Do you wanna build a snowman?

Do you wanna build a wood box?
Come on, let’s cut a dovetail!
You don’t even need a saw
Head to the shed door
There’s a jig does does it all

We used to be confused and stressed
And now we’re not
I can tell you why!

Do you wanna build a wood box?
It doesn’t have to be a wood box…

Do you wanna build a wood box?
Or make some drawers?
I think some insight is overdue
I’ve started taking to
Cutting dovetails for them all

It becomes so easy
Just routing the pins and tails


Do you wanna cut a dovetail?

For long time readers of Stu’s Shed, it is no surprise that I am a big fan of the Gifkins Dovetail jig, and not because it is Australian made.

My position on the Gifkins has been formed both from a long experience with the jig, and by my experiences with other dovetail jigs (and more broadly, my attempts to cut dovetails!)

I’ve tried Leigh, Jet, Gifkins and Incra systems for cutting dovetails, and although each produce dovetail joints, (most) as accurately and as tight as you’d like, only the Gifkins is so intuitive that you can pick it up 12 months later, and still work out how to use it, without referring to the manual (let alone in intimate detail).

For a long time, I have been using the standard jig, which can cut dovetails up to about 300mm long, but it is the jumbo dovetail that is of particular note.  It can cut dovetails up to 480mm, which pushes it into a different league, and allows the creation of boxes, the size of blanket boxes, or tool chests.

The templates for the jumbo series have been modified, with an increase of 10mm or so between pins compared to the standard jig, which is to give a more handcut look to the spacing.  Depending on the template in use, the Gifkins can handle stock thicknesses from 4mm through to 22mm.  (H templates are 4mm to 10mm, A series are 7mm to 13mm and B series are 14mm to 22mm).

I demonstrated the jig again today, and within a few minutes, we had a perfectly tight dovetail joint – it is that easy.

If you are wanting to produce some dovetail joints, and either don’t know where to begin, or which jig to choose, the Gifkins is definitely worth serious consideration.


A place for everything…

You know the old saying, and it is a rule I find particularly satisfying when I can apply it.

When the latest Carbatec catalog email came out, one thing that caught my eye was an organiser from Kreg. Now to a certain extent, there are plenty of unbranded organisers out there, but I did like the Kreg toolboxx (and the spelling is deliberate).

There are two versions – the one I got, which is just the toolboxx, along with 1050 assorted Kreg screws (150 of each standard size and thread pitch), and a deeper version which comes with a serious collection of Kreg jigs and clamps. If I didn’t already have a full set of what is in the Master collection, that would have been the one to go for.

If you don’t have a Kreg pockethole jig, this is definitely a good time to give some serious consideration to one. They are not everyone’s cup of tea, but then they can solve a joinery problem where many other methods struggle. It has gotten me out of trouble on a number of occasions.

But back to the case I got, and it got loaded up pretty quickly!


The top is secured with the main clamps, so it is not a situation where you can pick up the case with the top accidentally unsecured and send screws everywhere. There are 15 removeable compartments, and three fixed ones (the longest in the middle ideal for the long driver, and the drill bit(s).

I managed to fit all my extra screws in as well (almost), so a total of around 2000 screws fitted in the compartments.


To keep track of what screws I have (for reordering if nothing else), I cut the label off each of the boxes I had and laid them on top. I may change this to Dymo labels on the individual compartment, but will decide that at a later stage.

In the lower area, I was easily able to fit the jigs I have and their accessories, all except the Kreg pockethole jig itself. That doesn’t fit for the simple reason that I have mine mounted in a large backing board (30mm thick or so), as documented a ways back (2009) so fitting it in is simply not possible!


I have the panel clamp and the pockethole clamp in there, along with the micro pockethole adapter, dust cover, and a portable set of pockethole screws.


The one thing I found interesting (disappointing?) are the Kreg screws that came with the toolboxx. Not sure of the quality of the material – don’t have an easy way to test their strength, but the head is different. Unlike the standard Kreg screw, which uses Robertson screws, these are a hybrid of Robertson and Phillips. Hybrid is another word for compromise.

The Robertson drive does not sit as deeply in the screw head, although it did drive in and out multiple times without issue. Overall however, I don’t like the decrease in contact area and the shallower driver position. The Phillips part is heavily compromised, and burred very easily – it could not drive the screw in fully into hardwood without significant slippage and burring, and needed the Robertson to finish driving it home.

I just don’t get the point of the compromise. If you want to use Phillips, use Phillips and accept the problems (driver camming out easily for example), otherwise, stay with the dedicated Robertson screw. I hope it is only the screws that came with the toolboxx that are this compromised, hybrid head, and not the whole Kreg range.


Top left, the original Robertson screw type from Kreg, top right is the one that has burred heavily. The Robertson drive can still manage, the Phillips cannot.

No specific mention of a change of head on the Kreg website.

So other than the screws (which are still functional), I am liking the toolboxx! Available from Carbatec.

The Pandora Box continues

For those following along, I opened Pandora’s Box about 2 weeks ago, and have been pushing to get it completed in time for my wife’s birthday.  Rather than jump to the end, we will pick up from where I left off, where the box had 4 dovetailed sides, a base, and I had made some practice excursions into the dividers for some yet to be built trays (at that time).

This next bit ended up being a bit of a detour – as I’ll explain at the end.

I needed the trays that will fit into the main box, and wanted to have them pretty thin – an obvious point of difference from the thickness of the main box walls (it is around 10mm thick, so aimed for about 3mm for these boxes).

The Miter Express from Incra, complete with the V120 Miter (and the Incra fence I have added to mine, with Shop Stop), really came into its own here.  Superb control, and repeatability.  In fact this project would have been significantly harder without this setup – it proved invaluable having such controllable results, and being able to work with fine components.

After resawing the boards (silky oak) again on the bandsaw with the new blade from Henry’s, they were again fed through the thicknesser to get the boards I wanted.  Ripped, and crosscut on the tablesaw gave the sides I wanted.  As much as there are shop-made jigs for ripping small boards, I really think there is an untapped commercial market here – something Incra based for sure.

I wanted two trays, and thinking about the result, decided that the second tray should be half-width only, and able to slide back and forth for access to the lower tray where the bracelets and necklace is stored.

I know where this idea came from – Chris Schwarz’s Anarchist’s Tool Chest

I wanted to dovetail these boxes (and I don’t hand-cut dovetails- one day) but discovered that there is a lower limit for the Gifkins Dovetail jig for wall thickness.  I tried to fake it, and did work out a way to do it, but decided to go a different direction.

The Incra iBox.

Rather than using a dado blade, I measured each of my current saw blades to find the one that was closest to the minimum size that the iBox could handle.  It ended up being the CMT 80 tooth crosscut blade.  With each piece run through the iBox, I had the joints ready to go.  I felt rushed, so didn’t take as much care setting up as I needed to, and the joints were a bit looser than I wanted. Definitely an operator error.

One trick that Incra advised is to draw a line across the top of the board, directly at the back of the jig, so that if the board isn’t perfectly vertical, it is easily detected.

I particularly liked the individual fingers being proud of the surface, so deliberately cut the joints deeper.  The base was made by resawing some pieces of mahogany, and running a rebate around the edge.

This provides support for the walls, and glue area.  The protruding edge effectively becomes the lowest layer of the box, and is the same thickness as one of the fingers.

Glue and clamp up proceeded, and the trays were finished.  I looked, considered, debated then decided not to compromise – the trays were just not good enough for what I needed.

Next article, the project gets back on track.

Kreg Pockethole Breakthrough

A reader’s question about pocketholes and melamine:

Dear Stu,
I have the Kreg master system and I am having trouble with joining 16mm melamine chipboard to get a strong and firm joint.
I am using the 5/8 setting on the jig as suggested for use with 16mm material as well as using  1” screws as also suggested, (course thread) as I am using chipboard.
I think my problem stems from the fact that I am trying to join two pieces of melamine together to make a small box.   It may also be that
I don’t as yet have a Kreg right angle clamp.  Could you please advise me as what I might be able to do to get a firm joint without the blowout
of the screws through the other side of the melamine.
I don’t have this problem with ordinary pine.  I have only just tried using melamine, I know it should work fine, I am just doing something wrong.


My response:

I have done quite a bit with pocket holes and melamine, and haven’t had a particular issue (after some fine-tuning).

Using coarse screws is correct for that sort of product, so no problem there.  It does compress more than timber, particularly when cutting into the ‘end-grain’, so some additional allowance has to be made for that (which is why your setup works for pine, and not melamine, or MDF for that matter).  I would tend to set the drill stop so it is drilling a little shallower than the suggested position.  You have plenty of capacity before the screw head ends up above the surface, and considering it is still punching through the other side, it has more than enough contact area with the material it is screwing into.  As a rough judge, you can work out how much length of screw is jutting out the other side, and decrease the stop position back that much, plus a bit more (you don’t want the melamine even bulging where the screw is)

This will give you a good purchase, allowing you to do up the screw tightly and avoid breakthrough.

The right angle clamp I do find very useful (the one where one end fits down into one of the pocketholes), but it isn’t going to help with this problem.  Fortunately, it is an easy fix 🙂

Float like a butterfly

I asked Muhammad Ali recently what is favourite activity is, and the answer wasn’t a surprise. “I box”

So I trundled off to the Apple Store to see what their latest product was, and again the answer was “iBox” (with the iBox2 due out about 9 months later).

Next it was over to Professional Woodworkers Supplies to find out what their latest woodworking product was.  Can you guess the answer? i-Box from Incra.

Seems to be a bit of a trend happening here!

Given we are all pretty familiar with Ali’s boxing, and not everyone is an Apple fan, let’s stick with the third product and have a closer look at that.

Incra are renowned for creating items that bring incredible precision to woodworking.  And the iBox is no exception.  Unlike the other box jigs, the iBox has a completely variable finger size to exactly match the size of the cutter (whether that is a router bit or a dado blade).  It also has a microadjustment capability but my first use of it seemed to also cause the two sides to no longer be aligned.  The best option I found from a bit of trial and error was to get the width of the finger right in the first place!

Incra i-Box

The jig has good protection for the operator – both the block guards (red) so the operator is not exposed to the blade, particularly after the cut, as well as the perspex shield which discourages contact with the blade, and stops chips being flung up from the rear of the blade.

For all the safety items, what really sets this jig apart is the variable finger.

View from above

The finger is first zeroed off the blade during the initial set up.  If you have a left-tilting saw, you won’t have to redo this calibration even when changing blade or using a different dado width.

Using a test block, cut an initial slot then use this slot to accurately set the finger width by turning the adjustment knob.

Adjustment knob

Not only does this set the width of the finger, but the mechanism also moves the finger the same exact distance from the blade that the finger is wide.

Width set of a smallish dado blade stack

Underneath the jig

From underneath you can see the adjustable finger (not a lot of the mechanism itself).

Narrow finger setup

I also tried the jig with a single blade rather than a dado stack – worked very well with a basic blade, as well as with the large variable kerf achievable with a dado.

Fingers cut with a dado blade

The result looks pretty good to me, and very easy to set up and create.

Fingers cut with dado, and fingers cut with a single blade

It is a very effective jig – looking forward to seeing what else it can do (such as variable central finger width).

Available from Professional Woodworkers Supplies. Unless you want to try the Apple store 😉

I box, therefore I am

Ever tried a box joint (also mistakenly called a finger joint by Triton)?  Some regard it as a poor-man’s dovetail, but it is a legitimate joint in its own right, and can be used as a stunning joint, with the added bonus of significant glue area. You can pin the joint for even more strength, and if you take that one step further, the wooden hinge I made recently is another version of a box joint.

There are a number of plans out there to make a jig.  Some of them even offer the ability to have a couple of sizes of fingers.  Generous.

If you are fortunate enough to have an LS positioner on your router table, they are a pretty simple operation, but even that has some limitations.

They can be a stunning joint can’t they!  And those with variable spacing, or a central key pin are even more interesting.  As you become inspired by the joint, don’t you find yourself wishing someone like Incra would come up with a jig, incorporating their typical clever engineering, and insatiable appetite for precision?

Yeah, well, they did.  And it is a stunning looking tool at that.  Works on both the router table and the tablesaw, utilising the mitre slot.

I don’t have too much to add to the topic yet, other than these initial photos which just start to reveal the qualities of the jig.

On the tablesaw, this is one of those occasions where a dado blade really comes into its own.

The jig is currently available on pre-order through Professional Woodworkers Supplies.  The initial shipment is almost completely accounted for already, so if you are keen, be quick.

As I mentioned, I’m not going into a lot of detail as yet, but that is destined to change.  And you can talk to whomever you like on the blogs and forums, but at the moment I have loan of THE first pre-release model (the one that starred in the photos and video) to put through its paces, and there isn’t another one currently in the wild.  Just another Stu’s Shed exclusive!

It certainly has some very cool innovations – look forward to getting to know them better and to bring them to you as well.

In the meantime, have a gander at the following Incra video – it explains a lot.


Chainsaw Prototype

Failed to take a photo of this at the woodshow, so here to amaze you even further about how versatile the Torque Workcentre is becoming, is… the slabbing (or chainsaw) attachment!

Couple of points:

First, you wouldn’t actually leave the original carriage on the arm when using the slabbing attachment.  This was only a mockup for the photo so you could at least see the prototype (which is still undergoing refinements).  For one, there still needs to be an oil lubrication feed to the chain, and a shield for the bar end.

And second, this is a pretty crappy chainsaw for this job – you’d want one that had a larger bar, and one that wasn’t fluro-green and purple!

One of the real benefits of dealing with Australian companies – they are very responsive to the needs and desires of their customers.  I suggested copying the standard slabbing arrangements, which paralleled some thoughts they already had (apparently 😉 ) No matter who gets to claim credit, it will be excellent when the jig moves from prototype to production!  And just as an aside, Torque Workcentres are (as far as I am lead to believe) about to have a 20 year warranty included!

Wonder if there is a decent electric chainsaw with a large bar?  Not sure if any electric will have enough power to cut the mustard – any experiences appreciated!
A quick look found Stihl MSE 220 C 400mm, Husqvarna 321 EL (16″), and Makita 400mm Chainsaw.
There is a small range in price: $940, $xxx????, $150

Makita isn’t a bad brand name…hmmm price range!

Episode 78 Using the Copy Attachment

Episode 78 Using the Copy Attachment


I’ve started prototyping the switch mechanism to complete my electro-mechanical starter for the dust extractor.  The first rocker was very basic, getting some of the initial ideas out of the head and into a product.  From that, this second, still crude prototype is being developed, including additional ideas such as adjustable ends for the rocker, multi-hole positioning for the electric central lock, more scalloping both front and back of the rocker.  I’m using another offcut from the thin cutting board to reduce friction between the rocker and mounting board.


I’ve mounted the servo onto a board that will initially be duct taped to the starter box.  The 12V transformer will be mounted to the other side of this board.  It will certainly be interesting to see if this actually works!

Drill Bit Sharpening

I was rather tempted to try jumping in the deep end with the new Tormek Drill Bit Sharpening jig, but decided to err on the side of caution, and rtfm.

Probably a good thing – it is a significant jig, and able to achieve a lot more than standard drill bit sharpening systems. The ability to produce a 4-facet point is significant, and only available on more expensive systems, such as the top of the range Drill Doctor models, and of course the Tormek.

A standard sharpened bit (and typically as a bit comes when it is new) has 2 facets, coming together as a chisel tip. These cannot self-centre, and slip around badly on harder materials. For these bits to cut, that chisel has to be pushed into the surface to expose the cutting edges. This significantly decreases bit life (blunting the bit), and results in a higher temperature for the bit.

The four facets come together at a point, so immediately the drill bit is able to drill into the surface rather than simply rub against it.

Two facet conventional tip

Superior Four Facet Tip

The formation of the four-facet tip using the Tormek seems more sophisticated and controllable that the 500X and 750X of the Drill Doctor, (the 350X cannot produce one at all). The significantly different radius of the cutting wheel is another point (excuse the pun!) to compare the two systems. I’ve never had an opportunity to try the Drill Doctor, so can’t say how well that system works in practice.

The Tormek controls point angle (from 90 degrees to 150 degrees) and lip clearance angle (7 to 14 degrees). There are also adjustments to limit the total amount of material removed

Unlike some other systems, the formation of the primary bevel (the actual cutting edge) is given the attention it deserves, with the secondary bevel formed to produce the 4-facet tip – it serves no other purpose, so why focus on it for the majority of the operation? You can even grind away quite a bit of the heel (the back half of the secondary bevel) to minimise the total amount of material that needs to be removed on the Tormek.

Jig set to grind the primary bevel

There is a little setting up involved, but after doing the first time following the instructions, it will soon become intuitive, and quick. Typical of Tormek, all the variables are controlled – there is nothing left to chance, or eyechrometer. Other than one – setting the drill bit at the right degree of rotation in the holder, but a magnifying glass with a reference post ensures even that is as close as is needed for the operation. (Given the bit is round, being slightly out isn’t critical – it affects the look, rather than the function of the bevel).

Controlled Variables

Next step will be to actually do the grind, but that will be the subject of another article 🙂

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