The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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To make as utilitarian as possible.


I haven’t made a real piece of furniture since January. “Real” as in something that I researched, planned, and then proudly displayed in one of the rooms of my house. There are reasons for that, some which came from circumstances beyond my control, and others which were my own doing. January through March I didn’t build any furniture simply because we had a horrible winter and it was freezing in my garage. Later, we had to put out a lot of money for various odds and ends and that put purchasing wood on the back burner. Now, during the hottest (and most humid) part of the summer, I try not to make furniture because of the problems I have with warping (during August my garage is like a rain forest). But all of this doesn’t mean that my hands have been idle.

For the past few months I’ve mainly been doing two things as far as woodworking is concerned, maintaining tools, and trying to make my garage a better place for woodworking. Tool maintenance has actually been the easy part, as nearly every free moment I’ve had to putter around has been spend reorganizing my garage. Though I’ve written about a few of the things I’ve been doing, generally I haven’t blogged much about it, only because it doesn’t necessarily make for interesting reading or writing. But, yesterday I did complete something that I feel is worth mentioning.

Yesterday I built a shelf to hold my hand planes. I have come to the conclusion that I am tired of going in and out of a tool chest every time I want to grab a hand plane. I want to keep them visible and at arm’s length; keeping tools in a tool chest meets neither of my criteria. Before I go on let me just say that the following is hardly my best work. My theory on shop projects is simple: Don’t go overboard on building something that is going to get beat to hell. As I said, this is just a shelf. The only noteworthy aspect of building this shelf was the fact that I made it with nothing but hand tools. So the real question may be: Why go through all the trouble of building a basic shelf using hand tools and real joinery when I could have made it with butt joints and screws? Good question, and the answer is just for practice. Besides, the joinery on this shelf was simple, two fillisters, two dados, a groove, and nails. The sawing, fillisters, and dados were little trouble. The only detail I would really like to discuss is the groove on the back panel in which the shelf sits.

A place for hand planes

A place for hand planes

To make the groove and dados, I used a marking knife, a chisel, and a router plane. The dados were easy; they run across the grain and the knife line is generally easy to keep straight. The groove, which runs with the grain, is more difficult to mark because the knife obviously tends to follow the grain. The ironic part of the equation is that the sharper the knife, the more it tends to find minute grain variations. Those variations, as subtle as they may be, will show immediately when chopping out the waste, which leaves a jagged edge that appears to be gapped, especially in knotty pine. Though the dado is a snug fit, there are splinters along the wall at the top that make it look unsightly. On a piece of nice furniture this would be unacceptable, on a shelf that sits in my garage which will be used and abused it will not matter. I learned something while making that groove, which is why I built the project the way I did in the first place.

A little light sanding and planing, maybe a few pegs, and it will be ready to hang.

A little light sanding and planing, maybe a few pegs, and it will be ready to hang.

The rest of the project was easy. I assembled the shelf with cut nails and glue, beforehand planing everything smooth and adding some basic chamfers. Speaking of the smooth plane, knotty pine is the Pyrite of the planing world. Even a plane that is only reasonably sharp will make lovey shavings and make you think that your plane is just perfect; don’t be fooled. If you want to be sure that your smooth plane is sharp and functioning properly, I suggest using red oak, which is relatively inexpensive yet will give you true results.

And speaking of the groove, my ‘B Latt’ tip of the week is this: When making a groove or a dado by hand, the conventional wisdom is to use your chisel to remove the waste almost “to the line” and use the router plane to take of that final wisp of a shaving to make the bottom nice and smooth. I don’t agree with that. Experience has told me to use your chisel to remove the waste down to an 1/8 inch above your line, set the depth stop of your router plane to the finish depth, and remove the rest of the waste in increments. This method is the only way I’ve ever gotten consistent results, because nearly every time I’ve used a chisel and tried to get close to the finish depth, there has been a spot or two that blew out, or is a hair too low. Maybe that is just my inexperience, but nonetheless it happens. While using the router plane to finish the final 1/8 inch rather than the final 1/32 may take longer, the results are guaranteed.

Otherwise, the shelf is basically finished. The two boards I used were not perfectly even, so I need to plane flush anything that is sticking out, give the edges a light sanding, then I can hang it up and put my planes in place. As I said, this was not my best work nor was it meant to be. I’m not of the opinion that every little woodworking project needs to be made “as perfectly as possible”. I made this shelf in such a way that it should last a long, long time. It does not look great; it does not have intricate carving or scroll work, but it will hold my tools right where I want them to be, and that is all that really matters in the end.


Here is a photo of the finished shelf.

Shelf is not in place

Shelf is now in place



  1. Greg Merritt says:

    The shelf will be a great addition to your shop. Having your planes within easy reach, but still off the bench, makes the workflow much better IMHO. I’ve had my planes on a shelf above the bench for a couple of years now and I can’t imagine working any other way.

    As to cutting dadoes. What you described is a great approach. Low risk and high probability of success. Speed is the only factor and, quite frankly, of little concern for us hobby woodworkers. What you will find is that the more dadoes you cut, the closer you will eventually begin to chisel to the line before turning to the router plane.

    • billlattpa says:

      I started to get very frustrated when I wanted to reach for a hand plane. I keep the #7 and the fillister in the tool tray, but the others I was constantly reaching for. I’ll pretty up the shelf, make the edges even, and hang it this week. Having my chisels right in front of my eyes in the rack has been a great improvement. I have to imagine having the planes on a rack will have the same results. Thanks

  2. Alex A. says:

    I wish I had the wall space for a plane rack near the bench. The last of the wall space has been taken over by the saw till but I bet I can fit a small shelf above my mallet and drill rack.

    • billlattpa says:

      I had just under three feet to work with, so I made the shelf 34 inches wide. That should easily hold all of my planes and then some (except for the jointer). I also can attach some pegs to hang various tools from. I know I said in the post that I don’t care how it looks, but I am going to plane everything flush and sand it down. I’m hoping to have it hung tonight.

  3. Andrew Wilkerson says:

    Yes, deciding what to do with a small amount of wall space is hard. You really need to have been working in the workshop for a while before deciding what is best to have closest to your bench, don’t jump in too soon.

    My planes are now in an old wardrobe at the right hand end of my bench, the front door slides across easily, this keeps them within reach and easy to get but also keeps them away from dust. A quick slide of the door and they are all there in front of you. Only thing I don’t like is that you can’t see them unless the door is left open. Maybe I should replace the door with perspex so i can show off my planes. 🙂 I’d use glass but I’d probably end up smashing it when swinging things around.

    • billlattpa says:

      I agree. No shop layout book or magazine article can really and truly tell a woodworker how to lay out his or her shop. It takes a lot of trial and error. My shelf is coming from five years of experience with the bench and layout of my garage. Here’s the worst part, though I think it will be a great improvement, it may not be. Only time and experience will tell.

      I never thought of using a wardrobe, but that seems like a good idea. I was at one time going to use a pantry cabinet that my wife had found through her work, but it didn’t fit in my garage (height wise). Perspex would probably work if you made a frame style drawer, but that may not be as easy as it sounds. Like you, I like to keep my tools as visible as possible while woodworking. To me, doing so is one of the keys to working efficiently and good woodworking in general.

  4. bloksav says:

    Hi Bill.
    Workshop shelves are great practice projects.
    Will you mount a fluorescent light fixture under the shelf for some more workbench light?
    I have never been a great fan of working from tool chests. But then again, I guess that I have never really given them a fair chance.
    My planes are kept in a small cabinet mounted on the wall at the end of my workbench. That works pretty fine for me. But I agree wholeheartedly on your notion that shop layout can best be determined by the individual person.
    Off course magazines etc. can give some hints to what may or may not work, but in the end it comes down to the actual person occupying the workshop.


    • billlattpa says:

      I have a 4 lamp shoplight that hangs directly over my bench, so I don’t need much more than that. Actually, I have a flush mount version with a cover that I’ve been meaning to use a replacement for the hanging fixture, but I just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

      I mounted the shelf this afternoon when I returned home from work and it holds everything pretty much how I hoped it would. The only disappointment is that I had to remove my copy of The Declaration of Independence. So I will need to find a new spot for it. Otherwise, I think this shelf is going to be a great addition.

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July 2015
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