Canadian Woodworking
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12 surprisingly simple shop accessories you need to make

Author: Rob Brown
Photos: Rob Brown
Published: June 2024
Shop Accessories
Shop Accessories

A collection of machines, power tools and hand tools in the shop is great, but until you realize you can double their potential with simple shop-made accessories, you haven’t discovered your workshop’s full potential.

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90° plywood brackets

Though there are times angles other than 90° raise the bar of a project, 90° joints are the backbone of furniture making. It’s possi­ble to adjust a freshly glued cabinet so its corners are mating at 90°, but it’s a lot easier and quicker to accomplish this with the help of a simple bracket. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t love “easier and quicker” during an assembly?

Start with a piece of 3/4″ plywood cut to about 10″ × 10″ and ensure its corners are square. Mark a line between two opposing corners. Next, mark four lines around the perimeter of the square, about 2″ away from each edge. The first cut is with a bandsaw; sep­arate the two triangles you laid out with the corner-to-corner line. Depending on whether you need the next few cuts perfect or not, you have two options. I prefer to stay at the bandsaw and cut along the two perimeter lines on each triangle, stopping at the inner cor­ner to form the “L” shape we’re after. If you need a cleaner more even edge, set your table saw’s rip fence to 2″ and make the two stopped cuts to produce the angle L-bracket. If you use the table saw, you can stop short of the inner corner and use a flush-trim hand saw to trim the final portion of the two cuts. The final cuts can be to square off the angled ends of each bracket, but that’s cer­tainly not needed.

I usually use these types of brackets on the inside of a joint, but if you wanted to use them on the outside of a joint you’d just have to ensure to make the inside cuts of these brackets parallel with the outer edges.

In use, each one of these L-brackets works nicely with a pair of one-handed trigger clamps. One hand holds the bracket in place while the other operates the clamp. It’s even possible to clamp the bracket in place before you apply glue to the project, and then just add the second clamp once the other workpiece has been glued and positioned in place. Making a few small and large L-brackets will help in a lot of situations.

Start with Squares
Start with Squares – A bandsaw makes quick work of the cuts to free the two L-brackets from the square blank.
Two Parallel Edges
Two Parallel Edges – Ensuring the two edges on either side of the L-bracket are straight and parallel allows you to use the L-bracket on the inner or outer portion of the joint. This can be accomplished on the table saw.
Trigger Clamps are Great
Trigger Clamps are Great – Having the ability to clamp an L-bracket in place with one hand on the clamp and one hand on the bracket makes the job easier.

Adjustable stop

I often need to make a cut on the table saw or router table that stops at a certain point. Masking tape and a pencil line work in a pinch, but when accuracy and repeatability are needed, there’s nothing quite as good as this stop.

The little bit of magic that makes this accessory so enjoyable and accurate is the screw in its end. Once the piece of wood is clamped to a work surface, the location of the stop can be adjusted in or out with a screwdriver to give you very precise results.

I have a few different sizes of these stops. My longest one is about 30″ long, while the shortest one is only a few inches long. This makes it easy to use the right size, depending on the task at hand. You could even measure the distance between the threads to determine how much one revolution of the screw will change the stop location and mark that on the wooden portion of the stop.
My smallest stop, which I often clamp to my table saw’s cross­cut sled, has three screws in different corners. They’re installed at different distances from the edge and face of the stop, as occasion­ally I’ll want to butt the workpiece against the screw differently. For example, if the workpiece already has a rabbet cut into it, I’ll have to ensure the rabbet doesn’t bypass the screw altogether when I butt it up against the stop.

Precise Stops
Precise Stops – Many operations require precise stops. On the router table, while a stopped groove is being machined, is a great example.
Crosscut Accuracy
Crosscut Accuracy – While making crosscuts on a table saw crosscut sled, Brown is able to dial in the final dimension with ease and accuracy. Notice the other screws embedded in the edge of the stop block. These are for situations when the size of the workpiece, or the joinery already machined into the workpiece, necessitates a slightly different approach.

Belt sanding stop

Some folks use their workbench almost entirely for hand tool work, while I use my bench for a healthy mix of hand tool use and power tool use. When working with solid wood I often use a belt sander to rough sand machine-planed surfaces before I reach for the random orbital sander and hand sanding block.

The tricky thing about using a belt sander (other than its ability to remove material far too quickly if you’re not careful) is that it will shoot a workpiece across the shop if it’s not clamped down or put against a stop.

Every workbench is a bit different. Some work very well with dogs and stops. My bench has two front vises, and my sanding stop fits into one of them nicely. The main section of my stop is made of 1/2″ thick plywood with a piece of solid wood attached to its underside, flush with the end of the stop. I keep both my belt sander and stop within arm’s reach of my bench. If you make the base less than 1/2″ thick you run the risk of having a workpiece bounce around and lift itself over the stop. Additionally, if a long workpiece has a slight bow, its end could clear the stop and go for a ride.

Rough Sanding
Rough Sanding – A belt sander makes quick work of removing mill marks in solid wood. This stop is quickly installed in a vise and keeps the workpieces in place during sanding.

Bandsaw sub-table

Most operations on the bandsaw don’t need extra support around the cut. But when you’re cutting smaller pieces, and you need support directly around the blade, this sub-table works wonders. Cutting a piece of plywood to about the size of your bandsaw’s table is your first step. Next, drive a pair of small screws into the underside of the user end of the sub-table to act as a stop when the sub-table is positioned properly and ready for some cuts. This sub-table will also stop small offcuts from getting caught around the throat plate.
Once you’ve made the sub-table, draw a straight line onto the sub-table to guide your initial cut, turn on the bandsaw and make the cut into the sub-table. Once the screws stop against the band­saw’s table it’s ready for action.

The sub-table won’t likely want to move too far when in use, but a clamp can be used to ensure it doesn’t go anywhere.

Screws for Placement
Screws for Placement – This simple sub-table has a pair of screws driven into its underside, towards its user-end. The screws butt up against the bandsaw table during use. As you can see, Brown used an older piece of scrap plywood for this sub-table.
Extra Support
Extra Support – The sub-table provides support near the blade, especially helpful when machining smaller pieces. It also helps keep small offcuts from getting jammed between the blade and the throat plate.

Table saw sub / auxiliary fence

Some table saw operations need to have the blade very close to, or maybe even partially overlapping, the table saw’s rip fence. The most common example is machining rabbets with a dado set. The best way to safely accomplish this is to make a simple sub-fence that can be clamped to your rip fence.

A piece of 3/4″ thick plywood cut to the same length as your rip fence and about 1/2″ or so wider than your fence is high will do the trick. This sub-fence can be clamped to your rip fence for use. This makes installing it fast and easy. Occasionally, the clamps will get in the way of an operation, so it’s good to have a secondary approach to securing the sub-fence to your rip fence. I have a pair of Matchfit dovetail clamps from Microfit that fit into a recessed slot that’s been routed into my sub-fence. This allows the entire surface of the sub-fence to be used. There are other clamps, with small jaws, that also work well in this situation. Another approach is to make a sub-fence that attaches to the rip fence with some parts on its back face to keep it in place.

Different Clamping Approach
Different Clamping Approach – There are times when the entire surface of the sub-fence needs to be free for referencing stock off of. For these times, Brown has machined a slot into the face of the sub-fence so he can use clamps with thin jaws to hold the sub-fence in place.
Auxiliary Fence
Auxiliary Fence – The most common time when Brown uses this sub-fence is when he’s using his dado blade. The sub-fence allows Brown to make a cut right up to the edge of a workpiece without cutting into the rip fence. There are many other times when this sub-fence comes in handy.

 

Screw eye

I sometimes need a large screw eye to hang one of my pneumatic tools on when I’m using compressed air. This is especially true when I’m doing a lot of repetitive work. Using the blower to clean a work area of sawdust or wood chips is one example. Hanging a spray finishing gun while applying a finish is another example. Being able to clamp this screw eye nearby makes the work go faster and more smoothly.

It’s easy to make. Take a medium-sized solid wood offcut, drill a pilot hole in the end of it and screw in the eye. Just ensure the piece of scrap is long enough so that when it’s clamped to a surface the eye extends far enough away from the surface so it’s easy to hang something on it. Mine is about 8″ long, but I should have made it at least 12″ long.

A Helping Hand
A Helping Hand – It’s often handy to have a large screw eye nearby to help hold a spray gun, air nozzle or another tool.

Router table spacers

While adjusting the height of my router motor within the router base, the motor very rarely moves directly up and down. There’s almost always a bit of lateral play once it gets reset. This means that when I’m routing deep joints on my router table, the bit will shift slightly each time I raise it, in relation to the fence. This is a problem if I’m trying to machine very accurate joints.

For example, take a straight router bit that’s set up to machine a mortise. Rather than setting the bit low for the first pass, making the pass, then raising the bit to make the second pass, I set the bit to the final height, and use these router table spacers to essentially bring the height of the table up closer to the end of the bit for the first pass. After I make the first pass, I can remove one spacer and re-machine each joint, progressing as I move to making a pass with no spacers.

I have a set of four 3/16″ thick spacers that are cut to about 20″ × 20″, but the overall size isn’t critical. I’ve made some notches of varying sizes in a few of the spacer’s edges so I can use the most appropriately sized notch for the router bit I’m using. I clamp them in place during use and remove one after each pass, sneaking up on the final depth of cut.

One Step at a Time
One Step at a Time – With the router bit set to its final machining height, Brown is able to sneak up on the final cut while removing the spacers one by one and making multiple passes.

End grain moisture meter

This isn’t technically a moisture meter, as it’s not set up to tell you how much moisture is in the wood, but it will give you an idea of how much wood moves during a year and whether the wood is at its smallest, largest or somewhere in-between size.

A few years ago, I made a solid pine hall table, and one of the offcuts from the top was about 15″ long and was all short end grain. End grain accepts and gives off moisture a bit faster than face grain, which means the offcut will give me a clearer real-time picture of what moisture is doing to the wood. I measured the off­cut’s width and marked that on the piece, along with the date. Over the next few years I added a few more notes about how wide the piece was and when it was that wide. I can show clients how much wood moves, and it also gives me a strong visual reminder about the importance of engineering furniture to last through the annual cycles of high and low humidity.

In addition to checking on the actual width of the piece, I also know it started flat. When I pick it up now, I can look down its edge and see how far from flat it is, depending on the time of year. There are times when it’s nearly perfect (around the same month that it was dressed, initially) and there are times when you can eas­ily see the curves in its two faces.

A Good Reminder
A Good Reminder – To give yourself a reminder about how much wood moves with the changing seasons, it’s a great idea to have a piece of end grain offcut from a wide solid wood tabletop to check. The importance of engineering when working with solid wood is never to be underestimated.

Thin strips for under bar clamps

When laminating solid wood lumber to make larger panels like tabletops, I find long pipe clamps often leave stains in the wood where the bars come into contact with the glue lines as they cure. This is often planed and sanded away in subsequent steps, but not always. These stains are especially visible in light-coloured woods.

All that’s needed is a very small amount of space between the bar and the glue joint to ensure the two don’t come into contact with one another. I cut several thin offcuts to about 4″ long and set them near my clamps and cauls. The pieces are only about 3/16″ thick, but if they’re placed under the bars near the glue lines, they keep the two apart and eliminate staining. And as long as they’re all the same thickness they will help keep the panel I’m gluing up flat until the glue cures. I have a collection of about 30 different strips (all the same thickness) handy.

Stain-free Laminating
Stain-free Laminating – When glue comes into contact with pipe clamps it tends to leave a stain on the wood. This is especially true with light-coloured woods. A few small strips of wood to raise the pipe clamp off the workpiece solves that problem.

Featherboards

Maintaining constant and even pressure on a workpiece while it’s being machined is important. Your hands are the starting point for this, but featherboards can go a long way to making machining more accurate, easier and safer. Featherboards not only apply even pressure on a workpiece, they reduce the chances of kickback by gripping the workpiece if it moves in the opposite direction.
You can purchase a wide range of featherboards, but there’s noth­ing wrong with making a few of your own. I have three that get a decent amount of use and cover a wide range of operations. My longest one is about 24″ long and 2″ wide and is made of solid wood. I often use it on my table saw and router table when a long distance needs to be spanned. My widest featherboard is made of 1/2″ thick Baltic birch plywood and is about 16″ wide. I can span the infeed, outfeed and cutting zone of some operations, mainly on a router table. I also have a somewhat short, narrow featherboard that comes in handy from time to time.

When you’re making featherboards, keep the length and thick­ness of the fingers in mind. Longer and narrower fingers mean more flex, making it easier to set up and use, though not as strong. Shorter, thicker fingers have to be set up very accurately and they require more feed strength from the user. Also keep the angle of the end of the featherboard in mind. With the assumption that the fingers are cut parallel to the sides of the featherboard, a steeper end angle means the featherboard is easier to use, though offers less inward pressure and is also less effective at stopping kickback from occurring. An angle of about 30° is a good starting point.

Once the overall dimensions of the featherboard have been machined, cut the end on an angle. I draw lines where the fingers are to be cut and use the bandsaw to produce the fingers. In order to eliminate any friction between the fingers and the work sur­face they’re going to be clamped to in use, I sometimes use a hand plane to remove a small amount of material from the underside of the fingers. You can also machine a shallow rabbet into the under­side of the business end of the fatherboard, before you machine the fingers.

For simplicity, I generally clamp featherboards in place while in use, rather than use some other approach to secure them. In use on a table saw, a featherboard should generally be used to apply pres­sure to the workpiece before the blade. Using it beside the blade presses the offcut into the blade, causing a wide range of prob­lems. The exception to this rule is when you’re not machining a through joint, like a shallow groove down the centre of a work­piece. In this case you can set up a wider featherboard to span the distance between the infeed and outfeed areas to keep the entire cut even. Router tables are another great place for featherboards, both clamped to their table and above the workpiece to the fence in order to hold the workpiece down during the operation.

Keep Things in Place
Keep Things in Place – A long featherboard comes in handy in many occasions. Here, Brown uses one on his table saw to keep a workpiece in place during machining.
From the Side and Above
From the Side and Above – While most woodworkers are familiar with using a featherboard to create sideways pressure, some don’t think of adding featherboards to create downward pressure. The router table is a perfect location for that.
Create a Slight Gap
Create a Slight Gap – Though it’s not often a problem, Brown relieves the fingers on the underside of his featherboards so friction between the table and the fingers doesn’t impede their movement.

Pieces of carpet

This one’s easy and doesn’t involve any wood. Head to your local carpet-supply store and ask if they have any extra bits of carpet scrap laying around; the plusher, the better. Bonus points for bold colours and eye-catching patterns. At the shop, cut these scraps into pieces around 16″ × 24″. I have about 10 of these and they get used on the surfaces of my table saw, router table and the floor to provide a soft cushion for work in progress. They also get used to pack finished pieces so they don’t get scratched during delivery. Just make sure to not use these for assembly, as down the road dried glue left on them will dent or scratch a newly finished surface.

A Soft Landing
A Soft Landing – Pieces of carpet offer a nearly finished workpiece or project a soft place to rest.

Carpeted 2×4s

Now that you’ve found some carpet (you did get extra, right?), cut some 2×4s to 36″ long. Wrap two sides and one face with car­pet, staple or nail it in place, and set them aside for now. Within weeks you’re going to find you need a soft support for a nearly finished project. These supports allow you to work on an assembled piece while it’s lying comfortably and safely on the floor.

Cushioned Support
Cushioned Support – When low, yet soft, support is needed, a few carpeted 2×4s are the perfect answer.


Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement. Instagram at @RobBrownTeaches

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