Using Woodworking Machinery
5th in a series of articles by Barb Siddiqui
Few things are more exciting than taking delivery of a new machine. After saving the money, doing the research and all the comparative shopping, finally receiving the box and calling it yours is a great feeling.
Machines: they will cut, they will drill, they will flatten or chop almost anything. But you have to take care of them. Read and understand the owner's manual, then keep it for later reference. Once a machine is set up, it still needs to be checked periodically for alignment, for bolts needing tightening, for lubrication and cleaning.
Learn to 'tune' each machine within its tolerances: bandsaw wheels need to run in the same plane, a drill press needs to raise and lower vertically square to its table, and a tablesaw blade must be ninety degrees square to its tabletop, with the front and rear of the blade running parallel to its miter slots. Books are a good source of information of this sort.
Before you load a motor with heavy use, allow it to build up to full force so it can do its job efficiently. New machines, especially, need to be allowed to run several minutes before heavy use a first time, to allow the brushes in the motor to 'seat.' Learn the sound of the motor on each machine, and pay attention to how it sounds under the load of an operation. If something's wrong, you'll often be able to hear or feel it from the machine before things go further a wry.
Don't try to work any machine too fast. If a procedure takes excessive force, something is probably amiss: case hardened wood, or not enough chip clearance for a blade, or misalignment of essential parts. If you feel the work is overtaxing the machine, find a different way to do it, or approach the job in smaller steps.
Know ahead of time where your 'panic button' is. Practice holding the work- piece clear of the blade, then turning the machine on and off. Before you begin, know where that off-switch is, and know how you are going to get to it. There are after-market aids to make off-buttons accessible by your knee rather than fumbling for it by hand.
Always unplug a machine when handling or changing blades. That word was 'Always.' Not only can bumping a switch give you a nasty surprise, but faulty switches (even the 'safer' magnetic switches) have been known to connect and come on with a sudden blow to a tabletop, such as a dropped tool or piece of wood. If there is a power outage, unplug each machine individually and leave the lights on to tell you when the power has been restored.
Keep your machines clean. Vacuum the dust out of motor vents, off belts, switches, pulleys and inside router collets. Keep bandsaw tires clean with a toothbrush and isopropyl alcohol, turning the wheels by hand. If you have a rack and pinion height adjustment, be sure its teeth and gear are kept free of sawdust buildup.
When changing tablesaw blades, be sure the power is disconnected, then clean any grime off the arbor before replacing its washers and nut. (Quick tip: if you drop the arbor washer or nut in a pile of sawdust beneath your tablesaw, a magnet taped to the end of a long dowel will save you a lot of work in finding it!)
If you use thin-kerf blades, buy inexpensive blade stabilizers to prevent blade wander or distortion under a heavy load. They will limit the depth of cut you can make, but improve the performance of the blade. There is no need to overtighten the nut on the arbor, they are designed to tighten as the blade turns, and overtightening can damage the arbor. Some tablesaw arbors are too short for a full stacked dado set and regardless of the size of the arbor it is not a good idea to load so many cutters that you have to leave off the arbor washers. These large washers broaden the applied force of the nut, reducing the chance of blades slipping. Check your manual to see how the manufacturer rates your saw for dado use.
As a rule, see that your workpiece is securely clamped in place or guided as it passes a blade. Never cut freehand on a tablesaw; stabilize the workpiece against a fence or miter gauge, but don't use the two together because that may bind the workpiece against the blade and cause a nasty kickback or jamming of the blade. A panel-cutting sled riding in the miter slot, is the safest way to do cross-cuts.
When using a drill press, clamp the work to the table. A lot of torque is developed at low speeds, and when backing out of an operation, the machine tends to lift the work and bind in the hole, throwing or twisting the wood. It is best to have an auxiliary table with a fence to place the workpiece against.
With hand held power tools, before you begin, plan how the electrical cord will pass freely as you complete the operation, and if your cord is of adequate length (this is one great advantage of battery-operated tools.) Be certain a cord isn't going to snag on something unnecessarily or coil around your feet.
The best advice on new machinery is, educate yourself, and practice before you begin the work. Woodworking is wonderful hobby, but you are responsible for your own safety.
My thanks to forum member John Parrish for his editing assitance.