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Author Archives: Matt Hocking


  • by Matt Hocking

    For all sorts of cross- and angle-cutting tasks, a miter saw is a woodworker's friend. But, to really maximize its potential, you need a good home base for your saw - and that's what this project delivers.

  • by Matt Hocking

    Receiving a memorial flag is a great honor, but some wood displays can damage them in the long run. These tips show how to display the flag well but safely.

  • by Matt Hocking

    Black cherry has been a premium furniture wood in the United States since Colonial times. It was widely used in the 17th and 18th centuries by fine furniture makers of North America, and that use continues today. It is relatively easy to work, is stable after drying and holds a finish very well. The heartwood of black cherry is reddish brown, while the sapwood is nearly white and is fairly narrow in older trees. Cherry is difficult to stain well but will darken to a rich reddish color with age and exposure to light. The heartwood is resistant to decay.

    Black cherry is the only native cherry of value for furniture grade wood in the United States. Its common name originates from the black color of its small ripe fruit. It occurs generally from along the U.S. and Canadian border south to central Florida and west to the edge of the Great Plains. Large trees of higher quality are somewhat restricted to the Allegheny Plateau of Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia, although individual quality trees occur throughout the Appalachians and the upper Gulf Coastal Plain. Rarely, it will grow up to 100 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet in diameter.

    Black cherry is not tolerant to shade, so thrives in clear-cut and other areas where the overstory has been removed. As the stand ages, other hardwoods will crowd it out and, after about 80 years, its growth slows or stops. Many of them will die. Due to these characteristics, cherry grows best under even-aged management.

    Black cherry fruit is an important part of the diet of many birds and animals. Curiously, the leaves and twigs are high in prunasin, a cyanide precursor. Cattle have gotten sick and died from ingesting wilted black cherry leaves and twigs. However, whitetail deer show little reaction to eating the twigs and leaves.

    Although the United States does not have an unlimited supply of black cherry, it is widely grown and managed. It is not in danger of eventual rarity, and the supply is sustainable. For this reason, it is a preferred wood for use by those who desire high quality wood grown under “sustainable forestry” techniques.


  • by Matt Hocking

    Q: In your article on “Building a Base Cabinet for the Kitchen,” the author builds the base and carcass separately. Most of the articles I’ve read build the base cabinet as a single unit. I would like to know the pros and cons of each approach.

    A: Ease of installation is the signal benefit of a separate base.

    Building a cabinet with full-length sides is a bit easier and saves some material. It’s the ideal approach if the cabinet is a stand-alone with both sides exposed — a bathroom vanity, for example. With access to both back corners, such a cabinet is easy to level.

    But more typically, you combine two, three or more cabinets in a row. You want the faces in the same plane, the tops straight and level. But you’re unlikely to have a flat, level floor and plumb walls with square corners to work to. There’s always at least one back corner you can’t reach to shim.

    If the cabinets are designed to sit on a separate base, you make one base for the whole row. It’s easy to level because nothing interferes with your access to the back or corners. If you need to trim material to accommodate a high spot in the floor, it’s easy to scribe the base and to cut away the edge. When the base is level and solidly supported, screw or nail it to the floor. Then set the cabinets in place and screw them to the base.


  • by Matt Hocking

    Tags: woodworking project wood projects Waterlox cabinet assembly
    I can justify my “collection” of hoarded leftovers because I’ve found that with a little extra work, my lowly scrap wood can be transformed into some pretty cool projects. When a friend approached me to build a hanging jewelry box he designed for his wife, I knew just where to find the wood.

  • by Matt Hocking

    Understanding what makes up the structure of wood is much easier if you have words to name the features that we can see. This glossary explains the words and their meanings.

    Annual Ring: seasonal growth that is highly visible in RING POROUS hardwoods, especially oak and ash.

    Bark: the skin of the tree outside the CAMBIUM; divided into living inner bark and dead protective outer bark.

    Cambium: a layer of tissue that is the source of cells that grow and divide to form the wood and bark of a tree.

    Cell: the basic structural unit of wood, consisting of an outer wall surrounding a central cavity.

    Diffuse Porous: a type of hardwood tree that forms vessels of roughly the same diameter throughout the growing season.

    Extractives: complex chemical substances that form during the transformation of SAPWOOD cells into HEARTWOOD cells; they darken the wood and make it less porous.

    Fiber: hardwood cells formed in the latter part of the growing season in ring porous wood that gives the tree strength; characterized by thick walls and a small cavity.

    Fusiform Initials: mother cells in the CAMBIUM that grow and divide to form vessels, fiber and parenchyma in hardwoods and a variety of tracheids in softwoods. Growth Ring: increment of wood added during a single growth period. In temperate regions, the growth period is usually one year, in which case the growth ring may be called an ANNUAL RING. In tropical woods, growth rings may not be discernible or are not annual.

    Hardwood: timber from broad-leaved trees; designation does not necessarily reflect the hardness of the wood.

    Heartwood: the older, nonliving central wood of a tree, usually darker and harder than the younger SAPWOOD.

    Inclusions: any material that plugs a vessel, notably gum, resin or tyloses.

    Parenchyma: cells mainly involved with food storage and distribution; light-colored tissue when viewed through a hand lens; distributed in a variety of very specific patterns in certain species, making it a good recognition factor.

    Pith: the soft, spongy central cylinder of tissue in the trunk, branches and twigs about which the first growth takes place.

    Pits: a thinning in the side wall of the cell that allows water to flow from TRACHEID to tracheid.

    Photosynthesis: the synthesis of complex organic materials needed as food from carbon dioxide, water and inorganic salts, using sunlight as the source of energy, aided by chlorophyll.

    Rays: plate-like thin layers of tissue that extend out radially; serves for food storage and conduction.

    Ray Initials: mother cells in the CAMBIUM that grow and divide to make rays in both hardwoods and softwoods.

    Reaction Wood: abnormal wood that comes from a tree with a severe off-center PITH, usually caused by severe curvature or leaning.

    Ring Porous: type of hardwood tree in which vessels formed at the beginning of the growing season are much larger than vessels laid down at the end of the season.

    Sap: fluid that carries nutrients and water to various parts of the tree.

    Sapwood: younger, softer, living outer portion of wood that lies between the CAMBIUM and the HEARTWOOD; less durable, and usually lighter in color than the heartwood

    Silver Grain: the emergence of ray tissue on the surface of a board.

    Softwood: timber taken from a needle-bearing tree; designation does not necessarily reflect the softness of the wood.

    Tracheids: elongated cells that serve for support and upward conduction of sap. See PITS.

    Tyloses: film-like material found in the heartwood vessels of some hardwoods; forms regularly in white oak.

    Vessels: specialized tubular structures in hardwoods for conducting sap upward.


  • by Matt Hocking

    Original Deck:

    Denise DeRose Turns to Purses

    Original Body:

    When woodturner Denise DeRose saw a woman carrying a small bandsawn box, about the size of a paperback book, as a handbag, “a light went off in my brain: why couldn’t it be a vessel? Woodturners make vessels. I started thinking about it, and I got consumed by it.”

    The first purses Denise made were canteen shaped, with a flat wood front and a channel for the strap inside the bag rather than outside. Lately, she’s started experimenting with therming, a traditional turning technique that’s been used for centuries to turn multiple objects mounted parallel on a lathe. Denise is using the technique for clutch style purses: she turns the two flat sides of the bag using the therming technique, band saws the edges, then cuts the pieces in half lengthwise and hollows out the inside by hand or with a Forstner bit.

    She’s also working on figuring out a routing system on a track for use in constructing her handbags. “You’ve got to be able to rout a shape that’s roundish but not round and has nice, clean lines,” she said.

    Denise herself is not a purse person. “I am the last kind of person you would think about when you think about handbags,” she said, with her focus being more on the functional than a fashion collection. As an art piece, though, “I think about handbags as a metaphor. What is it a woman brings with her? What is it she leaves behind? Few things are more connected to a woman than her handbag. What does a woman carry?”

    None of the handbags she makes exceeds 12 inches in diameter, and her source for many of those 12" pieces of wood is cutoffs from instrument companies. Like the wood used in a violin or guitar, handbag wood needs to be stable, and companies who sell billets for construction of those instruments often have cutoffs she purchases. “I do a lot of glue-ups, or turn two discs and hollow and laminate them together,” she said.

    One reason Denise likes the fiddleback maple she often gets from the instrument cutoffs is because of the way it takes a finish. “A handbag finish is crucial. It’s not something to just sit on a shelf; it’s in someone’s hands all the time.”

    She likes to use fabric dye, in a variety of colors, on the wood for her handbags, and fiddleback maple lends itself well to dying because of its chatoyance. Her Flower Drum Song bag, made from fiddleback maple dyed with red fabric dye with a lacquer finish, is one of her favorites: “It looks like wood and you can see that it’s wood, and it’s elegant and attractive.”

    She also uses pyrography in completing the finished designs on her purses. “It’s a good way of defining areas, especially if you use dye or paint. It burns fibers of the wood and keeps the paint or dye from traveling, so it will stop where the burn lines are.”

    Prior to her focus on handbags, Denise turned many salad bowls — including one, upon request, that was 30 inches in diameter, made from walnut. Getting that up on her lathe, Denise said, required “a jack and three teenage boys” — and it’s one reason she has rigged up a winch system from the I-beam of her garage shop. Mostly, though, the challenges of salad bowls focused on design elements: “Is it going to be deep, is it going to be shallow, is it going to have a big foot?”

    These days, in addition to design, she has to turn some of her focus to hardware. Since she can’t find hinges for some of the shapes she makes — she needs them to open round, rather than flat — she’s been doing some metalsmithing to make her own, such as those for a Bentou Box purse.

    She hasn’t counted all the purses she’s made so far, but says she has a long way to go. “I think creativity arises when you limit yourself. You don’t walk in the door of the shop and say, ‘What am I going to make today?’ You know what you’re going to make, and you work within the parameters.”

    For Denise, woodturning helps define those parameters. “Woodturning is my passion,” she said. “I’d much rather work with the lathe than with any other tool in the shop.


  • by Matt Hocking

    • Don’t skip grits. A rule of thumb is to start with 80-grit and move successively up to 180-grit.

    • Plan a consistent sanding pattern for your project, so you don’t skip over an area.

    • After each pass, make sure you have removed the scratch marks from the previous pass.

    • If you use a power sander, it’s OK to sand across the grain, but the last pass should be done by hand in the direction of the grain.


  • by Matt Hocking

    Every successful project begins with accurate marking and measuring tools, so we'll sketch out a tool kit covering all of the essentials.

  • by Matt Hocking

    Featherboards can improve the performance of your table saw, router table, and jointer adding both accuracy and safety, by holding workpieces steady.
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