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Tips for Mastering Featherboards

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Tips for Mastering Featherboards

Featherboards are like having an extra set of hands in the shop, going where no fıngers ever should.

By Jock and Susan Holmen

The featherboard gets its name from the rows of flexible “fingers” that act like a bird’s feather and give way in one direction only. They help ensure safety and accuracy, because they keep consistent pressure on stock where it’s needed most, close to the cut. They’re indispensable for eliminating bumps on a molded edge or uneven bottoms in rabbets and dadoes.

Shop-made featherboards are often superior to commercial ones, because they can be custom fit to your machines and they cost next to nothing. All the featherboards in this article were made from the type of scrap lumber and plywood that can be found in any shop.


Perfect pressure every time

Positioning a featherboard can be a pain. Too close to the fence or table and the squeeze is so tight you can barely feed the stock. Too loose and you’ve lost effectiveness. Try taking about 1/8 in. off the first feather. Set that end against the stock you plan to machine and clamp the featherboard parallel to the table’s fence. The pressure should automatically be just right.

Click any image to view a larger version.



Featherboards made easy

The safest way to make featherboards is on the bandsaw using a simple sled with a miter slot runner. Cut a 30-degree angle on one end of the featherboard blank first. Mark a parallel line about 2-1/2 in. from the angled end. Set the blank on the sled and make the first cut from the end to the line. Then, slide the featherboard over to the next mark to make the second cut and continue across the board’s width.

A feather length of about 2-1/2 in. with cuts made every 1/8 in. provides the right balance between flexibility (for firm pressure without being too stiff) and strength (so the feathers won’t snap off) for most hardwoods or multi-ply birch. Increase the feather spacing to 3/16-in. when you are using softer woods, such as pine or basswood, or regular hardwood plywood. You can always fine-tune the length and spacing to suit your own needs.



Tall support for tall stock

A tall featherboard can apply pressure against the entire height of the fence. It’s especially useful for holding tall, narrow stock—for instance, a door panel—against a fence. Just glue some scraps to create a block that is as tall as your fence is. Then, cut the feathers on your bandsaw sled.



Bit-bridging featherboard

This wraparound featherboard produces chatter-free moldings, because it provides continuous pressure ahead of and behind the cutter. Cut a 2-in. arc in the end of the blank before you cut the feathers.



Guaranteed square edges

Jointing an absolutely square edge on a wide board can be tricky for someone new to the jointer. The least little tip away from the fence and you’ll have to start over. This paddle-style featherboard can bridge your jointer’s guard while keeping your stock pushed firmly against the fence. The paddle featherboard is easy to make and is just as useful on a tablesaw or router table (Fig. A, right).




Quick, easy featherboard fasteners

Clamping a featherboard on a tablesaw can be a hassle. T-track fasteners allow you to quickly and easily position a featherboard just ahead of the blade for rip cuts. To make this style of featherboard, cut deep slots for the T-track fasteners as you cut the feathers on your bandsaw.



Short-fence featherboard

Sometimes you want a featherboard to apply pressure right over the blade, as when you’re cutting a rabbet. But clamping a long, narrow featherboard onto a short fence can give you fits. This long plywood featherboard is just the ticket. It clamps easily onto the squat tablesaw fence because the clamps are far removed from the feathers and the blade.

Most featherboards are made with the feathers parallel to the grain, but this one requires the feathers to be cut across the grain. Be sure to make it from plywood or your cross-grained featherboard will start to look like my 8-year-old’s smile—lots of missing teeth. To cut these feathers, use the same sled as you do for the parallel-grain boards, but add a 30-degree wedge.




Long-reach featherboard

A long arm on a featherboard takes the hassle out of clamping it on a tablesaw. Featherboards need to be secured at two points to prevent pivoting. Securing a single featherboard across a tablesaw’s large expanse can be difficult, if not impossible. The solution is to biscuit an arm at a 30-degree angle to the featherboard. Position the featherboard just in front of the blade for rip cuts.



Source

(Note: Product availability and costs are subject to change since original publication date.)

Woodcraft, woodcraft.com, 800-225-1153, Trax Miter T-Slot Fixture Kit, #143239.


This story originally appeared in American Woodworker January 2005, issue #112.

January 2005, issue #112

Purchase this back issue.

 


Comments

Grantman wrote re: Tips for Mastering Featherboards
on 06-25-2009 4:30 PM

Great tips on featherboards.   How about a "print friendly" page that enlarges the photos and text without printing all the ads?

Just a thought...

jackew wrote re: Tips for Mastering Featherboards
on 06-25-2009 5:51 PM

I agree with Grantman, it was an excellent overview of featherboards; even I learned a couple of new tricks. As for your comment about a printer-friendly page, all I can say is “too bad you do not have a Mac”. With Apple’s OS you hit the print key, but instead of directing the file to the printer, you simply choose to save as a PDF. Simple. Still, I believe there are third party programs that will do something similar on a Windows-based machine.

jackew

Rod Owens wrote re: Tips for Mastering Featherboards
on 06-25-2009 7:35 PM

Some great ideas that never occurred to me. Thanks.

donoblander wrote re: Tips for Mastering Featherboards
on 06-25-2009 8:39 PM

Try cutting and pasting the desired text into another document, such as an email, then printing.

donoblander wrote re: Tips for Mastering Featherboards
on 06-25-2009 8:39 PM

Try cutting and pasting the desired text into another document, such as an email, then printing.

ralls1935 wrote re: Tips for Mastering Featherboards
on 06-25-2009 9:10 PM

Looking at all of these great featherboards makes me wish I had a bandsaw.

Pierre wrote re: Tips for Mastering Featherboards
on 06-25-2009 11:06 PM

CutePDF writer is the free program Jackew is referring to for a pc. It works great.

Charles Williams wrote re: Tips for Mastering Featherboards
on 06-25-2009 11:17 PM

can't give any comments at time, still waiting to received my subscription as of yet. Have a good day will talk to you later.             thanks...

rbsrig wrote re: Tips for Mastering Featherboards
on 06-25-2009 11:39 PM

I agree; how about a printer friendly format option?

Bob

bricofleur wrote re: Tips for Mastering Featherboards
on 06-26-2009 9:28 AM

Printing option:

1- Click and select the area you want. Be carefull not to select ads.

2- Copy the selected area.

3- Open MS Word and paste.

4- Right click on each photo and drag out a corner to enlarge each of them.

5- Select and enlarge the text as needed.

6- Save your new document and/or print it.

OR

If you want only the pictures, right click on a picture and use "Save the image as..."  Then, using Windows Paint, enlarge your pictures. You could also use MS Word.

    Best,

         Serge

atelierdubricoleur.spaces.live.com

ric1122 wrote re: Tips for Mastering Featherboards
on 06-28-2009 5:03 AM

Just like Grantman said.How about a "print friendly"page.

cathyr wrote re: Tips for Mastering Featherboards
on 06-29-2009 1:56 PM

Another suggestion for Printer Friendly: Evernote or Microsoft OneNote. With either you can select only portions, i.e. article without ads and click a button to send to the application. You can collect such clippings in notebooks and print them. Each has pros/cons, one being that Evernote is free.

BEERLOVER wrote re: Tips for Mastering Featherboards
on 07-01-2009 5:46 PM

I really like the long reach one, great idea! The "printer friendly" option would indeed be nice. Dopdf.Exe from Cnet.com is a good (FREE) PDF printer utility.  Of course, if we had one of those wonderful MACs, I doubt we would need featherboards!