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.
Pocket hole joinery has a lot going for it. An affordable jig makes the process fool-proof, it comes together in less than a few minutes, and the joint itself is super strong.
The Kreg jig itself does most of the work, but a little knowhow makes the pocket hole clean and precise. This is especially important if the pocket hole will be visible, plugged, or filled.
Ready to make nice, sharp pocket holes? Let's go!
Have you ever been substantially complete with a wood project and then accidently dropped it or knocked it off your workbench? Without a doubt, your box, picture frame, cutting board or whatever you’re working on will get dinged or dented. Despite the fact that those mishaps can often be fixed, it can be incredibly frustrating and require a significant amount of time to remove or hide the blemish. Instead of sanding, planing or recreating that piece of the project, there is another simple and often less time-consuming option you likely have in your closet.
One of the first big projects I completed when I bought my house was digging a large garden in the backyard, and we just barely made it in time for a summer full of tomatoes, cucumbers, okra, eggplant, peppers, and squash. The 20 x 30' patch somehow wasn't big enough for both eating and canning, so when spring rolled around again, I set out to expand our patch. Gardens are never finished, after all! (Check out our tutorial on how to hand-dig a garden here.)
The only thing I wasn't interested in expanding, though, was my water bill. Since we get on average 4 inches of rain per month during the growing season here in North Carolina (Apr–Nov), it was time to let the clouds handle the water supply rather than the city. Since this is mostly a money-saving project, I kept my budget really low because I preferred to have the materials pay for themselves as quickly as possible.
Read on for how to make a rain barrel on a budget!
Turning out perfectly grilled foods in your own backyard requires balancing two important variables: time and temperature. Too hot, and the food gets overly blackened and burnt before it's cooked through. Too short, and the surfaces don't have enough time to caramelize, brown, and develop that characteristic charred flavor that makes grilling worth the effort in the first place.
A solid grill thermometer can help, but here's the bad news: standard bi-metal dial thermometers, the kind present in almost all backyard grills and smokers, can be off by as much as 75° F in either direction. Which, if you're going for low and slow cooked flavors of barbecue, is enough to totally ruin your meal and your day. Here's how to fix it.
I've been keeping notebooks, sketchbooks, and journals pretty much as far back as kindergarten and with daily regularity since my late teens. I've got notebooks for important purposes—a hardcover 5 x 8.25" Moleskine notebook for my bullet journal planner, a big journal for freewriting answers to tough questions when I'm looking for insight, several sizes of notebooks for personal study and random thoughts, a notebook for haiku, and several practice sketchbooks. Notebooks are so commonplace in my life that honestly, I'm more likely to leave my left foot at home.
Occasionally, though, I like to shake the dust off of my mind for a fresh perspective by changing my writing context. This is when I most often turn a tiny notebook that takes a single sheet of paper, one minute, and no tools to make but my hands. Read on for instructions!
Previously, 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.