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!
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.
The first time you go to the lumberyard can be a little overwhelming if you don’t know what you’re doing. Even if you think you know what you’re doing, all the different species of lumber, the different dimensions of the lumber, different locations within the lumberyard, etc. can seem daunting for finding the perfect piece for your project. With just a little bit of simple math, one area where you can be totally confident is calculating the cost of your chosen board.
Most home centers sell lumber by the linear foot, which means that the price of the board is determined by the length of the board. You pay a little extra for the convenience of a home center and you likely aren’t getting the best piece of lumber. The lumberyard, on the other hand, sells their lumber by the board foot. A board foot takes into consideration the thickness, width and length of a board. There are several apps board foot calculator apps to help you figure out how many board feet are in your chosen piece, but all you need to remember is one simple formula and you can calculate board feet anywhere.
I spend quite a bit of time setting up for projects on the tools. It’s amazing how much time it takes to make a few simple yet complex cuts. For the type of cuts that happen often, it makes sense to make a few go-to jigs to help with those annoying set-ups.
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.
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.
This weekend project is full of all the good stuff: it's practical, it's customizable, and it's a great way to practice and further your woodworking skills...with the very tools you'll store in it. The circle is closed.
I confess, I'm a shop rat. It doesn't matter what craft—shoemaking, blacksmithing, coffee roasting, even those little watch repair caves with the observation window in jewelry stores at the mall—if there are four walls, some tools, and skilled hands, I'm all over it like white on rice in a glass of milk on a paper plate in a snowstorm.
Other than drawing and writing, I've committed to the handicraft of artisan printing, slinging ink in the letterpress and screen printing arena at my main job. But when I can, I soak up other skills on a hobbyist level to round out my skillset, to apply lessons from other disciplines into my chosen craft, and to just have fun making stuff without the pressure of harnessing it to make a living.
Woodworking is one of those pools that I'm just now starting to wade into, and since I have no idea what I'm doing, I love watching the real deal to see how it's really done. To that end, I've curated the following list of my favorite woodworking accounts on Instagram.
Among all the items in my shop, the measuring, marking, and layout tools are probably my favorite. Mostly, I love how historic they are: dividers, squares, calipers, rulers, and marking gauges have all been around for centuries, remaining mostly unchanged in their design and intended purpose. And who doesn't love a clear, crisp, and accurate line to work to?
Ideally, the details following your tax return would be rather uneventful. You'd have withheld the exact right amount, and paid the appropriate estimated taxes, and your post-April 15 results would be pretty neutral: the IRS has its money, you have yours, and the two of you can check in again next spring.
Of course, that's never what happens, and Tax Day inevitably goes in the two obvious directions: you still owe more, or you get a refund. If you're a small business owner or freelancer, like me, you nearly always end up on one side of that equation. But, every so often, there are those glorious years that go down in history as that-one-time-you-got-a-tax-refund, and you get an unexpected check with which you may do whatever you like.
We're in the world of paperless resources, so having a collection of actual books is a bit of a forgotten passion. But there's something special about a few key reference manuals, inspirational resources, and good ol' fashioned nostalgia that I just love. Keeping them close at hand but neatly organized can be a bit of a challenge in the home shop. That's where a set of simple bookends can come in handy.
I wanted to make a set of bookends that stood out but felt at home in the shop. That's why this simple, clean design is such a great fit. A set of squares set me back about $15
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.
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 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.
Pegboards have always had a place in my shop. They are simple to install, and easy to reconfigure as the needs evolve. I have a section by my stationary tools and few large boards for everything else. Mostly, I keep small tools like screwdrivers, scrapers and saws hanging. But there's so much more than hooks and pins. For example, here's a simple pegboard holder to organize my growing collection of blowtorch tools.
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.
A woodworking bench is more than just a table to lay your tools and project parts on. Used well, your bench is an all-in-one, three-dimensional clamping solution that will allow you to hold your work on any of its edges or faces. The traditional way to increase the work-holding capability is to place "dog holes" in your bench top, and allowing them to work in tandem with a face or end vise to secure parts of any size.
If you were to ask an American to picture drinking a cup of tea, it's safe to assume that the mental image wouldn't include work boots, hardhats, bricks, and lumber. But while coffee is standard in the U.S., for thousands of construction workers in Great Britain and Ireland, as well as numerous tradesmen like electricians, welders, and plumbers, a strong cup of tea is the preferred fuel for a day filled with labor.
Here's a basic rundown of how to fortify your work day with the strength of a bricklayer.
Two years ago, on February 9th I came home from a long day of work at about 7:30 and my wife gave me incredible news. She was pregnant! This was going to be our first child, so naturally I was overcome with so many different emotions. I paused for what felt like an eternity and when I finally gathered my wits, I very distinctly remember the first words out of mouth were, "It's okay, we're in a good spot financially for this right now." If you're a woman reading this, I know what you're thinking - "how romantic". Well, my wife didn't think it was a very good response either. In my defense, I'm a CPA and that's just how my brain works