5 Easy Tips for Efficient Woodworking

As a devoted woodworker, I'm always looking for ways to improve precision, safety and efficiency in my shop. And when others can benefit from these ideas, it makes them even more valuable. In that spirit, here are a few of my favorite tips.

Table saw dust collection
I have a cabinet saw with a 4-in. dust-collection port in the base, and it works relatively well to keep the base clean. However, the saw needs a second port around the blade. Like most fences, mine has a device for attaching jigs to the top, so I came up with a way to reach across the table with an adjustable arm that stays out of the way of the workpiece and still collects dust at the source. The cantilevered arm cost less than $20, and it works with T-slots and grooves. It holds a piece of 4-in. water pipe over the blade. The bottom edge of the plastic pipe was formed on a drum sander.

Usable featherboard
The reason most people don't use featherboards on the table saw is that they are a pain to adjust, and the ones that lock into the miter slot are way too small to use for anything but ripping very thin boards. I drilled two 1/4-in. holes in the cast-iron wing on the left-hand side of my saw and used a tap-and-die set to thread the holes. Then I made a long, wide featherboard with a pair of slots that will handle almost every board that passes across the saw. When I'm working with large plywood panels, I simply undo the two plastic knobs and remove the entire jig in seconds.

Tipsy vise
Woodworkers with single-screw end vises on their workbenches know that these vises skew when a workpiece is locked into one end — the other end overtightens and the vise is soon out of alignment. As the two most common thicknesses of stock are 3/4 in. and 1/2 in., I made this simple device by drilling a 3/4-in. dowel to hold a short length of 1/2-in. dowel, which is retained by a nail. Attached to the bench with a light chain, it's always handy when I need to lock a board in the vise. I simply drop it in place, and the dowel that isn't spacing the jaws acts as a stop to keep the jig from falling through.

Zero clearance with a twist
A zero clearance is a must when running thin stock through the table saw. Without it, small parts can fall down beside the blade and cause accidents. On well-sealed cabinet saws, though, a zero-clearance insert can inhibit the dust collector's airflow and reduce its efficiency. So I drilled a series of holes in mine to compensate for the restriction. The holes are spaced on the right side of the blade so that small parts have full support throughout a pass. And because the insert won't work with the saw's original pawls and splitter, I added an aftermarket plastic splitter (the MJ Splitter from Micro Jig) behind the blade to avoid kickback problems.

Clean glue lines with a router
The debates are endless: If you clean up glue with a wet rag, will the water dilute the glue? Or should you wait until the glue skins over a little and then use a chisel or scraper? I do both, and I also have a trick for those occasions when I miss a glue line and it hardens. I chuck a straight bit in the router, attach a simple shop-made bridge base and go to work. The base has a wide dado in its bottom face, and this bridges the glue joint. A 1-in. straight bit makes quick work of excess glue. To set the bit height, place the router (with the wooden base) on a flat surface such as a table saw or jointer and lower the bit to the table. This makes it flush with the bottom of the base.

This was one of the most-viewed Handy articles in 2014. Click here to check out the six other articles that earned the "Best of 2014" title.