I get this question a lot, and it's my privilege to answer and help folks out. Whether its someone looking for a gift for a creative friend or family member, or a somebody just beginning their DIY journey, people simply want to know "what should I get?"
And so, here are my picks from some of my most recent conversations. They're all over the spectrum, but all are solid, go-to options that I can't imagine working without. I think you'll enjoy them too.
How did this not occur to me sooner? Take one of my favorite beverages, mix it with my other favorite beverage, add in some extra flavor and bit of time, and, well, the results speak for themselves.
Of course, there are coffee-flavored liqueurs out there. Kahlua is the most famous; it's based on rum, and tastes nice and sweet. But I like whiskey better than rum, and I want the complexity of a coffee liqueur, but not the inherent sweetness. By making your own, you can control quality of coffee, the amount of sugar, and the whole experience and overall flavor profile is totally a step up. And, it takes, like, five minutes.
I’ve technically lived in five cities so far if we include my college town (Minneapolis, New Haven, London, Brooklyn, and Los Angeles). And I’ve come to realize that as a creature of habit I eventually start frequenting a couple different venues that all have similar things in common. I think every man should have a couple of these. Let me explain…
Have you ever marked out a board, went to cut, and re-checked your measurements after hearing the words "Measure twice, cut once" echo in your ears? It's remarkable how nuggets of shop wisdom can stick with you and save you a ton of trouble on a project.
At ManMade, we're big on collecting aphorisms, witticisms, and maxims that deliver helpful lessons in tidy packages. Sometimes, they're just what we need to stay productive, and get motivated to try something new. So, we're providing a few of our favorite in the form of free downloads: printable artwork to hang in your home, office, or wherever you create your DIY projects.
Stationary power tools are often the most full-proof way to do a job. They're anchored to the floor or bench, and come with flat tables and fence systems so you can guarantee your cuts, holes, and other bits of shaping are square and straight.
But, besides being expensive, they're not always the right tool for the job. So, instead we turn to handheld tools, both electric and manual, to get things done. And therein lies the rub - human beings are not machines. Try as we might, we often can't do something with our hands as straight or square as a large stationary tool.
Besides using guides and other accuracy aids, there's a super simple and easy trick you can add to your mental toolbox to help guide the tool to do its best.
A few weeks ago, I declared ISOTunes the best headphones for woodworkers and DIYers. They include both audio drivers for sound and 27 dB of OHSA-compliant hearing protection from machine noises in the same package, and after spending all summer testing them out in real world situations, I can't think of a better investment to improve your shop time.
So, I'm pretty excited to share that I've collaborated with ISOTunes to give away three pairs of ISOTunes PRO headphones to ManMade readers.
You want your meat board to be a statement of your ambition. Not as a cook, but as an eater. If you can avoid it, don't just let this be a venue for a dinner plate. You want a board that seems deliberate and larger than life. Wood is good. But so is slate or stone or anything smooth and safe for food. In this moment, when you are putting together a board, you are not a chef, nor even a cook. You are an artist in front of a fresh canvas, but your paints are going to be the foods that you most love.
Etymology often helps shape thought: when you're aware of a word's origins, you're in touch with the full context of the words that filter your inclinations. For example, did you know that wilderness comes from the Old English for "wild deer"?
Think about that for a moment: it's a place filled with animals unaccustomed to human contact, where humans have minimized their prints on the world. So when we go out to the wilderness, we're immersing ourselves in the beauty of nature, we're adventuring outside of civilization, and we're escaping from the creature comforts that can dull our sense of connection to the cosmos.
Well... maybe not 100% escape. Because while I love taking a break, I've never been interested in taking vacation from a good cup of coffee. If you're the same, read on for how we at ManMade make decent coffee in the wilderness, and our choices for a great camping coffee maker.
If you do woodworking and DIYing in inches, a solid understanding of fractions is essential. Being able to calculate that half of 4 1/4" is 2 1/8", or that 1 1/2 + 1 3/16 = 2 11/16" is basic shop math that will keep your projects moving quickly.
But often, bringing fractions into the process is, well, completely unnecessary. Let's say you have a board that you'd like to divide into equal parts. You could measure it, then bust out a pencil, paper, and the calculator app, and eventually have to Google a decimal-to-fraction converter to figure out the size of each section. Then, you'd have to find that crazy number on your ruler, and carefully add the units together to mark out your parts. Or... you could just do this.
There are a few adages with which I can start this post. "You get what you pay for." "Some things are too good to be true." Yes, it would be awesome if there were a store in every town that sold solid, dependable tools at bargain prices. When you're just getting started, a place to fully outfit your shop on the cheap would be an amazing gift. I get it. I've been there.
But anyone who knows about Harbor Freight also knows about the reputation of the products it stocks: namely, that the quality is rather unreliable. Today, as I was discussing this post with my friend and colleague, M.E., her immediate response was, "There was one in the same plaza as my old job, so whenever we needed anything, we got it there. And ultimately whatever we bought, broke five days later. That place is the Dollar Store of the home improvement world."
And that's the trick: Harbor Freight stocks items that are designed to be sold, not to be used. I'm not saying their business model is dishonest or nefarious. Nor am I a tool snob with an unlimited budget. I'm only interested in spending as much money as necessary to get the job done. I know what its like to have your aspirations be bigger than your budget. But buying things that don't work, no matter how much they cost, is not saving money. The majority of products there simply will not stand up to repeated use, nor give the you the results you're after. When it comes to their sell-line of "Quality Tools, Lowest Prices"... well, one of them is true.
So you've snagged your new go-to blazer, upgrading your the 13-year-old-at-his-first-school-dance look of solo white shirt and black dress pants. Congratulations! You're now hovering at the upper style echelon that the big boys call classiness. Now, this may be a perfectly acceptable sartorial level to rest, one where you can command all the professional respect you'd ever need. But you're not satisfied with simply acceptable, right? Of course not! You want to pursue panache, you want to exude aplomb, you want to chase other fancy-pants dictionary words.
My friend, you're in need of a pocket square.
You know, the dandy cousin of the handkerchief that's there to just look cool and wouldn't dare catch a snot drop. Clothing is a nonverbal speech bubble, and conscious choices display confidence; the pocket square elevates the wearer another notch into the realm of "I know what I'm doing," provides variety for a frequently-worn outfit, and radiates the warmth of self-expression.
Read on for the ManMade primer on choosing your pocket square, then learn how to fold a pocket square and starting off with three basic pocket square folds!
For my whole life, the idea of foraging has had a romance that I can't quite put my finger on. Way before it became a punchline about hyper-local hipster foodies, to be a forager was a signal of a deep wisdom about the land. To know what could be eaten was to have access to riches that were all around us. In a world beset by industrial foodways, foraging is a reminder that the world can sustain us (or at least some of us) without our machines, if we would simply let it.
The trouble with foraging, though, is that unless you grew up in the style of Katniss Everdeen or the Girl of the Limberlost, most of the earthly wisdom and insight needed to forage well is beyond you. And this is definitely a wisdom that you need to gain through practice. Ideally, some Italian-born wood elf––someone like Angelo Pellegrini or Angelo Garro (who at least is still alive)––would appear to teach a willing learner how to gather and find and hunt out the best things available on the earth. But that's pretty unrealistic. So, the only thing to do is to just do it––after all, if we start small, build up some confidence and awareness, and then keep going, before long we might rediscover some of that lost knowledge so that we can pass it along ourselves.
So, from the experience of one free food fan who hopes to be more, here's how to get started as a forager.
I am grateful to have a dedicated workshop in our basement. It's a great place to both work on projects, and store tools and materials. And while my shop time is super important, there are a few things even more precious to me. Like my family.
So, I'm interested in learning more about some smaller wood projects that I can do in the evenings during family time. Projects like carving, whittling, and other non-furniture making projects that I can do while we watch a movie or reading time in the common areas.
So, I hit up Craigslist, and found this older model Workmate for a mere $10. And, in an afternoon, I turned it into a portable space to get creative and start making some chips... no noise or sawdust required.
I am a defeated knight––noble in my essence (or so I feel), but waylaid and shrunken down while fighting a beast that no man could possibly face undaunted. The beast spits fire, inundates me with dust from its mighty, flapping wings, and seems to pull the very ground from underneath me. I cower behind my shield and do what I can to battle the beast back, but at best I can manage a draw in any of our fights. And day by day, the beast gains more ground. Or that's how I feel. The beast is debt. Random sums of money are my outmatched weapons. And despite my lobbing those missiles as hard and direct as I can, I
Rolling up your sleeves. It's a fitting metaphor for getting stuff done because of its roots in literally protecting your shirt during activity. It's a practice reserved for when you're shifting out of the formal occasion that requires a button-up shirt, but you're not yet going to change into casual clothes: dinner after work at a restaurant with family, lunch at the pub with co-workers, traveling on business, in the later hours of a wedding reception.
When you strip it down to its elements, there's really not much to the process of rolling your sleeves. But remember that clothing is nonverbal communication, and when you make intentional decisions about you wear, you project purpose. So if you're going to roll your sleeves, don't just shove 'em up your arm... do it with confidence!
Read on for your three main options for rolling up your sleeves.
One of the great conundrums of woodworking is this simple fact: you need a workbench to build a workbench.
In fact, in order to build a proper workholding system replete with vises, rock-solid joinery, and a sturdy wood top, you also need a complete shop full of power tools to mill the wood to size, a fleet of clamps to laminate the top, and tons of experience to know how to use all that stuff in the first place. And to build it from hard maple or other appropriate wood, it'll cost at least $700 for the lumber alone.
The random orbital sander is one of the first tools any maker or DIYer should own. In fact, I can't think of another powered tool that I use more, on nearly every project involving wood. The design is simple, and right there in the name - they move, in a random circular pattern, to sand wood.
A huge improvement over its predecessor, the pad or orbit sander, these guys use special shaped sandpaper disc to get your project smooth fast and with minimum swirl marks. Well, at least faster than sanding by hand, and with much less energy. But with great power comes great...opportunity to mess things up. These wondertools work, but there are
Often, when it comes to DIY projects, we create our own circles by starting from a center point. Whether a compass, string guide, or specialized cutting jig, a circle emerges from our pencils or saws precisely because we've created an established and consistent distance from a single origin.
But, what happens when the shape already exists, and you need to know how to find the center of a circle? You can do it in less than a minute without any specialized math, memorizing a formula, or even knowing what pi is.
I really should kick this off with a big disclaimer: I'm a book guy.
I grew up in a book house—my dad is a professor and the author of several books, and my mom worked in a library when I was a kid. Bibliophilia is in my genes—my toddler already goes straight to her books immediately on waking up. I love places where books live—I've haunted libraries, bookstores, and free book spots in every town I've ever lived in. I read books in multiple languages—I'm literate in German, with passable French and Spanish skills. I even write books—I've got several novels in progress, including one story with a finished draft that I completely scrapped instead of sending to an agent because it wasn't quite there yet.
But recently, I've ditched at least 300 volumes from my personal library, some of which I had owned for over 15 years.
If you're trying to downsize too, read on for 10 tools to help you winnow the chaff from your personal library. But first, a brief aside to answer the why.
First came the radio. Turn it on, tune in the dial, and hope you'd have something listenable during the quiet moments. Then came the shop stereo, usually an old bookshelf system we didn't mind getting covered in sawdust. But for the last ten years or so, it's been all about the personal audio player...and for most of us, that means our smartphone. Why blast the tunes throughout a space, keeping up with loud machines and bugging those around us when you can have literally anything you want playing through your own set of earbuds?
Whether you opt for music, podcasts, audiobooks, or digital radio, most DIYers and woodworkers have a set of earbuds plugged in during most parts of a project. The problem? If you use power tools, you still need to wear hearing protection to 1) take care of your ears and reduce loud exposure to noise and 2) hear your audio over the roar of the motors.