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.
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.
Unless you're a millionaire, I always recommend going with used hand tools when getting started in woodworking. (Though, full disclosure, no millionaires have yet to ask my advice.) Vintage tools are plentiful, much less expensive, and depending on their age, usually a better, longer-lasting tool than you can buy at your local big box store. And the best part? Antique tools are more likely to be made in the USA or Europe, where they've been crafted from higher quality steels than modern tools from the home improvement center.
Over the weekend, I found this nice, broad 1 1/2" chisel at a favorite antique mall, with a mere $7.50 on the price tag hanging from the handle. It was in mostly great condition. The top and back had been coarsely ground a few times, and the bevel wasn't square to the sides, but the steel was in beautiful shape and the handle looks like it's never been pounded on.
If you do woodworking and DIYing in inches, a solid understanding of fractions is essential. Being able to calculate that half of 4 1/4" is 2 1/8", or that 1 1/2 + 1 3/16 = 2 11/16" is basic shop math that will keep your projects moving quickly.
But often, bringing fractions into the process is, well, completely unnecessary. Let's say you have a board that you'd like to divide into equal parts. You could measure it, then bust out a pencil, paper, and the calculator app, and eventually have to Google a decimal-to-fraction converter to figure out the size of each section. Then, you'd have to find that crazy number on your ruler, and carefully add the units together to mark out your parts. Or... you could just do this.
Rolling up your sleeves. It's a fitting metaphor for getting stuff done because of its roots in literally protecting your shirt during activity. It's a practice reserved for when you're shifting out of the formal occasion that requires a button-up shirt, but you're not yet going to change into casual clothes: dinner after work at a restaurant with family, lunch at the pub with co-workers, traveling on business, in the later hours of a wedding reception.
When you strip it down to its elements, there's really not much to the process of rolling your sleeves. But remember that clothing is nonverbal communication, and when you make intentional decisions about you wear, you project purpose. So if you're going to roll your sleeves, don't just shove 'em up your arm... do it with confidence!
Read on for your three main options for rolling up your sleeves.
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.
Often, when it comes to DIY projects, we create our own circles by starting from a center point. Whether a compass, string guide, or specialized cutting jig, a circle emerges from our pencils or saws precisely because we've created an established and consistent distance from a single origin.
But, what happens when the shape already exists, and you need to know how to find the center of a circle? You can do it in less than a minute without any specialized math, memorizing a formula, or even knowing what pi is.
Remember that old clubhouse in the vacant lot of your childhood neighborhood that the local kids hand-built from scrap wood and castoff rusted sheet metal, with "KEEP OUT" scrawled in red paint on a sign nailed over the threshold, which you could only cross by whispering the secret phrase of the day?
OK, my childhood never really had that, either. But as this millennium's second decade blazes to a close and the tangible machinery of my life increasingly vanishes into the vapory world of binary code, it feels like several new secret forts pop up every month. Not only does each online account demand its own covert entry key, but with cybercriminals stomping on the gas for data breaches every year, it's becoming more and more important to be able to create unique, hard-to-crack passwords for each one. It's a tall order to balance security with memorability—let's explore how to do it!
Hopefully, you're already a committed safety glass wearer. Grabbing a pair for even the simplest drilling/driving task is good practice, and a part of your DIY routine. Even better, if you use power tools, you're also protecting your hearing from those roaring 85-90 dB motors.
Last in that great triumvirate, and perhaps the most often overlooked, is protection for your respiratory system. Too many of us don't wear a dust mask, respirator, or sealed face shield when working on projects for one simple reason: they are extremely uncomfortable, a total hassle, and more irritating than your second cousin's toddler at the Thanksgiving table
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!
Many will make resolutions on New Years, vowing to drop the additional pounds leftover from the holidays, and generally making more healthful choices starting January 1st. And while new beginnings can be a helpful motivation, we think the best time to actually get started on new goals is actually now: late winter and early spring. So, while we hope you made some good progress in the first few weeks of January, the real question is: how's it going come February 1st?
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.
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.
I remember when the cheese lovers started telling me what was "real" cheese and what was "fake." I remember taking them seriously because they were talking about cheese cultures (ha. pun!) I knew to be important: Italian, French, Swiss, Spanish, etc. "Cheese is alive!" these experts insisted. And anything that was not the product of natural fermentation and cave-aging was unacceptable. Eating the rind was important. The worship of bacteria in the process was expected. The presence of insect larvae was not necessarily a negative. Out of a world that had room for Cheeze Whiz, handi-snacks, and this bit by Mitch Hedberg, the celebration of authentic, non-adulterated cheeses was completely legitimate.
There are times I feel trapped by men's clothing. It feels sometimes like my options are, 1.) an imitation of the Brawny paper towel man 2.) a skater pining for the good-ole-days of 2004, or 3.) a retiree who wears primarily golf shorts and pleated khakis. Of course, there are other options than these, but if you are on a budget and don't want to commit a ton of time to meticulously curating your wardrobe, its easy to feel like you are working against your clothes choices rather than embracing them.
Nothing is as scary as men's clothing in the summertime. In the summer, everything is more brash, more colorful, more dramatically what it is. Skater shorts now come with embroidered dragons, and the golf shirts are somehow incandescently shiny and metallic.
And shoes. Ooph. Shoes are the worst. Because when it is hot and humid, having feet that are sweaty and uncomfortable is particular kind of awful. And if you are looking to be comfortable without completely foregoing a sense of style and taste, shoes can be a minefield. So, with that in mind, here's my take on how to navigate summertime footwear.
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.
When I was younger, my mom always gave us a list of chores to do before we left town for an extended weekend. At the time, I didn't fully understand why my clothes needed to be put away or why all the dishes needed to be washed if we weren't going to be home, I just wanted to get to the hotel so I could jump in the pool. Luckily for me, my older brother is an absolute neat freak and he would get up early and finish most of the tasks on the checklist before I even got out of bed. Fast forward 20+ years, and I completely understand why my mom always made us complete that list of chores before we left town. Being older and slightly wiser than my 8-year old self, now I make sure to always do these 11 things before departing for my next adventure:
Okay, friends. This is one of my all-time favorite DIY hacks. I learned it more than fifteen years ago from a book I got from the library, and committed it to memory. I only need it about once or twice a year, but it works every. single. time. I'm always super grateful to have it on hand, and so today, I'm sharing so you too can stop busting your hand and banging your knuckles every time you need to install a hook somewhere.
Earlier this week, I was asked to be interviewed about getting started in making things, and the conversation turned towards the best tools for the money. The guy asked me what I think the best thing to invest in, and we naturally discussed how, once you have all the tools you need, you tend to think the things that support your workflow are more important that the cool-looking trappings of the woodworker. Like, how my favorite power tool is actually my two horsepower dust collector on its own circuit, because that's the machine I use on every single process. Or how I'd rather have an inexpensive Japanese dozuki saw and a really nice mechanical pencil and Starrett combination square vs. low grade measuring and marking tools and a fancy dovetail saw. (Though, to be fair, I do have both.)
But, it got me thinking about the truly best value in woodworking, the craft process, etc. Like what's something that's entirely inexpensive yet you use on every single project?
Plywood is awesome. It's affordable, easy to work, and, when used properly, looks great.
Plywood also brings its share of headaches, specifically, tearout: the rough, jagged edges that result from cutting through the thin veneers. It's frustrating, and it looks absolutely terrible. Any woodworker who's ever used it can speak its woes, which can ruin an otherwise high-quality project.
But my friends, it doesn't have to be that way. Whether you're building a simple shop project or a full fleet of custom kitchen cabinets, you, too, can virtually eliminate tearout.
Let's make some crosscuts.