Notes from The Cube: Riley’s Carpentry Tips

Jeff Riley is an architect who knows how to make stuff. He’s built four houses, and is proud of his fully outfitted wood shop. He passed on his passion for woodworking to his sons, who designed and built a house for his daughter in Los Angeles. While the project was underway, Jeff sent them an illustrated carpentry tip once a week, accompanied by a recipe from his wife, Mary.

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At a recent Sugar Cube presentation, Jeff shared a few of the tips with us. They’re clever time savers that he hopes will ease our next project. We hope they’ll ease yours, too.

  • Before you quit for the day, complete nailing off your work.
  • He who needs a tool is already paying for it.
  • If a nail head is broken off, rotate the hammer claw to pull it out easily. You can also use wire snips.
  • When gluing two pieces of wood together, it can be difficult to keep them aligned when pressed together. Apply glue to both surfaces and then sprinkle salt on the glue before fixing the pieces together. The salt is abrasive enough to keep the wood from slipping.
  • Use a jiggle stick to scribe irregular shapes and transfer them to the material to be cut.
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  • Hole saws get clogged and the drilled out plug can be hard to remove. Simply drill a small hole on the inside edge of the big hole you’re cutting out. The hole allows sawdust to escape. Don’t forget to finish the hole from the back side to avoid splintering.
  • To fill a nail or screw hole, mix glue with sawdust from the wood you’re filling. When cured and sanded, it will be a perfect match. Or, for fine millwork, use a razor sharp chisel to shave a small flap to hide the fastener, then glue it down and sand flush.
  • Make up a bunch of plywood triangle brackets with holes to clamp corners in place while fastening them.
  • The safest tool is razor sharp. The most dangerous tool is dull. Keep your chisels, planes, and draw knives really sharp all the time.

Editor's Note: The "Sugar Cube" is our internal moniker for brief presentations by members of our staff after lunch on Fridays. Held in The Cube, the square shaped room at the center of our mill complex, they've traditionally been accompanied by sweet treats from the cafe across the street. These days they're held on Zoom, with presenters and the audience on their own for dessert.