The Slightly Confused Woodworker

Home » 2015 » August

Monthly Archives: August 2015


What are my skills worth?

There is a lot of debate lately concerning the wages that fast-food workers are earning in the United States. While I’m not exactly sure what a fast food worker makes, I believe it is generally between $9.00-$11.00 per hour. Some cities have passed legislation raising the hourly pay of fast-food workers to a minimum of $15.00 per hour, and there is talk of a proposal to make this legislation go nationwide. While I’m all for every person with a job earning a fair wage, I do have some issues with this.

Firstly, I really have no feelings one way or the other on a personal level when it comes to these “demands”. Many of the opponents feel that because fast-food labor is generally unskilled, they shouldn’t expect to make more than they currently do. Proponents counter that the current wage is below poverty standards, and that no person who works a full time job should be in poverty. I agree somewhat with both arguments, and when I look at this “person to person” how could I be upset that somebody wants to get paid more money? We all want that for the most part, don’t we?

But I do have an issue with this legislation. I am an electrician. While I can’t say that I know how it works everywhere, I know that in many parts of the U.S. a licensed electrician is required to have 66 credit hours of schooling, or roughly 900 hours. An electrician is also required to attend at least 32 hours of additional schooling each year. The initial costs of schooling can range from $7000 to $12,000 depending on where you are located, and the yearly fees often run upwards of $600. An ICC code examination costs approximately $500, and is required every 3 years. An electrician also must own and maintain a specialized tool kit which can easily cost $3000 or more, as well as safety equipment, ladders, clothing, and other gear. Also, most electricians do not get paid holidays, health insurance, paid vacation, sick days, or retirement benefits. Those things come out of your own pocket. Another thing, an electrician is required to carry tradesman liability insurance. And to top it all off, many municipalities require you to pay a licensing fee just to perform work there, which can cost anywhere from $100 to $1000 dollars, and that license must be renewed every year. Today, the average electrician starts off at around $13.00 per hour.

Before I go on, there is a myth that electricians make upwards of $50.00 per hour. Well, you may bill at that, but when you factor in everything I listed above, including the fact that you are paying your own health insurance, trade insurance, vehicle insurance (which is also much higher for a commercial vehicle), fuel costs to and from the job, equipment, and a dozen other things, that “$50 per hour” tops off at less than half of that, and then you pay taxes on it. That, my friends, is why I no longer work in the field anymore.

Anyway, my gripe is not with fast food workers wanting and getting $15 per hour, it is with the nature of the building trades. If I’m an 18 year old kid looking to get myself a trade, or possibly a 22 year old just out of the service looking to start a new career, why would I go through all of that hassle when I can just go to my local Wendy’s, or McDonald’s, or wherever, and make the same money with none of the time, expense, or training needed to be a tradesman? Because I like working with my hands? That may be part of it. Most people who willingly seek out a job in the building trades do so because they like the nature of the work, but they also do it because they know that they will make more money than you would make at the local fast food joint, at least until now.

So is it really worth it anymore to become an electrician, or carpenter, or plumber, or HVAC tech, or cabinet maker? Speaking for myself, I can guaran-damn-tee you that it’s much easier slinging French fries than it is working on a construction site where there is a very real possibility that you can be seriously injured every time you strap on your tool belt and walk past that cyclone fence. Trades work is physically intensive, technically demanding, and downright dangerous when it comes down to it. It many major cities, and pretty soon all over the country, a person can walk into a McDonald’s and earn $15 per hour. You need no specialized training, no specialized equipment, no big out layout of cash for schooling, and licenses, and insurance, and safety gear. You don’t have to worry about falling from a ladder, or getting zapped by 600 volts, or reading blueprints and technical drawings, or ordering special parts that can make or break a job. You only need to be able to press a button with a photo of a BigMac on it. I read somewhere that the average fast-food employee receives an average of 4 hours of training! That’s not 4 hours per week, or month, or year; that’s 4 hours, total…

So, once again I speak only for myself, but the next time a kid asks me if he should become an electrician, I’m going to strongly encourage him to put on a shirt and tie, go fill out a job application at the local fast food joint, and learn how to clearly say, “would you like fries with that?”


A new use for an old jig.

Tool sharpening is always a ridiculously debated hot topic among woodworkers. Should you do it freehand? Should you use a jig? Machine grinding or stone grinding? Who cares? I’ve discussed my sharpening methods before on this blog: diasharp, water stones, leather strop. I don’t like machine grinding and I generally don’t use a guide or jig. I prefer to hone free hand because I’ve become one of Paul Sellers minions and I blindly follow any and all of his advice. Actually that isn’t true. I still do use a guide for grinding, but I prefer to hone free hand because I just don’t feel like going through the trouble of setting up each individual tool on the guide. It’s faster and easier to just do it without the crutch (did I say ‘crutch’? That really isn’t what I meant) So if any of y’all want to use training wheels that’s completely up to you.

Like most woodworkers I started out using sharpening guides. I have two, a Veritas which I purchased, and a side-clamp “eclipse” style which was given to me. The question is: What do I do with two sharpening guides when I barely have use for one? Well I think I finally came up with an answer: Shaving!

I’ve been shaving for 25 years. I’ve become quite good at it. Still, I understand there may be some people out there who have trouble shaving, and that is where the side-clamp sharpening guide comes in. I’ve done some experimenting and I’ve found that most razors on the market fit in the side clamp guide, and with a little trial and error you can find the perfect angle to set your razor which will provide a perfect shave every time. And ladies, don’t feel left out, it works just as well on legs as it does on faces.

It was a sharpening guide, now it's a shaving guide.

It was a sharpening guide, now it’s a shaving guide.

So for everybody out there with an unused sharpening guide I just helped you find a new use for it. You’re welcome! On a side note, during my experiments it dawned on me that my razors all work on the pull stroke, which instantly classified them as Japanese style razors. Unfortunately I contacted most of the major razor manufacturers and gave them this information which they promptly used to triple their prices. Sorry about that.

Am I being clear?

Earlier this evening I was searching for something on my blog (I’ve been doing that lately. I do research from my own writings if you will) and came across a post I wrote back in February concerning the lack of middle ground when it comes to purchasing woodworking tools.
That post covered nothing new and has been debated for as long as I’ve been working and probably much further back than that. But what I did notice was that some of the commenters seemed to feel that I was bashing Lie Nielsen tool works for charging too much for their tools. The comments were very civil, so there wasn’t an issue there. But I think there was a misunderstanding involved, because I wasn’t writing that post as a “consumer” but as a “woodworker”.

In that post, I speculated that if woodworking tools made by companies like LN, Veritas, Clifton, et al, were more readily available (as in a network of retail outlets) it may make them more affordable. Now I am only speculating, I don’t know if that is true or not. My guess stems from my dealings with electrical hand tool manufacturers for the past ten years. It could be that they run their businesses entirely different than the companies that make woodworking hand tools. As a woodworker, not a consumer, I wish those tools were more readily available “closer to home” and not solely through the internet. And it was/is my opinion that if the tools were more readily available they would sell more, and with greater sales they may become more affordable.

When it comes to woodworking tools, the cost vs. worth debate always seems to enter the equation at some point. I think the ‘cost vs. worth’ argument is really the straw-man thrown into the mix when we speak of the affordability of woodworking tools. When I wrote that post, I wasn’t questioning whether or not Lie Nielsen’s tools were worth what they are being sold for, I was questioning whether or not they are affordable, and at that not just LN but any mid to high level maker.

We can debate all day whether or not a tool is worth what it costs, but that means little in the market place. A Rolls Royce Phantom may be worth every penny of its $380,000 price tag, but that doesn’t make it affordable. You can make that same statement about most quality woodworking tools. Of course you can make this argument for any quality item from clothing to furniture. The difference being that clothing and furniture are necessities of varying degrees. Woodworking tools are a hobby purchase for most of us. Speaking for myself only, affordability is at the least as important to me as worth when it comes to discretionary spending on a hobby.

I know that this topic/post/argument is old hat. I get that. But I found it interesting personally not because of the topic, but because of the misconceptions that arose from it. If some commenters felt I was off base because of flawed logic, I can live with that. As I said, I was only speculating. But if commenters felt I was off base because my writing was not clear or concise enough, well, that is something I will need to work on.

Looks like somebody got an ‘A’ in woodshop.

Last night finally saw my grand garage-workshop rehab come to fruition.

I have learned from past experience that the climate in my area does not lend itself to summer furniture projects, in particular if your work area is not climate controlled. So rather than attempt a furniture project that could very well end up in disaster, I decided to dedicate the summer to improving what I laughingly referred to as my workshop.

Phase one was to clear out any unnecessary clutter from my garage. That clutter was mainly my daughters old toys and seasonal items like gardening tools. The old toys I was able to donate, and the gardening tools made their way into my garden shed where they belong. The truth is I had become increasingly frustrated with working out of a tool chest, which I had to pull out from under my bench each time I needed a tool, and then push it back into place so it would be out of the way. So phase two was to add tool racks, shelving, and a wall cabinet to my workbench area. And I can finally say that phase two is nearly complete.

Phase two started with a chisel rack, which replaced the saw rack hanging in the garage window. Next came a shelf to hold hand planes and other tools above the bench but easily within reach, which I completed a few weeks ago. I then relocated a wall cabinet I had built some time ago to the workbench area. And the last task was to hang a wall rack to hold the miscellaneous tools that wouldn’t necessarily fit well on the shelf. Thankfully, that job was completed yesterday.

My original plan was simple: a 1 x 8 x 6 knotty pine board sawed in half and joined with a tongue and groove joint. So I stopped at Lowes and found the knotty pine selection severely lacking. I couldn’t find a 1 x 8 that wasn’t either warped, twisted, or damaged. But they did have a ¾ x 16 x 36 edge glued panel. I’ve used those panels many times in the past for simple projects because they are inexpensive and stable. Some people prefer peg or slat board, but I feel that a full-sized board is much more adaptable, and allows you to easily add new pegs, dowels, or cleats to store non-linear and odd shaped tools, which is a category that many woodworking tools fall in to.

So I purchased the panel, brought it home and cut it to size (on the table saw) and hung it on the wall with a few screws. From start to finish it took about 3 minutes and was really anti-climactic. I then did the lay-out of the tools, which took roughly one hour. I could have done the lay-out before hand, but I prefer to see how the tools are going to hang, which is much easier to do with the rack already on the wall. Once again, after the pegs were drilled out and glued in the moment was anti-climactic. So while the glue dried I made a few cleats to hold combination squared and screwed them into place. I still wasn’t feeling it until I hung the tools.

With the tools in place I suddenly felt very proud of what I had done. As of now, nearly every one of my woodworking tools is above my bench, at arms-length. The only thing left to do is re-hang my saw rack. But the real revelation is the visibility factor. I can see everything. Nothing is hidden, and there is no clutter. Just last week I had made a basic shelf for my garden shed, and I immediately noticed that working at the bench was much easier with the addition of the shelf and chisel rack. Now, with the new wall mounted rack, I have to believe that I’ve improved the set-up that much more.

everything in its place

everything in its place

On a side note, don’t think that this post was meant as some sort of knock on tools chests. I have nothing against tool chests, and I enjoyed making mine. I just did not enjoy working from it. I think they are great for storing tools, in particular if you are moving your tools from place to place. So if you enjoy your tool chest, Great! Nothing wrong with that at all.

As far as “phase 3” is concerned, that is meant to be the replacement of the leg vise on my workbench with a new chop. Originally, phase 3 was supposed to be phase 2. About a month ago I picked up a 2 x 10 piece of fir that was clear, flat, and relatively straight grained. The only problem is that it was too wet to use. So I sawed it to rough length and have left it stickered in my garage ever since. At this point, it has dried, but not nearly enough to install. It could be the fact that we’ve been having a humid summer, or it could just be that it was far more soaked than I thought. On a happier note, the board has not warped or cupped even a little, and I’m hoping it stays that way. I would like to prepare the surface of this board by hand with just a few passes of a hand plane rather than running it through a surface planer (I really don’t feel like dragging out the surface planer for one board).

I’m thinking another 3 or 4 weeks and the chop board should be ready to go. With that, my garage/workshop rehab should be finished and I can finally get back to making furniture again. Of course I could always add to the wall to make even more storage, but until then I have some good ideas for projects lined up, and (I think) I finally have a decent work area in which to build them.

Chuck Atlas


A lot of well-meaning woodworkers, bloggers, teachers, and commenters alike, all compare woodworking, in particular with hand tools, to a good workout.

Let me tell you, it’s not. Not even close.

Before I continue let me stress that I am not a personal trainer, or a certified therapist, or an exercise guru. I know how to keep myself in shape (barely), and I know the very basic rules of physical fitness. I can tell you that when it comes strength training, your exercises need to be a combination of resistance, repetition, and isolation. The problem with “woodworking for exercise” is that very rarely does any one hand tool operation meet that criteria.

For instance, rip sawing, which I consider one of the more labor-intensive woodworking tasks, meets one and a half of the three: resistance and repetition. The resistance part is easy to see; repetition-not nearly enough to make a large difference; isolation-once again not nearly enough to make a large difference. Now, if you spent a few hours per day doing nothing but ripping boards you would certainly begin to notice the strength in your shoulder and forearm increasing. Good, right? No, not really. What’s the problem? While I can only speak for myself, I’ve never seen or met anybody who rips boards all day long while switching arms for each board.

Woodworking fails as a workout in nearly every case because woodworkers use their dominant hand/arm almost exclusively, and when they are using both arms there isn’t nearly enough of the “three criteria” to qualify it as a workout under any circumstance. My point being, the woodworking that most of us do doesn’t require enough strength, stamina, and isolation to make it real exercise, and during the rare instances when it does, we are mostly using just one arm to do it. I don’t know about y’all, but I like my body to look as symmetrical as possible. More to the point, I’ll be forthright and admit that I don’t necessarily care how strong I am anymore, I just want to look like I’m strong. I’d much rather be a guy who looks stronger than he is than the guy who “is stronger than he looks”.

As far as cardiovascular exercise woodworking is not even worth mentioning. Unless you are a lumberjack who climbs up and down trees all day it has little cardiovascular benefit. Once again there just isn’t enough motion happening to keep your heart rate steadily elevated and your lungs working. In fact, you could jog in place and woodwork and it wouldn’t make too much of a difference, because unless you are physically in motion (as in moving from one place to another) your brain has trouble equating your motion with exertion, meaning your brain thinks your aren’t going anywhere (which you aren’t) and reacts accordingly to save energy. In other words, your body will only keep you in good enough shape to run in place, not run distance.

To put that in perspective (and this is an experiment I’ve done) Go to a track and run in place hard for ten minutes. The next time you are there, run around the track for ten minutes. Then compare which was more difficult. I can pretty much guarantee you that all things being equal, actually running around the track is much harder.  **I’ll be completely honest and say that I don’t understand the science here, I am only repeating what trainers have told me**

So the bottom line is: Woodworking is hardly for weaklings, but it’s not going to turn you into Lou Ferrigno. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Exercise if you want, or don’t, it’s no matter to me. I’m just saying that if you are substituting your workout with woodworking because it’s “just as good”, you may be doing yourself a disservice.


Like many woodworkers, I do most of my straight ripping on a table saw, but a rip-filed hand saw is invaluable for making cuts that aren’t straight, for instance when making a large wedge. I have an old rip filed saw that needs nothing short of surgery to get it working again, so a few weeks back I purchased a Sandvik rip-filed hand saw from Ebay. The item was listed as “New old stock”, meaning that it was an old item that had never been sold (just in case you couldn’t figure that one out for yourselves). The saw arrived in brand new condition; in actuality I was quite surprised at its condition, because sometimes NOS items show up looking a little neglected. In any case, the saw looked great, and somehow vaguely familiar.
I know next to nothing about Sandvik tools, and I have no idea how old this saw really is. It could be 5 years or it could be 25, I’m just not sure. I checked out Sandvik on the internet and it turns out they make construction equipment in Sweden. There is no indication that they make woodworking tools, nor is there any indicator on the tool itself that I can see which shows any manufacturing date. Either way, I’m not complaining, because so far it seems like I got a very high quality tool for under $80. Yet I still couldn’t figure out where I saw this tool before.

Serendipity is a strange thing, but just the other day a coworker had asked me if I had heard of Disston Saw Works. Being a woodworker, and being a native of Philadelphia, I told him that I knew the company well. Disston still exists, actually, though they make industrial saws now rather than saws for woodworking. But out of curiosity I went on the Disston web page and discovered something I did not know: Disston sold its hand saw division in 1978 to, you guessed it, Sandvik. Apparently Sandvik did not keep the division and at some point in the 1980s it was disbanded. But, one plus one clicked, and it dawned on me at that very moment that I had seen my rip saw before, it looked remarkably similar to a 1950s model Disston that I saw at flea market tool sale. So once again I did a little research and the 1953 D-12 model, while hardly identical, is close enough to indicate at the very least a common background. If they ain’t brothers they’re sure as heck cousins.

Long lost brothers?

Long lost brothers?

So l learned something new, which is something I try to do each and every day. It’s a shame that makers like Disston, or Sandvik, no longer offer hand saws for woodworkers, because we all know that Disston made some of the best hand saws you will ever see, and if my Sandvik is any indication, they weren’t too shabby either. Luckily, some other makers have taken up the slack and still offer high quality tools.

My sense of nostalgia comes and goes. I’ve always wanted to have the experience of flying in a B-17 bomber, or ride a horse to work, or build a bridge by hand. I’m not saying I want to relive those eras, just experience them for myself. But it’s funny, because even though I can order a high quality panel saw from Lie Nielsen or E. Garlick and Sons, one of my nostalgic wish list items was to use a new Disston hand saw. And though this Sandvik may not be the same thing, I think it’s about as close as I’m ever going to get.

%d bloggers like this: