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Woodworker's Gazette
Gazette Archive 1/4/98

Woodworking Made Easy - Biscuit Joinery: a video review by Mort Garrison

Having a full 8 1/2 months of experience with my biscuit joiner (or is it jointer?), I was overjoyed to have the opportunity to review a how-to video on Biscuit Joinery. "Woodworking Made Easy, Vol. 1, Biscuit Joinery," arrived to be viewed by an enlightened novice (my way of saying -- high on motivation, low on experience). I had learned the basics of getting my machine out of the box. Together we had cut enough slots to fill the dust bag once. Yes indeed this should be just the video for me. What I found scared me.

  You see, I started the VCR and there on the screen was a guy who looked a lot like my eighth grade shop teacher, Mr. Piney. (The name was changed to protect myself because he knows where I live.) He was the type of teacher who believed students learn best by osmosis. Yes, he was the type of guy who always told students who had cut boards too short to go cut it again and see if it comes out longer this time (trust me I know this to be a fact). Have you ever noticed boards do not get longer when you cut them? Many of his students who started out to make a shoe rack ended up making a small bread board instead. Thank goodness the man in the video, Hank Metz, is a lot more helpful than my old, junior high-school teacher.

After this shock I decided to pull up a chair and take a good look at the information before me - anyway. I thought, "The next 110 minutes should change my life as a biscuit machine operator." What followed was some helpful information and some other stuff that could have distracted a less determined man.

"But first let's talk about safety." Mr. Metz covered the basics of safety and safety equipment. I thought, "Okay, we will cover this very important but sometimes tedious subject and then move to the good stuff!" -- I hoped.


   "But first let's talk about marking boards," he said in his best Mr. Piney imitation. "Manage your stock or it will manage you. The triangle marking system has been around so long no one remembers where it came from." Well, I thought to myself, a beginning woodworker will find this helpful. Mr. Piney used to give this lecture in a monotone voice because he had given it so often, and even he was bored to sleep. After the lecture on marking boards, we'll get to the good stuff.

"But first let's talk about edge preparation."

I thought, "This is good, we are getting closer to the biscuit machine operation." To my surprise I started to realize there was good stuff right in front of my nose. It is very easy to join boards possessing edges that properly fit together in a light tight manner with very little clamping pressure applied. How we achieve these matched edges without high dollar and space consuming joiner machines, is a great question.

Mr. Metz offers three edge preparation methods. The first method he demonstrates is the use of a jig that I also own and would not easily give-up. This jig is named, Joint A-billi-T. It helps produce matched edges that glue up beautifully and require little clamping pressure because they fit well. (I happen to own one of these also and would give it high marks. I will include their address at the bottom of this review as an extra.) Second, Metz showed the router table method of edging. Then he finished with, "Using the Table Saw as an Edger 101."

  Before any hazardous procedure, the viewer hears three beeps and an icon appears indicating the need for the proper safety equipment. Hank Metz points out the icon for safety glasses.

   Hank Metz also covers the basics of proper saw blade storage and explains two varieties.


The previous two paragraphs not withstanding, I thought once more, "Now the good stuff, hands on use of the machinery! Mr. Metz will show us how to use the biscuit joiner for fun and profit -- easy woodworking here I come."

"But first let's talk about glue."

"But first let's talk about......"

Finally, I heard him say, "This is a biscuit joiner. We are going to use what I call the fenceless method."

"The fenceless method? I paid good money for the fence, I want to know the secrets of using it." I thought to myself.

  Pointing to a pencil mark and indicating
the relationship it has to marks on the
machine's bottom.

  Mr. Piney, excuse me Mr. Metz our video stand-in teacher, demonstrates from behind his workbench such basic steps as:

1 Depth of cut adjustment.
2 Glue-up choices and method.
3 Stock preparation and management, i. e., marking with the old triangles' system, edge preparation, glue choices.
4 What cabinet joints can be fabricated using plate joiner biscuits?
5 Advantages of biscuits in drawer construction.
6 Biscuit usage in face frames
7 Table construction with biscuits.
8 Shop made tools, clamps and jigs. (A package is available with plans for these shop made tools.)

Demonstration of how to mark opposing
parts before biscuiting for a bottom shelf.

 However, what Mr. Piney Metz does not mention are subjects many students (excuse me -- woodworkers) will need to know. Here is my short list of subjects about which I wish he had spoken:

1 Dust control. By the time he cuts his fourth biscuit set, saw dust is flying everywhere. The joiner (in this case a new DeWalt mellow yellow) just has the bag attached, not even a hose to a shop vac.

2 Biscuit storage. The people who will benefit most from this video will be greatly served by a few statements about managing the expensive biscuits by controlling the moisture to which they are exposed.

 Demonstration of biscuiting miters without the use of a tilting fence.

3 Other resources that will advance our understanding of shop made jigs and accessories that will help the beginner to get the job done with repeatable success. However, do note Mr. Metz makes available at an extra charge of $8.95 a set of plans for the tools he uses. I made up a set of anvil clamps that work well from these plans -- they are worth the price of the package. I also made up the hold down tool he uses, it will be used often.

4 A quick run down of the most desirable plate joiner features available today would be appreciated. With many machines on the market, and more coming, one must ask what features are necessary and which ones become nothing more than needless bells and whistles.

5 Joiner machine design flaws that consume time and add to frustration in today joiners could be a topic for its own video.

"How can I say this and be kind?" This is the question scary Mr. Piney always asked me when I had another board that was too short. Now I know why he asked this question. You see, the video technically is very average. Mr. Metz' content is much better than the videography. While Mr. Metz is demonstrating, we are distracted by little things like:

1 Mr. Metz shows us a "T" joint, but all we see is a close up of the back of his hand because it is in the way.

2 The producer should have placed a wind screen on the microphone to cut down on the sound of breath blowing across it.

3 A beeper is used to help us know when protective gear is used. There are several times when we can hear it being used in the background to remind Mr. Metz to put on his ear, eye, and breath protection.

4 We hear some voice commands from the director off camera, "Move that arm. Turn this way." These are issues that should have been worked out in advance.

5 The final picky item that distracts -- there are some hand and finger gestures that in this part of the world are considered rude.

This video is called "Woodworking Made Easy, Biscuit Joinery." It should be titled "An Introduction to the Biscuit Joiner, for the Beginner." As a person just learning to do biscuit joinery I found the content to be worth the price of 29.95. The advanced woodworker will find it less interesting. My suggestion -- If you feel comfortable with your abilities to use a plate joiner -- and you have read the instruction manual that came with it -- the best book I have read on the subject is a better value. For $16.95 take a look at, Biscuit Joiner Handbook, by Hugh Foster, ISBN 0-8069-0450-X, Published by Sterling Publishing, Co.,Inc.

Mr. Metz is not as scary as my eighth grade teacher, but they may be twins!

Here is that address I promised:

Joint A-billi-T
Gudeman Enterprises
PO Box 126
Goodfield, IL 61724

By the way the maker calls this jig a "Matched Edge Jointer."

Mort Garrison

Editors Note: Hank Metz, the producer of the video, was kind enough to provide a copy of the video for this review and a copy to me for the pictures. The captions are my own. As this is an open forum, he's taken the opportunity for a response which can be viewed by clicking here.

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