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Polishing the sides of your scrapers to a mirror finish can be very useful, because that way you can use one of your finely honed plane blades to shave right in your workshop without needing a shaving mirror. Which brings me to another subject. I am happy if I can get my plane blades and chisels sharp enough that they will shave hair off my arm, which you don't need a mirror for. I know that some woodworkers think this is not good enough and that the hair should "jump" or "fly" off your arm. I once accidentally got one of my plane blades this sharp and it scared me. I was afraid that a blade this sharp would make the shavings jump off the workpiece and hit me in the face or eye, and I don't wear a face shield when planing. That could cause a lost time injury.
A while after the scraper class I took a class on sharpening plane blades and chisels taught by a foreman at a local high-end woodworking business. He does all the sharpening for his crew. One of the things he did was prepare a new chisel. He flattened the back on a belt sander, went to a grinder to create the bevel he wanted and finished off on a diamond plate, all freehand. The entire process took less than 5 minutes. This class was at the opposite end of the spectrum from the scraping class; it emphasized the practical and wasted no time. I don't recall a single jig. We all left with tools that weren't great but were usably sharp. I do considerably better than this now, but it was a good starting point.
We all have to decide where we want to be on this spectrum. Experiences like this turned me into a rather slovenly woodworker. As a result, I don't flatten the backs of my chisels all the way to the handle, I use the dastardly "ruler trick" on my plane blades, I can't see my reflection in the sides of my scrapers ... I could go on, but you get the idea.
In case you're wondering, I did eventually learn to sharpen and use scrapers. When enough time had passed after the class for my inferiority complex to die down, I spent a few minutes watching Youtube videos, gave it a shot, then another and another, each time trying to figure out why things got better, or didn't. Eventually I got the hang of it. I really like scrapers now. They usually make shavings but they aren't usable as shaving mirrors. That's the way I like it.
There are woodworkers that are really into sharpening. For some, it seems to be almost a meditative experience. There is nothing at all wrong with this and I am in awe of them, in fact somewhat envious. Really. I wish I could lose myself in sharpening the way they do. Instead, I ask myself whether the extra sharpness results in better woodworking. How long do these superior edges stay sharper in practice? I suspect not very long, but I don't know.
Calculus taught me to see processes in optimization terms. As your tools get sharper your woodworking gets better, first rapidly, then more slowly. You reach a point where extra effort isn't worth it. That's my mental model, which has its own limitations.
As for classes, what you learn in classes is partly a function of the skill of the instructor as a woodworker and partly a function of his or her skill as an instructor. This will sound arrogant, but I could teach a much much better class on sharpening and using scrapers than the one I took, even though I don't have near the skill with them.
I had some cherry, so, just for grins, I decided to try it for comparison. What a difference. I know this is obvious, but I had forgotten how dramatic it is. The cherry seemed almost like paper. It was a lot of fun to work with after the white oak. Although I like to use up stock I have on hand, I think I am going to keep the white oak in reserve for projects that really need it. There are a lot of projects where white oak's strengths are very valuable. Tea boxes aren't one of them.
Even though I didn't want to do exactly what he suggested, Gerry's comment was the insight I needed and I knew immediately what I did want to do. My prototypes taught me that my ideal stool would have the wooden bicycle seat mounted on a long thin stem and Gerry's idea was that it should be attached to a heavy round object at the base. I retrieved a 10 lb. weight from my weightlifting machine, drilled four counterbored holes in it, cut off two short pieces of 2x4, grabbed a scrap of closet rod, drilled two 1 1/2" holes and there it was, exactly what I had been groping for all this time:Andy: How about a circle for the base, with the seat pedestal set to one side. If the base was 1 1/2 -2" thick you could ease the bottom front to accommodate rolling forward as well as right and left. A dense hardwood might give the weight needed to keep it upright.
I know this is arguably ugly, but it works great and does have a certain modernist appeal. You really have to work at it to knock this stool over and the rounded edge on the weight lets it move easily in all directions. It's very comfortable and allows a wide range of movement.
This one doesn't incorporate height adjustment because I knew exactly how high I wanted it to be, but it wouldn't be difficult to add. I am not sure if this is a coincidence, but the height I chose by feel is exactly 1/2" less than my inseam. The important thing is that your knees be slightly bent.
This sort of active stool, as I have called it, is obviously not for everyone. The bicycle seat is ideal because you can move around without sliding, but you probably have to be a bicycle rider to appreciate this. I don't think you can appreciate this stool without trying it. For me, though, it is the ideal shop stool, just what I wanted.
I look at it now and can't understand what took me so long. Now that I can see it, this design seems so obvious that it is almost embarrassing that I floundered around.
I am done.
This is my best shot at making you laugh and shake your head. I do both each time I dust my shop this way. At a minimum, it is unorthodox, at maximum it is absurd. How did this start? I was getting frustrated one day because countless dust nibs were interfering with my feeble attempts at finishing. In desperation, I opened the garage doors, fired up my blower and blew the whole garage out thoroughly. Then I let a fan run for a few minutes and, to my surprise, the dust was gone. I guess you can put this down as one advantage of garage workshops. In my defense, it does take two minutes.
The best way to deal with dust is to have a separate area for hand tool woodworking that is walled off from machines, sandpaper, and other sources of fine dust. For a variety of reasons that I won't bore you with, that isn't feasible in my case, so this is what I am left with. Rescue me from my perversion; tell me a better way.
I have wall shelves in my garage shop and my tools (and everything else on those shelves) get very dusty. I never thought a tool chest would be a good idea because you have to move so many things to get at the tool you need, which just happens to be at the bottom. Can you comment on your experiences with this?
My shop is not dusty. I intend to share a video here showing why. It may make you laugh and perhaps cringe but it works. Nevertheless, I would not store many of my best tools on shelves. We have had 54" of rain in the last six months, so rust is a concern. I think you need a mixture of storage types and there are a lot of items in a garage woodshop that do just fine on shelves, but most tools are not among them. To store mine, I am an enthusiastic advocate of tool chests.
Like Matt, I don't want to paw around looking for a tool. You can minimize this by making shallow tills, making custom holders for your tools that make them easy to access and using the inside of the top. I made three tills of different depths but, if I had it to do over again, I might make four. For many of us, tool chests can be quite deep to accommodate them. My opinion is that you can determine the maximum depth for your tool chest by measuring the distance between your armpit and your second knuckle on your forefinger.
Reality for many of us is different; woodworking happens either in the basement or in the garage. I am luckier than many in that I have a three-car garage, but it has to accommodate four hobbies-- gardening, tent camping, biking and woodworking--as well as the usual paraphernalia for home maintenance. (The cars stay in the driveway.) Woodworking gets the lion's share, but the space is just plain awkward. It's not big enough, there's not a lot of available wall space, it can be too cold and there is almost no natural light when the garage doors are closed. These are issues faced by many woodworkers and I hope this discussion will be useful.
Here's the garage from the street:
The two bays on the left are 20' deep and the one on the right is 24' deep. The overall width is 31'. The ceilings are 9 1/2' high.
My bench has been on the right side behind the single door since we moved here almost 4 years ago and I am keeping it there. One goal I have is to store everything I use regularly at the bench no more than a step or two from it. I've been short on accessible storage next to my bench, so the first thing I did this spring was build floor to ceiling shelves along the right side of it:
60 lineal feet of shelves was a big improvement, although I do have to use a ladder to reach the top shelf. An alternative favored by many is to install wall cabinets for tools, which would look nicer but not be more functional. My personal preference is shelves. They cost very little, are quick to build and have a lot more capacity. Extending them to the ceiling allowed me to secure them to the top plate.
On the left side of the bench, I have my tool chest and an antique butcher block that I will be using as a joinery bench. I raised it up to be 38" off the ground.
This let me put my main bench back down to palm height, 35" in my case.
The flooring is utility mats made from recycled tires that I got at a ranch store. As far as I am concerned, they are ideal because they create a vapor barrier, are easy on the feet and protect dropped tools.
Working at the bench in good weather is great because I can put the garage door up and have lots of natural light. Because the garage doors lack windows, the shop feels like a dungeon when they are closed, even though I have half a dozen LED fixtures. I had hoped to replace one section of the door with one that has windows, but neither the manufacturer nor the local distributor would consider it. The best they can offer is a brand new door with the top two of four sections containing windows, at a cost of $1,200. I am considering it but it aggravates me to replace a perfectly good door. Right now I am thinking about building my own replacement section using polycarbonate for windows. It looks like I could just unbolt the existing one and bolt on a replacement, using the existing steel supports around the perimeter and the same hinges. I think I could keep it light enough to operate properly.
I'd really like to have no power tools in this space, but the deeper bay, electrical connections and other issues don't allow it, so I put the three power tools that I would replace if they failed in the back: my bandsaw, drill press and power planer:
On the right, I have more shelves that are used primarily for hand power tools, paint and home maintenance supplies.
I am pretty satisfied with this section of the garage. Once I solve the natural light issue, the remaining challenge will be heat for the winter months. I'll post about that later.
I am sure the list will grow and change over time, but these are the ones I settled on:
- dovetail saw, crosscut backsaw, flush cut saw and fret saw
- #4 bench plane, router plane and fence, shoulder plane
- set of chisels
- small combination square
- hook rule
- eggbeater drill and bits
- marking gauge
- measuring tape
- double-sided diamond stone
- scrapers and burnisher
- mechanical pencils
I had a canvas tool roll and this works well for a spokeshave, chisels, a marking knife and gauge, a screwdriver etc. The mallet can be loose:
I put the smaller tools into the top tray:
A final verdict will have to await field trials but I think this project is a success. At minimal cost, I have a travel toolbox and bench that seems highly functional and versatile. The big issue is working height, because 12" on top of a picnic table is on the high end. If it's too high, I will try it on the seat instead. Another possibility is to use legs and anchor them to the table so they wouldn't tip and slide.
My hope is that others will come up with their versions of a portable workbench and toolbox too. The only other one that I am aware of is the Milkman's workbench that Chris Schwarz built. I don't like it at all, but it does have the advantage of solving the working height problem. You could make a separate toolbox instead of having a single unit like I made. If you got rid of the vises and just made a laminated top I think it could be quite nice.
Sometimes things I do in the shop turn out worse than expected for no reason I can discern and sometimes the opposite occurs. This time, it was the latter. The dovetails fit off the saw with almost no gaps. Part of this is because I took advantage of the fact that douglas-fir is compressible and intentionally made the fit a little tight. Here's the front of the box:
Here's the toolbox inside the bench:
So, now it's time to fill it.
Part of my goal is to build this portable bench and toolbox at minimal cost using mostly scrap material and things I have on hand. The challenge was to come up with a lightweight but useable vise without spending anything. This is something I already know how to do based on my experience years ago making Moxon vises using bar clamps. Here is one that I kept:
It has collected dust since I made one with acme threaded rods, but now that I look at it again I am thinking it is better. It's relatively light, fast as a result of being able to move the screw arm along the bar and nice to work on because the handles are in the back. I am not sure why I mounted the rear jaw on top of the base, but I have decided to change that and go back to using it to see if I like it better.
The cool thing about using this idea on a portable workbench is that you already have the rear jaw: the bench itself. I attached some tabs on the sides of the bench to hold light duty bar clamps at the right height:
I had a nice piece of 8/4 cvg douglas-fir (save for the pitch-pocket which I epoxied) to use for the front jaw:
I wasn't sure what finish to apply to a portable bench that will be spending part of its life outdoors, but I had some old tung oil on hand and decided to use it. It seems like it might be a good choice as it didn't make the top slippery, but I have never liked the way it looks on douglas-fir. I am going to use something else on the toolbox.
At this point, the bench is done. Now it's on to the toolbox.
You could dispense with the picnic table altogether and make some auxiliary legs that would detach for transport, or even use a saw bench, but, while they would be strong enough, they wouldn't have the mass that the picnic table does, which I found to be quite nice. That's something I may experiment with in the future though.
The first issue was what material to use. I wanted to use douglas-fir, but most of what you find around here is days from harvest and so green it literally drips. The big boxes sell kiln dried 2x material as "whitewood" so they can use different species. Usually it is hemlock, which is unsuitable for a workbench, but I checked and it happened to be douglas-fir that day. I sorted through the pile and found half a dozen studs that were sorta rift sawn and had clear sections. So, together with scraps left over from the kitchen remodel, I had my materials for a grand total of less than $18.
The first step was laminating the top. I settled on a length of 34 inches and the width of four 2x4s, which turned out to be 13 inches after jointing off the rounded edges. At this point I got a nice surprise. In the past I have flattened panels with a jack plane, but a while back I heavily cambered the blade of an extra #4 to make it a dedicated scrub plane. This was the first time I had used it and I couldn't believe how much easier it was.
I was able to flatten both sides in about twenty minutes and, after smoothing it out with old #7 I had a top that is a strong 1 3/8" thick:
Now I need a base that will also function as a case for the toolbox.
- Open floor plans are the thing these days and for good reason. Taking out the wall between the kitchen and the dining room to create one large space made a dramatic and welcome change to our house. In fact, it is even better than we had hoped it would be;
- Trying to complete a major kitchen remodel in a month is unrealistic. If you aren't removing walls, changing electricity and/or plumbing or getting custom counters, you might be able to get it done in a month. In our case, the lead time for counters and backsplashes alone was three weeks after the cabinets were installed;
- The european cabinet design is outstanding and the way to go, in my opinion, unless you really prefer face frames. It's versatile and much faster to build or assemble;
- Ikea cabinets are a good choice, although I recommend the semi-custom option in which you make the doors and drawer fronts yourself. If you choose to use Ikea doors and drawers like I did, be aware that the doors on a diagonal or next to filler pieces did not fit to my satisfaction. The only hesitation I have is that the boxes are melamine, although they are very sturdy and well-constructed. The hardware is excellent;
- If you want to build your own cabinets instead and like the european style, I recommend the deluxe jig from Lee Valley and the hardware specifically designed for european cabinets that is widely available;
- Don't even think about remodeling a kitchen without a laser level;
- You can save a large sum of money by doing a kitchen remodel yourself, even if you have to hire a plumber and electrician, but it is a major time commitment. When all is said and done, I estimate it will have taken me 200 hours.