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.
Dirty dishes in the sink. Putting your clean socks away. Replying to that one email that's been sitting at the top of your inbox for longer than you'd be willing to admit out loud.
We all have that small handful of tasks and chores that weigh the heaviest on our souls and our to-do lists. Most often, they're the things that occur multiple times a week, so that when you look at them, you think, "Didn't I just do that? And doesn't it take forever?"
And that's where our brains lead us astray. Because, although, yes, you did probably just do that – no, it doesn't take forever.
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.
Concrete. It's a universal building material so ubiquitous, we tend to take it completely for granted. Yet it has a fascinating history that stretches back before the time of Roman Empire. No need to fire up the Delorean today, though; we're sticking to the current trend of using industrial materials in domestic interiors with our concrete desktop planter.
We're also giving away a $250 Lowe's gift card that you can use to buy your supplies to make your own concrete desktop planter (and then some). Read on to find out how to enter (giveaway details at the end of the post) ...
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:
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.
Most people refer to the “heart of the home” as the kitchen, and for good reason. However, the first thing you see when you walk into my house is the mudroom, and its honestly the space that gets the most action. We moved into our house about fifteen months ago, and ever since we first walked through the house, I wanted to make the mudroom/laundry room more functional. Not only did I want to add more storage, I wanted the room to be an area that I was proud to welcome people into when showing them our home.
As you can see, before I started the project our mudroom worked on many levels but it was very boring and it seemed to get cluttered easily. After completing some other more important projects on our home during the first year, I knew this summer was the time to tackle this space.
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.
If someone were to ask you what your crucial, go-to, stranded-on-a-desert-island cooking gear includes, how would you reply?
Would you mention a chef's knife and cutting board? How about a large sauté pan and a flat-edged wood spoon, or a large, nonreactive heatproof bowl? (Incidentally, these are Michael Ruhlman's top five in his fantastic comprehensive guide The Elements of Cooking.)
What if I were to add that the addition of two inexpensive pieces of equipment can dramatically level up your cooking game, and that you could actually get these at an office supply store?
Chisels are probably the simplest of all woodworking tools, yet versatile enough that you'll likely use them on every project. To maintain the best cutting edge, they should be cared for and sharpened regularly: ground, honed, and polished until there's a razor fine edge that cleanly slices through the wood fibers.
So, why have mine been just sitting in a box for the last year and a half? I actually don't have an excuse. I mean, lack of proper storage is the answer, but why I haven't done anything about it since I finished my workshop build in late 2016... I really can't justify it.
So, over the weekend, I decided to do something about it, and built a simple chisel holder and hand tool rack to keep things organized, within reach, and to protect those finely honed edges. The design is adaptable enough that you can make one of any size, and put the whole thing together in under an hour.
As anyone who has worked in a high volume coffee establishment will tell you––and I am one of those people––keeping coffee equipment clean is a huge job. And while a professional shop has to maintain its equipment with a daily regimen of daily cleaning, descaling, urnexing and polishing, what I realized when I came home from my coffee shop was that my personal coffee equipment was some of the LEAST attended to items I had in my kitchen. I think for many people, coffee is such a utilitarian part of life, it is easy to lose track of how many brews your machine/grinder/kettle/aeropress may have gone through. And of course, coffee is not
Let it be stated, for the record, that I'm naturally a night owl. I hate waking up in the morning.
I'm not one of those people who are wired to pop out of bed, to the tune of that Rossini piece that plays at sunrise in cartoons, with a spring in my step and a grin on my face. (Being a morning person is so out of my orbit that I don't know if that's how early birds actually feel, or if it's just my pre-coffee-grump perception.)
You know what I do love? The feeling of accomplishing so many of the day's to-dos, especially the things that are both short-term urgent and long-term important, and looking up at the clock to realize it's barely lunchtime. I love reaching the end of a work day with the relief that comes with giving the whole day my full effort. I love the feeling of being proactive, which means that, though being an early bird isn't my natural inclination, I love its effects.
So, how did I ditch the hoot owls and start rising to catch the proverbial worm? Read on for some tips that helped me.
I'm a firm believer that tools are like personal strengths: the user's attitude determines the outcome. You can take a neutral tool and channel it for good or evil; a candlestick can class up a dining room table, or it can kill Professor Plum in the billiard room. Not only that, but the more power a tool holds, the more care you have to take with it. (It's like the main takeaway from Spider-Man: with great power comes great responsibility.)
The smartphone is a prime example. Sometimes when it's better to leave it off, like we suggested in our article on filling downtime without staring at your phone. But lest you label me a Luddite, let me admit that I use my phone all day: emailing, listening to music (currently: Spotify app, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers), shooting and editing photos, keeping in touch with overseas family on Facebook, professional networking on Instagram and LinkedIn, mobile banking, making note of future ManMadeDIY articles, and so much more.
In fact, I use my phone so much that I need to give myself guidelines to help keep me from staring into it all day. Here are some of those tips.
Floating shelves can be built in a myriad of different ways and with any lumber you can get your hands on, but if you’re buying blind shelf supports for each shelf, the amount of money spent can add up quickly. Enter: this inexpensive and rustic option for building floating shelves will materials you likely have on hand in your shop. This is a relatively simple project and it can be completed in an afternoon for less than $10 in materials. There are three simple parts of the process to making these floating shelves.
This is my kind of woodworking project. It solves a practical problem (it's a monitor stand and desk storage unit), and it's built with solid technique and classic materials, treated minimally to show off their natural beauty.
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.
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
“As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.” – Seneca
Suppose you are getting ready to start a really big project––a project that will require an immense amount of time and effort, a project that has so many parts and components that you are certain that you will lose your way and make mistakes. It is just that big. And yet the one thing you can be certain about is that the materials for this project are precious and you will not be able to re-start the project once you begin––you'll have to keep forging ahead even if you make mistakes. It will be the summative production
If you are anything like me, there have been numerous times in your life when you have been in a Target/Costco/Sur La Table/Container Store when box full of intricate, multi-shaped and variously sized plastic containers has come into view, and you have thought, "it's time I get organized!" The lure of organization is powerful because it feels like if you have a place for not only everything, but every KIND of thing, you'll never fall into disorder again.
I have learned something from a lifetime of tangling with stackable, burp-able, intricately sized storage containers: freedom does not come in a system that has options for every possibility, it comes in a simple system based on interchangeable parts. And in the world of food storage, we should look not to the glossy, marketed boxes in the housewares aisle, but to the humble set up of your neighborhood takeout place