Why I “dislike” 45 degree mitres

Re-doing some of the baseboard trim in the basement, I decided to go with a 1×8 poplar baseboard (really 7¼ × ¾). Weird yes, because it’s not *really* a moulded baseboard. But it goes well down in the basement, and doesn’t seem out of place. There are a couple of places that obviously need outer corners, the type of corners that ultimately need a 45° mitre. But I hate 45° mitre joints. They are okay in small pieces of wood, e.g. frames, but on a 7¼ × ¾ things never go well. I tried making one joint, and because the board had an ever-so-slight warp, it just didn’t mesh well – and it doesn’t take much to get out of alignment slightly. In all that are just a pain – and large mitres can’t realistically be done by hand (I’ve tried). So my alternative is to join the board with  ¾×¾ corner piece, dowelled in place. Now, yes, it is more work, but there are no unsightly gaps to be filled in because the 45° faces don’t align 100%.

It turns out some of the poplar is spalted as well… not something you see too often.



A new mantelpiece (ii) – the core build

The first step was replicating the mitred-butt joint. This seems easy, but actually requires a fair bit of precision, as it’s not possible to clean the end on a shooting board. I use a Japanese crosscut saw for making the crosscut and the mitre. I then added the extension to form the “L” on either end using dowels, and added the end mitred trim piece.

The top and bottom plates are separated by a 3½” vertical piece with corners joined by 1″×1″ posts instead of 45° mitres. Internally, the box will be supported by 1″×2″ poplar structural components. With a mantelpiece it is all about the forward view, as it is rare that the top will be directly viewed from above, nor the sides. My approach to this project is to semi-construct the mantelpiece as it progresses, to be able to obtain an appreciation for its dimensions and make appropriate changes to the design.

Next, I used two Tapcon screws to seat the base on the mantel. The 2×4 blocks behind were glued on initially to allow the top of the mantle to be secured, but I didn’t end up actually using them.

Mounting the base layer.

Next I added the front panel. Now this piece developed a slight crook, which had to be fixed. I remedied this by gluing a second piece of ¾” cherry behind it, and clamping out the crook. Then it just needs some glue and a bunch of clamps to attach it to the base.

Gluing the front panel

Next I glued on the end pieces (which already had the 1″×1″ corners attached at either end). Attaching the end pieces was a bit of an acrobatic clamp assembly. Before gluing them in, I  glued a scrap 3″×3″ oak block on each corner to help facilitate attaching the ends (and make it ultra-strong).

Attaching the end pieces.

Once the ends were attached, I filled the inner portion of the mantel with a series of torsion supports, made of poplar. They are glued to the base layer of the mantel. Now I planed and sanded the outside of the panels.

The inner workings!

This is what the corners of the mantel looks like inside. The back corner does not touch the wall, but I continued it around to allow more gluing surface for the upper panel. Also note the block of wood (on the left) in between the 2×4 on the back wall of the fireplace, and the lower panel. I added these in and glued them using Gorilla construction adhesive.

The inner part of the corner.

Finally I glued a ½”×½”, trim piece under the lower panel, to help hide the gap between the brick base and the wood.

Adding the lower trim.


Tool review – Japanese mill-tooth file

One of my favourite tools at the moment is the Japanese mill-tooth file, which I really prefer to call a rasp, because it has a similar effect – its capable of hogging off a lot of material (or even more effectively, a planing rasp). I like it because it works as though the face of the file is covered with hundreds of tiny plane edges, essentially shearing material off. These files are made by Japanese company Iwasaki, and are considered sculpting tools.

The face of each tooth on the file is formed to allow for a mini chip-breaker. This helps break the shavings off and helps prevent the file from clogging. Here is a close-up of a tooth from the Iwasaki website:

The type of shavings produced depends on the type of wood being filed. I have noticed that harder woods like Ash tend to produce small shavings, whereas softer woods like cherry produce long spiralled shavings.

Ash versus cherry shavings

Supposedly, the files produce a surface equivalent to using 280 grit sandpaper. Below is a piece of ash which has been filed. The surface is extremely smooth. The file works well moving 90° across the grain, or diagonally. They work well in places too tight for a  plane can’t get too.

I have one flat file, but will likely get a couple more. Lee Valley carries a bunch of different types, but for more sculpting oriented tools head over to Dieter Schmid Fine Tools, or Highland Woodworking.

The magnetic knife holder

Apart from the long knives in my kitchen, I also needed somewhere for the paring knives etc. to live.  Enter the wooden magnetic knife holder from Beau Grain in Quebec. I have one of the older ones, with two pieces held together by a sliding dovetail. The question was always how to attach it to a backsplash made of stainless steel tiles. I honestly didn’t want to drill through the tiles and mess them up, so it took a while to come up with a solution.

The solution? Build a frame to attach the knife holder to the bottom of the cabinets, thereby avoiding damaging the tiles and allowing the knife holder to be offset from the wall, making it easier to grab the knives. It also makes the knife holder more of an object of interest, rather than *just* a knife holder. The holder is made of cherry, the knife holder birds-eye maple.

Why I like Festool

I bought my first Festool years ago, the TS55 Plunge cut circular saw, in combination with a bunch of guide rails. I don’t have a huge workshop, so most of my major cutting is done outside. For straight cuts of material like plywood, it’s *amazing*. I also bought a CT Mini dust extractor, which was a great size for my workshop. A short while later they were recalled because they didn’t have the proper Canadian CSA labels or something. I arranged to have it picked up to return, and Festool sent me as a replacement the CT 26, with 2½ times the capacity. It’s nice that they upgraded with a better model. Since then I have added a multifunction table, a router, and two sanders: the Rotex RO125, and the DTS 400 orbital sander, which I acquired recently.

Now why when I have so many handtools, do I own power tools? Largely because some of the work I do is around the house – trim, built-in bookcases, a fireplace mantle, doors, etc. I don’t necessarily want to spend more time than I have to hand-sanding something. Even when I do more (hopefully) commissioned work once I retire, I want the convenience of good quality power tools. So why Festool? I get that they are expensive, but honestly they stand behind their products, and the workmanship is exceptional.

Take the sanders. I *never* liked sanders before I bought the Festool RO125. Most sanders on the market are not really that great. Yet using the RO125, in combination with the dust extractor, means that I can sand anywhere in the house without a spect of dust getting in the way. It is a beast, capable of sanding Ipe, stripping layers of paint, or producing an uber smooth finish on cherry. Now I bought the DTS400 because it was on sale at Atlas Machinery (floor model, moving sale). I’m using it specifically for finish sanding at the moment, with 220 and 400 grit paper. It gets into those places where the RO125 just can’t.

Now, not all my power tools are Festool – I have some Milwaukee tools, a DeWalt mitre saw from ages ago, a Bosch table saw, and a Makita drill. All good utilitarian power tools – but for really precise work, I prefer Festool. Festool is a dependable brand, who produce tools that work consistently, and robustly. These are lifetime tools.