The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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October 2022



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Sharpening on the (sort of) cheap-Part 1, or Part 3 depending on your point of view.

So today I made what could possibly be the final video in my ersatz video series on using basic equipment to sharpen woodworking tools. In the first two videos a plane iron and a skew chisel are sharpened using an inexpensive home center Arkansas stone and a homemade leather strop. For the record, I normally do not use the stone used in those two videos for sharpening woodworking tools, but I wanted to show that tools can be made “woodworking sharp” even with a $15 stone that can be purchased in most hardware stores.

In today’s video I sharpen another skew chisel, but I do so with the 800g and 8000g water stones that I generally use for sharpening most of the woodworking tools that I own. While these stones do cost more money than the home center oil stone that I featured in the first two videos, they are hardly what I would call expensive. In the video I mentioned that the price of both stones combined was less than one hundred dollars, and a search on Amazon confirmed that currently the 800g stone is selling for $25.90 USD and the 8000g is selling for $72.99 USD, which is probably right around the costs I paid for them when they were purchased approximately 6 years ago, though this is a rough guess, as in this case I honestly cannot remember exactly when they were purchased. Regardless, I still consider them inexpensive and excellent stones for the cost. Both are King brand stones if you want to check them out.

Some woodworkers may not like water stones, which is fine. I don’t really have a strong opinion one way or the other. I will only say that if you do use water stones, or if you are considering it, then please do not fall into the trap of purchasing an extremely expensive stone, or one that goes to ridiculously high grits. Unless you are planning on performing home surgery, or you are preparing Fugu fish, an 8000g stone and a leather strop, in my opinion, will get your woodworking tools to a level of sharpness that will work for just about any woodworking task you are planning on doing. I’ve seen woodworking “gurus” advocate for stones that cost several hundred dollars each, which is absurd and utterly unnecessary.

In the video I also mention sharpening guides, again. I have nothing at all against sharpening guides, and I used one when I first began woodworking. They are good for repeatability, and they are good for people that have issues with their hands. They aren’t so good for the fact that the cheap guides aren’t really worth owning, and the guides that are worth owning are quite expensive. However, woodworking is an expensive hobby, as we all know. I’m only saying that for most people using a guide isn’t necessary and with a little practice freehand sharpening is easy, fast, and free.

As in my last two videos, this video is done in one take with no editing. While the video is approximately 10 minutes long, I timed the actual sharpening process and it took right around three minutes, and that was with me talking and stuttering the entire time. I have no doubt that if I weren’t filming and talking I could have sharpened the chisel in less than two minutes.

As far as comparing which method was better….well it is fairly obvious that the water stones were able to get my chisel sharper much easier than with the oil stone. The comparison wasn’t necessarily fair because the oil stone is smaller than it should be for woodworking tools, and though I don’t know the grit level, it is probably not as refined, either. I fully expected the water stones to put a razor sharp edge on the chisel. I wasn’t as sure with the oil stone, but I had a hunch that it could, and I feel safe in saying that I was proven correct. I have little doubt that a properly sized and slightly more refined Arkansas stone is comparable to the water stones that I use.

Below I will paste the link to the video, if you care to watch it.

Sharpening on the (really) cheap part 2.

Last night after work I made a follow up video on sharpening woodworking tools with a very inexpensive home center Arkansas stone. Rather than use a plane iron, which is really too wide to comfortably use on such a small stone, I instead sharpened a skew chisel. In fairness, initially the plane iron was chosen because it was the first tool I saw on the workbench, and I really didn’t think through the viability of using a stone really meant for small knives on a much larger blade. But I am happy to say that I was able to quickly and easily put a very sharp edge on both tools using a stone that is less than ideal, in particular for a plane iron.

This video is shorter because I prepped a bit before hand and cut down on the extraneous speaking, in other words I tried to shut up. The actual sharpening aspect of the video is a matter of a few minutes, and in the real world, when not filming and attempting to explain little details, a chisel or plane iron (that has already been prepped of course) can be made “woodworking” sharp usually in well under three minutes, even with the most basic equipment. And for the record, I used the exact same method and equipment that was used for the #5 plane iron.

Forgive me, but after work I’m not usually on top of my game, and since I have no editing software that is intuitive, the video was filmed in one take, without editing out errors and such. Tonight, if I am up to it, I might sharpen the partner of the skew chisel that I sharpened last night, but this time with the 800/8000g water stones that I would normally use, which I feel should be a fair comparison of the time needed with each method. And because my second skew chisel is at a level of sharpness that is very close to the chisel that was sharpened in the video, this little experiment is about as “scientific” as I can make it without purchasing two new chisels and setting them up from scratch, which I really have no desire to do at this time.

So below I will post a link to the follow up video. I hope you enjoy it.

Sharpening on the (really) cheap.

I know that I often state that I do not follow professional woodworking blogs. This is a bit disingenuous, as I do follow one blog. Though the woodworker isn’t a professional, I consider his work at the professional level. And since I’ve been following his work and interacting with him for years I generally feel that his advice and tips are well worth considering.

In one of his posts a few weeks back the topic was sharpening, and his belief that using an inexpensive India stone makes more financial sense than using some of the very costly and at times complicated systems that are on the market, and which are often touted by gurus as the “only way to sharpen”. He contends that sharpening is not complicated, does not need to be complicated, and certainly doesn’t need to be expensive, and comes down to raising a burr and polishing the edge (I am paraphrasing and not speaking for him)

The simple concept of “raising a burr” struck a chord, and though I use an 800/8000g water stone for nearly all of my sharpening, I decided to try sharpening a #5 plane iron (for no other reason than it was the first plane that caught my eye on the bench) with a small, very inexpensive Arkansas stone that I use for sharpening pocket knives. I filmed a short video that would have been much shorter had I just shut up and sharpened. And while I don’t recommend using the exact stone I use in the video only because it is really too small for comfortably sharpening most plane irons, I wanted to prove the point that in sharpening, we are really only raising a burr, removing the burr, and polishing the edge, and often everything else we are told is just superfluous.

Two other points I wanted to make. Firstly, the stone I used, and the leather strop I used for final polishing, cost around $30 (USD) combined. However, an Arkansas or India stone properly sized for sharpening woodworking tools will probably cost in the $40-$50 USD range. The strop I made myself with a scrap board and $10 in craft leather. Secondly, I didn’t mention the woodworker I am referring to by name or post a link to his channel because I did not ask his permission to do so. The internet can be a strange place, and I no longer make any assumptions. For instance, at one time I would use stock photos for this blog, and when I accidentally used a photo that wasn’t stock the person who originally posted it seemingly was pretty upset.

With that out of the way, the video is approximately 15 minutes long, but in approximately 5 minutes I am able to take a #5 plane iron from dull to woodworking sharp using very basic supplies, and that is what I hope comes across.

A public service message.

I would be willing to bet that the tens of people who regularly read this blog are probably well aware that I often use hand tools when I am woodworking. I always feel the need to add that I am not on some kind of “journey”, I’m not attempting to “become closer to the craft”, and I have nothing against “slaying electrons”. I use hand tools for the most part because when considering the projects that I usually make, and considering the space that I have, they make sense…nothing more, nothing less.

Years ago, when I first got into making furniture, I knew that I would need to learn to use hand tools if for no other reason than the available workspace I have, which will not support more than a few power tools. And,there was the allure of: HAND TOOLS ARE A LOT LESS MESSY. I’m all for no mess, the less I have to clean, the better. And the “less mess” myth is the reason for this current post.

I completed two small projects last week, which were simple bases for my obnoxiously large collection of historic flags. I’ve written about these flags before, so there’s no use in getting into too much detail. For those of you who may not know, I have a collection of flags, some historic, some representing places I’ve been, and more than a few represent both. I’ve been purchasing them at the gift shops of national parks and museums for years, and I display them in my home office because I like how they look.

The day that Queen Elizabeth died I finally made a small base, from walnut, to display the Union Jack and St. George’s Flag. On Friday I got around to making a stand for several other flags that as of yet didn’t have a proper display. The woodworking is barely worth mentioning…I used a piece of very rough Pa Cherry from my father-in-law’s property. I sawed it to size, and planed it down. The finished dimensions are 12 1/2 inches long, 1 1/2 inches wide, and 1 inch thick (317mm x 38mm x 26mm for my metric using friends) The holes for the flags were drilled on a drill press using a 1/8″ brad point bit, spaced 2 inches apart. The planes used were a jack plane and a coffin smoother (which has become my go-to smoothing plane), and a Veritas cross-cut saw was used to cut the board to length. Chamfers were made with a block plane. The finished used is BLO and soft wax.

Now that the dimensions are listed, below I will post a photo of the “less mess” that resulted in the cleaning up of one quite small roughcut piece of timber.

This was the “less mess” from one small piece of rough sawn cherry. Anybody out there want to say that the mess from a powered surface planer would have been worse?
The Union Jack in a small base made of walnut. Finish is one coat of BLO and 3 coats of soft wax.
The base referenced in this post. In this photo it has one coat of BLO and one coat of soft wax. More coats of wax will be added over the next few days.

I want to stress that I am not complaining. But I also want to stress that hand tools are no less messy, and can actually be much more messy than power tools. Imagine if this were a desk, or book case made from rough sawn material? Half of the time making the furniture would be spent in clean up. Powertools, for all of their faults, at the least usually have provisions for collecting waste material.

So this is a public service message for anyone out there who might be just getting started in hand tool woodworking: Hand tools are messy, they are in fact extremely messy, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Ah, the internet.

Most of the people in the U.S. and Europe, and elsewhere I am sure, have been experiencing some very hot weather lately. Because of the weather and the corresponding humidity, I have been watching woodworking videos on the internet more often than I normally would. Some of the content is quite good, some of it okay, some of it subpar ( i.e. something that I would post ), and some of it is just plain bizarre.

It is the “bizarre” that I want to talk about. This may not be anything new, but just recently, meaning within the past week, I’ve discovered a surprising number of “woodworking videos” featuring women “woodworkers”. Before I go on, let me state quite clearly that I am all for women woodworking. I have tried to get my wife involved dozens of times, and my daughter does actually help out her old man on occasion. With that out of the way, I will say that I am not all for women woodworking while half-naked and/or wearing clothes that leave little to the imagination often while improperly, even dangerously operating machinery that can really mess you up in a hurry.

Trust me, I’m no prude, and in general I really couldn’t care less who is doing what. If a see-through shirt, a thong, and a poorly made hallway bench is paying the bills then I who am I to judge. But, what is disturbing to me isn’t necessarily what I am seeing, but what I am not seeing. It seems that wearing a two inch wide skirt can produce tens or even hundreds of thousands of views, while some quality videos are lucky to reach a few hundred. This trend is not a good sign.

A decade or so ago, when I first seriously began an attempt to make quality furniture, I was told by the experts that woodworking was dying and that the internet was the only thing that could save it; I doubted both of those claims. It turns out I was both wrong and right. Indeed, woodworking is dying, if it isn’t already dead, but the idea that the internet would somehow resuscitate it was monumentally stupid. The internet, as it is most commonly used, is a cesspool. it is the enemy of craftsmanship; it is the antithesis of knowledge and understanding. It reduces everything to the lowest common denominator. It is like an enormous library that keeps all of its most useful and well-written books hidden in a secret chamber in a sub-basement while books like ’50 Shades of Grey’ and every other piece of shit written during the past twenty years is prominently displayed at the front entrance.

Unlike in the past, I’m not going to point any figures or start blaming people for the garbage pit that is internet woodworking. And I truly don’t care if some attractive young lady out there wants to operate a table saw while wearing a micro bikini. But, at the very least, I only ask that if you are making a woodworking bikini video, please film something that actually teaches viable woodworking skills rather than a video that is more likely to send a newbie to the emergency room with a few of their fingers in a ziplock bag full of ice.

“Workshop” Tour.

For many years I’ve complained on this blog about the state of my so-called “workshop”. I don’t have a real workshop, I have the back of an uncomfortable garage. It is what it is, as they say. I’ve done everything I can to maximize space and make working in there as comfortable as it can possibly be. And though I’ve managed to make the garage workable, it will never be close to a real woodworking shop because it is a garage, that is used as a garage, and that is that. Nonetheless, making full-sized furniture in my garage can be a challenge to say the least.

So for what it’s worth, below is a link to a YouTube video of a brief tour of my work area. I hope you enjoy it, because I don’t.

My “workshop” tour.

A rare (for me) review.

I generally shy away from writing product reviews because they usually end up leaving someone disappointed. The closest thing I’ve written to a product review in years has been a very short list of very inexpensive Christmas gift suggestions that I usually post in December. Otherwise, I have avoided reviewing or even recommending products. In this case, however, I will make a rare exception.

To preface this review, I am going to get slightly “political”. While I have always tried to avoid politics on this blog, I have no problem in saying that I thought the stimulus packages the government released during and after the pandemic shutdowns were monumentally bad ideas. Printing trillions of dollars and giving it away, no matter how good the intentions, is not a fiscally intelligent or responsible action. I felt that the money should have been reserved only for people and businesses in need. But, I am not in charge, thankfully, and it happened, and there is nothing I can do about it. That all being said, at the time my wife and I decided that we would take some of that money and use it to support local businesses as well as businesses who made and/or sold American made products. So we purchased gift cards to local restaurants and stores among other things. In the online world, for my part I ordered a chisel from Lie Nielsen, a few small items from a period furniture maker I met at a colonial fair, a set of pencils from an American manufacturer based in New Jersey, and a book from Lost Art Press.

So here we are two years later. And while thankfully and hopefully the pandemic is over, I still believe that small businesses, which took a real beating over the last two years, need all of the support we can give them. Last month I mentioned on this blog seeing a tool apron offered by Lost Art Press on Instagram. My wife, who actually reads what I write on occasion, took that post as a queue and ordered the apron for me as a Father’s Day/Birthday present. And while I once again will stress that I don’t like writing reviews for many reasons, in this case I will make an exception only because I feel that companies like Lost Art Press are worth supporting.

So what do I think of the tool apron? Well, I will start with the plusses: It is comfortable. I fastened it by making a loop knot on one of the tie strings, and simply passing the other string through to cinch it with a square knot. I will probably add a carabiner or some similar hook later. I put the apron through its paces by wearing it loaded with all of the stuff I that usually use during any home project, furniture making or otherwise. Those items were a pencil, a knife, a small square, a small combination square, and a tape measure. The apron easily held all of these items comfortably, and the pockets are just about a perfect depth, not too shallow so that they won’t hold things, not so deep that stuff is difficult to grab. The apron material is sturdy but flexible. The apron also has two interior pockets on the right side, sized to perfectly fit a pencil and my 6 inch combination square.

I then further tested the apron by loading it up with a block plane, a sliding marking gauge, and a handful of wire nuts, screws, and other stuff that was sitting on the workbench top; it was still comfortable to wear. I then upped the ante by using the apron while replacing a thermostat on our gable attic fan. I was able to climb up and down the attic ladder easily without the apron getting in the way or hindering my motion. It was honestly so comfortable that for a moment I forgot that I was wearing it.

Just because, I measured it up against a Craftsman apron that I’ve had for many years…though I usually have a savant-like ability to remember when I’ve purchased tools and such, I don’t know exactly how long I’ve had the Craftsman apron; my guess is that it was purchased in the late 1990s. Regardless, the LAP apron is much nicer, as in the material and construction (and overall appearance), and the LAP apron is definitely more functional. The Craftsman apron, made in the USA as well, is just fine for holding screws or nails, but I wouldn’t want to carry tools in it because the pockets are simply too shallow. In fairness, nails and screws, not tools, are likely the items the Craftsman apron is meant to hold, but in theory it is a “tool apron”, so the comparison does have some merit. In short, the Craftsman apron looks and feels like it is meant to be used a few times and tossed aside; the LAP apron looks and feels like it is meant to last for a long time.

So what do I dislike about the apron? Nothing. I honestly can’t find one single demerit. It is comfortable to wear and very well made, and most importantly it comfortably holds tools. To be completely forthright, if there was something I didn’t like about the apron I probably wouldn’t have bothered to write this post.

Okay….I will add one demerit. Rather than the artistic beehive logo printed on the apron front, perhaps replacing it with a really gaudy “LOST ART PRESS INC.” or something along those lines to mimic the advertising logos often seen on the vintage tool aprons that lumberyards gave away in years past might have added to the kitsch factor, but this is being really, really nitpicky. All else aside, I think it is a great apron and I believe that many woodworkers and handymen will enjoy having and using it. To further my point, I liked it so much that I ordered one for my dad.

As always, I received no money or compensation for this post at all, nor was I asked by anyone at Lost Art Press to write it. I didn’t add a link, because I no longer post links and haven’t done so in a long time, but if you are interested in purchasing an apron for yourself you should have no issue finding the Lost Art Press website.

Yours truly wearing the apron…be kind, I’m pushing 50.
The tools in the apron that I normally use on every project.
New apron and the old apron. While the new apron is certainly far better in every way, the Craftsman is probably 25 years old and still in decent shape, though admittedly it has probably only been used a dozen or so times.


“My wife asked me why I speak so softly in the house. I said I was worried that Google was listening to our conversations. She laughed, I laughed, Alexa laughed, Siri laughed.”

I am sure that most of us has had the unsettling experience of having a conversation and shortly afterwards seeing advertisements on our phones or computer screens that are mysteriously related to the topic. Most of us are well aware that this data tracking is no accident, and if you have a social media app on your phone or on your desktop then it is very likely using your search history patterns and conversations to create advertising specifically geared towards our interests. On an unrelated note, I have no idea why photos of women in bikinis continually show up on my Instagram feed..I mean, I like Liz Hurley as much as the next guy..

So yesterday I mentioned to a coworker that I picked up a tool belt rig at Costco for $9.99. I had no need for the rig, and even when I was a field electrician I preferred a much smaller pouch. But the rig included a padded belt with Velcro straps and a buckle, and a removeable hammer loop and small pouch, which are items that I did need. It was much less expensive to purchase the entire rig (once again $9.99) than if I had purchased those items separately elsewhere. So sure enough, not 10 minutes later I am on my lunch break, sitting in my car trying to unwind, and the second photo on my Instagram feed is a tool apron offered by Lost Art Press. This was probably just a coincidence brought on by somebody I follow having interacted with the post, because I personally no longer follow any business entities, per se, on Instagram or any other social media platform, I only follow people, a few of them being woodworkers or craftsmen. I have nothing against businesses and companies, but I use Instagram to share photos and stupid memes with friends and family, and to occasionally check out woodworking projects, not to see advertisements. Once again, I fully understand the need for advertisements, in particular for companies that mainly conduct their business on the internet. But the photo immediately caught my eye, and when I opened it I was very impressed with what I saw.

I have an affinity for backpacks, bags, tool belts, etc. From a very young age I’ve equated a well organized backpack or tool pouch with competence. I’m not sure why, it is just in my nature, but a small bag or pouch neatly filled with all of the things needed to get the work done has always appealed to me. Regarding the apron I saw on the LAP Instagram feed, it appears to be very well made and light enough to wear comfortably and hold the small items I always want to have handy while working on a project, namely a tape measure, some pencils, and a knife, though the apron appears to be more than large enough to hold more than just those few items. The older I get, the more I want and need to feel physically comfortable while woodworking, or doing anything else for that matter.

And for the record, I have to stress that I was not asked to do this. I do not receive money or compensation of any kind to shill products. I can pretty much guarantee you that the folks at Lost Art Press don’t even know who I am. But I own some of their products and they are well made so I don’t have an issue offering a very humble recommendation, and while at the moment I am not necessarily in the market for a new tool apron, if I were I would purchase the LAP version without hesitation. I am not going to post a link, because I’ve found in the past that people can get really weird about such things, so instead I’ll suggest simply finding it through a Google search (if you care to look that is), or if you don’t want to do that, just say it out loud in proximity to your smart phone, and odds are that somebody…or something…will find it for you.

A brief history of my tool pouches. The front left is a Craftsman that I purchased in 1995 or so. I looked up the part# online and now it is considered “vintage”, which means that I am officially old enough to have purchased new a tool that has now reached vintage status. The center is my first official electrician’s tool pouch, a CLC that I purchased around 20 years ago. As far as tool pouches go it is okay. It is nice and light at least, though I wish the front pockets were a touch wider. The small pouch on the right is just a few years old, and is a replacement for a nearly identical CLC pouch that I had and lost, though that one was nicer and constructed from a dark, softer leather; it was my favorite tool pouch. The replacement is so-so..the front pockets will not hold 9-inch diagonal cutters snugly, but because I don’t do much work anymore it is more than enough for my needs. The CAT rig in the background was purchased at Costco, specifically for the removeable parts pouch, hammer loop, and the belt itself. The two larger pouches seem decent, and they have handles which allow them to be carried on their own, but I will likely give at least one to a friend, as I really don’t need either.
My tool apron. I’ve had it for maybe 12 years or so. As far as full coverage aprons are concerned I consider it just fine. It is light and the front pockets are deep enough for most of the tools I would generally keep in an apron. One drawback is the front pockets seemed to gather an unusual amount of dust and chips. But I never cared for the feel of the loop around my neck…not that it was necessarily uncomfortable…just annoying. Eventually, I stopped wearing it unless I was using the table saw just to keep my shirt as clean as possible, and now that I rarely use the table saw, the apron sees little use. More often than not I use it if I happen to be using spray paint or WD40, once again to keep my clothes as clean as possible.

Rainy day people.

When a carpenter or woodworker finds usable wood it is akin to finding forgotten money in the pocket of a jacket, and ideas come into being that otherwise would never have existed. So a few weeks back I was adding a receptacle in our attic when I found a some nice, straight 1x6x3ft pine boards stacked neatly next to the Christmas decorations. They were remnants of my daughter’s former bed, which years back I converted from a bunk to a single. I must have thought them too nice to send to the landfill, so they were put in the attic for safe keeping. I decided to use a few of those boards to replace the trim around the window at the back of the garage. The wider boards made it easy to add brackets for additional tools that I like to keep right at the bench. I’ve always kept drill bits and such on the window ledge, and that coupled with a bad weather forecast is what led to my latest project.

Many years ago it seems, like most new homeowners I attempted to tackle many carpentry tasks around the house. Thankfully I can say with honesty that I was much more successful than not. As I am currently not building much furniture, my workbench has been used for carpentry projects more than ever before. I have many loose drill bits that I have been trying to organize, so when I found a few scrap walnut blocks I decided to make a “quick” little organizer to keep them all together. The organizer is modeled after a “stepped” bit holder that I’ve had for many years. I don’t know exactly where I got it, but it appears to have been at one time a display from a hardware store. I’ve always like the look of it, so I copied it directly. The original organizer is made from one piece of wood, which I believe is beech. But I needed three pieces of Walnut to mimic the dimensions.

I wanted to make this project with handtools….not for any philosophical reasons….but because it was a small and simple project. Prepping the rough sawn walnut pieces was the most time consuming aspect of the project, though it didn’t take too long. I wasn’t necessarily attempting to plane a perfectly flat surface, but a surface that would glue up nicely. Regarding the holes to hold the bits, perfect spacing was less of a concern than keeping the lines straight. I attempted to drill them with a hand drill (powered) but by the third hole the line was already off, even though I was using a knife line. I then attempted drilling in a straight line using drill press (without a fence) and received similar results. I filled the badly aligned holes with dowels, flipped over the blanks, and rather than continue to be frustrated, I made a quick fence for the drill press with a piece of scrap pine and some toggle bolts that I had initially planned on using anyway….I admit it, I got lazy and careless and thought I could get away with not using a fence. The first two steps were made with ¼ inch holes, and the top step with ½ inch. The top row of holes should be a bit deeper, but that is easily correctable.

The glue up went shockingly well, and I let it cure for several days, as I was in no rush. The glue lines were nice, tight, and straight, and the bottom required just a few passes with a smooth plane to flatten. After the organizer dried it was time to saw to final width. For some odd reason, I managed to saw the right side almost perfectly straight, the left side, however, not so much. Because there was no longer any margin for error on the left side (if I wanted to keep it symmetrical that is) I very reluctantly muscled the table saw out of its corner to make a single cross-cut. The cross cut took less than 10 seconds; setting up the saw, cleaning up after it was used, and then returning it to the corner took 10 minutes. I then chamfered the steps with a block plane, lightly sanded the holder with 150g and then 220g sandpaper, and applied BLO, also applying a coat to the original organizer for good measure. I let both dry for a day and a half, and applied a coat of soft wax to each.

The completed holder is not particularly special as far as shop projects are concerned. It was more gratifying for me to use up scrap by converting it to something useful. I will be perfectly honest, I do not enjoy making shop projects. I find them tedious to build and more often than not it is easier and less expensive to purchase what is needed. Time is money, and the older I get, the more valuable my time has become to me. But in this case, it was a way to pass the time during a week of rainy days. If the weather had been nicer this project would have never been started. But I suppose that is the nice thing about having some tools and scrap wood. On days when the weather is bad, and time is on your side, something can be accomplished, and when all is said and done, that is what life is all about, isn’t it?

The rough material I started out with.
Planing it down..

The planed pieces, slightly oversized, ready to be drilled out and glued up.
Makeshift drill press fence.
Misadventures in drilling holes along a straight line.
Holes drilled and organizer glued up, planed/chamfered, and sawn to final size.
Old and new organizers, both with a fresh coat of BLO and paste wax. This little project cleared up a lot of clutter that otherwise would be lying on the window ledge.

Farewell my friend.

For all of the years I’ve been writing this blog I’ve always made an attempt to keep my family out of the picture. I love my family; I’m proud of my family, but this blog is not about them; it is supposed to be about woodworking and the trials and tribulations I’ve encountered along the way. But in the case of this post I will make an exception.

My parents split up when I was very young, and in 1984 my mom remarried. Thankfully, I had a great relationship with my new step-dad. In nearly forty years our relationship grew from step-parent, to parent, to friend. Two weeks ago, after a year-long battle with terminal cancer, he passed away. For my own sake I am grateful to say that I was right by his side to the end.

 This man taught me quite a bit in my life, and his influence on both my career and hobbies is undeniable. He was a highly skilled production machine mechanic, but that tells only a very small part of his story. There was little he couldn’t build or repair, and everything from auto-mechanics, to electronics, to all of the building trades were not beyond his abilities. I am happy to say that when I was a teenager he passed on some of those skills to me, and as a 14 year old boy I was able to drive a manual transmission, because the old lawn tractor he refurbished had a 3-speed gear box and a clutch. When other 14 years-old’s were playing video games, I was replacing circuit breakers and soldering pipes. Sure, some kids my age may have been mowing their lawns, but I was changing the oil on the tractor and sharpening the blades with a file. I was installing retaining walls when other kids were playing wiffle ball in the middle of the street. And like adolescents sometimes do, there were days when resented it…until I was old enough to know just what he was teaching me. It wasn’t all work, he also bought for me my first guitar, not because I asked him to, but because he felt that playing an instrument was important. He loved gadgets, card games, and unusual documentaries about aliens, and bigfoot, and strange pyramids…not that he believed them, but he sure as hell thought they were entertaining. He showed me a lot. Perhaps most importantly, to me at least, he showed me that there was a lot more to life than congested, row-house lined North Philadelphia streets so narrow that compact cars had trouble navigating them. I spent summers working on wide country lawns and corn fields while my friends in the city sweated on the dirty asphalt.

The day after he passed away, as friends and family were stopping by to pay their respects, I did what I’ve done each Spring for the past few years and began working on his lawn. He loved lawn maintenance, and on weekends that was where you could find him, no matter the time of year. As he got older, I helped when I could, though up until recently he rarely needed me much. At just over an acre, it is a large lawn to mow “by hand”, and there are a few tricky spots that aren’t easy to navigate. Last year, I took over those duties full-time when he became too ill to maintain it to his own high standards. I was the only other person he trusted with his lawn, and he always said that when I cut the grass and trimmed the edges he knew that it was “done right.” I’ve mowed that lawn so many times as a kid that I knew where he wanted each and every line to go. As I was returning the mower to the shed, I noticed the large pair of pump pliers that he always used to remove the mower blades sitting in one of the half-barrel flower pots that lined the south wall. I am guessing that last fall, as he was closing up for the season, he removed the blades (twin deck mower) and sharpened them, and when he reattached them he forgot to return the pliers to their proper place in the shed. Like any good mechanic, he took care of his tools, but he never, ever babied them as I do mine. The long, cold, snowy and damp winter did a number on them.

I brought those pliers home so I could make them usable again. I reached for the correct wrench to separate the jaws on the first try, because many years ago he showed me a little trick that I still use to this very day that has impressed many of my co-workers ever since, and one that I won’t share with anyone else, because I am keeping it between him and I. I scrubbed and cleaned the rust away, reassembled the pliers, adding a few drops of 3in1 oil for good measure. I’ll use those pliers soon when I remove the blade from my own mower. And when I do I’ll think of him, and everything he’s taught me. And every weekend I’ll let him know that his lawn is in good hands.

But I am going to miss turning onto the road that leads to his house, and seeing his unmistakable silhouette against the backdrop of flowering pear trees that lined the property. I’ll miss our weekly Saturday morning planning of the 3 car detached garage with the apartment suite on top that he always wanted to build, and of course trying to figure out a way to finance it without my mom knowing. I’ll miss his incredibly dry sense of humor and quick wit. I’ll miss his incomparable patience. But mostly, I’ll just miss my friend.

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