The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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Monthly Archives: May 2016


On tool trays.

Last weekend some friends stopped by, and while in the garage I had mentioned the possibility of building a new workbench. I’m not going to bore anybody with this topic, as it has been beaten to death many times over, but I will bore you with another topic that has also been beaten to death many times over: the workbench tool tray.

The tool tray is polarizing among woodworkers, which I find utterly stupid on many levels. Nonetheless, there are often strong opinions when it comes to having one on your workbench.

Since I’ve installed a tool tray on my bench it has never gotten in the way of my work, and it has never gotten messy, at least nowhere near the levels that some woodworkers claimed it would. At the same time I’ve never really felt that I’ve used it to the point where it became a necessity. For me, it is an attachment that I use because it’s there, but could live without if it wasn’t….that is until I actually watched the woodworking videos I’ve been filming lately. In those videos, it’s plain to see that several times I am (subconsciously) retrieving an item from the tray, and then putting it back into the tray when I’m finished using it to keep it clear of the work. And that I feel is the tool tray’s greatest merit: its ability to store often-used items at arm’s length without those items interfering with what is happening on the work bench top.

So what am I saying that I haven’t said a half-dozen times before? Well, if I were to build a new workbench, I would not include a tool tray. Say what!?!

I have one problem with tool trays: to have one that is functional, meaning deep enough to hold an item such as a bench plane without it sticking out, you either need a correspondingly thick bench top, or you need to have some clever engineering built into the bench. In order for the tray on my current bench to be 3 ½” inches deep, which I find is deep enough to keep the vast majority of woodworking tools “below the horizon”, I had to make supports, use wedges, and basically go through a lot of hassle to get it installed correctly. I wouldn’t go through that again, in particular after I’ve finally installed the wall mounted tool racks and shelf unit on each side of my bench.

Of course there are other ways of making and installing a deeper tray, such as a mounting it in the center of the bench, but they also require more engineering than I am willing to put into making a workbench, and a center tray also mandates that you have a wider benchtop (at least that is how I would do it on my bench) to allow more usable work space at the front of the bench. Once again, there are ways around that as well, but in my opinion a workbench should be built as simply as possible.

As I’ve said before, this topic is pretty much a dead one on many levels. At the risk of sounding ludicrous, I found my own thought process interesting. I’ve been an advocate of tool trays since I began woodworking, yet in an attempt to “front only the essentials…” I’ve discovered that the more “Spartan-like” my work area is, the more I enjoy being there.

Maybe, just maybe, I have the makings of a minimalist after all.

No more tool tray?


The Kitschy Woodworker

Like most houses, ours has its share of art work hanging in the halls and bedrooms, and like many home owners, I couldn’t tell you much about the artists who created them. My knowledge of fine art really begins and ends with the Art History 103/104 courses I took when in college because they were required. In fact, the only two pieces of art work in my home that I can speak intelligently about are The Starry Night by Van Gogh and Washington Crossing the Delaware by Leutze, and then only because those are my two favorite paintings.

When it comes to “art”, I have a greater affinity for historical documents, vintage propaganda posters, and what I like to refer to as kitsch art, “tin advertisements”. I have around a dozen or so examples placed around my garage (all reprints, I’m not a collector and I don’t really care if they are authentic or not).

To cut to the chase, last week I came across a tin sign still in its wrapper in the closet of our spare bedroom. I vaguely remember ordering it maybe three years ago BP (before Prime) as an adder to make the freight allowed minimum on Amazon. Rather than let it sit, I brought it into the garage with the intention of hanging it…somewhere. The one spot that is open where it would be visible happens to be a spot I’m saving, so instead, I fastened it to the front panel of a cabinet I made when I first began woodworking. I then had a brief moment of inspiration. While the tin sign itself is nothing special, I think it really made the cabinet pop, for lack of a better word. It then occurred to me that rather than using a panel for the door, a tin sign might make a nice “panel” on its own merit (with a plywood backer of  course). The skies the limit when it comes to the panel. They’re sold everywhere from Amazon to antique stores to yard sales. I could even double side the door to add to the fun.

A  Kitschy Cabinet…

The cabinet itself is nothing special either; it’s made of basic pine panels and constructed using rabbets, dados, stubby tenons, and screws; it was one of my first woodworking projects, after all. If I were to make another, I would probably stick to the same methods, though I would dress it up with some beading, tongue and groove back panels, maybe a shop made moulding, and of course cut nails in place of screws; I think that would satisfy the woodworker in me. The right kitschy sign, and the right finish (maybe a different species of wood), be it paint or stain, could make this a fun little project, and I could always use another wall cabinet in my garage.

Clamped and ready to be flattened…

A few passes with a jack plane is all it took..

Sanded smooth and ready for some linseed oil…

In other news, the other day I did a video on rehabbing the iron from my coffin smoother plane. During that process I noticed a very slight high-spot just in front of the mouth of the plane, so I decided to correct it over the weekend. I used the jack plane to remove the spot, just one shaving from the front of the sole followed by a very light pass over the entire sole, checked with the square for flatness. I then used 220g and 400g sandpaper to finish it up, along with two coats of linseed oil and a coat of wax, which was added last night. Now that I think I am a video woodworker, I filmed a short video showing the results (before the wax was applied). That plane, I am very happy to report, is now a very solid worker.

Coffin smoother iron rehab

I’m putting forth yet another woodworking video. This one details the iron of a coffin style smooth plane I picked up last summer. In other news, my next post will actually have full paragraphs (which I am hoping to have up on the blog tomorrow).

So if you all don’t mind, let me know what you think if you get a chance.


Fat guy

While on the subject of woodworking videos, I filmed another just a few hours ago. I wasn’t going to publish it right away, but considering that I may not be around a lot this weekend (and I have to work tomorrow), I may as well get it published immediately.

This video concerns the sharpening of a Superior rip saw I picked up at an antique store. I hope you enjoy it.

***The title of this post will make sense if you happen to watch the video***

How I sharpen a chisel

Yesterday after work I recorded my first full-length woodworking video my first full-length woodworking video which shows I usually will sharpen my chisels and plane irons. To be clear, I’m not a woodworking instructor; if this video helps somebody out  I would be very pleased, but its main purpose is to shed a little light on how I do things when it comes to woodworking.

Once again, the link is attached, and I hope you enjoy it.

Private eyes.

In past posts I’ve mentioned that I sometimes receive emails from people who read the blog (or this case, watch the videos) asking me questions, giving me a vote of confidence, or sometimes simply complaining. The latest one (which was a nice one BTW, or at least I think it meant to be) was from a somebody who watched a video I put on YouTube. Paraphrased, the person basically was wondering why I have a table saw if I never seem to use it.

The truth is that I use the table saw on many of my projects.

Much of the time I use the table saw is for getting all of my material near to the final dimensions. If I am making something such as a bookcase which has several shelves of equal size, I will use the table saw to accurately cross cut the material. On a small project, such as my dovetailed boxes, I will usually do any crosscutting with hand tools. But any project with wide boards I will use a table saw whenever possible. Speaking for myself, even if I wanted to use a hand saw to cross cut a wide board, I haven’t come up with an accurate or simple method to “shoot” those boards. I know there are half a dozen suggestions out there; I just don’t like any of them. So I hope that explains things a little bit.

On a further note,  I usually don’t mind when somebody sends me a personal email, but if it is in reference to something on the blog, or in the case the video on YouTube, I would much rather that you comment there. I understand that some people are hesitant to comment publicly for their own reasons; I’m not trying to pressure anybody either way, only to state my preference. Whatever the case may be, I hope that those who won’t comment on the blog aren’t doing so because they fear how I will respond.

After a few years of doing this, I hope everybody who happens to read can see that I’m a fairly level-headed guy. Those of you who have watched the first few videos hopefully will have noticed that I don’t rant and rave. What you saw is generally my demeanor most of the time. I’m an honest person, and I don’t necessarily care for insulting people, and I certainly don’t view a disagreement as a character flaw, the way some woodworkers seemingly do. If there is a certain tool that I use and you don’t, or vice versa, I really couldn’t care less one way or the other. If you happened to enjoy a book that I didn’t, I have no problem with that. I only ask that you reciprocate.

So bottom line, if you would rather email me personally (concerning something you saw on the blog) I am fine with that, but I would really prefer you to leave a comment on the blog, because I think everybody who reads it will benefit.


I hate you Robert Plant

I attempted another woodworking test video this very evening, this time in an attempt to improve the sound. I had the ipod playing (softly) in the background, a Led Zeppelin song came on (The Ocean) and apparently it was detected by YouTube. The entire video was promptly muted, defeating the entire purpose of the sound test. So I reshot the video. Once again, any feedback would be appreciated.

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