To avoid splitting wood when nailing it near the end, blunt the tip of the nail – but only slightly – by hitting it straight on with a hammer. (A tap is usually enough.)
To make it easier to drive a screw into hardwood, put a little wax polish or tallow on the point – but not vaseline or soap.
When setting a plane blade, rest the heel of the plane on a piece of white paper before sighting along the sole. This will make the blade easier to see.
When making a hole with a bradawl in any type of timber, set the chisel end of the bradawl across the grain, press it down and twist it back and forth. Do not turn it right round or let it tie along the grain.
Planes sometimes skid when used on hard or resinous woods.’ To prevent this, wipe a stick of tallow over the sole. If this doesn’t work, the blade probably needs sharpening.
When trying to loosen a stubborn wood screw, first make sure that your screwdriver blade is exactly the right size for the slot in the head, or you will ruin the slot so that it no longer grips. If the wood screw appears stuck, try tightening it a little first, then turning it back. If this fails, put the blade of the screwdriver in the slot and tap the handle sharply a few times with a mallet. As a last resort, heat the screw head with a soldering iron.
G-cramps and sash cramps mark the surface of timber, but you can prevent this by putting a block of scrap wood on either side of the work-piece under the jaws of the cramp. If you do bruise the surface of a piece of timber, with a misdirected hammer blow for example, put a piece of damp cloth over the affected part and apply a hot iron; the steam will make the wood swell back to shape.
Place a scrap wood block under the head of a claw hammer or a pair of pincers when using them to remove nails. This prevents you from damaging the wood. It improves the leverage as well. Draw the nail along the grain and towards the centre of the length of timber.
Curly-grained timber often chips during planing. To avoid this, set the blade very fine and plane along the evailing direction of the grain while holding the plane at 45 degrees to the way you move it.
Second-hand or re-used timber is generally full of hidden nails and pieces oi metal that will ruin a saw, chisel and plane blades. Go over the surface thoroughly with a disc sander fitted with coarse paper, or with a surform, to reveal most of them.
Large holes in timber are best filled with ‘Dutch putty’ – cellulose filler such as Polyfilla thinned with emulsion paint. This dries hard and much stronger than plain filler, and can easily be coloured with emulsion paint tinters.
When planing uneven timber, draw two or three pencil lines down the surface before you begin. These will then be planed off at the high spots first, revealing their location.
End grain planed without a shooting board tends to split. Avoid this by planing from the edges inwards; if you can’t do this, bevel the edges all round first.
If you run out of G-cramps on a job, improvise with sections of car tyre inner tube used like giant rubber bands. Alternatively, use sash cord (but not nylon clothes line) with a piece of dowel passed through and turned to twist it tight.
A simple way of fixing a batten to a wall so that nothing shows is to drive a screw into a plug in the. wall leaving l2mm protruding. Drill a l2mm deep hole the width of the screw head in the back of the batten below the centre, and cut a slot the width of the screw shank upwards from this hole to the centre line. The batten can then be fitted and tapped down.
Wood bits designed for handbraces can be converted to excellent power tool bits by cutting off the square top of the shank, filing three small flats around it to accept the three jaws of the chuck, and filing the screw thread off the tip.
Butt joints in timber can be strengthened by driving slightly over-length nails right through and clenching (bending over) the protruding points. This must be done along the grain, so that the point sinks right in, and with the head of the nail supported, so that it is not driven back out of the wood. This creates a much stronger joint than a straight through nail.
Always nail or screw through thin timber into thicker timber to give the fixings maximum holding power.
To divide a board into an equal number of widths (say seven), set a rule across the board at an angle so that the 0 mark touches one edge and the 7 mark the other. Then mark the positions of marks 1-6 on the board. To allow for the thickness of the saw blade, hang the 0 and 7 marks off the edge of the board by half the blade thickness on either side, and saw exactly down the middle of the marked lines.
To cut a very short piece off the end of a length of timber and across the grain (in this situation the piece being removed tends to break, causing the saw to slip out) clamp a piece of scrap wood alongside and saw through both.
When fixing shelves to a wall, don’t rely on the skirting to indicate a horizontal line. For short shelves, use a spirit level. For longer ones, temporarily pin (or get a helper to hold) one end of a chalked string to the wall. Stretch out the free end of the string taut and hold a spirit level underneath it, then move the string up and down until the level shows it is exactly horizontal. Hold the free end to the wall, then twang the string against the wall to mark the line. It is essential that the string is taut.