A New Use for Scrap Cutoffs?

It’s common among woodworkers to feel some reluctance at throwing scraps away (I could make something out of that!), but if you share a shop with your spouse, it gets doubly difficult. Carole Rothman, who built the Holiday Gift Box featured in the December 2013 issue of Woodworker’s Journal, as well as the Cherry Jewelry Box from June 2013, recently shared on her blog, Scroll Saw Bowls, what her husband Joe made from some of her bowl cutoffs:




Anybody else with a great use for cutoffs?

Shop Cabinets, Production Style

Shop Cabinets

May 2013: One cabinet down, seven more to go. The process of “settling in” continues.

Whoever first said that if you enjoy what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life, must have been a woodworker. Or maybe a magazine editor. In any case, it sure sums up how I feel about my job, which is equal parts of both vocations. I’m pretty sure a coal miner would rather not dig more coal when he or she is off the clock, and I know quite a few schoolteachers that don’t dream about teaching once summer break begins. (My wife is one of them!)

But what do I do when I’m not building something for the magazine or testing a bunch of new tools? Well, oftentimes, I’m woodworking. Or I’m trying out some new tool. And whether I’m building for the magazine or for myself, the way I feel about it is exactly the same. The experience is equally satisfying, whether I’m earning a living or just wrapping up a personal project on a Sunday afternoon.

The top snapshot here will give you a glimpse of what I’ve currently got “cooking” in the shop, and as luck would have it, there are a few “down” days between getting the last issue off to press and starting our work on a new print issue. So, I’m squeezing in some time to work on a bank of four upper and base cabinets for the shop. It’s sort of an anniversary project, you might say. Almost a year ago to the day, I was moving into this shop space (see photo, below), and I’ve had these cabinets rattling around in the back of my mind ever since. But, while working for a woodworking magazine might seem like a gravy job to many folks that only woodwork after dinner and on the weekends, we on staff actually have way too much to do most of the time. So, like you, many of my woodworking projects take a back seat until I can get around to them. (My wife will attest to that, too. She’s been waiting for a new closet closet I’ve promised to build her for two years…)

May 2012: I’m just starting to move into the new shop. Paint is barely dry.

I’m really enjoying the process of working on these cabinets. For one thing, I can imagine how much they are going to improve my storage situation in the shop. I have boxes and boxes of shop stuff that still has no place to go … but soon, it will. It’s also nice to make multiples of the same thing. Usually for the magazine, we build one prototype of a project and then a second for the article. Changeover from one project to the next is pretty quick and constant, but this time I can take the Henry Ford approach. On the bench, I’m just about to assemble seven more sets of doors. It only makes sense to get one machine setup ready, then blast through them all at the same time, before moving on to the next phase. There’s a lot of repetition, to be sure, but that gives me time to think, plan the next step and enjoy the process of making something with my hands — even if that’s an exercise I’m blessed to be able to do about 50 weeks of every year.

Here’s to hoping that you find the same sense of satisfaction that I do in this wonderful craft we all share — whether you get paid for it, or not.

Catch you in the shop,

Chris Marshall, Senior Editor

Dreams of Springtime and Shop Improvement

When it comes to weather, we’ve had a true embarrassment of riches here in California this winter. Although the beginning of this year has been the driest in recent memory, it’s hard to argue with sunny days and shirtsleeve weather at a time when folks in other parts of the country are freezing and getting snow shovel blisters.

WJBlog_S_Nagy_ShopCabinetThis unseasonal weather makes me think that, just as it’s said that a young man’s thoughts turn to love in the spring, many a late-middle-aged man’s fancies turn to … shop improvements! I suspect this is true, because I’ve recently been barraged by emails and phone calls from friends on the West Coast who need advice about their workshops: “Which table saw and planer should I buy?” “I’m thinking of installing a new dust collection system, but I’ve no idea where to start.” “Have any ideas for easy-access storage for portable power tools?”

I had already been thinking about shop improvement quite a bit in recent months, as I’d been working on a modernized form of my book Setting Up Shop, which The Taunton Press has just published in a new “book-azine” form. Because I’d recently pondered all kinds of woodshop matters, I was quick to respond to all my friend’s queries. But even though I approached each question thoughtfully, analyzing the pros and cons of all possible solutions, I was struck with how long and involved some of my responses were. OK, I thought maybe I’m overcomplicating things. After all, I have a background in epistemology (the science of how we know things) and aesthetic philosophy, so I tend to see things less in black and white, right and wrong, and more in degrees of rightness and shades of gray. Philosophical discourse is one thing, but shouldn’t the answers to most woodworking questions be fairly straightforward?

I harkened back to my first job as an assistant editor for another woodworking magazine (its name rhymes with “lime hood jerking”). I used to geWJBlog_S_Nagy_ShopDustt phone calls from readers that went something like this: “I’m building a dining table for my family, and I was wondering what kind of wood to use?” Assuming the caller had a thirst for my insights, I’d launch into a full-blown lecture on the types of woods available in their region and the various physical and aesthetic traits of those species. One time, a caller stopped me in mid-dissertation and asserted: “yeah, that’s all well and good, but which kind of wood should I make my table out of?” Not only didn’t he want a lecture on wood science, but I don’t think he wanted to strain his grey matter in order to come to his own conclusions. Maybe he didn’t have the time to process the information. Or maybe he thought that the answer he’d come up with on his own might not be as good as the one that the “professional” on the telephone could provide. A simple answer was what he wanted, and so I gave it to him: “Walnut. Make the table out of walnut,” I told him, then thanked him for calling and hung up.

I hate to think that people contact me for advice because they’d rather have me doing their thinking for them. I’ve always been a big fan of learning by doing your own problem solving. But everything in life is more complicated than it used to be (think of telephones, automobiles, even toothbrushes), and shop tools, hardware and processes are no different. So why not, on occasion, offer simple answers and/or opinions in lieu of delving into all the complex details of a topic like dust control or shop storage? I know I won’t be able to solve all of my friends’ shop improvement dilemmas, but the next time one of them calls or writes, I’m sure to ask “do you want the long answer or the short one?”

Sandor Nagyszalanczy, Contributing Editor

Historic Collection of Woodworking Projects Now Available

Today's Woodworker  Complete Collection CD

Here at Woodworker’s Journal, we’ve been digging deep in our archives to put together our largest collection to date of almost-forgotten projects, articles, tips, techniques and wood science. But the archives where we’ve been digging aren’t exactly Woodworker’s Journal archives — at least, not really. Confused?

Longtime readers may remember when two different magazines — Woodworker’s Journal and Today’s Woodworker — combined into the publication you know today as Woodworker’s Journal. Once that happened, Today’s Woodworker ceased publication.

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New Shop, Full Circle

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been busy painting, installing garage door openers and running base molding in my new garage/shop. It’s been a leisurely process, mostly in the evenings and on weekends, because I don’t have a big project on the drawing board quite yet. But, this new shop space is going to get very busy in the next month or so, as I’ll be working on a couple of big articles for our October print issue. (Yep, magazines work that far ahead — it isn’t even June!)

At some point between coats of paint or sinking nail heads, it occurred to me: this new shop kind of brings me full circle. When my wife and I bought our first home — a cozy little place at about 800 square feet — my first “official” shop was a one-stall garage. We continued to park in that garage, so the space was really tight. Then came a move to central Ohio, and the shop grew from one stall to two. We rarely parked in that garage — or more accurately, we really couldn’t.

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If at First …

As print readers of the Woodworker’s Journal know, we design a good number of the projects that are featured in our pages. And that is especially true of our shop projects. For example, in the April 2012 issue of the Woodworker’s Journal (on newsstands soon), we present a downdraft sanding cart. If I must say so myself, it is a very nice and truly functional project. How do I know that? Well, because I’ve tried it, of course. But, you might ask, how did we know it would work properly before we built it? Good question. How can we be sure our projects, specifically ones like this, whose primary feature must be functionality, are all we want them to be? It is a short answer, really: we build prototypes. We test out the ideas that we have with knocked-together mock-ups made from MDF, plywood or whatever we have lying around the shop.

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The Sad State of Workbenches (Part 2): What’s Wrong Nowadays

Modern benches generally have spindle vises with two metal guide spindles and a metal screw between them. They are usually less than 2” below the benchtop. To grip anything more than this distance, it has to be to one side of a spindle, usually the right side. The front jaw of the vise cocks when tightened, ruining the corner of the work and giving a indeterminate hold. This is not progress.

poor hold of modern spindle vise

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The Sad State of Workbenches (Part 1): What Used to Be Right

Serious woodworking started at least in Egyptian times: it is amongst the oldest of crafts. By the 18th century, the workbench was pretty well thought-out, but came to absolute perfection after 1850. The second half of the 20th Century has seen a gradual decline of the workbench. I place the blame for this on well-meaning engineers who may be bright young graduates of prestigious schools, but sadly deficient in any real understanding of woodworking. These meddlers have tweaked workbench design in the name of “streamlining” manufacture,” adding “usability” to the product or simply satisfying the latest marketing research.

Euro Bench with Emmert type vise added

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Share the Experience

For the most part, woodworking has been a solitary activity for me. Over the years, I’ve taught myself most of what I know. I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way — and either cursed or laughed about them without any witnesses or commiserators. At the same time, by going it “solo” so much of the time, I haven’t really shared the successes and breakthroughs that also happen as we gain experience. It’s been a pretty quiet life in the shop.

Then the other day a new friend of mine asked me to do a small commissioned piece for him. He’s a pipe smoker and wanted a pipe rack he’d seen online. These racks are made by hand in Europe, and while he was more than willing to pay several hundred dollars for it, his long-distance queries to order one of them had gone unanswered. That’s where I came in.

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