Shop, Project

Sawbench - Part 1

The sawbench is an exercise in half lap joints, which are easy and fun to cut with hand tools.

Breaking down rough stock causes logistical issues in most shops.  I don’t care if you use a jigsaw, a circular saw, a hand saw, or your teeth to break your project parts down to rough dimensions, you need a low, wide, and sturdy sawbench to support those heavy timbers.  Recently, I built a sawbench based on Tom Fidgen’s design.  I needed a wide platform at a height that allows me to hold the stock in place with my knee while cutting.  A bird’s mouth on one end and a ripping notch down the middle are additional nice-to-have features.

Shop projects are a great way to use up scrap lumber, so I dug around and found some scrap pieces of 2x4 and 2x3 for the base.  Unfortunately, I had used up most of my “good looking” construction scrap when I built the laminated wood top for my sharpening station, so I was stuck with some pretty gnarly boards in this case. Thankfully, they looked much better after I flattened, squared, and milled them down.  My goal was to maintain as much width and thickness as possible.  I’m not sure what the final dimensions of the base components ended up being, but it doesn’t matter because there’s no impact to the functionality of the sawbench.

These gnarly paint-splattered 2x4 and 2x3 scraps will become the base of my sawbench.

They looked a lot better after I milled them down.

Building this sawbench was an exercise in half lap joinery.  Half laps are easy, fun, and fast to cut with hand tools, so that’s how I cut all of mine.  I also think that Battleship is a great movie, however, so that automatically calls into question my other personal preferences (or so I’ve been told).  At any rate, you could also cut these joints on the table saw with a dado blade, but I’ve found it difficult to get a nice consistently tight fit using that method; I find the setup fussy.

Saw the shoulder of the half lap joint...

...and split off the bulk of the waste.

I started by cutting the shoulders on the two long stretchers.  These pieces are small enough that I could have just cut the cheeks with a tenon saw, but I really wanted to try splitting out the waste.  I’d never tried this method before, so it was a bit of a learning experience.  I used a chisel and a mallet and worked my way across the end grain, taking half of the waste with each pass.  Grain direction is key when splitting out the waste, so I took extra care when the grain wasn’t running perfectly straight.  Once I removed as much waste as I dared, I shaved the remaining material down close to my layout lines with the chisel and finished it off with the router plane.

I used a chisel to get close to my knife lines.

The router plane made everything flat and consistent.

Chopping out the waste in the leg to receive the stretcher.

With the stretchers completed, I laid out the mating joints on the legs with a marking knife, sawed the shoulders, and chopped out the waste.  Notice in the lead picture of this post that I purposely left the stretcher slightly proud and long.  This allowed me to plane everything flush after glue-up.

With the four half laps joining the stretchers and legs dry-fitted, I had two complete trestle sub-assemblies ready to go.  In the next post, I’ll cut the remaining joinery and assemble the base.  Stay tuned!


The Hunt

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.
— Alan Turing

I spend five hours per day commuting for work.  Yeah, you read that right.  Most of those hours are dead time spent sitting on trains; I can’t do any actual woodworking, but it leaves me an enormous amount of time to read, listen to podcasts, and watch video.  Some day, when I write my epic autobiography (There and Back Again… A Commuter’s Tale), I’ll tell you all about the trials and tribulations of being a public transportation monkey, but today I’m more concerned with the woodworking content that I consume during those hours, or rather, the way my attitude toward it has changed.

Years ago, when I received a new issue of a woodworking magazine in the mail, I would sit down as soon as possible and read it cover-to-cover.  I would then carefully file it away for a while before pulling it out to read the whole thing again, and again, and again.  I might have every magazine issue from the early-to-mid-2000s memorized.  I subscribed to quite a few magazines back then, but whenever I passed a news stand, I couldn’t resist scanning through to see if anything new had popped up.  These days, however, my list of subscriptions is much smaller and when a new issue arrives, it can sometimes sit for days before I even pick it up.  Instead of reading it cover-to-cover, I’ll skim through the issue looking for any articles that might hold my attention.  When I put it down, I rarely look at it again unless I’m searching for something specific in my woodworking archive. The same is true for books, podcasts, video, and internet content.  I’m choosy about the books I buy these days, I listen to a handful of woodworking podcasts, my video viewing is limited to a select group of content producers, and I can’t remember the last time I visited a woodworking internet forum.  So, now that I have a seemingly endless amount of time to consume content, I’ve lost interest.  What happened?  Who or what will save me from the snooze-fest of Serial season 2?

I’ve seen this topic discussed before, and the conclusion is almost always, “your skills have outgrown the content.”  I suppose that’s somewhat true, but not universally; there’s plenty of woodworking topics out there that I know little or nothing about.  I think my interests have just become more focused.  When I was brand new to woodworking, my brain was a sponge.  I indiscriminately absorbed as much information as possible.  As time went by, however, some topics started to lose relevance.  I obsessed over cabinet saws until I bought one, and then I started skipping all those articles.  Workbench design was the most important thing in the world to me until I built one and then I lost interest.  The latest “Router Shootout!” means nothing to me because I already have all the routers I need.

Thirteen years have passed, and I still find interesting articles in the popular magazines.  There’s a lot of repetition, though, so they don’t always hold my attention.  I’ve settled in with my preferences in podcasts and video content.  Sometimes something new catches my eye (or ear, depending) but my interests have narrowed enough over time that I’m no longer a “consume all available woodworking content” kind-of-guy, even though I have my commuting dead time to fill. To be honest, I miss the old days when everything was new and exciting.  I have to work a bit harder to find content that matches my interests, but it’s out there, and the hunt is always fun.


Pneumatic Tool Storage

Pneumatic tools are the unsung heroes of my shop.  My brad nailer never shares in the glory of a completed furniture project, but it touches every jig and shop project that I (sometimes literally) throw together.  The problem I’ve always had, though, is that using it is a pain in the neck.  I had to lug around the compressor because I was tethered to a short spiral air hose.  All the accessories, connectors, and thingamajigs were scattered around my shop, never readily available when I needed them.  So, to make life a little sweeter, I carved out some space for my pneumatic tools on the open stud wall in my shop, right in-between my hardware storage shelves and my clamp cart. 

There’s nothing fancy or innovative here; the picture pretty much speaks for itself.  Some scrap plywood was all I needed to create some storage shelves between the studs and to hang my stapler, brad nailer, and hoses. The main benefit that I get from this setup is that the compressor stays in one place, and I can use the 50’ retractable hose to reach anywhere in the shop.  That’s a total game changer.  The blue trays hold my brads, staples, and various connectors and attachments.  My nail guns are held by double-pronged robe hooks.  I have no idea why I had four of these in stock, but by some happy accident, they fit the tools perfectly.  Serendipity, FTW.

Did you know that I posted this picture on Instagram a while back?  I’m a newbie on Instagram, but going forward, I plan to use it for pictures and comments that don’t really merit a full blog post.  You can follow me here!


Shop Improvements

It turns out that an eerie type of chaos can lurk just behind a facade of order—and yet, deep inside the chaos lurks an even eerier type of order.
— Douglas Hofstadter

I’ve been thinking a lot about shops lately.  I’ve often heard that the shop itself is our most important tool.  If that’s the case, then shouldn’t we put as much (or more) effort into maintaining and improving our shops as we do our other tools?  If a chisel gets dull, I don’t just pick up a bigger mallet to whack it with.  Well, ok, sometimes I do, but most of the time I head over to my sharpening station to touch it up.  That small amount of maintenance makes the chisel perform better and improves the quality of my work.  My shop, as a tool, shouldn’t be treated any differently.

When I started down this path a month ago, I didn’t intend to launch myself into a full blown shop improvement vision quest. I had a problem to solve:  my lighting was poor due to some of the cheap ballasts burning out in my fluorescent lights.  So, I bought some higher quality ballasts and rewired the offending light fixtures.  When I was done, the improvement was remarkable.  It’s amazing what you can get used to when it comes on gradually (also known as the “frog in the boiling water” syndrome).  This one repair to my shop illuminated (see what I did there?) a whole host of other problems that I’ve been tolerating for way too long.  So, prepare yourselves, my friends, for the upcoming parade of posts about shop repairs and improvements.  I’m on a roll right now, so I’ve got to strike while the iron is hot, as they say.  Once I get distracted by a new furniture build, I’m sure I’ll drop whatever shop improvement I’m working on and then who knows when I’ll get back to it.


A Woodworking Archive

To grow interested in any piece of information, we need somewhere to ‘put’ it, which means some way of connecting it to an issue we already know how to care about.
— Alain de Botton

Whenever I start a new project, I always find myself digging around in my old magazines, books, and Internet bookmarks.  There’s always a need to research for design inspiration, information on a new technique, of just for general construction details.  Unfortunately, digging through all of the woodworking information that I’ve compiled over the years can be a slow and painful process.  I decided to remedy this problem by building myself a searchable electronic woodworking reference archive.

Initial Setup
I had a few requirements for my system:

  1. Must be accessible anywhere and on any device.
  2. Everything I put into the archive, no matter the format, must be searchable.
  3. Must have a simple, preferably effortless, method of adding new content to the archive.

Fortunately, these days we have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to tools that can fulfill these three requirements.  I chose Evernote, mainly because I already use Evernote for other note-taking needs.  You don’t have to use Evernote, though; there are many other great options available.  Check out Google Drive, Microsoft OneNote, and NeverNote as alternatives.

So what did I do to prepare Evernote for my new woodworking archive?  Not much, really.  I simply creating a notebook in Evernote called “Woodworking,” and then I took a break and went out for lunch.

Adding New Content
A woodworking archive isn’t worth much if it has no content. Over the years, I’ve amassed a sizable collection of magazines.  These physical magazines have great information in them, but I can never find the article I’m looking for.  Well, during the holiday season, I found some amazing deals on electronic collections of magazine back issues that I just couldn’t turn down.  I picked up the complete catalog of Fine Woodworking, Popular Woodworking, Woodworking Magazine, Woodwork Magazine, and American Woodworker.

Unfortunately, I don’t have many woodworking books in electronic form.  When I buy new books, I try to buy both the physical book and an electronic copy as a bundle.  I like to have the physical book for actual reading purposes, but having a searchable electronic version is a huge bonus.

Finally, web content is the largest growing segment of my archive.  Blog posts, videos, images, and audio files can all be organized, tagged, and uploaded to the woodworking archive for later access.

Uploading physical files was easy to automate.  I created some sync folders on my hard drive and assigned Hazel rules to monitor them.  Whenever Hazel sees a new file appear in one of the sync folders, it creates a new Evernote note in my Evernote “Woodworking” notebook, uploads the file to that note, tags it appropriately, and then moves the physical file over to my backup drive.  These rules took care of all of my existing magazine back issues and books.  When I get a new issue of a magazine or a new book, I just drop the file into the appropriate sync folder and magic happens.

Adding web content to my archive is even easier via Evernote’s web clipper.  Any content of interest in the browser can be clipped to Evernote and tagged properly, and it even automatically records the source link in the note for later reference.  The web clipper works on computers, phones, and tablets.

Using the Archive
At the most basic level, having all of my content in Evernote allows me to access it from anywhere on any device.  That’s useful, but the real power here lies in Evernote’s advanced search capabilities.  Evernote uses OCR to make everything searchable.  All of those PDF files of my books and magazines that I uploaded?  I can search inside of all of those files.  Text in image files?  I can search that, too.  The custom tags on my notes add an additional level of search-ability, as well.

My setup in Evernote is just one of dozens of possible ways to implement a searchable woodworking archive.  I’m offering it here as an example because I’ve gotten a lot of value from it in the short time that it’s been up and running.  I’ve compiled images of inspiration pieces, quickly created a list of relevant articles regarding a new technique that I’d like to try, and I’ve even dug up some interesting reading that I wouldn’t have been able to find any other way.  I’m sure many of you have just as much, or more, woodworking information scattered around on your computer. It’s time to organize it and put it to work.