Shedding Light on Compound Angles

Affordable line lasers and a simple setup make for perfect angled drilling.

by Greg Pennington
pages 42-46

I’m a 21st-century Windsor chairmaker. I build chairs using mostly hand tools: froes, drawknives, spokeshaves, travishers, scorps, an adze and other tools that, even in the fast-paced computer age, still comprise the most efficient way to follow the inherent strength of fibers in a tree.

I also drill lots and lots of holes. An average Windsor can have up to 40 holes, and most of these holes are drilled at compound angles, which in part give a Windsor strength, stability and grace.

Compound angles can be achieved many ways, such as tilting the table on a drill press, and employing various jigs or bevel gauges and mirrors using sightlines. It’s this last method – sightlines – that I have been using for years to drill my chairs, which in turn sparked a method of drilling compound angles with lasers. Yes “lasers.” Not the kind that get you in trouble on airplanes, but very inexpensive line lasers.

Several years ago, I was teaching a student to build a Windsor stool. And as we were setting up the bevel gauges and mirrors to drill the stool’s top, he mentioned how hard it was to look at both mirrors and focus on the bevels in two directions. We talked about how nice it would be to look at one spot while drilling these holes, and that’s when line lasers popped into my head. Off to the hardware store we went and, sure enough, they had what we needed.

Teaching has been the biggest gift to my career – it keeps me focused on practicing and fine-tuning my methods while bouncing ideas off students who are usually smarter than I am. They always have great input. So in early February 2011, my technique for drilling compound angled holes with lasers was born.

Website: Check out Greg Pennington’s website, including his blog, gallery and class schedule.
Blog: Read Jameel Abraham’s unique take on Pennington’s laser-guide technique.
Video:No-Fear Chairmaking,” by Christopher Schwarz.
In Our Store:Make a Windsor Chair with Mike Dunbar” book.

From the June 2017 issue, #232