Using a Router

With the versatility and power W V of a router, you can custom-design and mill lumber to your own specifications. In addition to choosing among a wide variety of bits (shown below), you can set your bit to the depth of cut that suits you. Often, it’s possible to save money by milling your own lumber rather than buying expensive moldings. For rounding off edges, a router produces a far more professional-looking finish than does a rasp or sander.

Caution! Bits Are Sharp! Most of the time, you will not even see your router bit as you work. Don't let that lull you into complacency: A router's sharp bit, rotating at tremendous speeds, can do a lot of damage in a millisecond. Keep your hands well away from the work.

Use a guide. You can make accurate cuts using a router guide. Sometimes a simple straightedge will suffice; just hold the baseplate tight against it as you cut. A template guide like the one shown allows you to follow a precut template. You may want to purchase a router table, which holds the router in an upside-down position; you can adjust and operate it much as you would a tablesaw.

Use specialty guides. A variety of guides is available for special purposes. To cut smooth circles or curves, use a trammel-point guide like the one shown. A router bit spins clockwise, so you will get the best results if you move the router counterclockwise. You also can buy guides for cutting dovetail joints or hinge mortises.

Choosing a Router

As a general rule, the more power a router has, the cleaner and faster it will cut. Get one that is at least 1 horsepower. A variable-speed router has some advantages because some bits are designed to be used at lower speeds than others.

Buy a model that can be attached to a table easily or that has a variety of guides you can assemble quickly. You don’t want to spend half your work time setting up the router.

Be sure you can change bits quickly and adjust the router depth easily.

Choose among many bits. Piloted bits, such as the flush trim, rabbet, chamfer, and corner round, are self-guiding; you don’t need to use a guide or template when cutting with them. Use these bits to shape edges of boards or to final-cut laminates after they have been applied. Bits with ball-bearing guides usually work more smoothly. The other bits shown require a guide or a steady hand. You can use two or more bits in succession to make intricate shapes.


The quickest way to make a job look shoddy and amateurish is to make a nailing mistake that mars the wood. All your careful measuring and cutting will be for naught if the wood ends up with “smiles” and “frowns” made by a hammer that missed the nail, or if you bend a nail while driving it. Professional carpenters make nailing look easy—and for good reason. When properly done, pounding a nail home is not a struggle, but is done with smooth, fluid motions. You may never be as fast at nailing as professionals because they get plenty of practice, but you can learn to drive in nails accurately without damaging the material or yourself.

Getting the Holding Power You Need

How well a nail will hold in wood depends on how much of its surface contacts the wood. The longer and thicker the nail, the better it will hold.

When possible, use the Rule of Three: A nail should be three times as long as the thickness of the board being fastened. Two-thirds of the nail then will be in the second board to which you are fastening the first one. If the nail must penetrate through dead space or drywall, increase the nail length by that distance.

A thick nail holds better, but not if it splits the wood. In that case, most of its holding power is lost. Special nails, such as ring-shank and cement-coated nails, hold better than standard nails. A headed nail holds better than a finish nail.

Set the nail. Practice on scrap pieces before you pound nails into finished work. To ensure that the hammer strikes the nail and not your fingers and that the nail will be driven into the board squarely, grasp the nail near its head and the hammer near the end of the handle. Lightly tap the nail until it stands by itself. If you must drive a nail near the end of a board, drill a pilot hole or turn the nail upside down and blunt its point with a hammer. Either technique will reduce the risk of splitting the wood.

Use proper nailing techniques. Once the nail is set in place, remove your hand from it. Keep your eye on the nail as you swing the hammer, letting the weight of the hammer head do the driving. Beginners tend to hold a hammer stiffly and keep their shoulders stiff, swinging from the elbow. This leads to a tired, sore arm and to mistakes. Loosen up. Your whole arm should move as you swing from the shoulder. Keep your wrist loose so the hammer can give a final “snap” at the end of each blow. The entire motion should be relaxed and smooth. With the last hammer blow, push the head of the nail flush or nearly flush with the surface of the wood. The convex shape of the hammer face allows you to do this without marring the surface.

Countersink finishing nails. In most cases, it’s best to drive the heads of finishing or casing nails below the surface. You can fill the hole with wood putty later. This actually doesn’t take all that long and leads to a much better-looking finish than nails driven flush. Hold a nail set against the nailhead and tap it in.

Stagger nails to avoid splits. When driving several nails along the length of a board, stagger them so you don’t split the board. The idea is to avoid pounding neighboring nails through the same grain line; two nails will stress the grain twice as much as one nail. If the work will be visible, stagger the nails in a regular pattern.

Drill pilot holes. When you nail within 2 inches of the end of a board or into hardwood, drill pilot holes to avoid splitting the wood. Pilot holes should be slightly smaller than the diameter of the nail. When attaching a base shoe, drive nails into pilot holes so they miss the flooring, which needs room to expand and contract with changes in temperature and humidity.

Using Masonry Nails

Masonry nails offer a quick way to attach materials to concrete, brick, and masonry block. With flat-style masonry nails, be sure to turn the nail in the direction of the grain so it’s less likely to split the wood.

You can use a standard hammer, but the job is easier with a heavy mallet. Hold the board in place, and drive the masonry nail through it. Once the nail hits the masonry surface, strike it with hard strokes. With subsequent nails, check to see if you have dislodged any nails; you may have to put in more.

Skew nails for a stronger hold. In situations where you cannot use as long a nail as you would like, drive nails in at an angle. Drive in one nail at about a 60-degree angle in one direction, then drive in another one in the opposite direction. The skewed nails will work together, making it difficult for the board to pull loose. Set the nailheads into the surface for a finished appearance.

Clinch nails for the best hold. If looks are not important, but strength is, use nails about 1 inch longer than the thickness of the pieces you’re fastening. Drive in the nails, then turn the boards over and bend the exposed portion of the nails so they are nearly flush with the surface and parallel to the wood grain. The resulting joint will be extremely difficult to pull apart.

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