Yesterday, I offered the thesis that if you're only going to learn to tie one knot, it should be the bowline: it's simple, can be easily untied, and is incredibly versatile for all sorts of situations.
And all that is true. But, it's not the "knot" I employ most often. Because the reality is, most of us don't handle rope on a daily basis. We do, however, in the age of smartphones and podcasts and the entire history of recorded music available at your fingertips, engage with another long, stringy thing that needs to be dealt with on the regular: your headphones.
Or ear buds. Or ear phones. Or whatever you call those wired transducers that deliver all that sweet, sweet audio to your brain. And because you take them with your everywhere, they regularly get knotted and tangled up in your pocket or bag.
This is completely unnecessary. Because there's a five-second "knot" that can completely eliminate this problem, and it doesn't take any longer than other storage methods. So, now, I present to you, the actual most useful knot in the world.
You know the phenomenon. No matter how hard your try, eventually, the little plastic tip on the end of your shoelaces (the official term is "aglet") will get crunched up, and slowly, you find yourself with a set of frayed laces. You could do the classic trick of burning the ends with a match to seize the fibers, but that's a temporary solution, and eventually, you'll end up exactly where you started.
Shoelaces are, of course, replaceable, and if you simply need a white or black pair for sneakers, or perhaps the classic golden variagated laces often found in leather workboots, you can switch them out if you like. But, so many pairs of shoes rely on the complement and/or contrast of the laces as a design element, and so often, you can't find a replacement.
So, instead, let's figure out how to fix shoelaces so they stay compact, useable, and fray-free.
With the temps warming up, it is most certainly time to get mouths a-watering for barbecue season. Whether gas or charcoal, most of us have a backyard grill, but a dedicated smoker can be a luxury. They take up space, can cost a lot, and while they make sense for true smoked food fans, might not be necessary for the average grill fan.
In fact, they're not necessary at all. Cause with a little creativity and DIY ingenuity, you can turn the grill you already own in a smoker that can turn out tender, fall apart food fused with the flavor of fire.
A few years ago I was driving to a lunch meeting with a publisher for a book project and the conversation turned to old stuff making a comeback. I took her by surprise when I mentioned handkerchiefs, and even more so when I produced one from my back pocket. I had never really thought much of it, because carrying handkerchiefs is my way of classing up a serious problem with allergies, where my sinuses go DEFCON 1 and launch sneezing attacks at a moment's notice. (Like my man Sneezy says... "When you gotta, you gotta.")
But I'm not the only one looking to supplement tissues with fabric. The resurgence of handkerchiefs is part of the larger picture of kids born in the 80's reaching back into Grandpa's closet and workshop for a feeling of concreteness and authenticity. Regardless of your position on reaching for retro, I'd argue that the handkerchief, far from being a relic relegated to nostalgic millennials, is a useful tool... and not just for catching sneezes.
Here's a list of some of the things you can use handkerchiefs for in your everyday life.
I recently posted a photo of my Aeropress setup to Instagram and had a buddy comment with questions about my process. I've only been using my press casually for the last couple of years, so I didn't feel comfortable saying anything authoritative. That begged the question: who would be considered an authority on the subject of Aeropress recipes? Which led me to: if not the victors of the World Aeropress Championship, then who?
If you're unfamiliar to the world of Aeropress, if you own one and have no idea what to do with it, or if you're looking to tweak your current routine: read on, friends.
There is lots of scientific research on why setting goals on January 1 never really works out, and why, by March or April, we've all backslid into our old habits. Often, it's because goals aren't specific enough, or we haven't found the best way to track the work we've done. Or, perhaps we don't actually believe we can achieve that new version of ourselves for the long term.
If you want gap-free joinery and a perfect, long-lasting fit for both strength and aesthetics, precise measuring and marking of parts is essential. But, each step of the process — measuring, transferring marks, and cutting — can introduce tiny little errors of 1/64 or 1/32", which, over the course of a project, can add up significantly. So here's a simple little trick that takes no extra time, but creates much more accurate results.
I love using the internet to find inspiration, design ideas, and cool materials for my next big project. But, I still think there's a lot of value in a simple, compact physical volume to invite both new makers and folks looking to step up their game into growing their craftsmanship.
So, I want to recommend to you a new book Handmade: A Hands-On Guide. It's a primer full of beginner and intermediate level projects from all across the makersphere, many of which are provided by some of your favorite bloggers, YouTubers, and online content creators. (Including, full disclosure, yours truly.) It's written by my friend and colleague Asa
A quality jigsaw is one of my favorite tools, and a seriously good DIY best buy. Armed with the right blade, you can cut all sorts of materials into nearly any two-dimensional shape you please. And most-importantly, do it safely.
But it's flexibility as a creative tool is also its liability. Like a pencil, it can go in any direction, but in the hands of a human being, those directions will never be without the marks of our innate imperfection. Straight lines can be accomplished with a fence, but a perfect circle. You can't draw one by hand, so don't expect yourself to be able to jigsaw one either.
At least, not without a little help.
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'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.
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.
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.
For my money, this is the best time of year to spend a few nights outdoors. The bugs have died down, but the weather is still sunny and dry. The days are warm, but the nights are cool enough that you can snuggle down into your sleeping bag and not sweat it out in a roasting hot tent.
Perhaps you'd like to try a few nights backpacking or minimalist base camping, but you don't want to invest a ton of cash on the gear to make it happen. #Understood, friend.
Fact: the physical space that we inhabit on a daily basis, especially our homes, is an extension of our minds and attitudes. Your thoughts influence your actions, your actions influence your environment, your thoughts respond accordingly, and so on.
I don't need to offer a strong argument that the passive life—that is, the life where other people and random events have determined your course—is no life at all. Bearing that fact in mind, your surroundings shouldn't be an afterthought, but a map of the deliberate decisions you've made to make the best use of your time, energy, and resources.
I recently wrote about how you can hack your habits by deliberately organize your home; this is one specific application of that precept. The goal here is to reduce clutter, and the tool is a simple, easy-to-memorize maxim:
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.
One of my all-time favorite aphorisms is that Victorian era gem that shines from its facets of order, efficiency, and thrift:
A place for everything, and everything in its place.
I consistently use this idea to recalibrate the way I see my home and studio. My wife and I are work-from-home freelancers; we're in our house 90% of the week and share it with our very active toddler and three cats, working and playing and cooking three meals a day, so we make a lot of mess. Without direct intervention, entropy reigns supreme, with total anarchy its final goal. Thus I constantly ask myself when I put something down: Is that where it lives? If the answer is no, put it away for real.
Well, let's piggyback off the idea of "a place for everything" to deliberately use our physical space to make good habits.
"One does not inhabit a country; one inhabits a language. That is our country, our fatherland –– and no other." –– Emile Cioran
We're living at a weird time when it comes to the question of learning a new language. On the one hand the world is becoming so globalized, so intercultural, and so communicative, that there has never been a more relevant time to learn Korean or Farsi or Finnish. On the other hand, digital tools for translation––both in written and spoken forms––are becoming so capable and intuitive that language is no longer the high water mark for understanding a culture.
For centuries of especially European history, learning languages was a crucial part of being an educated and informed person. After all, in a world full of different languages, it was a necessity to be able to communicate. But in a bizarre way, global society has actually made us LESS dependent on learning a foreign language. English has become the internet's lingua franca, and tools like Google translate and other translation software has made navigating multi-lingual spaces easier. And tools like Duolingo give us exactly the amount of language access we need, which seems to be enough Spanish or French or Mandarin for our vacations. Language courses and requirements are disappearing from schools and unless you are born into a family that speaks a language different from the culture around you, its harder and harder to learn.
I love reading. It's a passion and a pastime, a comfort when I'm stressed out, and a total compulsion—ask my wife and she'll confirm that if there's written material anywhere in my vicinity, I'll scan it. I read books from the bookstore and the library, I read articles on my phone, I print out PDFs of friends' screenplays for annotated reviews.
I also really enjoy buying vintage books, especially while traveling. My trade of choice is artisan printing, particularly in letterpress, so I love examining the craft that goes into these old books.
Most books come to me in decent condition, but every once in a while I'll come across one in a Charlie Brown Christmas tree state. Today I finally sat down to work on this 70-year-old German paperback, and I'd like to share my DIY book binding process with you.