Friday, April 7, 2017

Miter Cutting Bench Hook / Fixing a Birdcage Awl

So many times I've seen people using bench hooks for various tasks.  I guess I'm a Sellers-ite because I do most tasks in the vise or on the bench top.  But I thought it was time to look at bench hooks.

About five years ago I picked up an issue of Fine Woodworking and it had a few interesting shop helper projects that I wanted to build - including a miter sawing bench hook.  I started with an off-cut piece of pre-finished plywood, cut and squared-up a piece 12" x 12" and one 12" x 3".
Too shiny and smooth
This was a great opportunity for me to use the toothing plane that I bought a couple months ago.  Just a few swipes diagonally in two directions and some straight swipes and most of the finish was gone and the surface was roughened up.
Much better - don't want my work pieces sliding around
Here's what the toothing plane does
Then I got a piece of maple about 2" x 1 1/4" and cut one piece 12" long and one piece 3" long.  On the longer piece I laid out some 45° and 90° cut lines.
Lines laid out
Then cut to the lines, leaving bottom 1/8" uncut
It's easier to cut to those lines when the board is not glued to the plywood.  BTW, when cutting those kerfs it's important to use the same saw that will be used routinely when using this sawing board. That way, the saw won't be sloppy or sticky in the kerf later.
Glued and screwed the maple to the plywood
When the glue had set, I finished the cuts
I toyed with the idea of not attaching a "hook" to the bottom and just using the center board in my bench as a stop.
Miter cutting board sans hook
But good sense got the better of me - I know how messy my bench top can get and it might be a hassle to raise the center board to use it as a stop.  So I glued and screwed the hook to the underside.
Hooks added to bottom register on front of bench and keep it from moving
I added some adhesive-backed sandpaper to the front of the hooks to keep the boards from sliding in use.  And note in the above picture that I made a smaller one from the 12" x 3" piece of plywood to help support longer pieces during a cut.

Note that these are meant for rough cutting, so you can finish up at the shooting board or with chisels, depending on the task.

Will I use these helpers?  Well, I just don't know yet.  I'll see in the next few months, but I think they'll be handy to have around.

On a completely different subject, I made myself a birdcage awl a couple years ago from some cherry and 1/4" square O-1 steel.  It was OK, but not great because I filed and ground the angles incorrectly. Only the end 3/4" was tapered.  I was just winging it and didn't know the proper angle to use.
This awl always had to steep an angle
Now that I have a hand crank grinder it was time to fix it.
Marked with red "Sharpie" and ground carefully, dipping in water frequently
Action shot
Ground new bevel starting about 1 3/8" back from the tip
Closer view
This made all the difference.  After some work on the diamond stones to refine the little pyramid shape on the end, this tool now makes quick work of small pilot holes for a drill or a screw. I've already used it a few times and am very happy with the performance.  Very satisfying.


  1. Two handy items to have in the shop. I would be lost without my birdcage awl. Yours is quite nice.

    1. Really happy with the awl now. It might not be pretty, but it works great.

  2. NIce work salvaging that bird cage awl, it sure makes quick work to start screws.
    I am surprised you did not used miter boards before, i think you will find it a great addition to your arsenal. Yes it does not have to be perfect, most saw cuts are then refined on the shooting board
    Do you have a shooting board that handle miters or other angles? if not suggest you make one. There are a variety of styles Donkey ears and etc mine use a simple triangular piece I attached to my shooting board and a 4X4 block with a ramp that I also attach to my board. Got the ideas for these from my friend Norm Pirollo in an article in FWW years ago (2005? or so)

    Bob, back in with Rudy chasing chipmunk away from my car, man that little Rudy can run fast...:-)

    1. Hi Bob. Yeah, I have a decent shooting board that does 90° cuts and 45° cuts. I use the 90° fence far more (like most people, I guess). I would like to do something to add capability for other types of mitering. Gotta look into that.

  3. Hi Matt,
    good work on both projects.
    As much as I like to work with bench hook I still haven't a miter board too. And every time I have to saw miters I'm thinking about to build one. Maybe next time ;-)


    1. Hi Stefan. Your time will come to build one. It's easy and doesn't have to be perfect because these are rough cuts.