A few months ago, in the midst of a day full of projects, I had a bit of an a-ha moment. I was in my workshop, using the table saw to slice up some Baltic birch plywood, when a timer on my phone went off, reminding me to take a break and go chop a bunch of vegetables to add to the slow cooked stock I was simmering in the kitchen.
Every so often, a new idea is presented to the world that seems to have already belonged there for years. Like a perfect pop song, it's fresh and exciting, yet feels like it's been part of you for your entire life.
At this point in the season, the big gifts have already been decided. And if you're on your game, they're boxed, wrapped, and under the tree. But this week is all about the little bits: the practical things, the accessories, and the stocking stuffers. If you or someone on your list is a maker, DIYer, woodworker, tinkerer, or just a general creative type who likes to build and fix things, here's our list of quality stocking stuffers that are just as good as whatever's in that huge box with the bow on it.
Yesterday afternoon, I was putting a load of laundry together, and I took out all of the various bits and items from all my pockets before placing my clothing in the basket. By the time I'd doubled checked everything for errant tubes of lip balm and bonus dollar bills, I had a pile sitting on my dresser that, when I looked down, simply ignited this thought in me:
Yep, there's all my stuff.
I can recount eras of my life in wallets. My first was a black trifold at age nine, a Christmas gift from my grandparents. High school and undergrad entered the era of canvas, which would wear hard at the corners where cards hit. In my twenties, I carried a thick oxblood-colored job I found on clearance at a department store. It was the model that signaled the end of the era; the first that didn't come with that little plastic sleeve for photos, because the smart phone had rendered it unnecessary.
Spring has traditionally been the time for deep cleaning and purging, but for my money, fall is the season best suited. It's the one time of year when all your layers are on display. You've pulled out your wool sweaters and heavy coats for the winter, but your short sleeves are still lingering in the closet. Only now is every single item you own in the same place. This, truly, is the time to assess what you have, and to what you can say goodbye.
This was the year I finally outgrew IKEA. There's still several pieces in my house, but I'm ready to move on from them as soon as possible. I imagine its the byproduct of being a new homeowner, and knowing that I can finally buy intentional pieces to fit in specific spaces, and that – when I do – they'll work there for as long as we decide to keep them.
It's not IKEA's fault. And I still think that their attractive, clean-lined particleboard furniture is better than the faux-Tuscan and laserprinted woodgrain particleboard furniture from the discount store. But, while it worked in my twenties, I'm ready to surround myself with things that will last.
I've wandered through the Etsy offerings in the past, sometimes for inspiration, sometimes because something interesting has caught my eye. But lately, more and more great ideas are popping up on the handmade-centric site, and they're amazing. Here's a collection of Etsy's wooden offerings that are really worth highlighting.
You've built the bookshelf, covered it with great books, but it needs a little something more. Some classic records perhaps? Why not treat yourself to this essential guide to the greatest collection of jazz albums in the history of recorded time – bar none?
When I think back to my first office job, I learned two key takeaways: 1) always share your process and thinking with your supervisor, and don't hold out til the end to show them the completed project and 2) drink a bunch of liquids all day long so you'll have to get up to go the bathroom.
Seriously. Moving about the office gets you up and out of your seat, your eyes off the computer screen, and the ability to mingle a bit with your coworkers. And while we recommend switching to water after 11:00am, it's nice to enjoy a few small personal mugs of coffee vs. a huge thermos. It always stays hot, and remains fun to sip the whole morning
It's finally done. My first major step on my journey to have less stuff is complete. My shop was cluttered, inefficient, and completely out of hand; and now I'm back in control of my space. Well, mostly. Here's what I've learned from the first 30 days of purging my shop.
This is the time of year when no one's ever quite sure what's best to wear on any given day. The nights are cool, but the days are still warm, especially in the sun, but then a breeze or the clouds hit and everything changes. Multiple layers are usually overkill, but the sandals are gone, and some flexibility is certainly required to not only look the season, but the feel prepared for the day.
Make it happen with these five summer-to-fall transition essentials.
Have you ever had to cook dinner at a friend's kitchen only to find out they don't even own a cutting board? Not only have I had that happen for me, I've noticed this kind of thing happening in my friend's workshops. It's easy to get caught up in making things and overlook some essential tools that can really help you get things done right. I thought I'd share a few tools I use almost every time I work on a new project. Some of these are almost laughable, but I guarantee some of you are going to read through these 6 tools and think to yourself, "Oh yeah, I need one of those."
For the last couple of years, I've been mostly set on woodworking tools. I've been collecting my large, stationary machines for nearly ten years now, and although I do plan to upgrade a few of them, I've been able to accomplish most of what I've set out to do with a little creativity and patience.
The one standard machine that's been missing from my shop is: the jointer. I knew I didn't want to buy a tiny benchtop machine, or even a too-small 6" model. I told myself I'd wait until I was in my "forever" shop, then get the machine I wanted; one I could use for the rest of my life.
Once we bought our house last year, I started a Craigslist alert, and painfully watched every listing from ubiqituous Harbor Freight tools to overpriced secondhand things from people who have no idea that what things are actually worth.
Over the last eighteen months, only a few 8" models even came up for sale. The woodworking community in my town snatched them up as soon as they were listed, and so I waited. And waited.
And then - enter this Delta DJ20. Built in the 80s when machines were machines. Complete with parallelogram beds, dead flat and coplaner tables, and an awesome fence, this was being offered at less than the price than the new Grizzly it's based on, plus no shipping, no assembly or degreasing, and it came with a mobile base.
I made my offer, went to check it out, and - boom! - I'm now the owner of a vintage 8" Delta jointer.
If you're like me, the cast iron in your shop sits atop the most prized tools you have. Those tops are solid, durable, stay dead flat, and make working wood just a bit easier. But to keep them at their best takes a bit of routine work, fending off rust and staining doesn't take much but make sure you do it. Here's how.
I've heard it said that minimalism isn't really about "getting rid of stuff", it's about refining it down to the "right stuff". I'm halfway through a 30-day shop purge and I have a few lessons learned, a few personal reflections, and a lot more space.
I hit my head hard a few days ago. It hurt. A lot. It was one of those moments when the pain made everything else just fade away for a moment; then it came flooding back. I was leaning over a pile of things I've moved too many times to count, and I slipped a bit and made solid contact with the equally solid cast iron top of my table saw. In that moment I uttered a familiar phrase "I need to get rid of this stuff" in a much more, uh, guttural vocabulary. I needed a change. I needed space.
And so, my 30 day minimalist shop challenge begins.
Let's be clear: none of us are here to discuss the basics of what a screwdriver is, or what it can do. Its purpose is clear. It's right there in the name.
Nor is it important to name all the different varieties of tasks it can perform. Because it can't do much. If you use them properly, they're not a paint can opener. They're not a punch, or a chisel, or a pry bar. They do two things: tighten hardware, and loosen hardware.
When I finished my basement workshop makeover earlier this year, I couldn't have been more excited, or proud, about how far it'd had come. What was once two dark, dingy rooms full of plumbing pipes, exposed studs, and our family's household junk, was now a bright, clean, inspiring single workspace full of tools and materials. But to get it to that condition was a ton of work, and the truth is, my house still hasn't totally recovered. Examples include, but not limited to, the plywood sheets stored in the guest bathroom, the dust collector in the hallway, and the piles of clamps in our home office.
Oh, those clamps. They've been all over the lower level of our house for nearly six months. I used them for projects, of course, but mostly, they just stood against the wall or inefficiently piled on the floor, falling down every so often, scraping the paint as they went and startling all of us in the process.