My first "workbench" was a simple table-style surface. 2x4 legs, 1/2" plywood top, held together with black drywall screws. I built it in my first apartment when I was twenty-two, with my first (and only) power tools: a circular saw and a drill.
In the back left corner, I mounted a shiny, new, bright blue Irwin swiveling bench vise. It was awesome to have it there when I needed it - holding metal stock and angle iron for cutting, helping me bend rod and pipe, even keeping dowels and small wood parts in place while working on them. Unfortunately, these activities constituted a very small amount of the projects I was doing, and mostly, the vise just got in the way during the other 97% percent of tasks.
So, for the past few years, that vise has just been in a storage crate, and I get it out and try to hold it in place when I need it. Which, in case you can't guess, does not work. Ever. So, I wanted to come up with a solution that would allow me to install a machinist's style swiveling benchtop vise, without having to permanently install it, or drill holes in my benchtop and have to thread and tighten nuts and bolts every time I use it.
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…
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.
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!
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.
For the last couple of years, we had two ugly rocking chairs on our patio that I never really liked. They were a little awkward to get into, the fabric was hideous, and they took up way too much space when they were reclined. So, when my wife asked me to build an outdoor sofa for our patio, I didn’t have any hesitation to say “yes”!
To figure out what style of seating we wanted, I searched “outdoor sofa” on Pinterest to get some inspiration and figure out a basic design. Once that was decided, I tasked my wife with finding the outdoor sofa cushions. I wanted to find the cushions first and then build the couch based on the
I remember when the cheese lovers started telling me what was "real" cheese and what was "fake." I remember taking them seriously because they were talking about cheese cultures (ha. pun!) I knew to be important: Italian, French, Swiss, Spanish, etc. "Cheese is alive!" these experts insisted. And anything that was not the product of natural fermentation and cave-aging was unacceptable. Eating the rind was important. The worship of bacteria in the process was expected. The presence of insect larvae was not necessarily a negative. Out of a world that had room for Cheeze Whiz, handi-snacks, and this bit by Mitch Hedberg, the celebration of authentic, non-adulterated cheeses was completely legitimate.
One of the books in my current stack is Let My People Go Surfing, written by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard. The book is structured into two parts: the first half is a brief history of the company from its origins as a beachside blacksmith shop producing climbing equipment. The other is a company handbook on the founding principles and values on which the billion-dollar company makes its decisions.
My tears. Since I was in my late 20s at least, they've come more easily than ever before. Sad things can bring them on, sure. But mostly, it's the beautiful things. The profound things. And things that are just poignant and stirring. But whatever the cause, they come with frankness and in real earnest.
Sometimes I wonder if I should listen to Sufjan in public anymore. Always an emotional songwriter, his last few efforts, Carrie and Lowell and Planetarium, have been especially frank, incisively autobiographical and completely leveling (especially when you get clued into his autobiography.) It is inevitable that my eyes will become wells in a coffeeshop. But I guess I believe that it's not reasonable to blubber in public or have a crying fit while I'm at work, there is a deeper sense of shame that, if I'm honest, rests down in the nether regions of my psyche, and it is activated when my tears come. I am brought to tears in public by openness, but then shame comes and closes me up again.
At home, I am the cook of our family. I love to make meals, and… let's be honest, I really just love food in general. I also do all the grocery shopping. Typically, I’ll take one big shopping day at the grocery store during the week and maybe a couple short trips if I need specific items. But, whenever I announce I’m taking a trip to the Asian market, my entire family eagerly jumps in the car with me.
If you're not in the habit of shopping at your Asian grocery store, 1) you’re missing out on an entire hemisphere of goods, 2) it’ll open a new world of food and sundries that’ll keep you coming back, and 3) food, kitchen supplies – everything – is extremely affordable.
In short, tons of flavor. Great value. Win. Win.
I'm a lucky guy. My family has allowed me to dedicate half our basement into a dedicated shop space, complete with a custom woodworking bench and a growing collection of tools. It's bright, clean (at least right now), and I'm slowly turning it into a functional workspace that will allow me to be as productive as possible.
But it took me a long time to get here. For nearly fifteen years, I worked out of dining rooms and back porches and portions of the garage, lugging my tools around in plastic totes and home center toolboxes, setting up shop on the washing machine, folding tables, and 1/2" plywood scraps screwed to 2x4s.
And, in the early days, it was that lack of a proper workbench that prevented me from thinking I could could use hand tools. Without a vise and hold downs, how could I safely secure my work for handplaning, chiseling, or sawing?The answer: a batten, which will take you 5 minutes to make and turns any flat surface into a work bench. Let's make one!
Even if you don't know it by name, you likely already know paracord. Chances are very good that you've seen it, either in the aisles at your local craft store or knotted into a survival bracelet.
It's a classic example of how a military-specific product found new life as a civilian utility item. Originally designed with airborne units (the name is portmanteau of "parachute" + "cord"), its strength, durability, and versatility lend well to all sorts of other functions. It's especially useful for survival and adventure situations, which means that enterprising outdoor gear companies have begun including other materials in the core of the cord besides the standard separate nylon yarns: in the case of ParaTinder, a waxed thread meant to be used as a firestarter.
I got a package of this as a stocking stuffer last Christmas and wanted to give it a whirl—it's important to test out your survival gear when the stakes are low rather than trying it out for the first time in an emergency.
My wife is out of town this week.
When I'm home alone, I find myself more willing to work late into the evening with projects and activities, because I know I'm not missing out on important family time. When solo, I'd much rather stay out on a long bike ride or keep progressing on a woodworking project until bedtime than just sit by myself on the sofa.
So, such was the case when I found myself with a free evening. I didn't get started until 6:00pm or so, but knowing I had nowhere else to be and plenty of leftovers in the fridge, I set out to complete some shop storage projects for the wall just to the right of my bench. I'd been saving those blank spaces for nearly a year (you can find the clamp rack tutorials here, here, and here), reserving them for a special set of Woodpeckers straight edges and squares. These things are machined to extremely low tolerances, making them crazy straight and square, so making a secure place to store them helps them to stay precise. Plus, the red color matches the handles and jaws of my Bessey clamps, so combining the two was a total no brainer.
"Hey does this go with this?" I probably say this 4 times a week to my long-suffering spouse. I've never been an especially snappy dresser, but I have always tried to be put together. I've also never had to work in an office setting with a strictly professional dress code––I taught college for years. Guys in my field routinely dress in polo shirts or something short-sleeved that matches a pair of khaki pants. I'm the kind of guy who tried to make it work with a dark jean/button down/casual blazer––a sloppy and corpulent imitation of Josh Radnor or other random "nice" guy on TV...
Then I started working a venue where I was surrounded by
It's the time of year when grills grace backyards with fragrant charcoal smoke, chins drip with fresh watermelon juice, and the gentle drone of neighborhood lawnmowers beat back that evergrowing green tide. Every day pushes sunset a little later into the edge of night, and in the morning you can smell the dew steaming off from the tips of grass. Summer is here... and it's brought baseball along.
One of the things I look forward to in the middle of the year is setting aside the latter half of a day, soaking in the ambience of a ballpark while trying to avoid mustard stains on my pants, and adding a new scorecard to my collection. I first started keeping score on a whim several years ago at a Durham Bulls game on the 4th of July, the first baseball game I had been to in about a decade. I'm a pretty obsessive notetaker, so when I gave it a shot...
I was totally hooked. As my poor pregnant wife completely roasted in her outfield seat next to mine (and eventually took solace in the shade near the concessions... sorry Ashley!), I watched the game—no, took part in the game—with an awareness so keen it almost felt like I had picked up several new senses.
Somewhere in that no-man's land between technophile and -phobe, I've pitched my tent and pass freely between the borders. I juggle my professional work on Google's G Suite (especially Gmail, Keep, Calendar, Docs, and Sheets), but one of my most effective planning tools is a wood pencil and minimalist bullet journal in a blank notebook. I'm thrilled every time I thumb through magazines like WIRED, but I totally think A.I. is a crapshoot. In short, I keep a dynamic dialogue between new and old tech, because elegant solutions to the world's challenges lie at just about every point in its history.
A perfect illustration of this is the fact that though I regularly rely on Google Maps for real-time driving directions, I still keep paper maps of my home state, some neighboring states, and even an atlas in my car. What's the point? Read on for four good reasons.
This summer, ManMade is organizing a Alaskan adventure for our community, where we'll gather for DIY workshops and day trips to some of the most beautiful places in North America. In homage of the trip, each of our team members will be reflecting on their own impressions of Alaska.
In honor of our upcoming Alaska excursion, I was revisiting the media that resonates with Alaska. In all fairness, there isn't that much. I mean, I vaguely remember watching some episodes of Northern Exposure when I was a kid. I liked Jewel a lot, back when Jewel was a thing. Did that
Spending some time outside is a big deal. Disconnecting from everyday life is what allows you to return to it focused, refreshed, and ready for new challenges. While a weekend in the wilderness might leave you feeling physically exhausted (and hopefully leave you a bit dirty, too), it's guaranteed to positively impact your mental clarity and up your level of good feelings in the weeks that follow.
Sure, you can head into the woods with some sneakers and your book bag from high school. If that's what it takes to get you out, we're all for it. However, when you decide to upgrade the experience a bit, there are a few things you should be sure to bring with you. Quality gear is comfortable, more durable, and supportive on rough terrain. So go ahead and grab a few pieces at a time to make all you future adventures more enjoyable ones.
When I look back on the formative years that were my 20's, I can vividly map out the entire decade with not only the colleges I attended, the cities I lived in, and apartments I rented, but also the coffee shops that I haunted. During my college years in particular, I probably spent just as much time in joe joints as I did on campus, either slinging espresso behind the bar or sinking into one of those ratty overstuffed couches. (Bear in mind, this was back in the day when coffee shops were more "hippie" than "hipster.")
For the first time in my life, though, since buying a house in a new town, I don't actually have a "home coffee shop." And frankly, for this phase of my life I'm not missing it, because I've tricked out my home coffee bar and barista skills to just enough of a level where—when I sit down in my studio, set my favorite jazz album going, and thunk a steaming mug down on the table—I'm fooled into that same exact coffee shop comfort zone. (Bonus: not having some random guy with a laptop camp out for hours in my favorite window seat.)
Do you want to level up your coffee game apart from your auto drip, save a ton of money per cup, and have fun learning a skill that will stick with you the rest of your life? Dude, it's time to set up your own home coffee bar.
We've broken down the home bar into must-have gear, classified by categories based on the stages of the brewing process. Read on for our basic recommendations, plus some suggested upgrades.