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For that very special woodworker in your life (if you’re cheap)

If you are a woodworker, chances are your wife, husband, or significant other has never really delivered when it comes to purchasing for you an actual woodworking related gift. They try sometimes, but can never seem to get it right. Since Christmas is fast approaching, I put together a short list of items that are inexpensive, relatively easy to get, and will be useful to most woodworkers. If you don’t happen to celebrate Christmas, these are still good gifts for a woodworker on any occasion.


  1. Kiwi shoe shine brush.

    This idea comes courtesy of Paul Sellers. Many woodworkers use wax for polishing/protecting furniture, nothing new there. But buffing it out is not always easy. I would never have thought to use a shoe brush, but it does a brilliant job. No more wax build-up in crevices, corners, etc. and nothing but an even finish. These brushes generally sell for under $20.00 ea.
    As far as durability, I still have the first brush I purchased more than 20 years ago during Basic Training, and after hundreds upon hundreds of uses it still looks and works the same as the day I got it. On that note, I do not use my shoeshine brush for woodworking, I have a separate one just for that purpose.

    2. Stanley folding marking/pocket knife.

    This is another gift idea from the mind of Paul Sellers. Depending on which model you get, the cost ranges from $6-$20. Sellers uses this as a marking or scribing knife, and it does an excellent job. The blades can be sharpened and are inexpensive to replace.  It is as good as any marking knife I’ve ever used, and because it is foldable can be kept in a pocket. I recommend the 11-041 replacement blade for woodworking.


  1. 3M Sandblaster flexible sand paper.

    I’ve just fairly recently discovered this product at my local Home Depot. It is not cheap for what it is: a 4 pack is approximately 8 dollars. But it is well worth the money. I’ve used it almost exclusively for sharpening, and for the first time I’ve been getting extremely consistent results.
    When coupled with dowels, which can be purchased at most home centers, hardware stores, and craft stores, this product can easily be used as a faux rasp, and more importantly, custom sized sharpening jigs for many curved profiles. Another plus; the paper can be used wet or dry.

    According to 3M, Sandblaster lasts up to 15x longer than standard backed sandpaper. I can neither confirm nor deny that claim because I’ve only been using it for a few months. But it does seem to last quite a bit longer than the garden variety stuff. Yet another plus: I’ve yet to accidentally tear a piece during use.

4. Craft Leather
Another gift under $20. Usually these are sold in 6×8 or 8×11 pieces. With honing compound, I use these leather sheets to strop all of my chisel and plane irons. They can be glued (regular carpenter’s glue) to different sized wood blocks for clamping with a vice, or wrapped around dowels to for use with curved profiles.
Any woodworker who wants to get a high-level of polish will want to strop his/her irons.

I’ve used Amazon as a source on all of the links for convenience. But if you’re like me, you may want to purchase these items locally. I own everything on this list, and I got all of them at a supermarket, my local hardware store, the Home Depot, and A.C. Moore, respectively. Of course there is nothing wrong with purchasing them online, but I do like to support my local businesses. I know the Home Depot is a national chain, but considering that every item on this list was purchased within a 15 minute drive from my house I still consider it a local business.

So if you’re looking to impress the woodworker in your life, and you don’t want to drop some major coin on woodworking tools or accessories, I think this list will do you right. Your cheap ass now has no reason not to go out and get a woodworking item or two for your better half.


For all you new people

I’ve never been to a woodworking tool swap meet. I’d bet that there are quite a few woodworkers who can make the same claim. Unfortunately for me they just aren’t very common in this area. I have been to flea markets and garage sales, and sometimes you can get very lucky and find a few tools at a reasonable price that are in good condition, or in a condition that at the least makes them worth purchasing and saving. But even a more experienced woodworker, one used to owning new or newer tools may not know exactly what to look for, and that, among other reasons, is why I enjoyed The Naked Woodworker DVD.

I purchased the DVD partly out of curiosity, and partly from the recommendation of woodworker Jeff Branch, whose blog I’ve been following for several years. Including shipping, the two discs cost me $27.00, which is less than what I would pay to take my family out to breakfast. The DVD(s) arrived yesterday, and last night I watched the first disc, which focuses on finding used tools worth purchasing and restoring them to working condition, and this morning I watched the second disc, which details the construction of a pair of sawhorses and a woodworking bench. I enjoyed watching both, and I learned more about woodworking because I watched them, which I call a success.

What did I like? Firstly, the host, Mike Siemsen, is a likeable guy; he’s real, he’s a real woodworker, and like all good workers you pick up a few good tips and tricks just by listening to him and watching him work. The discs aren’t overly produced with a lot of annoying music and slick cut scenes, which frankly bug the hell out of me. Secondly, the tool restoration is real, and Siemsen shows real world restoration from old to working tool in real time. It’s quick, painless stuff. For instance, Siemsen shows how to file-sharpen an auger bit. Strangely, I learned how to do that during my electrical courses, and I have a special file that is made just for the task. Siemsen makes mention of the tool, but shows how to sharpen the auger using a basic file that he picked up at the tool swap.

Personally, I was most impressed with the segment on sharpening handsaws. I use just three woodworking saws, and two of them have never been sharpened. It’s not that they don’t need sharpening, but the fact that I am afraid to ruin them in the attempt. Siemsen shows how to joint, sharpen, and re-set an old hand saw using tools he picked up at the swap meet, with plenty of close-up shots that show a lot of detail during the sharpening process. Siemsen demystifies the process and makes it seem much more reachable. For me, it is the clearest instruction on saw sharpening that I’ve ever seen.

Disc two shows the construction of a pair of saw horses and a Nicholson style woodworking bench. Here again, Siemsen shows the entire process and how these essential pieces of shop equipment can be made quickly and effectively. In fact, Siemsen points out that in building the bench and the horses, you also get some good sawing practice in the process, AND, he shows that the joints don’t have to be absolutely perfect, just serviceable. The workbench is particularly impressive, as he builds it with less than $150 in lumber, and without any modifications it is a perfectly good workbench for any style of woodworking. Even more impressive is the manner of construction. Because of the modular nature of the assembly, this bench can be made by an absolute beginner, as well as a seasoned vet, and it could be used by both. Maybe most importantly, the bench can be modified to suit your liking. For instance, the bench is built without vices, which can be expensive. If I were to build the bench (and I just may do that) I would add a leg vice, which can be done for around $50, yet the addition would change the construction process very little. In fact, a leg vice could easily be retrofitted later. This bench is a real workbench, one that could work for a lifetime of woodworking.

These DVDs are marketed towards beginners, and at that they are a great starting off point. But they are also good resources for experienced woodworkers that may just be getting started in hand tools, or an experienced woodworker that is just entering the used tool market, or any woodworker that doesn’t want to spend a few grand building, or purchasing a good woodworking bench. The Naked Woodworker is being offered by Lost Art Press, and there is a link to that site on the resources section of my blog. For under $30 (which includes the cost of shipping-did I mention that?) you get some great tips, and you learn how to truly build up a real woodworking tool kit without breaking your bank account. I, for one, am glad I purchased it.

Here Comes the Sun

This coming weekend I am hoping to start a built-in/recessed storage cabinet project I’ve had planned for my garage. I already have the material and the rough dimensions I want to use, but what I don’t really have is an idea for the door. While the cabinet itself is going to be very basic, I do want to put a nice door on it. At the same time, an extremely fancy door on a basic built-in cabinet in a garage would look silly. So my minor dilemma is finding a simple door design that looks a bit more elegant than a slab of plywood, yet at the same time will work in a garage, and to me that equals Shaker.

I’m a big fan of Shaker furniture, though I haven’t made very many pieces. But a Shaker door would work well in my situation because the Shakers were masters of “plain” designs that also happen to look great in just about any setting. So I did a quick internet search of Shaker cabinets and the first one that popped up may be the most popular of all: The Enfield Cabinet.

The Enfield cabinet has probably been built thousands of times, and that is for good reason: it can do a lot. The cabinet works well in a kitchen, a bedroom, a woodshop, or a living room. It is easy to modify yet still maintain the “Enfield” look and shape. It can be stained or painted without loosing it’s appeal. It is fairly easy to build, yet also has a few challenges. I watched an episode of the Woodwright’s Shop where Roy Underhill was working on an Enfield and it is one of my favorite in the series. Hell, even my wife liked it! So in short, I want to build the sucker.

Roy Underhill's Enfield Cabinet

Roy Underhill’s Enfield Cabinet


Before I go on, I have to add that even though I’m not really a tool hound, in particular for a person that enjoys woodworking, every time I watch Roy Underhill I want to buy one of the tools he is using. The latest woodworking tool on my list is a moving fillister plane. Though I’ve written many times about my love for the table saw, one of the things I hate using it for is making rabbets, but it can do the job. Nearly every episode of the Woodwright’s Shop features Roy using a moving fillister plane, and that is for good reason. E.C. Emmerich offers a model that looks right up my alley, though I will have to come up with the funds to obtain it.

After my research, I’ve decided to pattern my built-in cupboard door after the Shaker Enfield version. Not only do I think it will look nice, but it will be good practice for when I build the real thing. Yet the best part in all of this is the fact that several weeks ago I wrote about finishing my plant stand, and how it finished on a low note, and how I really didn’t want to woodwork during the summer for a myriad of reasons. Now, I’ve found not one, but two projects that I would start tomorrow if I were lucky enough to have that kind of free time. Yet, I don’t think I will break my rule of avoiding woodworking during the two hottest, most humid months of the year, though that doesn’t mean I can’t draw up the plans and get the materials all ready.

Anyway, my spring of woodworking despair has led into a summer of new hope. I have several projects on the horizon that I would love to make, and I actually have a little free money to purchase the material with. Suddenly, I pumped up for some woodworking! The only thing that could top it off is convincing my lovely wife that a moving fillister plane would make a very nice birthday gift for her hard-working husband.

My Favorite Things

For as long as I can remember I’ve loved reading. Growing up, we didn’t have much money, but we always managed to have books in the house. I can remember my dad winning a set of Readers Digest condensed classics with titles such as: Moby Dick, Of Mice and Men, Treasure Island, War of the Worlds, Robinson Crusoe, and Great Expectations, among many others. Because the books didn’t feature photos of young ladies with huge…assets…my dad wanted little to do with them. I read them all, more than once. Another one of my fondest childhood memories (which there are few of) was my first library card. When I was old enough, I would walk to our public library every day and pick out three books to bring home, which was the maximum number allowed for children under twelve years old. I can remember imagining Abraham Lincoln doing the same thing as a young boy, and while I wasn’t sure at the time which books Lincoln would read, I almost always found myself taking home books either about astronomy, or World War 2. In fact, I can say in all honesty that I probably read every title that our library had to offer on both of those subjects. Looking back on those times, my behavior wasn’t all that strange. My generation is probably the last to grow up without cable television, or home video games, or VCR’s for that matter. Nearly every kid in my neighborhood went to the library a few times a week, even the thugs. The only thing that set me apart was the fact that I did it more.

I can go on and on about my reading habits. I was a night owl all through high school, and read hundreds of books simply because I couldn’t sleep, and with only six channels, almost nothing was on television. By the time I was 18, I had accumulated well over one thousand books. Unfortunately, when I joined the army my dad donated most of them to Goodwill, likely because books are like kryptonite to my dad. That mishap aside, I still have some of those books, and many more that I picked up since. When I first started woodworking I started by purchasing woodworking books. I have more than fifty titles, though I never bothered to actually count them. As I’ve said before, some are good, some are just okay, and some are simply bad. I’ve managed to take a little knowledge from all of them. While you can’t learn to woodwork just by reading, it does give you a nice foundation to build upon. So with it being Christmas time, I’ve decided to continue my “gift ideas for woodworkers” theme and list a few of my favorite woodworking books (that I own) in no particular order. So here goes…


This was one of my first woodworking books, and I got it through a book club. At the time, I was planning on making a woodworking bench and I really didn’t know exactly where to start. Workbenches From Design and Theory to Construction and Use is in my opinion the clearest book on the subject of constructing a workbench. There is very, very little I disagree with when it comes to this title. Like it or not, sooner or later a woodworker needs a workbench, and if you can’t afford to purchase one you will have to make it yourself. This book is the best place to start in my opinion.


I’ve had Eric Sloane’s A Reverence for Wood for quite a long time. In this book, Sloane uses story telling to educate the reader about wood, it’s movement and grain patterns, it’s use in furniture making, and it’s importance to society. It is a fast and interesting read containing a great deal of solid facts about how wood “works”. I would highly recommend any woodworker reading it, especially a younger one.


An older former coworker of mine gave me his set of Audel tradesmen books. The Carpenters and Builders library is one of my favorites, with great descriptions of tools used in carpentry and woodworking. This is one of my favorite books to just page through, as it seems I learn something new just about every time I read it.


While I’m not really a big fan of period woodworking, The Pine Furniture of Early New England has some really great photos and description of Pine furniture (obviously) of the 18th and 19th century. Whenever I am considering a new project and I am looking for ideas, this is the first book I turn to for guidance. Best part, you can get it used for around a dollar on most web sites.


With the Grain by Christian Becksvoort is a great resource for any woodworker looking to learn about North American “furniture wood” trees and how to identify them. It is the clearest and most concise book on tree identification and information that I’ve come across, and a book that no serious woodworker should be without. If I were looking to purchase a book for a new woodworker this would be at the top of the list.


Handtool Essentials is a collection of articles written for Popular Woodworking magazine focusing on hand tool use. Not only are several important techniques discussed, such as sharpening, paring, and hand plane tuning discussed; there are also plenty of clear, close-up photos which actually detail the highlighted topics. Like it or not, woodworking is a visual art, and sometimes a clear photo can explain in seconds what an entire written paragraph cannot. Too many woodworking titles fall short in the good photo department, this book does not. Also, though the book is mainly focused on hand tool use, the sections on sharpening and joinery are just as important to a woodworker who uses mainly power tools. This is another title that I would highly recommend to a new woodworker.

Though I don’t have a photo of it because I left it in my desk at work, another woodworking book I really like is Tage Frid’s: Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking books 1 and 2. Most woodworking books that claim to be a “complete guide” usually fall a little short. I own books 1 and 2, and they are the best general woodworking books I’ve come across. It’s hard to say if these books would benefit an absolute beginner, but they certainly couldn’t hurt, and a woodworker with a bit of experience can take a lot from them. These are also books that I would highly recommend for any serious woodworker.

Though I’ve been a bit critical of woodworking books in general, there are quite a few very good ones that I’ve left off the list. I picked a few of my favorites that I know are easy to obtain, and if I’m not mistaken Amazon sells all of them with the exception of With the Grain. Most of these titles are probably of more benefit to a beginner rather than a woodworker with a good deal of experience. But I think that my list here is a good one for any woodworker looking to begin, or possibly expand his or her library.

Where to begin.

The other day on a woodworking forum, a beginning woodworker asked me which I would purchase first: a table saw or a workbench? Before I answered, I told the person that I don’t often offer advice, which is true. To paraphrase a favorite author of mine, “Advice is a dangerous gift, and all options could end in failure.” At the same point, when somebody asks me a question, I usually feel obligated to answer. I answer questions all day. People ask me electrical questions that make me cringe and pray that they have a nearby fire company. So when this person asked me this question I did my best to answer it.

Firstly, I asked him if the question was just hypothetical. He said that he had always wanted to woodwork and now is finally ready to start. My initial advice was to buy a table saw and use it to make a workbench. In fact, that is exactly what I did. I know that not long ago I had said on this very blog that if I could start all over again, I would purchase a workbench rather than make one. I still stand by that, but I also said that a new woodworker in the market for a workbench should build the Bob Key bench, use it for a few years, and then purchase one after they got a real feel for what they wanted to do as a woodworker. I am a firm believer that every woodworker will make or purchase at least two workbenches in his or her lifetime, and not because of the first bench wearing out. You can take any workbench plan out of any workbench book that the author claims is just about a perfect bench, and I guarantee that eventually you will find several things on the bench that you would like to change. My current bench was born out of nearly five years of woodworking; I must have changed or modified it at least a dozen times. The worst part is, I know I will move onto another bench sooner rather than later. At that, workbenches are too expensive to both purchase and make and too time consuming to build over and over again til you get it right. You can spend $2500 on one of the top model table saws and pretty much be set for the next 20 years. The same can’t be said of a workbench.

So my advice was to purchase the best table saw he could afford. I reasoned that with a table saw you can immediately begin to make furniture; with a workbench you have nothing but a cool looking table. A workbench needs saws and planes and chisels to produce anything. Of course, you need other tools besides a table saw if you want to woodwork, but getting a good one at the get-go will save a lot of future headaches. He told me the reason he had asked me was because he read one of my blog entries about workbenches and table saws being two of the most expensive tools a woodworker usually owns. He felt that by starting off with one of the big ticket items, he could slowly and surely build up his tool kit from there. I thought that was smart thinking. He then promptly told me that he had already ordered a workbench, and that he was just wondering what I would have done. I wished him good luck. It turned out that my impassioned reasoning was all for naught. Well, what do I know? Now you all know why I’m slightly confused.

It’s that time of year.

I’ve noticed that several woodworking blogs and web pages have been putting up lists of suggested gifts for the woodworker. I have to admit that is a pretty good idea, because chances are that many woodworkers share at least some of the same tastes. I’ve decided to add my two cents to the kitty and put up a short list of items that I own and think would make good gifts for the woodworker in your life. So here goes.

1. Craftsman Duck Canvas Carpenter Pants.

I own several pairs of these work pants and they are well worth the money. They are both thicker and heavier than their Carhartt equivalent, but at the same time softer and less stiff. There are tool pockets on both legs, along with a hammer loop, and the zipper is heavy duty with a large pull. They may be a bit too heavy to work in during the summer, but for the other three seasons they are just about perfect. They work well both in a workshop or a job site, and they don’t stain easily.

2. Craftsman six-inch combination square.

This was a tool I owned long before I got into woodworking, and only recently traded it for a Starrett. The cost is extremely low for the quality of the tool. However, I will say that when I purchased mine more than ten years ago the tool was made in America. As of now I am not sure where this tool is manufactured, but if it is of the same quality as mine then I have no problem recommending it as a gift. It is accurate, inexpensive, and a must have for woodworking.

3. Gramercy Holdfasts.

If you, or a woodworker you know, owns a workbench and doesn’t own a pair of these holdfasts it would be the first tool I would purchase on the list. They work brilliantly, are inexpensive, high quality, and will see use nearly every time a woodworking bench is being used. There is not a single project I have built that haven’t seen holdfasts come into play at least a half dozen times. I cannot say enough good things about these tools; they are as good a product as you will find anywhere as far as woodworking tools are concerned.

4. Stanley 750 Sweetheart Chisels.

For less than $100, this four-piece chisel set is the best value on the market. These chisels are light, easy to sharpen, have high quality handles and tool steel, and come in a leather pouch. For the money, I have not used a better chisel, not even close. In my opinion, to get a chisel of this quality you are going to spend more than double the money for another brand. In fact, be prepared to spend more than triple for the Lie Nielsen versions. This set could very well be the first and last set of bench chisels a woodworker will ever need.

5. Stanley Sweetheart #4 Smooth Plane.

While I am not as enamored with the #4 smooth plane as many other woodworkers can be, I certainly know that it is a useful tool. The problem is that a good quality one can get expensive. While there is nothing wrong with spending money on a good quality tool, the #4 plane does not get used as often as you think, and I am of the mind that I would rather put the money into a tool that sees more use. If you are looking to go new, the Stanley Sweetheart #4 is a great option. The plane is made of ductile iron, has premium totes, a high quality iron that is easy to sharpen, and a Norris style adjuster. I own it and have little to complain about. For less than $130 it is as good a hand plane as you can get.

6. Lie Nielsen Basic Sharpening Set.

Especially for a person new to sharpening, this set is a great start. It includes a 1000/8000 grit Norton water stone, a side clamp honing jig, tool oil, and a Lie Nielsen ruler if you prefer to sharpen using the “ruler trick”, which I personally don’t care for all that much. Aside from a 220 grit stone that I own, this set is the only system I use to sharpen with and I have had no trouble keeping my tools edges maintained, and believe me I am no expert sharpener. You are not saving much money by purchasing the kit over individual pieces, but if you need everything in the kit this is the easy way to go about it.

So that is my list of basic items that I believe any woodworker could use. The most expensive item on the list is $125. I personally believe that any one of these gifts would work great for a woodworker who for whichever reason does not own them. I know that it can be tough sometimes to find a gift for a woodworker, especially a new woodworker. So I hope that this list helps out a little bit, and possibly makes a woodworker happy on Christmas morning.

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