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  Low-Budget Mechanized Buscuit Joinery  
 
by Ed Williams, who owns and runs the Great American Carpentry Company in Dallas, Texas
Most of finish work is repetition. And if you don't come up with a good system for all that repetition, you'll never make any real money. On a recent job, we had to glue up almost 100 panels made from a mixture of recycled beech and maple. We wanted to biscuit all those glue joints, but the last thing anyone on my crew wanted to do was plunge a hand-held biscuit joiner a few thousand times. And the last thing I wanted to do with invest in a big-dollar tool that I might not have a real need for again.
 
So Adam Myers took charge of making a good idea work in 3D. Here he is routing out the top cover to help hold the biscuit joiner in place.
 
#2. The biscuit joiner had to fit just right in the crade. That hole in the side is for a vacuum. You can imagine the mess you'd make otherwise.
 
#3. Inverted in the table, the top was perfectly flush, and the housing was held back far enough so that it wouldn't interfere with the plunge action of the joiner.
 
#4. We designed the top as a tortion box, ridgid and perfectly flat.
 
#5. And we finally got some use out of mis-cut cabinet from a previous job. That switched outlet was a piece of ingenuity, too. Always remember to think about power when you build any workstation.
 
#6. One outlet powered the joiner, the other powered a shop vac. We could turn both on or off simultaneously.
 
#7. Next we set up a few easy-to-use clamping stations

 
   
#8 We built a 1/4 in. plywood rim around the tables so
the barclamps would stand up.
#9. The tables were wide enough for the widest panels we had to glue up. In case you haven't figured it out, we had a lot of panels to assemble. With this many tables, we were ready to work.
 
#10. Set up for the operation was simple. Once we had the biscuit joiner mechanized, and the lay-up tables ready, we only needed a table saw, a joiner, a chop saw, and a LOT of space.
 
#11. We set the shop up to move the lumber from the tooling area (saw, planer) to the table joiner, to the clamp tables, to the stacking area.
 
#12. We had to S4S all the material to uniform widths and thickness. We also had to fumigate and de-nail the entire 3000 bdft. The lumber was shipped to us from Ohio - reportedly over 100 year old reclaimed beech and maple. Once it was planed, we found a few pieces of poplar mixed in.
 
#13. Here's Mike Bell at the table joiner.

 

 

14. Each panel was dry fit and laid out with pencil lines for biscuits.

 
#15. Then each piece was pushed against the table joiner at the pencil lines.
 
#16. By holding the boards down tight and flat against the table, each pocket was perfectly aligned. After all the pockets were cut, the boards were returned to the clamp table.
 
#17. We're not quite done with this job, but so far, we've gone through 25 gallons of white glue. We like to use white glue for this kind of set-up because it dries slower than yellow glue. We get more work time.
 
#18. All end joints received biscuits, too.
 
#19. A little persuasion was necessary on occasion.
 
#20. As you can see, some of the panels were pretty wide.
 

#21. We kept them flat by with addtional clamps and bracing, but first we wiped off all the excess glue with wet rags.

 

#22. Most of the wider panels (some over 60 in. finished) were laid up to 40 in. wide, then sized and assembled in the field. You guessed it, we had a serious restriction on the width and length of our panels--the size of the elevator. The residence was on the 18th floor.

 
#23. Here's a pile of panels ready for the drum sander.
 
#24. As you can see, there are a lot of panels, and they're wide. But it's the frames and the trim that really makes the room.
 
#25. We milled the face frames, the panel molding, and the base board cap.
 
#26. We shopped out the crown molding to a local millwork, but supplied them with our material. And if you're wondering what that drywall is doing up there, in the way of the suspended ceiling...haven't you even worked on a commercial job where they want you working but aren't ready for you?
 
#27. We have a few other rooms left to do. I'll continue to collect photos, especially when the job is finished, and add to this article. Gary Katz says that this is one of the best times to be a finish carpenter, because of all the new tools, technology, adhesives, and materials we're able to use. But it's also one of the best times because the economy has fueled jobs of this quality. It's a lucky thing to be a finish carpenter today.
 
     
     
   
     
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