Carpentry tips

carpenters london
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.

Fitting a mortise lock

This is a simple operation well within the capabilities of any handyman. As in all aspects of carpentry though, special care should be taken in marking out, and only the correct tools for the job used. First work out where the lock is to go. In most cases it should be fitted midway up the door, which allows space further up for the addition of a rimlock or safety chain. If another lock is already fitted at this point, it can easily be unscrewed and located higher up. Mark out the position of the lock and its area, by holding it against the door at the correct location.

Remember to allow for the thickness of the face plate and mark in the correct position of the keyhole. Now, using a mortise gauge, calculate the width and height of the mortise and mark out these measurements on the edge of the door. Particular care should be taken to centre the mortise in the door so that it is the same distance from both surfaces. Most of the mortise can be cut out by boring with a brace fitted with a bit exactly the same width as the lock. To assist in boring accurately, a centre line is drawn down the area to be cut away and the centres of the holes marked in. This is best done by carefully marking out with the aid of a 45 degrees combination square or adjustable bevel gauge as follows.

Lay the bevel edge against the side of the door, and adjust its position so that one edge of the rule meets one corner of the area to be cut away. Draw a line from this point to meet the opposite side, then reverse the square and, using the same technique, draw in another line from the point where the first line crossed the edge of the mortise housing. Repeat this procedure along the whole length of the area to be cut away, then mark in the points where the diagonal lines cross the centre line to give the bore centres. Fit the bit with a depth stop so that the depth of each bored hole can be gauged correctly.

If you do not possess this fixture, an alternative is to tie a piece of tape to the bit at the correct point. Bore out each hole to the required depth, ensuring that the bit is held at right angles to the door edge. A simple way of checking that the bit is held horizontally is to place a large washer over the bit. If the washer moves towards you as you drill, the bit is held too low; if the washer moves towards the door, the bit is held too high. The bit is horizontal when the washer does not move. When you have bored the mortise out, clear the hole with a chisel. Keep to the marked lines and don’t try to remove too much waste wood at once. Instead, chisel out a little at a time and keep testing for size by fitting the lock into the mortise.

The lock should just fit with no play. Alter checking that the previously marked locations of the keyholes are correct, remove the lock and bore them out with a bit slightly larger than the diameter of the keyhole on the escutcheon. Do not bore right through the door from one side; reverse the direction of boring before the bit emerges through the wood. Clean up the keyholes and, if necessary, cut them to shape with a coping saw. Now insert the mortise lock in position and test the action of the key in the lock. If it turns smoothly, fit the escutcheons in position over the keyholes. Secure the lock in the mortise by fixing screws through the holes on the face plate. Cutting the face plate rebate insert the lock into the mortise so that the face plate is flush against the edge of the door.

Mark out the extent of the rebate by marking round the face plate with a handyman’s knife to the required depth. Take a chisel with a blade exactly the same width as the rebate and make a series of cuts down the length of the rebate. This allows the rebate to be cut out in small sections. Hold the chisel at a flat angle against the door and remove each section with very light blows from a mallet. When the rebate has been cut to the required depth, clean up the edges and insert the lock but do not secure it with screws.

Fitting the striker plates

The striker plate is recessed in the door frame in exactly the same way as the lock. To mark the correct position, first turn the key to extend or ‘shoot’ the bolt, pull the door to and mark out round the bolt (and the latch if the lock is fitted with this feature). Following the same procedures that were used to mark and cut the mortise for the lock, cut out the recesses for the bolt and the striker plate and screw this piece into place. The fitting is now complete and the lock ready for use.

Maintenance

Like any other fixture with moving parts, the lock should be lubricated at least twice a year. A light oil or powdered graphite inserted into the mechanism through the keyhole should ensure the smooth operation of the lock.

Choosing a mortise lock

Always buy a type of lock which is approved by insurance companies. They are more likely to accept an insurance risk on a house fitted with these locks and, in the event of a break-in, view a claim more favourably. Don’t assume that burglars only break into houses that are filled with valuables; virtually every house possesses something of value such as a television or computer.

Although your choice of mortise lock will be determined by how much security you want, a general guide is to fit deadlocks on external doors and latched mortise locks on internal doors. Even a mortise lock can be picked or sprung by an expert, but the chances of this happening are remote if you choose a lock with a complex mechanism. This is largely determined by how many levers and/or tumblers the lock is fitted with, and this number is usually stamped on the faceplate.

What is a mortise lock?

Though their locking mechanisms vary,they are all intended to be recessed into the door. Not only does this give greater security, it allows a neater finish to the door. Some mortise locks are fitted with handles and latches, others, usually called deadlocks, are without these features and consist only of a bolt and its locking mechanism. Mortise locks for sliding doors are available and these are fitted with hooked bolts which lock in position over a catch on the striker plate.

Doors and locks

No matter how thief-proof your locks are, they give only an illusion of security if they are flitted to flimsy doors. Sometimes, locks which would deter a master criminal are flitted to doors which can be broken down by one hefty push. Mortise locks have the advantage that even if a housebreaker removes a door panel he cannot open a mortise bolt from inside, except with the proper key. However, before flitting the lock, the householder should examine the door not only to see if it is sturdy, but ‘also to see whether it will take a mortise lock. Mortise locks are recessed into a solid base and for this reason cannot be fitted to some types of hollow door. All solid doors are suitable for modification and most hollow doors are fitted with a solid wood panel in the lock area, which is capable of taking a recessed lock. If your home is equipped with hollow doors, you must check on the presence of this plate by tapping the door round the proposed location of the lock. If it sounds hollow then it is unsuitable, unless you add a solid wood core to the lock area. If it sounds solid it is probably suitable, but to make sure, bore one or two holes from the edge of the door to a depth of 100mm.

Door locks

The security of your home is almost completely dependent on the locks with which it is fitted. Despite the increased number of break-ins, many householders still depend on inadequate and antiquated locks to safeguard the home. Mortise locks-types of which are approved by insurance companies-provide good domestic security and are easy to fit and maintain. This chapter describes the various types available and how to fit and maintain them. Judging by official police statements, it is surprising how many householders still depend on inadequate locks to safeguard their homes. They tend to think that the sight of a lock-any lock-will deter the would-be burglar, even though their homes may be filled with valuables.

Of course, this isn’t true; some types of lock, such as rim locks, can be opened in a matter of seconds by the professional burglar equipped only with a few bits of plastic and wire. This is not to say rim locks and other types have no uses; fitted in conjunction with a proper security lock, they give added home protection. What types of lock then, give the sort of protection which insurance companies insist on? The variety is so large as to be bewildering, but the most secure locks all incorporate certain features which will baffle anyone but a Houdini. Firstly, a secure lock, apart from having a sturdy construction, has a mechanism complicated enough to defy attempts to ‘pick it’. Generally it incorporates several levers or tumblers arranged in such a way that only a particular and unique pattern of key will open it. Secondly, the lock is recessed into the door in such a way that only the keyhole is visible on both surfaces of the door. This prevents anyone from unscrewing the lock or forcing it with a lever. Several types of locks incorporate these features, but the one most commonly used is the mortise lock.

Other types of hinges

Special problems in fitting doors and windows may call for special types of hinge. For example, a door or window that has to fold flat against a wall needs a ‘parliament’ hinge. This has an offset pivot that moves the door well away from the face as it opens, allowing it to be opened much further than normal. It makes the door swing very wide in the first few inches of opening, so that the lock side needs a heavily angled bevel cut on it. Casement windows often have a rebated edge and frame to keep the rain out. These must have a special L-shaped hinge called a ‘stormproof’ hinge

Unlike butt hinges, these come in left- and right-handed versions, depending on which way the window opens (though of course, they are generally bought two pairs at a time for paired windows). They are installed in the same way as butt hinges, but the window frame can be a looser fit than usual, since the rebated front seals it.

In houses with irregular floors or thick carpets, there is often a problem with the door catching on the floor as it opens. If enough wood is taken off the door to clear it, the wind whistles through the huge gap underneath. The solution is to use ‘rising butt’ hinges, which raise the door as it opens.

To stop the top of the door from catching on the frame as it rises, a special tapered bevel has to be cut along one-third of the length of the top edge of the door at the hinge end. The only way to get the shape of the bevel right is by trial and error removing a very little wood at a time. The length, angle and depth of the bevel vary with particular installations. The hinge is installed like a normal butt hinge, so if you hang the door temporarily on single screws and keep taking it off, planing a bit more wood off and replacing it, you should soon get the shape of the top edge right. Certain types of hinge are installed in plain view on the front (or back) of the door. These include the long sheet-metal hinges found on cottage and outhouse doors, and special self-closing spring hinges, which have such huge pivots that it would be impossible to hide them. Both types are very easy indeed to install, because the screws are exposed and you don’t have to keep taking the door off to get them positioned correctly.

Fitting the hinges

Nearly all doors and casement windows are hung on butt hinges. These come in a good range of sizes from 25mm long, used for cupboard doors, to 15Omm long, used for heavy front doors. Most ordinary-sized doors use 100 mm hinges.Ask for advice from any windows and doors fitters if necessary.
carpenter fitting door

For really large doors, the front doors of some Victorian houses are a case in point, you can use three hinges instead of two, with the third hinge hallway between the other two. This also helps to prevent warping. To fit a pair of hinges, first position the door in its frame in the exact position it will occupy, propping it on wedges to hold it steady.

Then make a mark on both door and frame (and at the same level on each) l50mm from the top of the door and 230mm from the bottom. For small casement windows, halve these measurements. Then take down the door and draw round one flap of the butt hinge with a marking knife to mark its position on both door and frame. Top and bottom hinges should be positioned in.side the lines you have already marked. The hinges should be set so that the ‘knuckle’ (pivot) is just clear of door and frame. When you are satisfied that the position of the hinges is correctly shown, set a marking gauge to the thickness of the hinge flap and mark the front surface of door and frame to show how deep the cutout for the hinge is to be. Be very careful not to mark it too deep.

Some marking gauges will not adjust far enough to make such a shallow mark. One solution to this is to put in a new metal spike at the other end of the arm of the gauge in such a position that the sliding part of the gauge can move right up to it. You could make a good spike from a small panel pin sharpened with a file. Now chisel along all the marked lines to ensure that the wood wilt be removed cleanly. Then turn the chisel bevel-edge down and make some diagonal cuts to the correct depth to make it easier to remove the wood. Finish the cutout neatly by slicing out the raised wood chips from the spindle with the chisel held right way up. Using a broad chisel improves accuracy. Place a hinge leaf in each of the cutouts to ensure that it fits with its upper surface flush with the edge of the door or frame. If the cutout is too shallow, and the hinge stands proud, remove more wood. If it is too deep, you will have to pack it out with a piece of veneer or ply-but this is recommended and it is much better to cut too shallow and work down. When all the hinges leaves are set in properly, drill one hole through each side of each hinge into the door and frame. Drill through the centre hole of each hinge leaf, using a bradawl on small hinges, a drill of the correct size for the mounting screws on large hinges.

Don’t drill the other two holes in each side yet. Prop the door up on its wedges and mount it temporarily on its hinges with one screw per hinge leaf. Then open and shut it -gently, so as not to tear the screws out to make sure that it is not catching on anything. You will almost certainly find it does catch on the lock side, because the projecting hinge knuckle makes it swing slightly wide. The remedy is to bevel the edge of the door slightly with a plane. Nearly all doors and wood-framed windows are bevelled in this way. Open the door as far as it will go to make sure that it does not catch on the floor. If it does, you will have to plane a bit more off the bottom edge. The door should fit flat into its frame and stay there without having to be held. If it sticks and has to be forced, or swings open of its own accord, the screw holes are wrongly sited.

Take the door off and plug the misplaced holes with glued-in dowels. Let the glue dry and try again. When you are satisfied with the fit, take the door down, drill the remaining holes and refit it with all its screws. Make absolutely sure that all the countersink screws heads are in the whole way, or the hinge will not fold flat. If they stick out, file the heads flat this is cheating, but it works.

Fitting doors and windows

Doors and windows have two purposes: they open to provide access or let in air, and they shut to keep out rain, draughts and sound. So they must open easily and shut firmly, which means that they must be fitted very accurately into their frames. Hanging doors and windows is not particularly difficult, and there are only a few facts and procedures you need to know about to get it right every time. The most important part of the job is getting the door or window to fit properly into its frame. They do not fit exactly; there has to be a clearance all round to allow for expansion in wet weather, and to keep the door from scraping against its frame when it is opened and shut.

carpenters fitting door windows

Doors do not open straight as if they were being lifted out of their frame. They swing slightly outwards as they pivot on their hinges, and the lock side of the door, opposite the hinge, has to be cut away to allow for this movement. Different kinds of hinges cause the door to move in different ways, and you have to know how a particular type of hinge will make the door behave. The hinges themselves have to be installed strongly but accurately, so that the door does not sag or hang at an angle. It is not hard to put them in correctly when you know how.

Doors (and wood-framed windows) invariably expand slightly when the humidity rises. If they are painted, or sealed in some other way, it slows down the rate at which the humidity affects them, but they still change size. Outside doors are obviously more affected than inside ones, but even so, inside doors in a house that is centrally heated during the winter or air-conditioned during the summer, may change their size quite noticeably from season to season, perhaps by as much as 1.6mm.

Panelled doors made of solid timber move more than modern ones made from man made boards. Softwood ones move more than hardwood ones. And of course, wide doors move more than narrow ones (in actual distance, not in proportion to their width). The way to estimate the right clearance is to leave a minimum of 1.6mm round the top three sides of the door, and at least 3mm at the bottom (but more about clearance under doors later). Then you can add to this figure 0.8mm for each factor that might make the door expand an extra amount-for example it if is an outside door, in a centrally heated house, or if it is made of solid timber panels. The average clearance for an inside door is about 3mm on the top three sides, and 6mm at the bottom. There used to be a British joiner’s and carpenters rule of thumb that you should be able to get an old penny (just over 1.6mm thick) between a door and its frame all round. This was before central heating, however, and the gap is a bit small by today’s standards. But it is a good way of measuring if you can find a coin of the right thickness for the clearance you need. The method for fitting a standard-sized door into a standard-sized frame is as follows: first, buy a door of the correct size and leave it in the room where it is to be fitted for a couple of days to let it adjust to the prevailing humidity.

New doors with solid timber rails and stiles (this includes many flush doors) often have the top and bottom ends of the stiles (vertical side pieces) left uncut, and these projecting horns, as they are called, should be sawn off and planed smooth. When the door has acclimatized itself, offer it up to the hinge side of the door-frame and examine the edge of door and frame to see if they are parallel. Many frames are leaning or curved, even in new houses. If the frame is really irregular you may have to scribe the door to it, but otherwise an ordinary plane and your own judgement should be enough to make it fit.

Make sure that you don’t remove so much more wood from one end than the other that the door is no longer vertical; an occasional check with a spirit level should guard against this. If the door is not too tall to fit into the door frame at this stage, hold it up with a couple of wedges underneath it while you check it against the frame. If it is too tall, rest it on the floor and put wedges under it only when it begins to take on the right size and shape. After the hanging edge of the door is cut to shape, do the same with the top, then the bottom (remembering to remove more wood than for the sizes).

Then raise it to its correct height on wedges. and shape the last side, which is the side with the lock. Finally run a coin around the top three edges of the door to check that there are no tight spots.

Non-standard sizes

Most door frames in houses less than about a century old are in standard sizes, and you can buy doors that only need a little planing to fit into them. If however, you are unlucky enough to have a door frame in a non-standard size, you are going to have to alter your new door more drastically, than merely planing it. Nearly all doors, including flush (flat surfaced) modern doors have some kind of supporting framework of stiles and rails to strengthen them and keep them from sagging or warping. This is held together by mortise and tenon or dowelled joints. If you remove more than say, l3mm from any side of the door, there is a danger of cutting into one of these joints, and this could seriously weaken it.

One way round this problem is to order a specially-made door, but this might turn out to be expensive. Ask a builders’ merchant and see if you think the job is worth the money.

The best solution is to dismantle a door and re-cut the joints to alter the size-if you can be bothered to do it. It is a laborious job. however, for door manufacturers use good glue and strong joints deliberately to stop their doors from coming apart. Altering the size of window frames in this way is nearly impossible for the amateur carpenter. They will almost certainly have lo be made to measure by a professional joinery and carpentry company.

Ledged and braced doors

Ledged and braced doors are usually seen outside the home where their strength provides necessary security on garages, sheds and other outhouses. If constructed carefully and well designed, though, a ledged and braced door can add an interesting and attractive touch inside the home. The basic construction of ledged and braced doors is simple. The face of the door consists of vertical lengths of timber, called battens, which are butted together along their long edges. They are held together by ledges. horizontal pieces which are as long as the door is wide. Most of these doors also have braces, pieces of timber that run diagonally between two ledges. These always run upward from the hinged side; they give added strength to the door. There are many designs for ledged and braced doors.

ledged door

If the door does not have to be particularly strong-for a cupboard, say you can do away with the braces. You can use only two ledges, one near the top and one near the bottom of the door. Another variation is a framed, ledged and braced door. This has stiles and rails jointed together, with the battens glued and pinned into a rebate cut on the inside edges of the stiles and rails. The construction of this type of door is basically the same for making Dutch doors though, of course, the door is not cut in two. Most British doors are 31 mm thick, and if your door frame will only take this size you can build the door to this thickness. Doors on outhouses. however, need to be fairly solid for security, and for one of these you may wish to increase the thickness to 38mm; you can then use 19mm timber for all the pieces, which will be more convenient and less wasteful than using two different thicknesses of wood. The width of the timber depends largely on the design you choose but 100mm is a common size for ledged and braced doors. Doors made from wider boards tend to look heavy and unattractive. Tongued-and-grooved boards are often used for battens. These help to provide a weathertight seal. Square-edged boards can be used but these are not as weatherproof, especially when they shrink and gaps appear between them.

Hanging the door
Ledged and braced doors are hung with tee hinges. The long part of the hinge is screwed to the ledges. If the door is fairly heavy and has been built from thicker timber than that suggested above a heavier type of hinge, known as a Scotch tee hinge, may be necessary. You will also need to fit some kind of lock, bolt or latch to the door so that it closes securely. A barrel bolt is the most commonly used on ledged and braced doors. These are made from iron, brass or bronze, but for purely functional purposes an iron bolt is sufficient.

Dutch doors

Dutch doors, traditionally seen in farmhouses and rustic country cottages, can be both an attractive and functional addition to various rooms in the more conventional home. Dutch doors are doors that are separated into two pieces across their width. This enables one half to be opened independently of the other. Traditionally Dutch doors were ledged and braced but any design, providing it incorporates a middle horizontal rail, can be copied as a Dutch door. Standard British doors are 1.98m x 0.76m. The size of the door you build will obviously depend on the size of the door you intend to replace. The construction involves quite advanced jointing techniques and very accurate rebating.

A Dutch door consists of a frame composed of four horizontal members, or rails, and two vertical pieces, or stiles, which run the whole length of the outsides of the door. The top rail of each part of the door is made from timber of the same size.