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.
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.
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.
I've wanted to build a boat ever since I sunk my small dingy on the Trinity Lake as a kid. Once I have the space, I will fashion a sea-worthy vessel and take it out to brave the ocean, or at least a sizeable pond.
Thickness planers are awesome. But I don't have one.
They're an expensive and specialized piece of equipment. A new one starts around $300, and the price just goes up from there. I'd like one, sure, but most of my woodworking projects don’t require it, so I haven’t made the investment yet. There are a few other tools I'm more interested in before I make the leap to a planer.
But there are times when I have a rough piece of wood that needs to be trimmed down to a consistent thikness or large course areas need to be smoothed out. Instead of picking up my orbital sander and going to town for 45 minutes to thickness the piece of wood, I turned to my table saw. While this trick is limited to wood with a width of approximately 6 inches, it can save you a ton of time for small projects. It's a really simple process.
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!
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.
When you're new to the world of DIY, starting even the smallest of projects can be a daunting task. How much money will it cost me? How much time will I waste? Do I even know what I'm doing? Questions like these can easily deflate a well planned weekend of hard work when you're not comfortable with yourself and your abilities.
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
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.)
For me, completing a wood project brings a sense of great accomplishment. I’ve taken a raw piece of lumber and turned it into something beautiful and functional. However, that pat-on-the-back stops short when I remember that I still need to apply a finish to protect the wood! Applying finish is easily my least favorite part of any project, and an area where I am not as skilled as I'd like to be (everything's a learning process). Still, applying a finish is that important last step that protects the project for years to come. Applying finish is easy enough - it's knowing what type of finish to use that's the bigger battle. There's a wide variety of protective finishes out there, and all those options can easily become overwhelming. Let's start with the basics. Here's a quick guide to the differences between polyurethane, varnish, shellac and lacquer.
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!
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.
The internet didn't intentionally invent the idea of tickling your brain by seeing things get perfectly peeled, scooped, pulled or stripped. Yet, there are whole Youtube channels dedicated to things that fit perfectly, people breaking the pristine surface of a jar of peanut butter, people peeling the thin plastic sheet that covers most electronics. Comments on these videos are part of a shared sense of deep satisfaction, and you can find some of the most mutually joyful, least acrimonious interactions on the internet among people who are just eveling in that feeling of deep gratification.
So, in the
I've always loved the feeling of contrasting materials, especially metal and hardwood. Metal is the yin to wood's yang: cold, crisp, and unforgiving, while wood offers smooth, supple, and organic patterns. When I really want to make a piece stand out, I'll put a bit of effort in mating these unlikely partners to play off each other for visual interest and a little bit of "how did they do that?" My youngest turns 5 this month, and I have been building a keepsake box that I hope she'll have for the rest of her life — an heirloom piece that I want to stand out as timeless, personal, and familiar. I decided a metal inlay of her initial would be a great way to make it her own.
This summer, ManMade is going to Alaska, and we want you to come with us.
In an effort to continue to build community, I decided it might be fun to do something together. Like, in real life, with actual handshakes and conversations that don't involve QWERTY keyboards. And, if we're going to do something, we might as well connect somewhere amazing.
So, we chose Alaska for its mix of natural beauty and DIY attitude. We'll spend seven (or ten) days in Anchorage, Seward, and Denali going on hikes, craft beer tours, woodworking workshops, staying up late, and seeing some of the best terrain in North America.
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.