newbie needs help w/ local axis

Hello to the Blender community,

I’ve been playing around w/ blender for several months now, and have started my first original (non-tutorial) model. I just have a few qustions about some of the functions.

I never really have read anything about how to configure the local axis of an object. or how to use it for that matter. I would like to be able to set the local axis to wherever I want it to be, so I could, for example, extrude along the normal of a face, without having to use the alt-s trick. having a way to set up the local axis would realy help me, because I could snap to the local axis grid, for example.

I found some way to do this involving setting an empty to be on top of the object center, and parenting it to the object, and then rotating it to wherever I want the new local axis to be oriented. I also read something here:

see the post 2004 7-22
third paragraph, towards the end

It discusses an “align mode” where one could align the object centers in a way, I’m assuming, that is similar to adding an empty, but is done with the object center instead, availible in 2.34. The feature is also listed here:

sixth from the bottom.

Could some of you vetrans describe the different methods there are to configuring the local axis, and some of the other features related to the aligining of the local axis (I am assuming that you can do more with the local axis than simply change its direction)

Thanks a lot.