Sunday, February 21, 2016

My Half-Scale Bowling Lane

I've been getting a lot of questions about this, so I figured I'd do a quick video....

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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Six Shop Projects I'd Like To Build This Year

I think every woodworker at some point in time says to himself that he needs to stop building furniture or knick-knack projects and build something useful for his shop. Whether it's a new bench, some jigs, a router table, or some kind of storage, tables, or cabinets, it's usually something he's put off until he can stand to be without them no longer.

What are mine? Glad you asked. Here are six projects that I'm thinking of tackling in the coming year or two:

1) A new workbench. The one I have is fine and has served me well. It's made out of common 2x4 construction lumber, it's sturdy, and I like it. But when I built it, I didn't take a few things into consideration. I'd like to build something bigger, beefier, and with more clamping/hold down capabilities. Not to mention, I need to build it a little shorter (I built it to accommodate my standing height, not realizing that I'd not always be standing at it). If I ever get a new table saw, I'd like to build the bench to serve as an outfeed table in addition to my main work surface.

2) A real, honest-to-goodness router table. I have a Bosch table now, but it's designed to be portable and to be clamped onto your bench top (or other stable surface). The table itself is great. The fence? Not so much. I'd like to build an actual standing cabinet to house my router bits and router accessories in. I'd also like to design it so that when I'm not using it I can wheel it out of the way. The router I currently have in it is easy to adjust from under the table, so I wouldn't really need a router lift unless I upgraded to a different router (which I very well may in the future). I'd cross that bridge if/when the time comes, though.

3) Storage cabinets and shelves. I think this is always on every woodworker's list of things to do, but in my case the need is growing. Whether it's for storing and sorting sandpaper, something to sort and store your hand tools on, or simply something to keep all the drill bits, screws, nails, and other small parts and pieces, storage and organization is always a huge plus in any shop. I don't know how many times I've needed a certain size screw and can't find the box I'm looking for, because one week it's on this shelf and the next week I moved it to another shelf without remembering that or misplaced it completely. It'd be nice if I had a place to put everything, but the trick is to make sure I keep it there. Easier said than done.

4) A lumber rack. I have a long shelf that I currently use to store my lumber, but it's a pain to keep sorted and organized. Nine times out of ten the board I need is all the way to the back and buried under a bunch of other stuff. I'd like to build either a rolling cabinet that also holds sheet goods, or come up with a new and better way entirely. I don't have a lot of space in my basement shop, so I'll have to come up with an idea at some point in time.

5) A miter saw station. The bench I have my miter saw on right now is a hulking table I built when we first moved into this house in 2008. It currently shares this space with my spindle sander and benchtop drill press. At some point in time, I'd like to build a station that's better suited to make use of this saw. I use it quite often, it's reasonably accurate, but I know it would be dead-on if I built something that had a way to set stops and kept everything aligned perfectly.

6) A long cabinet/workbench for my benchtop tools. As I mentioned above, my drill press and spindle sander share the same space as my miter saw. My jointer is on a rolling cabinet over by my dust collector, and my planer is on a stackable shelf next to it. I'd like to free up that space along the wall, build a long bench along it (at a lower height than normal), and put all of these on it so they're all in one area and my workflow can improve. I'm not all that certain, however, that the wall in question is long enough to do this and even if it is, then the next question is where would I put my dust collector?

When I set up shop in my basement, I was aware that I'd be facing space limitations and various challenges as the shop grew. Trying to overcome those challenges is what I'm going to be focusing on in the next year or so.
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My Wish List As A Woodworker

I've been woodworking for just over two years now. In that time, I've built up a collection of better tools and better skills, but the further I get along with both, the more I realize that I'd like to go even further.

Most of my projects that I choose to do are what I call "skill builders", i.e., there's at least one thing about it that will challenge me to try something new, whether it's a new tool or a new technique. For example, last spring/early summer I purposely built a couple of tables to teach myself joinery, such as mortise and tenons and dovetails. I got the mortise and tenon aspect of woodworking down, but dovetails? Yeah, I am still relying on a jig for that. Not for lack of trying, I've made several attempts and let's just say that they fell short of expectations.

I was sitting at my computer today, thinking (okay, dreaming!) of what I could do or what I could purchase to get me to the next level and I came up with this list. I'm sure if you compare notes with many woodworkers, their list will be very similar.

1) A bigger, better table saw. If you've watched my videos or read my table saw review, you'd know that while I'm not unhappy with my saw, I'm fully aware there are things about it that are lacking. Mainly the size of the table top, but there are a couple of little things about it that I wish were better, such as what the top is made of and how big/tall the fence is (it limits me as to what I can use for attachments). I've been looking around for something to upgrade to, but haven't found anything in my budget that has a reputation I can trust.

2) Let's face it....I've tried I don't know how many times to cut dovetails, and I more than likely will continue trying, but it's a skill that is probably either beyond my grasp or, at best, years away from being able to do it and not have people say "Well, at least you tried..." I've tried a couple of jigs, and although the one I have now is ok, I really don't like the "this is the size you are stuck with" part of it. I'd much rather have something I can use and make the size of my dovetails look like, well, actual handcut dovetails.

3) Better handsaws. I have a rip cut saw, a crosscut saw, a panel saw, and a couple of small backsaws that I purchased at the local home center. They get the job done, so I can't complain, but they do leave the cut edges rough and I have to clean them up. Oh, and maybe a dovetail saw, just in case I ever do master dovetails (see #2).

4) Upgrade to 1/2" shank router bits instead of the mix of 1/4" and 1/2" I currently use. I think the 1/2" are safer and more reliable, but finding them in my area is next to impossible.

5) A good set of forstner bits. The ones I have are good, but they don't sell a complete set in my area, so I've purchased them on an "as-needed" basis. I have what I need so far, but I dread the day I have to make a special trip to go purchase a $40 bit just because I have to cut a certain size hole.

6) A couple of nice spokeshaves. I bought one for about $5 a few months ago, because I needed one to shape the legs on the highboy I'm building. It did the job ok, but keeping it locked in on the setting I want is a problem, so I'd like to eventually buy a quality set (one with a flat sole, another with a curved sole).

7) Card scrapers. I modified a broken putty knife to use as one, and it works ok, but leaves a lot to be desired. I'd like to upgrade to a nice set at some point in time to finesse my surfaces.

8) Mortise and tenon equipment. I tried the General Tools mortise and tenon jig and didn't much care for it, so I've been cutting tenons mainly on my bandsaw (see #1 as to why I don't usually cut them on the table saw), and I cut the mortises on the router table. It's a pain in the rear to set up for the cuts and, unless I'm cutting several all at once, it's time consuming. I'd much rather have either a mortiser with a tenoning jig. If I could justify the insane expense, I'd love to have a Festool Domino (they're crazy-expensive, so I don't see me ever getting one) or something similar to it.

So those are the things that are currently on my "wish list" and, like I said, I'm sure that most woodworkers have a similar list (feel free to share it in the comments below). Now don't get me wrong, I can make do (and have been) with what I currently have, these are more along the lines of "things that will make my woodworking life a lot easier" than anything else.

P.S.: Not a "tool" wish at all, but I certainly wish I had a bigger and better shop setup. Short of building on to my house, it's not gonna happen anytime soon.
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Saturday, February 13, 2016

An Open Letter To People Who Want To Hire Others To Build Stuff For Them

An honest question, here: Why is it that if someone wants to have some work done around the house and can't do it themselves (whether it's a case of not enough time or that they don't know how to do it or simply don't have the tools), they are comfortable having contractors give them a bid/quote and don't go off the deep end when that bid/quote is presented to them, yet when they want something custom built by a woodworker they raise a tremendous fuss when the price is quoted to them?

Both situations are very similar in a lot of ways. With both the contractor and the custom woodworker, the potential client checks the references, past work, weighs the time-frame he says he'll have it done in, the price quoted, etc., and then make their decision based on that. However, with a contractor, it is understood that not only is there the price of materials involved in such a bid, but that the cost of labor, time, craftsmanship, and experience play as much, if not more, of a role in the final price as anything. Yet with a custom woodworker, people don't take any of those things into account, as if it doesn't matter or is totally irrelevant to their situation. I think it has as much a role as anything else, if not more so.

Think about it. The custom woodworker is approached to build something nice, usually out of solid wood. and usually with the prospective client only having a vague idea of what they want it to look like or what they want it made out of. Making it usually takes time, sometimes hours, sometimes days, sometimes even weeks or months. There is a lot of skill involved in turning a chunk of wood into something nice. There's also the tools involved and the dangers that go along with them, the delivery of the finished product, the cost of finishing, and a host of other miscellaneous expenses involved. Yet if you don't quote them a price that falls right at the amount the wood costs, they go crazy and start lecturing you on how they can get it cheaper at one of the Big Box stores (more on that later).

Not only does the custom woodworker have to build something, they have to sand the wood to get a nice surface for finishing. They have to clean off any glue that has squeezed out so as not to ruin that finish. They have to account for wood movement. They have to be certain that any joints go together nicely and that they will hold together for a long, long time. They have to clean up any tearout of the woodgrain. They have to make sure their work area is climate controlled (to a large degree) so that the finish cures properly. They have to go pick up materials for the project, bring them to their shop, cut and shape them, and dispose of any leftover pieces that can't be used in the future. They have to sharpen and maintain their tools, purchase screws, nails, glue, sandpaper, and heaven knows what else. The list goes on and on.

I know people are in what I call the Big Box Store mindset, and I certainly don't begrudge anyone from shopping around for the best deal or price. If there's anything distinctly American, it's the penchant for finding the best deal possible. But that's not what this is about. What it is about is people who think, for whatever reason, that unless the cost that is quoted to them is just a few pennies above the cost of materials, then somehow they're getting screwed over and taken advantage of.

If you're one of those people, let me explain something to you. Wood is not cheap. Neither are the tools it takes to turn that wood into something useful. And how can you put a price on skill, craftsmanship, and experience? You can't.

Yes, more often than not you can go to one of the chain stores and buy that same bookshelf or entertainment center for a lot less. But look at what you're getting. It's cheaply made, out of cheap materials (usually compressed cardboard, cheap plywood, or MDF), and it's not designed to withstand the test of time. It usually is something that you have to put together yourself, held together by screws and other various kinds of hardware. It's meant to be built, put in its place, and then never, ever moved. If you take exceptional care of it, it could last you a few years, certainly. But is it something you can pass down to your children, or their children? Most likely, no. It's massed produced, usually overseas, and when the time comes that it needs disposed of (and that time will come, you can count on it), it goes to your landfill and sits there, slowly rotting and releasing who knows what kind of chemicals and pollutants into the environment.

That same bookshelf or entertainment center, when built by a custom woodworker with experience and skill, will almost always be made personally by him alone, and out of solid wood. There are exceptions, don't get me wrong, where a customer will ask for plywood with a veneer or something like that, and that's fine, but usually that is the exception, not the rule. This craftsman will devote many hours, days, weeks, maybe even months, to your project. He will design something and work with you to make certain it's what you want, help you pick the materials and the finish, and usually load it up and deliver it to you once it's complete. He'll build something for you that you can proudly display in your home, knowing that it will be there long after you and he are both gone, and that your children will enjoy it and pass it down to their children, and maybe even their children.

He does all of this not out of the goodness of his own heart, he does it for the financial reasons (we're talking not about the hobbyist, but the serious woodworker, the people who do this for a living or, at the very least, to make some extra money to buy new tools and stuff). Yet people behave as if some sort of crime has been committed because the craftsman had the nerve to make a profit.

It's a curious situation in that you rarely see or even hear of others in similar lines of work getting this type of response. You shop around for the best price, naturally, but when you are hiring someone to make something for you that you can't make yourself (whether it's that you don't have the time, the tools, or the skills), of course it could get expensive. Believe me, the custom woodworker wants your business. He wants to build something nice for you, and he doesn't take any great joy in quoting you a price that you cringe at. He does, however, take great joy in that he has made something that you are happy with. He loves the fact that he's made something for you that will be enjoyed for years -- maybe even decades! -- to come by you and your posterity.

Yes, there are some scam artists out there who will slap some wood together with some nails or screws, call it a coffee table, and take you to the cleaners, but that's why you check references and stuff like that. If he's good and his creations are worth it, you will never regret paying for it.
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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Bosch 4100 Jobsite Table Saw Review

I don't have a lot going on in the shop this week, so I thought that as I did my cleaning and maintenance, I'd do some reviews of the tools I own and currently use.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Chicago Electric/Harbor Freight 12" Sliding Dual Bevel Miter Saw Review

I don't have a lot going on in the shop this week, so I thought that as I did my cleaning and maintenance, I'd do some reviews of the tools I own and currently use.

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WEN Benchtop Drill Press Review -- Brian's Workshop

I don't have a lot going on in the shop this week, so I thought that as I did my cleaning and maintenance, I'd do some reviews of the tools I own and currently use.

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Rikon 14" 10-321 Bandsaw Review

I'm spending a week cleaning my shop and doing maintenance, so I decided to do some quick tool reviews of what I currently own and use.

Here is my 14" Rikon bandsaw, model # 10-321.

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Monday, February 8, 2016

Shop Talk #9

Weekly shop update.

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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Build A 12 Cubby Shelf

I had a customer come to me a few weeks ago, asking if I could build a cubby bookshelf. Initially they wanted 9 slots to hold the fabric cubes they wanted, but eventually decided they wanted 12. Other features were that they wanted a half-inch of space on each side of the cubes, and that it could be stood up two different ways (i.e., it could stand on one end and be shorter, then turned on the other side and be taller). This was mainly because there was a child in the house and, as he grew, they wanted to be able to place certain things out of his reach by turning it on end.

Also, at first, they wanted it to not have a back and to have a solid wood face frame. They eventually decided that, to make it more stable, a back would be best, and that they would skip the face frame and just do an iron-on edge veneer. They also selected the stain to be used, and wanted it made out of oak plywood.

So, I set to work drawing some sketches, calculating some measurements, and so forth. I eventually came up with a plan that I could use.

I decided to do dado joinery for the internal parts of the case, but pocket screws to join the sides to the top and bottom. This is mainly because my table saw is a small contractor's saw, and cutting rabbets on a long piece, like these would be, is risky. Not only is there a risk of kickback (due to trying to manhandle a large panel across a small saw), but there was a risk that the rabbet would not be cut square or at the right depth.

I rough cut the plywood pieces to length and width, then used the table saw to cut everything to final dimensions. I then laid out the dado slots for the shelves, and cut those out. I purposely cut the top and bottom pieces a little long so that if I had miscalculated on what their length should be, I had room for correction (it turns out my math was correct, so I just cut them to size as planned).

Assembly wasn't too difficult, other than just the sheer size of the piece was sometimes difficult to manage. I don't have clamps that are long enough to be used on this, so I glued everything together and used brad nails (and, in some cases, the weight of the cabinet itself) to hold everything in place. I made sure to clean up any glue squeeze out.

After the case was assembled, I laid it on the floor, checked for square, then measured for the back. As I said earlier, cutting large sheet goods isn't really an option on my table saw, so I glued and tacked it onto the back in one sheet and then took my panel saw and rough cut it to fit the back. I then took my router with a flush trim bit and cleaned up the edges.

Cabinet assembled, before stain and finish was applied.

As you can see by the photo, my measurements were pretty accurate, so I went ahead and applied the edge veneer. It's very simple to apply, you just get a household iron, heat it up, cut the veneer to the length you need, lay it on the wood, and run the hot iron over it. Press it down and smooth it out while it cools off, to avoid it raising back up.

After the veneer was in place, I gave everything a good sanding down through the grits (since this plywood was pre-sanded, I started at 120, then went to 180). I took my dust collector and cleaned up all the dust from sanding, then turned on my shop's air filter and let it run for several hours overnight, so that it could collect whatever dust was in the air. I came down the next morning and did another cleaning with a tack cloth, and was ready to begin the finishing process.

The customer wanted a dark walnut stain. I applied the first coat to the insides of the cubbies, and started seeing problems with the color and with blotching. I'm fairly sure it was the plywood itself, it just didn't seem to want to accept the stain very well. But the odd part was that when I did the outside of the case, it came out perfectly. So I let the first coat dry, did a light sanding, and applied another coat to the insides of the cubes, this time letting the stain sit longer. When I wiped it off, there was virtually no change to the appearance, except that it was slightly darker. I did two more coats on top of that, trying to get it darker, but to no avail. The blotch, thankfully, didn't get worse with each coat. I showed some pictures to the customer and asked if they'd like me to use a different stain, but they said it was ok, since the problem areas were going to be filled with those cloth cubes anyway.

As long as the customer is happy, I'm happy, but I will admit I was a little disappointed in how the stain turned out. I'm pretty sure I didn't mess anything up but just to be sure I'm going to take a piece of scrap from this project and do a little testing, to see what the problem is, exactly, so that I can avoid it in the future. But by all means, if I do go to do another piece like this, I will test the stain out on the scraps beforehand, and I'd suggest doing the same thing yourself. That, or paint it and avoid it altogether.

Cabinet after stain and finish applied.

All in all, this project took about three days to build, and most of that time was in letting the glue and stain/finish dry. It's a pretty simple project if you have the space to build it (I was really pushing the limits in my small basement shop), and you can build it without a lot of the tools I mentioned. Pocket screws would be just fine in a project like this, although getting the screwgun into the cubbies could be tricky at times. A circular saw and a straight edge can make the cuts you need if you don't have a table saw.

If you decide to build one like this, I'd love to see it. Either email me or share it on my Facebook page.

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