A penny saved is…..well, perhaps a finger saved!

I attended my first Woodworking in America back in 2010, and had an amazing experience.  I learned a ton in the classes, enjoyed strolling the marketplace and of course hanging out and bonding with so many fantastic woodworkers.

So the next year I was determined to go again. Although it would be tight, I had saved the money to go, but then a little thing called ‘work’ got in the way and I had to change my plans.  Luckily I had yet to sign up or make any travel arrangements.  Pretty bummed, I decided to take the money I had saved to go to the show and put it to good use.  I decided it was time to start saving for a new table saw.  I had my eye on a SawStop for some time but couldn’t see spending that much money on a tool for myself (instead of on my kids). Just about all of the large tool purchases I have made have been bought entirely though some other means:  thank you Amex points!  My Powermatic 14″ bandsaw, for instance, was literally bought from my coin bucket (something we have done for years!  We bought an antique bed years ago, with $600 worth of pennies.  It’s amazing how it adds up!). And so my SawStop savings began.

Jump ahead a year, and once again I was determined to attend WIA.  Work had been good to me and I was able to afford the trip.  I did not procrastinate and I booked the conference, the flight and a hotel several months in advance.  But the weather had other plans, Hurricane Sandy came barreling into NY that week, wreaked unbelievable havoc and my flight was therefore cancelled.  Our family was safe, and WIA was the least of my worries.  I was grateful to the folks at WIA for their understanding and reimbursing my funds (which went straight into the saw bank).

The Saw Bank!

The Saw Bank!          (The cheap saw in front was to cut the top off.)

The kids and I broke it open shortly after that to see how sweet our pot actually was and to see where we stood.  Kids love counting money, BTW!  I have to admit, I didn’t drop just my coins in the bucket.  There were plenty of days where bills were shoved in, days where I didn’t eat lunch or I had some per diem left from a business trip or I would just wanted to feed the beast!

Teaching my kids some math!

Teaching my kids some math!

So, it  added up, but I had my eye on a 3hp Contractor saw and the pot was not deep enough yet.

Nearly a year passed and the kids and I cracked open the “safe” once again.  I had been even more diligent about stashing money away and it paid off.  This time I had not only enough for the SawStop, but the accessories I wanted.  Wahoo!

So it took a few weeks before I was ready to order it.  I wanted to give the shop a really good cleaning and rethink some things.  This saw was going to take up a much bigger footprint in my tiny shop.  I also needed to add a 220v outlet, and I’ve been in the middle of several other big projects around the house.

Goodbye old friend!  You were quite good to me as I grew as a woodwoodworker.  the good news is your are going to a good home, with some good friends.

Good-bye old friend!  You were quite good to me as I grew as a woodworker. The good news is your are going to a good home, with some good friends.

Wow! My tiny shop looked huge without a table saw in it.  I did have a minute where i thought, maybe a nice Roubo instead...

Wow! My tiny shop looked huge without a table saw in it. I did have a minute where I thought, “maybe a nice Roubo instead…”

Finally I bit the bullet and ordered the saw I had saved up for for so long.  It took just over a week to come into my local Woodcraft over in Springfield MA.

I took the day off and went an picked it up.

I took the day off and went an picked it up.

The only time I ever threw my back out was the day I tried to put my old saw together by myself.  Not again.  This time I had the assistance of my friend David, in return --he got the old saw.  A great deal for both of us!

The only time I ever threw my back out was the day I tried to put my old saw together by myself. Not again. This time I had the assistance of my friend David,  in return –he got the old saw. A great deal for both of us!








So last weekend I finished assembling the Sawstop after saving my pennies for two years.


And next weekend I will be attending Woodworking in America after waiting for two years!


I can’t wait to take classes, stroll the floor and of course hang out and bond with some great woodworking friends.

Thar' She is!!

Thar’ She is!!

Thanks for stopping by the shop.

MDF: Medium Density Fiberboard (not to be confused with My Dear Friend!)

As I stated in my twin cradle series, I used MDF to build my templates.  I have tried not to use a lot of MDF in my shop, mostly because my wife hates the stuff and gives me lectures every time I mention the three letters.

My wife, who we’ll call “Ellen” (since that’s her name), is a production designer for film and television.  That means she designs the scenery and deals with the carpentry shops that build it.  Most of the scenic shops will not use MDF and the unions strongly discourage it’s use due to the health concerns.  I was shocked to read a recent article in Fine Woodworking, that while it recommended using dust protection, it did not mention anything regarding any potential health risks.  Pretty irresponsible.  Present the information and let the reader decide, but please don’t ignore the obvious potential risks.

I found it frustrating, however, that this commonly used, extremely flat and useful material was getting such a bad wrap (even if not in FN).  So I decided I needed to do my homework and find out what the story really is.  So here is what I found:

MDF or Medium-Density Fiberboard is made from wood fibers glued together under heat and pressure.  It is commonly used in mass produced furniture, for a veneering substrate, as well as moulding for kitchens and baths, plus you and I like to use it for templates and shop jigs.

It has many qualities that make it an ideal replacement for plywood or particle board.  It is dense, flat, stiff, has no knots and is easily machined.  Unlike most plywoods, MDF also contains no voids and will deliver sharp edges without tearout.  However, MDF is not entirely isotropic, since the fibers are pressed tight together throughout the sheet. Like natural wood, MDF may split when woodscrews are installed without pilot holes, it can however be glued, doweled or laminated, but smooth shank nails do not hold well.

In spite of its many positives, medium density fiberboard does have some drawbacks. Its comparatively high density makes it heavy and difficult to move. It dulls more quickly than other wood options, and it is somewhat susceptible to chipping and denting. More seriously, the glue used to bind the wood fibers in MDF contains urea formaldehyde, which the US Environmental Protection Agency classifies as a probable carcinogen. The cancer-causer is released in sawdust particles when MDF is machined, and these can quite dangerous to inhale in large quantities. This gives rise to health concerns for workers who produce it and cut it, but these risks can be minimized by wearing goggles and masks and by using saws that cut the board more cleanly. For the average person working with MDF, sawdust can be avoided by gluing pieces together with wood glue instead of nailing them. Alternatively, boards of MDF can be connected with wood-joints or pins. Yet, even when it is not being cut, MDF is constantly releasing urea formaldehyde at a slow rate, so it is important that its entire surface be coated in a finish to trap in the poisonous chemical. Wax and oil finishes are acceptable, but the most effective seal is an even layer of paint. Properly coated, well-maintained MDF poses no health threat, but consumers should be aware of the risk of cancer from unfinished products. 1


MDF Was developed in the US in the Early 1960’s based on the design of Hardboard, a similar product invented by William Mason in 1925.  Mason Attempted to turn woodchips discarded by Lumber mills into affordable insulation, but when he forgot to turn down his machine one evening, his machine continued working, turning the wood chips into a thin durable sheet. 2.


Perhaps MDF should be considered one of the greenest products in woodworking as it is all recycled materials (or perhaps not due to the use of Rainforest wood!).  The most common raw materials are wood chips and saw dust, but some manufacturers add other materials such as corn silk and wasted paper such as telephone directories, old newspapers, and cardboard.  The raw material that goes into MDF must do through a process before it is able to be used. A large magnet is used to remove any impurities and separate the material by size.  The materials are then compressed to remove water and then fed into a refiner, which shreds them into small pieces.  Resin is then added to help the fibers bond. The mixture is put into a very large dryer and heated by gas or oil.  This dry combination is run through a drum compressor equipped with computerized controls to guarantee proper density and strength.  The resulting pieces are then cut to the correct sizes with an industrial saw while they are still warm. 2.

Here is a cool video on how MDF is made.


Now for the Health Concerns:

MDF has a reputation for it’s health risks.  The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified all wood dust as a human carcinogen and the substantial dust produced by MDF has been connected to other health problems such as asthma.  One of the affordable resins used as a binding agent in MDF is urea-formaldehyde.  Formaldehyde is also classified as a likely carcinogen on the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Prolonged exposure to formaldehyde can result in cancer, including nasal and sinus cancer and leukemia. These cancers take several years or decades to develop (usually 10-15 years). Working eight hours daily for 40 years at the level of the government standard would give you a risk of about 2 in a thousand for getting cancer (based on the OSHA standard of 0.75 ppm and 1991 USEPA estimates).   When formaldehyde is present in the air, some individuals may experience adverse effects such as watery eyes; burning sensations in the eyes, nose, and throat; coughing; wheezing; nausea; and skin irritation.  Repeated exposure to formaldehyde may cause bronchitis or skin and asthma-like allergy. Some people are very sensitive to formaldehyde, whereas others have no reaction to the same level of exposure. There is limited evidence that formaldehyde may damage the developing fetus and affect female fertility.

The OSHA Formaldehyde Standard requires employers to conduct air monitoring or have other documentation that shows exposure limits will not be exceeded. Workers’ average daily and peak exposure must be below 0.75 parts per million (ppm) and the peak exposure must be below 2 ppm. If greater than 0.1 ppm in the air is expected, then the employer must enforce labeling, education and Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) requirements of the OSHA Hazard Communications standard.   OSHA does not have a wood dust or urea formaldehyde standard. OSHA may rely on The American Conference of Governmental and Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) guidelines for wood dust when evaluating a wood dust hazard. ACGIH recommends average exposure to inhalable wood dust be kept below 1 milligram per cubic meter (mg/m3); and half that amount for western red cedar. 3.

Precautions and Options:

What are the recommended special precautions should you take while handling MDF?     1) always wear a protective face mask such as a respirator 2) always wear eye protection, 3) Only saw in a well ventilated room with adequate dust collection, 4) wear gloves to avoid formaldehyde coming in contact with the skin.  Does any of this stuff sound familiar?  Don’t we do that already in our shops?  Well maybe not the glove/formaldehyde thing…but you get the point.  It’s all common sense.  Remember: Sawdust is a known carcinogen!   If your not comfortable using the stuff, then don’t, or at least find a product that you are comfortable with.  Some companies, especially due to California law, are replacing the resins with phenolic resins, such as Medex  or Ultra Stock-Free. Check em out and see where you can source them locally.

So, if you haven’t figured it out by now:  I’m no doctor, no OSHA consultant, and no chemical engineer.  I don’t pretend to have all the answers, I’m just searching for them and sharing what I’ve found.This is one of those topics, like SawStop, that could be debated for days in the forums.  The truth is, even as a hobbyist, you need to educate yourself and take what steps you feel are necessary for a healthy work environment.  Like anything we use in the shop, it is important to know the risks and potential hazards.  People work in extremely dangerous work environments every day, but they are safe when they take the appropriate precautions.


1.  http://www.onlineschools.org/what-is/what-is-mdf/

2. http://www.ehow.com/about_5103952_history-medium-density-fibreboard.html

3. http://www.elcosh.org

Read more: The History of Medium Density Fibreboard | eHow.com http://www.ehow.com/about_5103952_history-medium-density-fibreboard.html#ixzz1rTtnQcn7


Some other options for MDF with no added urea formaldehyde:

* www.healthybuilding.net/healthcare/2008-05_ProductComp_NoAddUrea_updated.pdf

* http://www.furniturelink.ca/greenoptions.htm

…To Do: Finish my Moxon Vise

Yes it’s true.  I too have a Moxon Vise.  I know, imagine that!

I think smarter folks than me have explained at length how they built their vise, so I won’t get into that. But I will share some of the modifications I’ve made this weekend.

Several years ago I built this moxon- wanna be, after seeing an example of it online.





It did not take me long to realize that these jig handles weren’t going to cut it. Not a complete failure, but depending on the size of the wood, it just didn’t have the grip, as you can imagine.



So I invested in the Benchcraft kit.







The vise is awesome, but I had seen two modifications on Paul-Marcel St-Onge’s site, www.halfinchshy.com, which I really grooved on.  The 1st was the addition of the rear bench, which is also shown on Benchcrafted’ site, and the other is the french cleat he added in order to hang and store the vise when not in use.  Paul-Marcel is a pretty smart guy, if you don’t follow his site, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Gluing up the back bench

Glueing and Screwing the french cleat to the back bench

Vise flipped over for final clamping of rear support.























Stores perfectly right under my bench!  Brilliant space saving in my tiny shop.

Thanks Paul-Marcel.





I am going to add one more small modification.  I use my Gramercy Hold Fasts to secure the Moxon to my bench.  Now that I have added the rear bench, I need to extend the stabalizer on each side, so fastening the holdfast isn’t as clumsy.

Now I have no excuse for practicing my dovetails!

Finish My Moxon Vise…


The To-Do List

I have had so little time in the shop lately and when I have, it seems its for short spurts.  Luckily I did a big shop cleanup, not too long ago, so I don’t spend my time cleaning.

Instead of starting another project, only to chip away at it sporadically I’ve decided to chip away at those little shop projects on the ever expanding To-Do list.  You know the ones where your in the middle of a project and think “someday, I’m going to fix that!”. The ones where you’ve bought the parts, but never get around to installing them.

So here are some of my recent To-Dos:

My Router.

I own a PC 890 with a fixed base and a plunge router. I’ve been very happy with it, but I had taken the motor out and placed it in my router table.  Sound familiar?  So every time I wanted to use the plunge feature I’d have to remove it from the table.  Not a huge deal, but it can be a pain. My router table has been fitted for the 890, so I didn’t want to start from scratch. I searched around and found just the motor for sale on eBay.  Perfect.    So I installed that and was able to tune up my plunge router.  Done.

My Lathe:

I am not turner, but I’ve been trying slowly trying to build my skills and use the lathe for portions of projects.  In the process of that I broke off one of the adjustment handles on the tool rest body.  I bought a bit to try and drill out the screw, with no luck.  In fact, I think I made it worse. I had a plan to find a metal shop that could rethread it for me.  But then it occurred to me that I could replace the base piece for about $30.  Kinda seemed like a no brainer.  So I Installed the new tool rest body and a new tool rest extension arm.  Done.

Lathe Tool Rests:

I bought my lathe used on craigslist and the tool rest was always rather beat up, not to mention it always seem to be too long for the project at hand, so while I was tuning up the lathe I decided to invest in some new tool rests.  I purchased the woodcraft toolrest sytem, it has one rod and you and you can screw on different rest.  I bought a 12″ rest, a 6″ rest for pen turning and a curved rest for when I take up bowl turning (as if I don’t have enough to do!)  Not a lot of set up, but Done!

Micro Jig Splitter:

I’ve had this forever and never seemed to get around to actually installing it.  Pretty stupid to not install something as important as a splitter.



The directions seem a little over complex, even slightly intimidating, but the truth is, it only took me less than an hour and it worked as advertised.  A great innovation.













I naturally was able to use another product from MJ:

The GRRRipper!!!



Starret 12″ Square:

I recently took a hand tool class and compared my old 12″ square with the instructors 12″ Starret.  Wow.  I was really surprised to see how accurate his was and how out of square my hardware store square was.  I had recently purchased the 4″ model and now I could not seem to build anything until I added this to my arsenal.  Luckily, I had an order from woodcraft coming anyway!  Imagine that. Square!  Done.

Today I worked on my Moxon Vise (yes, I too have built a Moxon!).  More on that tomorrow…