I promise, I really do like sports.
I number among my favorite smells in this world the scent of ice rink, and I find the pop of a baseball hitting a leather glove irresistible; I show my hometown roots in my collection of Baltimore Orioles hats, and I love the thrill of victory in sports films, even ones involving sports I couldn't care less about. But I confess, I'm a lackluster sports fan. Scores, standings, and statistics bore me to tears, and my attention span diminishes to nil within 5 minutes of a televised game.
Set me in front of an artisan plying his or her trade, though, and you'd think I were a pitching scout at a showcase tournament: rapt attention, soaking in every detail, occasional grins at particularly strong displays of good craft. Are you the same? Well, you're going to love this.
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.
Most of us get into woodworking from a practical point of view: we need to work on something around the house, so we head to the home center and get tools to break down dimensional lumber and bang it back together. So you upgrade from a circular saw to a compound miter saw, and maybe even get yourself a pocket hole jig so you can hide your hardware from sight.
And then, as it inevitably happens, something changes in your point of view. You're now longer just doing "home improvement" or "building things"... you're now: a woodworker.
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.
I was sitting with a few friends the other day and they started talking about how they needed to start drinking smoothies again. The conversation quickly turned to how expensive smoothie places can be, and how most blenders at home just don't make smoothies with the right texture. They turned to me, and I sheepishly owned up to it–I have a $500 blender. It's the Vitamix 7500––one of the immensely fancy ones that seem so ludicrously expensive.
To make matters worse, I think in my entire life I've only consumed 3-4 smoothies, hence my embarrassment. Spending $500 on an appliance only seems reasonable if it is part of a life plan––some
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
Move over pegboard. When you've assembled a proper collection of hand tools, the best way to keep them safe, organized, and available within reach is a custom tool wall. Each item gets a designed holder that keeps like pieces together and accessible, allowing you to maximize your storage space.
Plus, let's admit it: they also look super cool.
Does the tool make the man, or does the man make the tool? Like most things in life, the answer is somewhere in the middle. You need to know how to properly operate and care for your tools, but the right tool/jig can make or break your project.
Of course, I'm just an active hobbyist, and my tools reflect that, BUT every single one has a time and place to be used, and we've formed a deep bond over the years. Some are used a lot more frequently than others, and so here is a list of most used tools that I have in my shop...which my wife lovingly refers to as “just the garage."
95% of the time, a tool box is overkill. Whether taking some items to help a friend with a project, or just working on something in my own home two floors above my basement shop, the act of dragging out the toolbox, selecting the items from the pegboard and arranging them appropriately, and then lugging the whole thing around is simply unnecessary.
A kitchen knife is an unusual tool, in that the point of contact between the tool and the medium upon which it works is actually extremely delicate. Imagine if a wrench were as delicate as an X-acto blade that had to be replaced regularly, or if bar clamps would routinely stop holding things in place because they became all wonky with use. Most non-cutting tools are blunt, hearty and reliable. But blades have to be cared for, stored carefully, and sharpened (somewhat) regularly.
But if there is an abused and neglected blade in your home that is used frequently but cared for rarely (okay, maybe not YOUR home, Mr./Ms. Attention-to-Detail––but the average home), it is the knives in your kitchen. Unless you are a professional ice sculptor or sword swallower, it is likely that the knives in your kitchen are the ones that get the most daily use. And if you are anything like me, it is way too easy to just grab one, use it, and put it back without special care for these knives. Despite my best intentions, it is easy for me to leave a dirty one on a cutting board, haphazardly toss one into the sink, clean in the dishwasher and store them in less-than-ideal ways (i.e., cluttered together in a drawer. I know. I'm an animal.)
In his continued bid to take over much of the world's media channels, Anthony Bourdain has partnered with the producers of Balvenie Scotch Whisky on an online program that is truly exceptional. In the process of producing the first batch of episodes, he met with some of the most extraordinary craftspeople in the United States (and ended up walking away with some Bob Kramer knives that certainly left our mouths agape.)
If you want to watch between 7 and 16 minutes of well-produced, craft-heavy, and inspirational material, this series is for you. And lucky us, a new batch of videos just dropped in the last month or so. So if you've already caught up with the initial episodes, there's more to watch.
Look, I love making furniture. I love sourcing the materials, planning out parts, and executing the joinery. But lately, I find myself increasingly drawn to the "other" things you can do with wood. What are the smaller, craft level projects that show off the beauty of working with natural materials, but can be completed in a weekend, or even a single sitting?
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.
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'm a lucky guy. My family has allowed me to dedicate half our basement into a dedicated shop space, complete with a custom woodworking bench and a growing collection of tools. It's bright, clean (at least right now), and I'm slowly turning it into a functional workspace that will allow me to be as productive as possible.
But it took me a long time to get here. For nearly fifteen years, I worked out of dining rooms and back porches and portions of the garage, lugging my tools around in plastic totes and home center toolboxes, setting up shop on the washing machine, folding tables, and 1/2" plywood scraps screwed to 2x4s.
And, in the early days, it was that lack of a proper workbench that prevented me from thinking I could could use hand tools. Without a vise and hold downs, how could I safely secure my work for handplaning, chiseling, or sawing?The answer: a batten, which will take you 5 minutes to make and turns any flat surface into a work bench. Let's make one!
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.
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.
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 your building a simple shop project or a full fleet of custom kitchen cabinets, you, too, can virtually eliminate tearout.
Let's make some crosscuts.
Editor's note: From time to time, we like to feature the voices of ManMade readers on the site. We love hearing what you're up to, what you're making, and how you stay creative. When ManMade reader Scott Huntington wrote in share his love of classic cars and the work that goes into restoring them, I asked him to share his experience.