These six expert shop tips simplify and speed up sanding, gluing, cross cutting, drawing and measuring lines, making repetitive cuts and other common shop problems. They'll make your shopwork more enjoyable too.
By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine
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Tip 1: Make reusable sanding blocks
Assemble the sanding blocks
Glue four blocks and cork pads to a sheet of sandpaper. Then cut the sandpaper with a utility knife.
Foam sanding sponges are a great invention. They excel at sanding curved surfaces or drywall-taped inside corners, but they're a bit expensive and not practical for sanding large, flat surfaces. Make your own reusable sanding blocks for much less. Here's how:
Cut six blocks from scrap 3/4-in. plywood for each sandpaper grit you commonly use. Make them 2-1/2 in. x 4-3/4 in. Spray adhesive on both a square of cork tile and 10 of the blocks. (Buy a package of four 12-in. cork tiles at a home center.) Stick 10 of the blocks to the cork and cut the cork flush with a utility knife. Then spray adhesive on a sheet of sandpaper and stick on six of the blocks cork side down as shown. Cut the sandpaper flush with the cork, and label the blocks.
When you wear out all six of a set of sanding blocks, soften the adhesive with a hair dryer, peel off the old sandpaper and apply new.
Tip 2: Make repetitive cuts with a 1-in. crosscutting stop block
Table saw stop block
Clamp a stop block to the table saw fence just short of where the cutoff stock first meets the blade. Then you can make crosscuts without binding the cutoff.
Here's an old tip that's worth repeating. When you're crosscutting on a table saw, set the cut length with a block clamped to the fence. Don't ever use the fence directly. That's a good way to get a board kicked back right at you. Ruptured organs and broken rib—or worse—are a very real possibility.
Instead, clamp a block of wood to the fence before the blade. Then the end of the board will be free of the fence during and after the cut. If you make a block that's exactly 1 in. thick, you can set the fence scale at 1 in. greater than the length you're after. No tricky fractions involved.
Tip 3: Assemble a stair gauge/framing square cutting guide
Stair gauge/framing square cutting guide
Screw the stair gauges to your framing square and hold it against your board to make right angle cuts.
Close-up of stair gauges
Stair gauges are designed to clamp to the edge of a framing square.
Stair gauges are usually used to lay out stair jacks. You clamp them to a carpenter's square to match the rise and run of a stair jack and then mark the notches. But if you put them both on the same tongue of a carpenter's square, the combination makes a great crosscut guide for circular saws. Pick up a pair for less than $5 at any hardware store or home center. Clamp the square in place so it won't slide around while you're cutting. You wouldn't like that one bit.
Tip 4: Eliminate stains from excess glue
Tape edges before gluing
Apply masking tape over the joint and then cut it so that the edge of each board is protected from excess glue.
To prevent stains caused by oozing glue along joints, clamp the pieces together without glue. Put tape on the joint, then cut along it with a sharp blade. Separate the pieces, apply the glue and clamp them together again. The glue will ooze onto the tape, not the wood. Peel off the tape before the glue dries.
Tip 5: Make layouts with a drafting square
Drafting square measurements
Measuring and marking layouts on boards goes faster and easier with a drafting square.
When you need an accurate square in the 2- to 3-ft. range, your options are limited. Drywall squares are notoriously inaccurate and cumbersome. Carpenter squares involve that nagging hassle of having to hook them onto the edge of your workpiece. If you have a drafting square lying around, drag it out to the shop. Or, go to an art supply store and pick one up. They're very accurate and you'll find yourself grabbing it nearly as often as you do the tape measure.
Tip 6: Clamp small stuff with hot glue
Photo 1: Apply the hot glue
Squeeze a dab of hot glue on a pedestal stick and quickly press the workpiece into the glue.
Photo 2: Shape the workpiece
Shape the workpiece as needed. Then snap it off the pedestal.
When you have to cut, shape, file, sand or finish something small, reach for your hot glue gun and glue the piece to a pedestal stick. The hot glue will hold just about anything as well as or better than any clamp ever could—if using a clamp is even possible. When your project is complete, try to pop it loose with a putty knife, but don't use too much force—you might tear out the wood or break the piece.
You have two options for breaking the grip: cold and heat. First, try sticking the workpiece into the freezer for an hour or so. Frozen glue will usually give way with very little force. If that doesn't work, try a hair dryer to soften the glue. Still stuck? Reach for the heat gun. But warm the piece slowly and from a distance to avoid scorching the wood or damaging the finish.