FatMax my favorite) to mark the spot. Keep the knife in place while you offer up the square.

One of my favorite tools for marking out large panels, is a large 600 x 400-mm roofers steel square. To make it more useful, find a small, say 1/4-inch aluminium channel that will fit over the edge of the blade. Drill and tap the channel to take some small thumb screws and you have an edge to offer up.

I use the same technique on circular saws and add a long, say 600-mm length of channel to the saw fence to give a much better guide when running along the edge of a panel.

If like me, you have piles of unsorted wood or machine screws, take a 1-inch aluminium bar, 1/8-inch thick, drill it with all your favorite screw sizes, say 3-mm to 8-mm, and also saw mark the lengths at 10-mm intervals down one edge of the bar. Spend a nice sunny day going through the screws sizing them then put them back in the boxes.

4 replies

I second the use of a roofers steel square for marking out, I wouldn't be without mine and of course they're great for checking your internal corners are at 90 degrees. I also rarely use the hook on my tape measures as they wear and are not always accurate.

I've never really got to grips with what they're actually meant for.
Mines an American Stanley square with all the hip etc. scales on it as a bonus.
There is a tubing system meant for making up tables etc. It is based on 1" square aluminium tube. The 2-metre length is the best straightedge I have ever used and again, to make it more useful, I added an ally coat hook on one end so that you can easily keep it in place on a large panel.
It was originally used as a clothes line prop, hence the hook, but it's new use is much better.
Use some hot glue to fix it to the wall as the supporting batten for the first row of wall tiles - totally rigid, no flexing

Good tip. Has your better half inquired about her cloths line prop?

No contest. Tiles and straightedges come along way up the pecking order

Need to evenly divide a board in half? or into thirds? fourths? But the board widths is an odd dimension and you don't want to do the math? Then angle the tape measure until it measures an easy to divide number.

In the pictures, my board measure 5.25" long. To divide it in half, I angled the tape measure until it measure at 6" and then marked the 3" line. Likewise, to divide it into thirds, I measured every 2."

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1 reply

A nice use of Thales' theorem.

When vice clamping something special or delicate, use pieces of wood glued in this fashion to ensure that you have a good hold and not damage your part, I use these so often! Have a good one!

(The first 2 pictures are the vice and marks,and then the next two are with the wood, see no marks on the pipe! )

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