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Block assistant

After more than four decades of woodworking, there are still some basic things I can’t do. For those, I get help.

I’ve never been good at hand-cutting dovetails, but I’m perfectly happy using a dovetail jig – which has its own skills and techniques you have to master – to get the job done. But hand-cutting dovetails is a major woodworking skill that lots of guys haven’t mastered, so I’m not embarrassed that I can’t do it well.

But many other skills are far more basic, and every woodworker can do those. Things like simply drilling a 90-degree hole. Anybody can master that skill. Well, anybody but me, it seems.

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I’m amazed when I see someone drill holes at a perfect right angle without trying. For the life of me, I can’t do it. Being slightly off from 90 degrees isn’t always an issue, such as when you’re just drilling bolt holes in thinner material. But other times it is. Use a drill press, you say? Sure, I do all the time, but sometimes that’s not practical.

As a case in point, I needed to install some large threaded inserts in the underside of the slab table project I just finished up. That slab weighs maybe 60 lbs., so there’s no way I’m slinging that thing up onto a drill press. But since those threaded inserts have to go in straight or it throws everything off, I used a little assistant I made.

It’s just a block of hardwood, into which I’ve used my drill press to drill holes in the sizes I need. Done on the drill dress, those holes are perfectly vertical. Now all I need to do is put the block where I need those vertical holes on my workpiece, insert the bit and start drilling. Bingo, 90-degree holes.

Cheating? Not really. It’s just another means to an end and woodworking is full of those. While I’d consider myself blessed if I could drill 90-degree holes on my own, I’m perfectly happy letting my little assistant handle those details.

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