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.
I'm a huge fan of having a few rows of dog holes in my workbench top. And, more than anything else, I use them to secure a holdfast - an ancient and genius piece of design that secures your work to the work surface with a simple tap from a hammer or mallet. When your ready to release it, just hit the back and it's free. Seriously - it's ten times fast than clamping, and you can fasten your work anywhere across the bench top. Brilliant.
To speed up the process even more, I wanted to come up with a permanent way to protect the wood from the force of the steel being banged into it. You can use a hardwood scrap between the holdfast and the workpiece, but I figured there's reason to spend twenty minutes once and protect my work forever. No digging around for scraps required.
Says Ernest Hemingway, "it is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.”
We couldn't agree more. Nowhere looks more like itself than the way it looks on two wheels. And no matter your pursuit, there's a bike for it. Whether you're looking to spin for miles through country lanes on a road bike, run errands on a stout commuter bike built for comfort on city streets, or zip down tree-lined single track on a mountain bike, at the end of all the fun and adventure, you're going to have to get back to where you started. Safely, efficiently, and, hopefully, comfortably.
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
I love watching new things get made. But as equally invigorating?
Watching old things get repaired and restored.
There are plenty of reasons to fix old things: keeping them out of the landfill, learning how they're made, making a little extra jingle, appreciating the products around us that we take for granted, cultivating the mindset of taking better stewardship of our surroundings.
Thankfully for the world, there are a lot of people doing this for the love of the act, because they spend countless hours in their workshops and upload their process videos for free viewing on YouTube.
Read on for our top picks of tool (and other) restoration YouTube channels!
To the non-DIYer, dedicating an entire blog post to this process may seem like overkill. But anyone who wields their cordless drill on the regular can attest: the issue of making an existing hole larger comes up all. the. time. Whether repairing something around the house, replacing a part or piece of hardware, or just because you didn't quite get it right the first time, any maker, woodworker, or generally handy person knows how frequently one needs to enlarge a hole, and how surprisingly difficult it can be to pull off.
Hopefully, you're already a committed safety glass wearer. Grabbing a pair for even the simplest drilling/driving task is good practice, and a part of your DIY routine. Even better, if you use power tools, you're also protecting your hearing from those roaring 85-90 dB motors.
Last in that great triumvirate, and perhaps the most often overlooked, is protection for your respiratory system. Too many of us don't wear a dust mask, respirator, or sealed face shield when working on projects for one simple reason: they are extremely uncomfortable, a total hassle, and more irritating than your second cousin's toddler at the Thanksgiving table
Some three years ago, an Australian man named John Plant started filming his hobby of spending time in nature and learning to subsist without any tools. He posted his videos on Youtube as a kind of documentation of his progress and they served as a venue for a kind of education, though only in the most minimalist sense. Taken without context, its a strange, new genre of media that has found an audience––something pretty standard for the internet. (There are now countless channels on the internet where people have ripped off Plant's original premise.)
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!
I confess, I'm a shop rat. It doesn't matter what craft—shoemaking, blacksmithing, coffee roasting, even those little watch repair caves with the observation window in jewelry stores at the mall—if there are four walls, some tools, and skilled hands, I'm all over it like white on rice in a glass of milk on a paper plate in a snowstorm.
Other than drawing and writing, I've committed to the handicraft of artisan printing, slinging ink in the letterpress and screen printing arena at my main job. But when I can, I soak up other skills on a hobbyist level to round out my skillset, to apply lessons from other disciplines into my chosen craft, and to just have fun making stuff without the pressure of harnessing it to make a living.
Woodworking is one of those pools that I'm just now starting to wade into, and since I have no idea what I'm doing, I love watching the real deal to see how it's really done. To that end, I've curated the following list of my favorite woodworking accounts on Instagram.
Among all the items in my shop, the measuring, marking, and layout tools are probably my favorite. Mostly, I love how historic they are: dividers, squares, calipers, rulers, and marking gauges have all been around for centuries, remaining mostly unchanged in their design and intended purpose. And who doesn't love a clear, crisp, and accurate line to work to?
I promise, I really do like sports.
I number among my favorite smells in this world the scent of ice rink, and I find the pop of a baseball hitting a leather glove irresistible; I show my hometown roots in my collection of Baltimore Orioles hats, and I love the thrill of victory in sports films, even ones involving sports I couldn't care less about. But I confess, I'm a lackluster sports fan. Scores, standings, and statistics bore me to tears, and my attention span diminishes to nil within 5 minutes of a televised game.
Set me in front of an artisan plying his or her trade, though, and you'd think I were a pitching scout at a showcase tournament: rapt attention, soaking in every detail, occasional grins at particularly strong displays of good craft. Are you the same? Well, you're going to love this.
This is the tool wall in the workshop of Rhode Island furniture maker Hank Gilpin. It places every hand tool used in the shop - including saws, clamps, scrapers, drill bits, chisels, planes, and measuring tools - within an arm's reach of the shops two main benches.
I have tried almost every solution to keep track of my hand screws. I've hung them on pegboard hooks. I've stashed them in wall-hung cubbies. I've stacked them on shelves. I've put them in designated plastic totes. All of which have resulted in: I hardly ever use my hand screws.
Which is a shame, because they're extremely versatile. They have a deep reach, and their wooden jaws are handy when you don't want to nick a blade or bit on something metal. So, last weekend, in my ever-continuing attempts to get my shop truly organized, I decided to build a wall-mounted hand screw organizer that would allow me to keep things in place and bring the clamps to the project when I need them.
I was sitting with a few friends the other day and they started talking about how they needed to start drinking smoothies again. The conversation quickly turned to how expensive smoothie places can be, and how most blenders at home just don't make smoothies with the right texture. They turned to me, and I sheepishly owned up to it–I have a $500 blender. It's the Vitamix 7500––one of the immensely fancy ones that seem so ludicrously expensive.
To make matters worse, I think in my entire life I've only consumed 3-4 smoothies, hence my embarrassment. Spending $500 on an appliance only seems reasonable if it is part of a life plan––some
Ideally, a laundry room would belong in one of the more private sections of your house – a space to do the behind-the-scenes work of running a home, fold unmentionables, and stash things that simply have no where else to go.
In our house, it's in the dead center of activity. Because of plumbing and venting access, it's the first thing you see when you walk down the stairs into our basement, and in addition to our kitchen and dining room, our basement has become the heart of our home. There, both my wife and I have our own offices where we welcome business collaborators, take meetings, and do video
Move over pegboard. When you've assembled a proper collection of hand tools, the best way to keep them safe, organized, and available within reach is a custom tool wall. Each item gets a designed holder that keeps like pieces together and accessible, allowing you to maximize your storage space.
Plus, let's admit it: they also look super cool.
Does the tool make the man, or does the man make the tool? Like most things in life, the answer is somewhere in the middle. You need to know how to properly operate and care for your tools, but the right tool/jig can make or break your project.
Of course, I'm just an active hobbyist, and my tools reflect that, BUT every single one has a time and place to be used, and we've formed a deep bond over the years. Some are used a lot more frequently than others, and so here is a list of most used tools that I have in my shop...which my wife lovingly refers to as “just the garage."
In his continued bid to take over much of the world's media channels, Anthony Bourdain has partnered with the producers of Balvenie Scotch Whisky on an online program that is truly exceptional. In the process of producing the first batch of episodes, he met with some of the most extraordinary craftspeople in the United States (and ended up walking away with some Bob Kramer knives that certainly left our mouths agape.)
If you want to watch between 7 and 16 minutes of well-produced, craft-heavy, and inspirational material, this series is for you. And lucky us, a new batch of videos just dropped in the last month or so. So if you've already caught up with the initial episodes, there's more to watch.