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.