Mortising on the Drill Press

Mortising on the Drill Press

Simple improvements make a mortising attachment work great.

By Tim Johnson

Purchase the complete version of this woodworking project story from

Even though they’re sexy, benchtop mortising machines aren’t the only power-tool option when it comes to cutting square-shouldered mortises. A drill-press mortising attachment can be just as effective and it costs a lot less. I’ll show you how to tune any out-of–the-box mortising attachment so it’s easy to install and a joy to use.

Mortising attachments are available for almost every drill press. Although they vary in appearance, they all have three basic components: a fence, a chisel holder and a hold-down. Upgrading these parts to stabilize the workpiece and operating the drill press at the optimal speed are the keys to success.

Two-piece mortising chisels cut square holes. The auger bit fits inside the chisel and protrudes slightly. During operation, the auger drills a round hole and the four-sided chisel squares the corners. Cut side by side, square holes create mortises (see photo, above).

Click any image to view a larger version.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker May 2005, issue #114.

May 2005, issue #114

Purchase this back issue.

Purchase the complete version of this woodworking project story from


Router Table Box Joints

Router Table Box Joints

The perfect fit comes easily with a simple shop-made jig.

By Tom Caspar

Purchase the complete version of this woodworking technique story from

Box joints are a cinch to make on a router table. All you need are a sharp bit and a basic plywood jig.

The biggest problem in making box joints has always been getting a precise fit, because the line between success and failure is only a few thousandths of an inch thick. Fortunately, the solution simply requires that your jig be easy to adjust, not difficult to make. I’ve added a microadjust system to my jig that is incredibly precise but takes only a minute to put together.

This jig is designed to make 1/2 in. box joints in stock up to 5 in. wide. It’s dedicated to only one size of router bit. To make wider or narrower box joints, you must build another jig. For box joints wider than 1/2 in., you’re better off using a tablesaw and a different kind of jig. If your project requires box joints that are more than 5 in. wide, widen the jig accordingly.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker March 2005, issue #113.

March 2005, issue #113

Purchase this back issue.



Four-Sided Quartersawn Table Legs

Four-Sided Quartersawn Table Legs

How to rout lock miters on narrow pieces.

By Tom Caspar and Stewart Crick

Purchase the complete version of this woodworking technique story from

If you spotted an oak leg with quartersawn figure on all four sides, your first reaction might be: That’s neat! But if you know wood, your second reaction ought to be: Now, how did they do that?

Well, there’s more than one way. You could make a solid, plainsawn leg and glue quartersawn veneer on all four sides. Or you could make a leg from quartersawn wood and veneer just two sides. Or you can do what L. & J. G. Stickley did over one hundred years ago, in the heyday of the Arts and Crafts era, and make the leg from four interlocking pieces of solid wood. This method is the most durable type of construction because there’s no chance of veneer flaking off. Using a modern lock miter router bit, it works well for any size leg, big or small.

Figuring out how to make these lock miters safely and accurately on a narrow leg can be quite a challenge. On each piece, one lock miter is routed with the piece held vertically; the other is routed with the piece held horizontally. The problem, as you can readily see, is that the pieces have very small bearing surfaces. The solution: make a push block and a jig to hold the pieces rock steady for each pass.

Click any image to view a larger version.

8. Glue four identical pieces to make the leg. The interlocking miters prevent the pieces from slipping side to side.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker April/May 2009, issue #141.

April/May 2009, issue #141

Purchase this back issue.

Purchase the complete version of this woodworking technique story from


Hammer Your Own Copper Hardware

Hammer Your Own Copper Hardware

By David Olson

Purchase the complete version of this woodworking technique story from


Hardware doesn’t have to come from a catalog. You can make your own. The raw materials are inexpensive and you won’t have to buy lots of special metalsmithing tools, because most of the things you’ll need are already in your shop. Learning the techniques for working copper can be rewarding and fun. Annealing and work hardening were new to me, and may be to you, but cutting, hammering, and drilling are familiar to woodworkers.

Working copper is a blast!

I was pleased with the very first copper piece I made, and my results kept getting better the more I practiced. Once you’re familiar with the techniques, you’ll be able to make all the hardware for the AW Stickley-Style Sideboard project (available from—or just about any Mission or Arts and Crafts style piece of furniture in a couple of weekends. If you decide to try making your own, I guarantee that you will enjoy the process and be thrilled by the results.

Materials and sources

For the AW Stickley-Style Sideboard, you’ll need 2 sq. ft. of 48-oz. copper sheet stock (.064 gauge) for hinge straps and backplates, 3' of 5/16" copper rod stock (AISI grade #110) for bails, 10" of 1/2" x 1/2" copper bar stock for posts, and 10" of 4-gauge copper grounding rod for post pins (Photo 19). Sheet metal and architectural metal fabricators are often willing to sell the small amounts of sheet stock you’ll need. Rod and bar stock is harder to find. Try salvage yards or order through the mail (see Sources). Grounding rod is available anywhere electrical wiring supplies are sold. You’ll also need pickling flux and silver solder, and perhaps a patinizing solution (see “The Look of Aged Copper”). All of these things are also available through the mail (see Sources).


The only specialized tools you’ll need to work the copper are hammers and a punch, something to pound on, a heat source, and places to heat and cool the metal.

You can buy real metalsmithing hammers (see Sources), or use some elbow grease and make your own from inexpensive 16-oz. ball peen hammers. Be sure to wear eye protection when you try this.

Reshape one flat hammer face into a shallow dome (Fig. A, Planishing Hammer) using a disc or belt sander. The shape of the dome determines the size of the mark. I found a 5/16" dia. mark the most attractive. Some areas that need texture are too small for the planishing hammer, so I domed the tip of a length of steel rod (Fig. A, Mini-planisher). Shape the face of the second hammer into a shallow-domed rectangle that slopes toward the handle (Fig. A, Forming Hammer). To quickly get the rectangular shape on this one, I cut away the unnecessary steel with a 4-1/2" cut-off wheel in my grinder/sander before moving to the disc sander for final shaping. You can do this whole job on the disc sander, but it will take longer. A third hammer face remains flat. Smooth and polish all of these faces with an orbital sander, working through sandpaper grits up to 600. Any blemishes left on the hammer faces will be transferred to the copper.

To achieve a crisp texture on the copper you must hammer it on a hard surface. Wood is not hard enough. I used a piece of 1/2" steel plate for the hinge straps and backplates (Photo 2) and a massive steel block for the bails (Photo 13). I bought both at a salvage yard for next to nothing. Raising the crowned shape of the hinge straps and bolt heads can be done using a piece of maple 1-3/4" x 4" x 12" (Photo 5) as a forming block.

You’ll need a high-output, self-starting torch and a tank of MAPP gas to get the copper hot enough to anneal it— propane won’t do. I made my own annealing tray by filling an aluminum cake pan with pumice stones (see Sources, p. 8) and used a plastic container for the quenching bath.

Click any image to view a larger version

1. Saw the hardware pieces following paper patterns fixed to the copper sheet with spray adhesive. Copper is soft enough to cut on a bandsaw using a generalpurpose, fine-tooth blade. Centerpunch all drill hole marks on the patterns, smooth all burrs and refine the edges with abrasives or files. Remove paper and adhesive residue, then polish the copper faces with 400-grit wet/dry sandpaper.

2. Create a hammered texture by striking the copper with a planishing hammer on a flat steel surface. Be sure to hammer the face—the side with the centerpunched holes. Practice hammering on scraps so you can get a feel for the metal and develop a hammering rhythm. Slightly overlapping each stroke creates a nicely balanced look.

6. Pound an annealed strap into the forming block to create the raised center. Use the forming hammer. The strap will bend dramatically as it is worked, but you can flatten it by gently tapping its top side with a non-marring mallet. Anneal the copper when it becomes work hardened (see “The Annealing Process").

8. Hammer texture marks onto the convex profile at the tip of the freshly annealed hinge strap. A ball peen hammer held in a vice serves as a stake—an anvil for texturing a curved object. Make sure each blow of the planishing hammer is centered on the stake hammer below. As you work, move the hinge strap, not the hammer, for each blow. Use the forming block to flatten the tip if it distorts.

11. Hammer penny-sized polished copper discs into a spherical cavity in the forming block with the ball peen hammer. Center a steel tack in the concave backside and silver-solder it in place.

13. Pound around the annealed rod with the forming hammer to lengthen and taper it. Work from the center out, and rotate the rod with each blow. It will take four to five courses of pounding and annealing to achieve the final length and the desired taper.

16. Start the bend of the door’s V-shaped bail by pounding it, freshly annealed, over a 1" x 1/4" steel bar clamped so its edge is slightly below the bail’s centerline. Anneal the bail when you sense work hardening. Frequent annealing assures that bends occur where you want them. Repeat the process of annealing and bending until the final V-shape is attained. Make sure the pins align.

18. Drill holes in copper bar stock that has been divided into 1/4" sections, leaving room for saw kerfs between them (Fig. B, posts). These shallow holes, which are centered in each section, will have pins soldered into them. After drilling, carefully saw between each post from the pin end, stopping two-thirds of the way through. This establishes the individual posts, but keeps them connected and easy to handle.

20. Solder the pins in place. First coat all pieces with flux and hammer the pins in place. Place a sliver of solder at the junction of each pin and post. Then heat the bar, holding the torch on the side opposite the solder, until the solder flows into the joints. Heat the metal, not the copper, and don’t overheat. After soldering, sand the pins so they’re slightly longer than the thickness of the backplates. Then drill shallow 5/32" dia. holes in the end of each one to facilitate riveting (Photo 22 and Fig. D).

23. Rivet posts to the backplate. First position posts on the pins at the ends of a bail. If the bail pins are properly bent, the posts will align parallel to one another. Make necessary adjustments before positioning them on the backplate. Work on a softwood block so the bail holes in the posts are not distorted. If you don’t have three hands, get help from a friend.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker August 1999, issue #74.

August 1999, issue #74

Purchase this back issue.

Purchase the complete version of this woodworking technique story from


Tips for Better Picture Frames

Tips for Better Picture Frames

Frame like a pro with simple tools.

By Dave Munkittrick

Purchase the complete version of this woodworking technique story from

Blind splines

Until somebody discovers a miracle glue for end grain, miter joints will need reinforcement. Nails work, but pounding them in delicate frame material can be risky. Blind splines offer invisible reinforcement without nails. Cut the slots on a router table using a guide board and a 1/8-in. slot cutter. Each piece is cut face up (mark the faces as a reminder). Feed the stock from the right for one cut and from the left for the second cut.

Cut the splines from a strip of hardwood with a 1-in. plug cutter and orient the grain perpendicular to the joint for strength.

Click any image to view a larger version.

Four-point frame clamp

This shop-made frame clamp puts equal pressure on all four corners of your frame at once, for quick, hassle-free assembly. Use scraps of paper towel under each joint to absorb glue squeeze out. Set the pivoting corner blocks to fit your frame. Apply enough clamp pressure to hold the frame together but still allow you to align the pieces for a perfect fit. Finally, clamp tight.


Matting and mounting


1. Lay out the mat opening with a marking gauge. You can easily make your own from a block of wood and some 5/8-in. dowel.

4. Position the artwork in the mat opening. A simple block of wood with some acid-free mat board glued on the bottom keeps the artwork from shifting as the mat is raised and lowered for positioning. Don’t be tempted to use your finger as a hold-down, acids and oils from your skin will cause the artwork to deteriorate over time.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker August 2001, issue #88.

August 2001, issue #88

Purchase this back issue.

Purchase the complete version of this woodworking technique story from


Classic Frame and Panel Door

Classic Frame and Panel Door

Traditional methods for making doors that last.

By Lonnie Bird

Purchase the complete version of this woodworking technique story from


A few design elements are as simple, beautiful or enduring as the frame-and-panel (Fig. A). Woodworkers have been using this type of construction for centuries to build doors, wall paneling and cases. It’s a classic solution for dealing with an unavoidable problem: the seasonal expansion and contraction of a large panel. It’s also a great way to display a prized plank of figured stock.

Frame-and-panel is a very flexible design. By changing the shape and proportions of the panel or the frame, the design can be easily adapted to fit almost any style of furniture or architecture. Panels can be beveled or flat, rectangular or arched; the edges of the frame can be shaped with a decorative molding called a “sticking,” (Fig. B) or left square.

The main idea, though, is that the solid-wood panel isn’t glued in place: it’s free to float in grooves all the way around the frame. As a panel shrinks in width in winter, it’s free to withdraw in the stile’s grooves. As it expands in summer, there should be enough room in the grooves so the panel doesn’t bottom out and force the frame apart (Fig. C).

I’ll show you how I build a very traditional frame and panel door–one which will withstand years of use. It has mortise and tenon joints, a sticking which is mitered at the corners, and a rectangular raised panel.

Why mortise and tenon?

There’s more than one way to build a frame and panel door. Today, most woodworkers use a pair of cope-andstick router bits, which allow you to quickly and easily construct a kitchen full of doors. One bit shapes the decorative sticking profile and the panel groove; the second bit cuts the tenon and copes the ends of the rails to match the sticking. However, most of these bits create a short, stubby tenon (equal to the depth of the panel groove) which has only a small surface area for glue. Cope-and-stick joints are fine for lightweight doors, but I believe that large doors with solid-wood panels require more robust joinery.

For strength and longevity, it’s tough to beat traditional mortise and tenon joints (Photo 1). Unlike coped joints, deep mortises and long tenons provide mechanical interlock and plenty of surface area for glue. When I build traditional furniture that’s intended to last for generations, I always use mortise and tenon joints for the doors.

Click any image to view a larger version.

1. Here’s the joint I’ll be making. It provides a rigid mechanical interlock and plenty of surface area for glue. Note how the molding, or “sticking” is mitered, and how the joint is cut to accommodate the miter.

3. Scribe the mortise from each face to perfectly center it on the stile.

5. Cut the tenon on a test piece with a dado set. Remove equal amounts from each face to center the tenon. Clamp a board to the fence for protection.

7. Shape the sticking profile the full length of all the rails and stiles, plus a test piece.

12. Miter the rail’s sticking by aligning the tenon’s shoulder with the reference line.

15. Remove the waste by sawing close to the sticking’s edge or the scribed line, depending on which end of the stile you’re cutting. Guide the cut with a fence.

19. Rout the panel. Use a barrier guard to shield your hands from the bit.

20. Clamp the assembly on a flat surface to prevent it from twisting. Saw the stiles to final length to make the outside corners flush.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker June/July 2009, issue #142.

June/July 2009, issue #142

Purchase this back issue.

Purchase the complete version of this woodworking technique story from


How to Hang Inset Doors

How to Hang Inset Doors

Install butt hinges perfectly and establish consistent, slender margins.

By Tim Johnson

Purchase the complete version of this woodworking technique story from

Nothing signals skillful craftsmanship like an inset door with elegant hinges and eye-pleasing margins. This challenging job leaves no room for error: Uneven surfaces and unsightly gaps will tell the tale if the hinges, door and frame don’t fit precisely. Like mastering hand-cut dovetails, successfully hanging inset doors on mortised butt hinges is a woodworking milestone. 

I’ll show you a three-step method for installing inset doors that produces great results every time. First, you match the door to the opening. Then you rout mortises for the hinges. And finally, you create uniform, attractive margins between the door and frame. Of course, you can skip the mortising step altogether by choosing different hinges (see “No-Mortise Hinge Options, below”).

To complete the job, you’ll need a couple simple jigs, a mortising bit, and a laminate trimmer. A laminate trimmer is a compact router that’s a really handy addition to any woodworking shop. (If you don’t own a laminate trimmer, this is a great excuse to buy one.) 

Round out your door-installing arsenal with a pair of secret weapons—a plastic laminate sample swiped from the home center and a double-bearing flush-trim router bit. This great new bit should be a fixture in every woodworking shop.

Choose hinges

Your first task is to choose between extruded (also referred to as drawn or cast) or stamped hinges (see photos, above). Extruded hinges are machined and drilled, so there’s virtually no play between the knuckles or around the hinge pin. Stamped hinges are made from thinner stock. Their leaves are bent to form the knuckles that surround the pin. Extruded hinges will last longer, because their knuckles have more bearing surface.

I often use stamped hinges because they cost about one-third as much as extruded hinges and they’re available at most hardware stores. They work fine in most situations. Examine stamped hinges carefully before buying. If you notice large gaps between the knuckles and vertical play between the two hinge leaves, keep looking. Be aware that some stamped hinges are brass plated rather than solid brass. Hinges with loose pins make it easy to remove and reinstall the door, but they aren’t widely available.

Click any image to view a larger version.

6. Rout mortises in the door stile. Locate the mortise at least one hinge length from the top. Because of its small size, a laminate trimmer works great for this delicate job.

8. Rout mortises in the face-frame stiles using the mortising jig. You’ll need a laminate trimmer for this job, because the mortises are so close to the corner. 

10. Rout the door to final length. Use a fence and a flush-trim bit with top- and bottom-mounted bearings to avoid blowing out the back edge. First, rout halfway using the top bearing.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker May 2006, issue #121.

May 2006, issue #121

Purchase this back issue.

Purchase the complete version of this woodworking technique story from


Butterfly Inlay

Butterfly Inlay

Make a perfect fit with a shop-made template.

By Tom Caspar

Purchase the complete version of this woodworking technique story from

Don’t you just love it when something that looks extremely difficult turns out to be oh-so easy? Making butterfly inlay with a plunge router is a good example. The technique is very easy to learn. All it takes is a set of router accessories and some 1/4-in. plywood or hardboard to make your own template.

Butterflies appear to bind two pieces of wood together, but they’re really just for show and are only 1/8-in. thick. Few pieces of authentic Mission-style furniture were dressed up with butterflies, but in recent years they’ve become a common decorative theme in reproduction Mission furniture, adding a light touch to heavy-looking pieces.


Your router

The easiest way to make inlay is with a plunge router, but it’s possible to use a fixed-base router instead. The only problem with using a fixed-base router is that you’ll have to tip it into the cut by hand, which takes some practice. This technique may also put a good deal of stress on a fragile router bit.

Whatever kind of router you use, its base must accept a Porter-Cablestyle template guide. This is a stationary ring that screws onto the router base. If your router’s base doesn’t have a hole sized for a Porter-Cablestyle template guide, you can buy an adapter base.


The inlay kit

Inlay kits are available from several manufacturers, but they’re all very similar. You get a template guide, a 1/8-in.-thick collar that snaps onto the guide and a 1/8- in. solid-carbide bit. The bit is usually a spiral downcut that cuts exceptionally clean, chip-free edges.

The inlay set we used also includes a centering pin for installing the template guide in your router base. If the guide isn’t centered, the inlay may not fit well in the recess.

Click any image to view a larger version.


This kit has everything you need to make both the inlay and the recess it fits into:

1/8" Bit

Snap-on collar

Template guide

Guide-mounting ring

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker March 2003, issue #99.

March 2003, issue #99

Purchase this back issue.

Purchase the complete version of this woodworking technique story from


Power Sharpening System

Power Sharpening System

By Tom Caspar

Purchase the complete version of this woodworking technique story from

I’m crazy about sharp hand tools. When edges are perfect, these tools sing in your hands. When they’re dull, you might as well hang them up.

I’ve been looking for the ultimate sharpening system for years, one that can quickly and accurately grind and hone a perfect edge. One day I looked at my drill press and electric sander and a light bulb went on. Wow! Combine the slow speed, power and accuracy of the drill press with the latest in abrasives technology, and you’ve got it made. This system is the result of that brainstorm. Goodbye to the stone age!

It’s cheap…

Our shop-made sharpening system costs less than $50 in materials and hardware.
All you need is an ordinary drill press and the accessories shown below.

Click any image to view a larger version.

...It grinds and hones

With this system, you get two machines in one. You can grind out nicks, and then hone a super-sharp edge, with only one setup.

...And it'll sharpen everything

This system will handle any edge tool from the smallest chisel to the widest plane iron (1/8-in. wide to 2-5/8-in. wide). Dial in any angle from 18 to 37 degrees.

How it works

Step 1. Flatten and smooth the back of your edge tool on a flat block before sharpening the bevel. You only have to do this once in a tool’s lifetime. Our system uses a series of five double-sided MDF blocks, called lapping plates, that are covered with sandpaper.

Step 2. Set your drill press to its lowest speed. Our jig converts any drill press, whether bench or floor-model, into a super-slow-speed grinder. You’ll never overheat another tool.

Step 3. Insert an abrasive disk into the driver disk. This system uses five interchangeable wooden disks for grinding and honing. They are covered with inexpensive, easy-to-find 5-in. sandpaper disks for electric sanders. The disks go from coarse to super-fine.

Step 4. Turn the micro-adjust crank until the pointer reads 25 degrees. The tool rest is hinged and rests on a support block. Turning the crank moves the support block back and forth along a threaded rod, changing the angle of the tool rest. Clamp the jig to the drill press table in two places, front and back.

Step 5. Clamp your tool in a shop-made holder. Turning the knob locks it in good and tight. Set the tool’s projection from a gauge line scribed on the jig’s base. Close is good enough.

Step 6. Slide the holder into the jig’s guide slot. Once in place, the tool and its holder are firmly held by two powerful rare earth magnets.

Step 7. Turn on the drill press and slowly lower the abrasive disk. Take it easy! It only takes a little pressure to remove quite a lot of metal. Raise the disk and turn the drill press off after one or two seconds of grinding.

Step 8. Withdraw the holder from the jig. Check the edge to see if it’s square. If it’s not, rotate the top of the jig by loosening the adjusting bolt. You can fine-tune this adjustment until your edge is precisely square, but with most tools, close is good enough. Keep grinding until you reach the end of the bevel.

Step 9. Replace the coarse disk with a fine disk. Rotate the micro-adjust crank to create a higher, 30-degree angle. Now you’re only sharpening the tip, rather than the whole bevel. That’s the secret to making a sharp edge, fast.

Turn the machine on and hone for a second or two. Turn the machine off and inspect your progress. Remove the faint wire edge on the back of your tool with the finest lapping plate.

Step 10. Go back to work. Time elapsed? Five minutes or so, with no oily or watery mess to clean up. Simply wipe the fine sanding disks with rubbing alcohol to clean off the metal residue.

If you’re done sharpening, free up your drill press by removing the driver disk. Store all the parts of the system in a small box.

Changing grits takes only seconds

A unique twist-and-lock design lets you change grits as easy as changing a CD. We’ve taken the driver unit and an abrasive disk out of the drill press to show you how they work together. When you’re actually sharpening, the driver stays in the drill press.

Slide the abrasive disk onto the driver. The driver contains a metal bar that fits into a groove on the abrasive disk. The driver also has two rare earth magnets that lock the abrasive disk in place after the two disks are twisted together.

Twist the abrasive disk. It locks into place automatically in a second groove. To release the abrasive disk, simply turn it in the opposite direction and slide it off.

How to build it


Common hardware, tools and skills

All the parts of this jig are made from 3/4-in. medium-density fiberboard (MDF), primarily because it’s very flat. Baltic birch or ApplePly plywood would work well, too, but shop-grade birch plywood won’t cut the mustard. MDF is fairly inexpensive and you’ll only need half a sheet or a bunch of scraps.

Most of the hardware for the jig is garden-variety stuff. A few crucial items can only be found in a catalog.

As for power tools, of course you’ll need a drill press, but it doesn’t have to be a floor model. A 10-in. benchtop will do. (The only requirement is that the drill press must have at least 10-1/8 in. of clearance between the bottom of the chuck and the top of its table.)

You’ll need a set of twist drill bits up to 1/2-in. dia., a metal-cutting countersink, 1/2-, 5/8-, 3/4- and 1-in.-dia. Forstner bits and a 3-in.-dia. sanding drum. A self-centering hinge bit is optional (see Sources, below). You’ll also need a tablesaw and a stacking dado set. A bandsaw helps  with cutting the round parts, but a jigsaw is okay.

You’ll also need a hacksaw with an 18- tooth-per-inch blade, an 8- or 10-in. flat ***-cut file, an 8-32 NC tap and
handle and household lubricating oil.


Getting started: laminate the MDF

Begin building the sharpening system by gluing together all the parts that are made from two thicknesses of MDF.

1. Rough cut pieces for the driver (A1), the fixed support (C1), the moveable support (C2), the crank (C4) and the lapping plates (E1).

2. Clamp and glue the pieces together (Photo 1). It’s okay if the pieces don’t perfectly align while you’re gluing, because they’re meant to be at least 1/2-in. oversize in width and length.


Make the lapping plates

Now make a set of flat blocks, or lapping plates, for flattening and polishing the back side of your chisels and plane irons. Lapping a tool requires removing a fair amount of very hard steel. The secret to getting this tedious job done quickly is to use many different grits of sandpaper, just as if you were sanding wood. Our lapping system uses a set of five double-sided plates made from laminated MDF. Each is the size of half of one sheet of standard sandpaper.

1. Cut the blanks (E1) to final size.

2. Flatten both faces of each plate by sanding them on the top of your tablesaw (Photo 2).

3. Spray the plates with three or four coats of clear lacquer. Sand the lacquer smooth.

4. Tear your sandpaper into halves and coat each piece very lightly with a spray adhesive, such as 3M Super 77. Apply the paper to the lapping plates (Photo 3). When your sandpaper wears out, simply peel it off the plate and stick on a new piece. Clean off adhesive residue from the plates with mineral spirits.


Suggested grits for lapping plates

Ordinary sandpaper works fine for most grits, but for the finest ones go with special microfinishing paper, with grit sizes measured in microns. Each lapping plate has two grits, one on each side.

Coarse: 100 and 120

Medium: 150 and180

Fine: 240 and 320

Extra-Fine: 400 and 600

Superfine: 15 micron and 5 micron.


Make the twist-and-lock disks

This sharpening jig has three major components: a driver disk mounted in the drill press chuck, a set of five interchangeable abrasive disks that mount on the driver disk and a tool holder that clamps to the drill press table. Begin by making all the disks.

Three of the disks are test pieces for setting up the tablesaw and drill press in the steps ahead. The disks twist and lock together as a unit, so they have to be carefully cut. Try out your cuts on the test pieces first, so you won’t mess up any of the parts that really matter!

1. Cut rough blanks for the driver disk (A1) and abrasive disks (A2) to final size.

2. Lay out the dado cuts. Draw one straight and one angled dado on three test blanks. Use your tablesaw’s miter gauge to draw the angled dado. Draw a circle with a compass on all the blanks, both test and real.

3. Cut straight dadoes exactly down the middle of each blank.

4. Cut angled dadoes in the abrasive disk blanks only (Photo 4). Use a test piece to set up the saw. Make a partial cut, turn the piece over, and see if the cut falls on the layout lines. Move the stop block on your miter gauge until you’re right on the money.

5. Cut little pieces of hardwood for stops (A3) from a long blank. Glue the stops in place on both the abrasive disks and the driver disk (Photo 5).

6. Drill 1/2-in. diameter holes with a Forstner bit in the center of each blank. Drill shallow holes in the dadoed side of the abrasive disk blanks (Photo 6). Drill a deep hole in the plain side of the driver disk blank.

7. Remove a small triangular-shaped piece of wood at the intersection of the two dado cuts on the abrasive disk blanks. Simply drill it out with the 1/2-in. Forstner bit.

8. Lay out holes for rare earth magnet cups and washers on one of the test pieces. Then set up the drill press fence and stop block to drill these holes in both the driver disk and sanding disks. Be particular about the depth of all of these holes. The washers and magnets should be either flush with the surface of the disk or slightly below it.


Round the disks without a lathe

1. Cut all the blanks into approximately round shapes. Then make a simple sanding jig for the disks to rotate on. Put a coarse sanding drum in your drill press and mount each disk on the jig (Photo 7). Secure the jig to the drill press table with a single clamp. By hand, rotate the roughly circular disk against the sanding drum, hitting only the high spots.

After each rotation, tap the corner of the jig with a mallet to nudge the disk slightly closer to the drum. It won’t take long before the disk is perfectly round. Small differences in diameter between the disks won’t matter.

2. Epoxy the shaft (A4) into the driver disk (Photo 8). (First, be sure to check that your table is absolutely square to the shaft, both front to back and side to side.)

3. Epoxy two pieces of square key stock into the dado on the bottom of the driver disk. If you can’t find two pieces the right length, buy three and cut one shorter with a hacksaw.

4. Fasten washers and cups for the rare earth magnets to the disks (Photo 9).

5. Flatten the bottoms of all the sanding disks on a medium-grit lapping plate. Spray the bottoms of all the sanding disks with three or four coats of lacquer, and sand out the bumps.


Suggested grits for the sanding disks

Use standard 5-in. sanding disks without holes. You can use disks with an adhesive backing or make your own from regular sheet sandpaper and a low-tack spray adhesive. Disks come in standard sandpaper grits or in microns.

Coarse: 80 grit

Medium: 120 grit or 100 micron

Fine: 320 grit or 30 micron

Extra-fine: 600 grit or 15 micron

Super-fine: 1200 grit or 5 micron


Make the adjustable base and tool rest

1. Rip the blank for the fixed support (C1) and moveable support (C2) to final width.

2. Cut the rough blanks for the two guides (B1), the table that adjusts for the squaring of a tool’s bevel (B2) and the table that adjusts the angle of the bevel (B3). Also, rip a piece for the base (C3) and trim it slightly oversize in length.

3. Cut a 45-degree bevel along one side of the guide blank (B1). Caution: Tilt your tablesaw blade away from the fence, so there’s no kickback hazard. The blank is oversized in width so there’s plenty of support for this cut. Then reset the tablesaw blade to 90 degrees and rip the blank to final width.

4. Crosscut all pieces to final length.


Drill holes for the tilting mechanism

1. Test drill a hole for a 1/4-20 coupling nut. The coupling nut should fit tight in the hole, so it can’t spin. Make this hole 1/64-in. smaller than the maximum outside diameter of the coupling nut, measuring across its points.

2. Set up a fence and stop block to drill a hole through the moveable support (C2) with this bit. Drill a smaller hole in the same place through the fixed support (C1) for a piece of threaded rod.

3. Cut the blank for the micro-adjust crank (C4) to final square size and drill holes for two coupling nuts and a threaded rod. Cut the crank into a rough circle and sand it round, as you did with the disks.

4. Drill holes through the base (C3) and pilot holes into the fixed support for the screws that hold the two pieces together.

5. Cut a shallow kerf in the bottom of the movable support for a pointer (C5). Cut the pointer, glue it in place and file a bevel on its end. Radius the top edge of the support with a file or sandpaper.


Install good hinges on the tool rest

The lower half of the jig is ready to assemble, but first you must dado two parts to receive two high-quality hinges. Typical door hinges don’t work, because there’s too much slop between the pin and the hinge. That slop will cause the jig to shake while sharpening.

1. Cut dadoes in the bevel angle table (B3) and the fixed support block (C1) (Figs. E and H).

2. Place the hinges in the dadoes and drill 3/4-in.-deep pilot holes for the screws (Photo 10).

3. Drill holes in the bevel-angle table (B3) for the adjustment screws and T-nuts. Install the T-nuts.

4. Screw the hinges in place to connect the support block and bevel-angle table. (You may have to file a bit off the end of the screws first so they don’t protrude through the bevel-angle table.)

5. Screw and glue this assembly to the base (C3).

6. Glue the two guide blocks (B1) to the bevel-squaring table (B2) (Photo 11). Rip the assembly to final width.

7. Drill holes for rare earth magnet cups in the guide blocks. Install the cups and magnets. Drill a large hole in the table for the adjustment bolt to pass through and a small hole between the guides for a pivoting bolt.

8. Assemble the entire base. Epoxy the coupling nuts in their holes. Paint or lacquer the whole jig so it’s easier to keep clean.


Drill and tap holes for the tool holder

1. Clamp a machine bolt (D3) in a vise and saw off its head. Then file a notch in one end with a sharp, flat ***-cut mill file.

2. Make a V-block to support the bolt. This is simply a 12 in. or so square of MDF with a long V-shaped notch cut down the middle, about 3/8-in. deep.

3. Mark the center of the flat area you filed on the bolt with a center punch and drill (Photo 12). Cut threads in the hole.

4. Drill and tap holes down the middle of a short piece of flat bar stock.

5. Fasten the bar to the notched bolt with a small screw. Cut off the excess length of the screw and smooth the end with a file.

6. Cut a piece of T-slot extrusion to length. Smooth the ends with a file. Drill and countersink a hole near one end. The T-slot extrusion is too narrow to use a standard countersink bit, so use a 5/16-in. twist bit instead.

7. Make the handle (D1) and clamping block (D2) from wood that doesn’t easily split and has hard end grain. Maple is ideal. These two pieces are pretty short, so cut foot-long blanks to make machining easier and safer.

8. Cut a groove in the handle blank. Cut the handle to length, and round over the edges and corners to make it more comfortable to grip. Fasten it to the T-slot extrusion.

9. Cut rabbets on the edge of the clamping block blank with a dado set. Then rip the blank so the offcut (the edge with the rabbets) is 3/8-in. wide and the thickness of the finished clamping block. Drill the screw hole and cut to length. Round both ends with a sanding drum in the drill press.


Calibrate the jig

The last job to do before using your jig is to draw a scale on the base to indicate the  sharpening angles. Use a drafting triangle to mark a baseline angle of 30-degrees (Photo 13), then copy and tape our scale in place or draw your own. Also, mark the gauge line on the jig’s base for setting your tools.

1. Laminate two pieces of MDF to make an oversize lapping-plate blank. Cut the blank to final size after the glue is dry.

2. Flatten each lapping plate by rubbing it on two sheets of 120-grit sandpaper glued to a tablesaw with a spray adhesive. When pencil lines drawn on the face of the plate disappear, the plate is flat. Spray each plate with lacquer to seal it.

3. Mount a half sheet of sandpaper onto the lapping plate with spray adhesive. Put a different grit on the other side of the plate.

4. Cut dadoes in a set of square blanks to begin making the twist-and-lock mechanism of the abrasive disks.

Caution. You must remove the guard on your saw for this cut. Push down on the blank with a hold-down block to keep your fingers out of harm’s way.

5. Glue short stop blocks into both ends of the dadoes. Make sure the end of each block is flush with the side of the blank. Put pressure directly on each stop block with a small clamping block.

6. Drill a hole with a Forstner bit in the center of the abrasive disk and driver blanks. Then saw the blank into a rough circle. (The center hole will help you sand the disk perfectly round.)

7. Round each disk on the drill press with a sanding drum. Rotate the disk on a sanding jig (see Fig. D, below) to turn it into a perfect circle.

8. Glue a shaft into the driver disk with epoxy. (The shaft is simply a hardware-store bolt with its head and threads cut off.) Lower the shaft into the disk, then lock the chuck in place so it stays put while the glue dries. This ensures that the shaft is absolutely perpendicular in the driver.

9. Screw special magnet washers to the abrasive disks and cups for securing the rare earth magnets to the driver disk.

Also, epoxy metal bars to the driver disk. They’re simply square key stock from the hardware store. Now all the disks are ready to go.

10. Drill pilot holes for two hinges to begin making the base of the sharpening jig. Use a self-centering bit in the drill press to make perfectly aligned holes.

The base is hinged so you can adjust sharpening angles. Two hinges side-by-side are more rigid than a single hinge.

11. Clamp every which way when you make the part of the jig that receives the removable tool holder. The T-slot extrusion must fit snugly in the jig’s guide slot, and the best way to ensure a tight fit is to use the T-slot extrusion itself as a spacer.

12. Drill through a hardware-store bolt to make the clamping mechanism for the tool holder. The bolt has its head cut off and a notch filed on the unthreaded portion. The V-shaped cutout in the support block keeps the bolt from rolling while you drill.

13. Calibrate the angle setting of your jig with a standard 30-60-90 drafting triangle. Turn the crank handle until the jig’s tilting table lines up with the top edge of the triangle. Make a mark opposite the pointer, and label it “30 degrees.” Then line up our scale this mark and transfer the remaining angle settings to the base of your jig.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker January 2003, issue #98.

January 2003, issue #98

Purchase this back issue.

Purchase the complete version of this woodworking technique story from


Divided-Light Doors

Divided-Light Doors

Add a masterful touch with classic glass doors.

By Tom Caspar

Purchase the complete version of this woodworking technique story from

With the right set of router bits, a divided-light door is a lot easier to make than it looks. The key to success is simple: Measure and cut every single part first. To get you going on the right path, I’ll show you a foolproof way to calculate the precise length of every piece. Then you rout, mortise and assemble. Piece of cake.


Tools you’ll use

To build these doors, you’ll need a router table and a set of special bits. You’ll also need a metric ruler, tablesaw, planer, jointer and some means of making mortises. 


Design your door

Let’s start with some old-fashioned terms. The openings for the glass are traditionally called lights. They’re “divided” by bars called  muntins. 

Start by drawing your door. Determine the door’s overall size, the widths of the stiles, rails and muntins, and the size of the lights. 

Next, select a set of divided-light door router bits. Each set is designed for a specific range of door thicknesses and requires a different setup, but the general steps are the same. Visit the manufacturers’ Web sites for details. They’re suitable for doors from 13/16 to 1-1/8 in. thick with 5/8-in. or wider muntins. These bits make tenons; some other sets do not.

Anatomy of a divided-light door

Three major parts make a divided light door: stiles, rails and muntins. Every part is locked in place by a mortise-and-tenon joint. In this six-light door, the two horizontal muntins are the same length as the rails. Three short vertical muntins fit between the rails and horizontal muntins. 

Although proportions vary among furniture styles, in this door the lower rail is 1-1/2 times as wide as the top rail. All the lights are the same size and evenly divided.

Two matched router bits cut all the profiles. The cope cutter shapes the ends of all the rails and muntins. It also forms a short tenon and a rabbet to receive the glass. The bead cutter shapes the long edges of the stiles, rails and muntins. It also forms a rabbet.

Both bits may be adjusted to fine-tune the tenon’s thickness. You simply take apart the bit and add shims above the bearing. These shims come with the bit and are stored under the nut and washers.

Rout the bead

The bead goes on the long grain of the stiles, rails and muntins.

7. Rout beads on the inside edges of the stiles and rails. Position the bit so the lower knife is level with the rabbet made by the coping cut (see inset). Cut beads on both sides of the muntin boards. 

8. Rip the muntin boards. Use a push block with a stop and hold-down board so you can keep the guard and splitter on your saw. The exact width of this cut—3/4 in.—must be the same as the width of the stand-in muntin blocks you used to calculate the vertical muntin’s length in Photo 3. 

9. Rout the second side of the muntins. Use the same push block as you did on the tablesaw. This time the push block is flipped over and the hold-down removed. Caution: You must use two featherboards to hold the workpiece square to the table.

Cut the mortises

Most routed doors merely have cope and stick joints. Mortise-and-tenon joints strengthen a divided light door to carry the extra weight of the glass.

12. Cut mortises in the muntins halfway through from both sides. Place a support block under the muntin so its top edge is within range of the machine’s hold-down. Cut 1/2-in.-deep mortises in the rails and stiles.

Assemble the door

The entire door must be glued at one time. It’s best to work directly on a large, flat assembly table so you can slide each piece home before clamping it.

16. Cut 1/16 in. off the ends of the vertical muntin tenons. As originally routed, each tenon is slightly over 3/8 in. long. That’s too long for the through mortises in the horizontal muntins, which are 3/4 in. wide. 

17. Glue the door. Squeeze-out around the beads can be difficult to clean up, so use a minimum of glue. Sand and finish the door before you install the glass. 

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker July 2005, issue #115.

July 2005, issue #115

Purchase this back issue.

Purchase the complete version of this woodworking technique story from


« Older Entries