Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Pros And Cons Of Having A Basement Workshop

I have a small one-car garage that I was using as my workshop at one point in time, but it just proved to be too small to be of much use. Whenever I needed space, I'd have to roll the riding mower out the door, along with the bbq grill, and even then things were still crowded. And this was before I started purchasing bigger tools like my bandsaw and table saw. There is no insulation or utility services in the building, so if I needed electricity to run a tool, I had to run an extension cord to an outlet on the house about twenty feet away. It's brutally hot in the summer, and bone-freezing cold in the winter. Hardly an ideal situation for a woodworking shop. So, I tried thinking of a solution.

My first option was to build a smaller shed to house all the stuff for the lawn and garden equipment, move it all out, and then set up shop in the garage. The second option was to just build another garage-like building and set up shop in there. The third option was to abandon the idea of having a garage/out-building workshop and set everything up in the basement.

Lets go over the first option, building a garden shed. I seriously considered this, but realized that any shed would have to be big enough to house not only my garden/lawn tools, but also the large mower and bbq grill. So a simple shed wouldn't do it and, even if it would, I didn't have the foggiest idea on where to locate it on my property where it would be useful but out of the way at the same time.

Second option wasn't really an option at all. I have a large yard, yes, but as with the smaller shed idea, figuring out where to locate it was next to impossible. And then there was the expense. Since I don't make a living doing this, I couldn't justify spending several thousands of dollars to build something like that. And then I realized that there would be even more of an expense involved than the construction of any building. There would be the expense of running utility services to the building, insurance, permits, insulation, and so on.

So I decided to set up shop in the basement. It already had electrical outlets that I would need, it had running water, and so on. It's not insulated but it stays warm in the winter and cool in the summer, with minimal extra effort (it has heating and a/c, but I don't even have to open the vents most of the time). The main room is half-again as big as my garage, and there was nothing else down there that would be in my way (storage, the furnace, and water heater are in other rooms). All this sounds great, right? Well, it is, to a degree, but there are drawbacks. Thus the purpose of this article, to list the pros and cons of this arrangement.

First, the pros:
  • If I want to work in the shop, it's right there. I don't have to shovel snow or dress like an Eskimo to go to work. Just a walk to the kitchen, open the door, a few steps down, and I'm at my bench.
  • There was no extra expense in setting up shop. I had electrical, water, heat and a/c, etc., already set up, and there were no permits necessary.
  • More room than my garage, and I didn't have to build something that would impact the "curb appeal" of the house or maybe affect the property value.
  • I can work anytime of the day or night without disturbing my neighbors (my wife and kids, not so much). My basement is pretty sound-proof, and sounds from it are almost impossible to hear on the outside of the home at any real distance (and the closet neighbor is about eighty feet across the street).
  • If I need to use the restroom, connect to the internet, get something for lunch, etc., everything is right there. I don't have to put on a coat or whatever, go outside, and go back to the house for whatever I need, and then do it all over again to go back to the shop.
Now the cons:
  • Difficulty in getting any heavy or large equipment (or projects) up and down the stairs. There is plenty of room on the stairs (width and height) to technically move them up or down, it's just the factor of weight of the item in question. Imagine carrying a large cast iron table saw down a flight of ten steps. Not fun. So to get around this, whatever goes up or down has to be able to do so in parts and pieces (I had to take apart my bandsaw's cast iron table and stand to get it downstairs, for example).
  • Noise that disturbs the occupants of the house (my wife and kids). While technically I could go down to the shop at 3 a.m. and fire up the table saw and dust collector, the fact of the matter is the noise would wake the wife and kids. Neighbors might not be able to hear it from the outside, but on the inside? Yeah, definitely not a good idea.
  • Fumes from finishing will waft upstairs unless you have a good ventilation system. I currently don't, other than opening some windows and turning on a fan to blow the fumes outside. Plus, the water heater and furnace are down there, albeit in another section of the basement, and having a lot of flammable fumes just hanging about is not a good idea. Opening the windows isn't an option for some people, and doing so in the winter can cause problems with the finish curing, so I either have to be sure the fumes are carried away before closing everything back up and opening the heating vents, or use a no-fumes type of finish that, quite frankly, may not be what I'm wanting to use to get the look I'm going for.
  • Dust collection is a must, even more so than it would be in any other place, because sawdust gets everywhere. And if you don't have a system in place, it will find it's way upstairs and you don't want that. Plus, it's handy to have around to clean up the shop. I started out with a shop-vac at first, realized that although it was better than nothing, I needed something better. So I bought a large dust collector and put a long hose on it that could reach anything in the shop (I didn't want to start running ductwork all over the place). It made a world of difference, both for shop cleanliness and my lungs. So if you don't have a plan in place, sawdust is going to be a huge problem, both in the shop and in the rest of the house.
  • Space is still an issue, maybe even more so than a regular shop. Most basements have either concrete or block walls, so simply hanging shelves isn't really an option, unless you want to drill into said walls. And although you could buy free-standing shelves or build them yourself, those take up the valuable real estate that is the floorspace of your shop. For every shelf you erect, there could be a tool in that spot, or even lumber. You have to purposely think and decide what you need and what will be the best solution for you and your needs. Personally, I could use more shelves and storage space, but things are a little crowded as they are right now, so if I want more, it'll have to somehow go on the walls or under any benches or cabinets that I may build later on.
So there you have it. If you're fortunate enough to have a larger garage that can hold a decent sized workshop, great. But if you don't, you have other options, but you have to think of the pros and cons of those options. Hopefully this has given you some food for thought on the subject.
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Interesting Read

Just ran across this article:

Why do so many millennials prefer Ikea to family heirlooms?

So....what do you think?

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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Quick Tip On How To Prevent Rust

You can do a google search and find a number of different ways to get rid of the rust off your cast iron surfaces and plane irons, and there's even a bunch of different ways to help prevent rust from forming, or at least make it harder for it to start.

I have my shop in my basement and, as most people are aware, basements can get damp or the humidity can be a problem. I currently have a small problem with both, and I just didn't want to be scrubbing rust off my equipment every time I came down to work, nor did I want to keep treating the surfaces with chemicals and whatnot to help prevent the rust from forming, because I was concerned that these might somehow get onto whatever project I'm working on and make it harder, if not impossible, to apply finish to and look great.

My solution? Silica packets.

I live in Iowa and, if you've ever been here, you know that the humidity can be brutal. My basement has heat and a/c, so controlling the climate down there isn't too much of an issue, but sometimes there is a dampness to the air that comes with the humidity (like when it hits triple digits outside). The concrete walls form some condensation from the cooled air from the a/c, and so does the cool surfaces of cast iron. Moisture is a recipe for rust.

Also, as most people are aware, basements can have moisture problems from other sources, such as water leaking in from the outside. I currently have a small problem in my shop with that happening. There is a pin-hole leak somewhere on the stairs leading down to my shop and, try as I might for the last eight years, I haven't been able to find it, mainly because it seems I'm never down there when it leaks. It only does it when we have a ton of rain in a short period of time (or a rapidly-melting snow). The ground gets saturated, it travels down to the level of the leak, and it comes in on the stairs and leaks down to the basement (my shop is in another part of the basment, so the water isn't around my tools or anything). I have a dehumidifier that takes care of what leaks in within a day, so no worries (other than it's driving me crazy trying to find the leak).

Now, back to the silica packets. You buy just about anything these days, whether it's toys, beef jerky, or power tools, and there's almost always a silica packet in there to prevent moisture from forming and causing rust. The idea is that these little babies absorb whatever moisture may be present before it can get to whatever the product is, thus protecting it. I take these packets and store the extras in a ziploc bag, saving them for when I need them. When I'm not using my tools that can rust (bandsaw table, jointer table, etc), I flop one of the larger ones on the top and leave it to do what it does best, absorbing whatever moisture comes around. If I don't have a larger one, I throw two or three of the smaller ones on. I also keep a smaller one in among my handplanes.

I've been doing this for the past six months, and before that I had rust issues. Since I started doing it, nothing. Not a speck. And the beauty of it? Didn't cost me a cent, and it won't get on the wood I'm using.

Silica Packets Can Help Prevent Rust

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Shop Talk Vlog Episode 3

Shop Talk Episode 3

Just a quick vlog/shop talk episode. I'll probably do these once a week from here on out.

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Monday, December 28, 2015

Toy Chest Build

I built this simple toy chest for a client who was in a hurry to find the perfect birthday/early Christmas gift:

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My Tools

As you saw in the shop tour video earlier, I do have a mix of power tools and some hand tools. I use each according to my needs.

For example, my jointer is 6" wide (meaning, the max width it can handle is about 6"). There are times when I need to joint a board that is wider than 6", especially if I've glued two boards together. One option that some woodworkers opt for is to remove the guard and do what they can, then clean the rest up with a handplane. I'm not the type to remove the guard on something like that, so I just skip the middle man and reach for my handplanes in situations like this.

My 6" Jointer

Below is a picture of my handplanes. I have a simple block plane, a spokeshave, a smoothing plane, a jack plane, and a jointer plane. When it comes to making a large panel flat, I first use a straight edge and see if there are any low or high spots, mark them out with a pencil, then get to work. I am partial to my jack plane, but if it's a large piece I will use the larger jointer plane. Either will get the job done, just as long as you stop every few strokes and check to see where you're at. If you have any cup or twist, it may take some time to get it flat on one side.

My Hand Planes
Once I've gotten one side flat, then I can edge joint it on the jointer if I desire, but usually since I have it already on the bench and my planes out, I just do it that way. After that, it's just a matter of running it through the planer to flatten the opposite side and cutting the edge on the table saw to make sure everything is parallel. Only once or twice has something been too large to go through my planer (13" model) and when that happens, it's the same process,

My 13" Delta Planer
My other tools are fairly straightforward: table saw, band saw, miter saw, router and router table, spindle sander, and drill press, along with a dust collector that will reach all of them when in use.

As I said in a previous article, most of the power tools were purchased when they were on sale and there were rebates attached to them, so I saved a lot of money. Others I found on eBay or Craigslist for a good price. If you know what you're looking at and what to look for, you can usually find a good deal.

Despite the power tools, using my handplanes bring me the most satisfaction. I'll be honest, there's just something soothing about the sound a handplane makes as it slices across wood.

So there you have it, a quick article on what's in my shop at the moment.

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My Favorite Finishes

I posted a video about this subject on You Tube in early October of 2015 (I posted it below), but I thought I'd go over some more reasons why I chose these finishes over others.

First of all, let me say this: I'm not selling anything and have no connection with any of these brands, so take it for what it is, simply a statement of what I prefer. I'm not getting paid to say anything in this article or in the video, and if that ever changes (sponsorships or ads) I will disclose that.

Ok, now lhat that is said and done, let's get to it.

First off, I have in my finishing cabinet the following items, in no particular order:
  • Danish oil (couple of different colors)
  • Spray lacquer
  • Wipe-on poly
  • Varithane triple thick poly (I will explain what that is in a little bit)
  • Shellac
  • Butcher block finish
  • Mineral Oil

Ok, let's break these down. There's a reason why I have these items in my cabinet.

Spray Lacquer:

My first choice above all others is spray lacquer. It's quick, easy, offers a lot of protection, dries fast, and each new coat bonds with the previous coat. And, provided you don't go overboard on your spraying, you rarely get any drips or runs. The can says to wait a few hours before doing the next coat, but it dries so fast that you can do it a lot sooner than that.

The major drawback, for me, is the fumes. Most, if not all, finishes will put off some type of odor, but spray lacquer seems to be exceptionally potent. That's why it's not a great choice to be spraying in, say, a basement workshop (which is what I have). The fumes will quickly waft upstairs and annoy/irritate everybody in the house (especially your wife!), and with basements usually housing things like water heaters and furnaces (you know....things with pilot lights!), it's really dangerous to fill your basement with flammable fumes that could ignite and send your house up in smoke. The safe thing to do is take whatever you're applying the finish to outside and spray it outdoors.

There are, of course, drawbacks to that, as well. Temperature and humidity come into play, as well as the general weather (you can't do it if it's raining, for example, and if it's windy, expect to get debris and bugs stuck to the finish). What I do, when the weather isn't particulary cooperating, is take my project to the garage (we have a small one-car garage built back when cars were smaller and would fit, but since ours won't, it's used for garden/yard tools and the like), and apply the finish there. It's protected from the elements, so it won't get wet and debris won't stick to it (I mean things like leaves or bugs). I usually have to do a light sanding between coats to get rid of any dust nibs.

Danish Oil:
I like Danish oil for it's ease of use and low fumes. It's quick and easy to apply, doesn't take an insane amount of time to dry, and it looks good. It's almost impossible to mess up. You just flood the surface, spread it around, wait a little bit, then wipe off the excess. The drawback here is, of course, that it doesn't offer a lot in the way of protection for your project. The finish soaks into the wood, rather than sit on the surface of the project. Which in some cases is good, but if you're looking for surface protection against, say, a glass of ice water left to melt, then you're going to be disappointed.

When I use it, it's for either a project that doesn't require a lot of protection (like a step stool or something) or I use it as a sort of sealer. By that, I mean I'll apply a light coat to seal the grain so that when I go to stain something, I don't get any blotchiness (I use other methods, too, such as sanding sealer and the like).

Varithane Triple Thick Poly:
This is a relatively new product on the market, and for a finish that you have to apply with a brush, I love it. You can apply a thicker coat than you normally would and, provided the surface is flat, it self-levels. Brush strokes go away and they claim that one good coat is equal to three regular coats, so that means less work later on. I've used it a couple of times now, and I have to say that they are correct in their claim...I've yet to see any brush strokes, and after one application there is certainly a thicker, tougher coat than there otherwise would be. Drawback? There are fumes, but not too bad, and it takes several hours to dry and cure. Other than that, no complaints at all.

I have used shellac in the past a few times (I just finished up my first, and only, can not long ago). It's like the Danish Oil (they're very similar products, if I'm not mistaken), except you brush this on instead of wipe (I'm sure there are wipe-on versions, I've just not used them). You get a good coat that's fairly easy to work with, and with the different colors out there, you can get a finish you'll love that offers fairly good protection. In addition, the fumes aren't too bad, and it's a reasonable food-safe finish.

Butcher Block/Mineral Oil:
I've combined these two because I use them for practically the same thing: anything that requires a food-safe finish (like a cutting board, for example). Easy to use and relatively easy to clean up, you just flood the surface, wait a bit, then wipe off the excess.

Wipe-on Poly:
If you don't mind applying a bunch of coats, this is a good alternative to the heavy fumes of shellac or regular poly (the kind I use is a low-fumes variety). But, like I said, it takes a while -- several coats, actually -- to build up a serious finish. But when it's done, you get a good looking finish that offers great protection to your project.

Now, keep in mind that I've only been woodworking for about two years (as of the date of this article). My opinions may change on these as time goes by. Should that happen, I'm sure I'll write another article or something to that affect.

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Beginning Woodworking

As I mentioned in the previous article, you don't need a lot of powertools or even fancy equipment to do any kind of woodworking. A simple saw, a good drill/driver, a hammer, and some other miscellaneous stuff is all you really need. But to get good results, without getting frustrated, you will eventually have to move up to the next level with your tools. I mean let's face it, you're not going to build fine furniture with the basic stuff.

Below is video I made a few months ago telling you how I got started. Yes, I had the basic stuff, mainly because that was what I needed to do some remodel stuff around the house. When I decided I liked doing stuff like this (meaning, woodworking in general), I tried to do some nice projects using what tools I had, while slowly building up to better equipment. My initial tools were, shall we say, not exactly the finest on the market. And today some would say that's still the case. But I figured I'd better learn how to use these before moving up to the higher priced stuff.

For example, my first router was a cheap Harbor Freight knock-off that my local home center sells (they somehow rebrand it under another company, but it's the exact same router). It cost me about $75, with all the attachments included (edge guide, etc), it came with a router table that, shall we say, wasn't worth a hill of beans, and it could only take 1/4" bits. And, of course, the bits available to me in my area weren't exactly made of the finest quality. In fact, I broke two of them before I realized just how cheap they were (thankfully I had taken safety precautions and wasn't hurt, but the lesson was learned....there's no substitute for good quality tools and, as the saying goes, you get what you pay for).

Now, you certainly don't need to go out and spend thousands upon thousands of dollars to make great projects, and please don't take this article as my saying that you do. Having said that, though, you have to expect a certain trade-off when using the lower-end of the spectrum. The higher-priced, better quality tools (just for the record, price doesn't always equal quality) will give you more accurate results, and accuracy is the name of the game when joining two pieces of wood together propertly.

My first "real" project was a keepsake box for my daughter. I built it using my cheap circular saw, my cheap miter saw, my cheap router, and a cheap dovetail jig that I bought. It was an experience, I will say that. It took forever for me to get it to go together in a respectable fashion, and if it stays in one piece for more than ten or fifteen years, I'll be really surprised. But, as with every project I attempt, I tried to learn something from it, and I did...for starters, your stock has to be propertly milled, and you have to have accurate cuts.

I have since made several other keepsake boxes, and they each went together a lot easier than the previous one, and they looked a lot better, too, because I learned from my past experiences. Which, as you'll hear me say quite often, is what my You Tube channel, Facebook page, and this website is all about: it's about the journey. With each new project I make, regardless of what it is and what tools I'm using, I'm trying to learn something with each attempt. I started out not knowing a single thing about woodworking, except that I didn't have the skills to do it. But I resolved that I would learn, and that's what I'm doing. Hopefully I can inspire others to do the same.

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The Very First Shop Tour

What follows is a video showing where my shop currently stands as of the date of this post.

When I first got started, around February of 2014, all I really had in the way of woodworking tools was a cheap miter saw (that has since bit the dust), a circular saw, a screw gun, and a hammer. I had all those because we had purchased a repo house in 2008, and stuff needed done, and this is what I had purchased as the need for them had come up.

Since I had decided that this was a hobby I was interested in and wanted to learn, I slowly started buying new tools. A router at first, then some hand saws and hand planes, and I eventually got around to building an actual workbench with a vise.

I decided at the beginning of 2015 that these tools just weren't getting the job done, as there were things I wanted to do but couldn't really do them very well with what I had, so I set about saving my money and purchasing some new equipment.

I found a bandsaw on sale at my local home center, so I bought it. A month later, a contractors saw was on sale, so I got it, too. Another month went by and a jointer and a planer came up for sale. Followed the next month by a spindle sander and a benchtop drill press. Naturally, I spent a lot of money on all this, but since they were on sale (and I took advantage of some rebates, too), I saved quite a bit of money buying stuff that I would eventually purchase anyway.

Of course, in the future I'd like to update and get a bigger table saw, because the contractors saw has its limitations. The main reason I bought it (besides it being on sale) was the fact that I could get it down to the shop and, if need be, could get it back out again. If I had purchased a full-size cast iron saw, I would have had a lot of problems getting it down to the basement shop, and no hope of ever getting it back out again. Plus, the contractos saw is on a collapsing stand, with wheels, so if I need room it's not a problem to wheel it out of the way or even fold it down and set it against the wall.

I do have plans to build a real router table (I like the one I bought, but it, too, has limitations) and some kind of bench along the wall that can hold the jointer and planer and make that space, and those tools, more efficient. Right now, it's not a huge deal that one is often in the way of the other, because I can wheel one out of the way if need be, but I'd like to get my shop situated where everything has a better workflow to it.

Anyway, please watch the video and tell me what you think. And, of course, please subscribe to my You Tube channel and join me over on Facebook.

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