Breaking Down Slabs

The large majority of the wood that I have is sawn in slabs. While the live edges allow more design possibilities, there are times when I don’t need them.

Breaking Down Locust1


To process this slab, I start by aligning my straight edge just inside the bark. This results in the straightest grain with the least amount of waste. This wood is black locust, which I really like using. My sculpture, Something Like That is made of the same species.

Breaking Down Locust2

I use a carpenter’s pencil to transfer the location of the straight edge onto the slab.

Breaking Down Locust3


Then, I use my circular saw to make the cut. For large, heavy slabs, I prefer to use portable power tools to break down slabs into more manageable pieces. I use a circular saw when possible for efficiency, and a jigsaw for material thicker than 2.5 inches, or curved cuts (e.g. Relationship Study).

If the material is more manageable, I usually turn to my bandsaw for breaking down rough stock, mostly because it is safer to use with unflattened parts than the table saw.

Breaking Down Locust4

Due to the dusty nature of this operation, I prefer to do this work outside, weather permitting. It creates a lot of dust, and if there isn’t a breeze carrying away the dust, I try to hold by breath for the duration of the cut. Unfortunately, I can’t hold my breath for the two-minutes  it takes to cut through seven feet of 2.5 inch thick hardwood.

Breaking Down Locust5

If the saw doesn’t make it all the way through, I usually finish with a hand saw. I find it quite enjoyable pretending to make the entire cut with a hand saw at an amazing speed.

Breaking Down Locust6

This edge needs to be jointed to make it smooth and straight. Note that even if the cut surface is perfectly smooth and straight, I still check it a few days later to ensure that the wood hasn’t moved after being released from the rest of the slab.

Breaking Down Locust7Here’s the yield (minus the long piece at the back which is my straight edge). I will allow them to acclimate and stabilize before processing them further into rails and cross members for my vehicle’s roof rack.

Breaking Down Locust9

What a Mess

As I broke down the slab, I was aware of the massive amount of dust I was creating. My circular saw, which takes a 0.069″ kerf, removed 125 cubic inches of material. That’s equivalent to a 5 inch cube – a lot of dust to throw around.

The Festool TS 75 Track Saw is starting to make a lot of sense to me. Not only does it have provisions for dust collection, the saw has over 3 inches of cutting capacity and leaves a much better cut surface. Using a rail to guide the saw allows me to make perfectly straight cuts, resulting in less clean-up. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to wash the sawdust out from between my toes.


10 Reasons to Empty Your Dust Collector

I have a single-bag dust collector which is situated in a small room adjacent to my machine shop to isolate the noise.  However, it’s also out of sight so I sometimes forget to check the bag.  Here are some reasons not to forget emptying it:
  1. It is hard to handle a full bag, especially if it contains more fine dust and fewer shavings;
  2. A full bag can be heavy and is more likely to tear;
  3. If the bag is allowed to fill and the dust collector continues to be used, dust accumulates in the upper filter;
  4. If dust is allowed to accumulate in the upper filter, it often needs to be dug out and makes a bigger mess;
  5. A full dust collector, especially with dust in the upper filter has less airflow;
  6. Low airflow may not be enough to keep ductwork and hoses clear;
  7. A dust collector with restricted airflow is less effective at extracting dust;
  8. Dust not collected at the source ends up on the floor or in the air;
  9. Un-captured dust is tracked around the shop (or house), breathed in, and settles on every horizontal surface; and
  10. Cleaning the shop and emptying an overfilled dust collector takes several hours and makes you look like this.

Adapting a Porter Cable 890-Series Plunge Router to fit a Festool D27 Dust Extraction Hose

Porter Cable 890 Plunge Router with Dust Collection Hose

Since I don’t yet own a Festool router, my Porter-Cable 890 Plunge Router showed the most promise of containing the mess.  Dust and chips were drawn into the port built into the base (located behind the depth stop turret) and up through the column.  My only shop vacuum/dust extractor was a Festool CT26 and I had a D27 (27mm diameter) hose attached to it so I set out to make the two work together.  (I also had a high-volume dust collector that is used with my stationary machinery.)

Point of Dust Collection

The Festool D27 hose stretched a little to fit over the very top of the column but it was far from secure and could very easily come free.

Festool D27 Hose and Router's Dust Collection Port

I found a plastic pipe fitting that fit inside the D27 hose nicely and turned a round tenon to fit inside the router’s column.  I chamfered the bottom inside edge to allow the chips and dust to pass through easily.

The adapter press-fits into the top of the column.

Adapter inserted into dust collection column

The D27 hose fit nicely over the adapter.

Hose over adapter

For the most secure fit, I pressed the hose end all the way down onto the top of the router’s column.

Hose fully seated over adapter and dust collection column

Since the Porter-Cable didn’t use the Plug-It system, I used the same Velcro straps that held the Plug-It cord to the D27 hose to hold the cord back and out of the way.

Plug-It Cord tied back