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

May/June 2013 Issue Preview


May:June CoverSummertime is a chance to get out of the shop now and then, and the new June 2013 print issue of Woodworker’s Journal will give you several good reasons to get out and explore — whether it’s a new lumberyard or your back yard.

Here’s a sneak peek at what you’ll find in the new summer issue.

If you don’t subscribe, visit our online store to buy your own copy of the May/June 2013 issue!



WJ Reader Ideas Needed: Raise the Bar (By Adding Some Wood!)

Among woodworkers, there are some projects that are “classics” — whether the woodworker in question has built them or just has them on a mental “someday” list. Sometimes, it seems as if nearly everyone has built, or wants to build, a guitar, a wooden boat … or a bar for the basement.

If that woodworker was participating in the “Raising the Bar” program of George Dickel’s Tennessee Whiskey, they’d be building a pretty fancy bar. It might, for example, include using whiskey barrels for barstools — or even the front end of a classic car for the bar front.  Those are just a couple of examples from the real-life teams competing in this event, which is now a film series on Hulu .

Team bar-building? Competition? Yep, and there’s a chance for Woodworker’s Journal readers to get in on the action, too. Tell us your ideas for what to add to this bar to make it cooler — anything from specific types of glasses to specific types of stools — and, if your idea is chosen as the winner, you could see your idea come to reality. (Here’s a thought from your editors: since you’re Woodworker’s Journal readers, we’d suggest something made out of wood.)

Further details? OK. First, the backstory. Whiskey company George Dickel’s slogan is “Handmade the Hard Way.” It refers to their 25 employees personally overseeing every step of the distillation process. To promote that slogan, they partnered with the producers of such TV shows as “Deadliest Catch” and “Storage Wars” to film six teams of real-life craftsmen — woodworkers, metalworkers and more — building bars at the 2012 American Royal World Series of BBQ in Kansas City, Missouri. Each team had just eight hours to build what they thought would be an impressive bar. “Most of my projects take exponentially longer,” said Kansas City woodworker Kirk Brown. “You can’t make anything really well, really fast, just like you can’t make whiskey real fast.”

Some teams went in with design ideas; some didn’t. They had access to some handheld power tools — like a circular saw, jigsaw, planer and battery-powered drills — and they brought some of their own tools. “I brought a hand plane,” Kansas City woodworker Kirk Brown said, “and thank goodness, because we ended up using it when we plowed over the cord of the power planer.”

Afterward, producer Thom Beers’ Original Productions company turned each of these builds into a video for the Hulu series. And public relations company Taylor Strategy assigned each of these teams to a partner publication — randomly, you will notice. Which is perhaps why the assigned “Woodworker’s Journal” team is one that incorporated no wood into their build, except the stand for metalworker Kyle Moody’s anvil. (Not that we’re bitter.)

Moving on. Each partner is soliciting ideas from our own team — that’s you, Woodworker’s Journal readers — for additions that will “raise the bar” further for our assigned bar. Examples? Replacing the glass in a traditional shot glass with redwood (a shot wood?). Or adding rockers to the bar stools. Or … ? We’re waiting for your ideas, which will be submitted to Taylor Strategy on Monday, April 15. They’ll be judged on a) originality and creativity; b) representation of true American craftsmanship; and c) the “cool-ness” factor: something you’d want to show off to your friends.

Whatever’s picked as the winning “Raising the Bar” item will actually be made, in a set of eight. If it’s a Woodworker’s Journal team item that wins, they’ll send us the eight items — but we’ll share with our readers. We promise.

So, watch the video of “our” bar (and the other ones, too, if you’d like — some of them incorporate wood) and send us your ideas for additions. You can share in the comments to this blog post, on our Woodworker’s Journal Facebook page, or by emailing us at Let’s “raise the bar” on (woodworking’s) creativity!

Rethinking the Simple 2×4

Outfeed TableOne of the luxuries of being a woodworking magazine editor is that I get my hands on “good” wood on a pretty regular basis. Clear, straight cherry and maple are often “on deck” for projects in our magazine. Recently, I built a couple of Arts & Crafts bookcases from some nice quartersawn white oak for our first “Small Shop Journal” project (February 2013 print issue). And, without spilling the beans prematurely, I just finished a project that I built from some extraordinary ribbon stripe mahogany for our June issue. It was too wide to fit my jointer … what a problem to have, right?!

Last fall, when I needed a few 2x4s for a home improvement project I was working on, I went to Lowe’s to pick them up. There, at the top of the pile, were a few of the clearest, straightest 2x4s I’ve ever seen. Some were even quartersawn — and for a woodworker that’s pretty mind-blowing when you consider how absolutely green, checked and awful so much of the construction lumber seems to be these days. It’s a wonder it even passes inspection on the way to market. Continue reading

Exercising Your Joints

I got an email from a friend this morning asking me what I thought about Festool’s Domino joinery system. I told him I thought it was an incredibly ingenious solution for rapidly cutting mortises and that the machine itself is a marvelous (albeit expensive) tool. When I reread his email before sending my reply, it was interesting to find out that he wanted to buy the Domino specifically because he had to make a dozen or so mortise-and-tenon (M&T) joints for an upcoming project. I asked if he planned to do a lot more M&T work in the future and he said he suspected as much, but wasn’t sure.

I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised by my friend’s readiness to buy such an expensive tool, possibly for a single use. After all, if you have a task to do on your computer, iPad, smartphone or other electronic time muncher, you simply buy the right software, application or peripheral device, right? I suppose it follows that when a modern woodworker needs to cut a particular joint, they buy the machine or device that’s designed specifically for that purpose.

But has modern woodworking really come to this? I remember when I was a teenager just getting interested in furniture making, I read a story about a church on an island in Lake Onega, Russia. It is said to have been built by an anonymous master craftsman using nothing but a simple axe. The story goes that after he finished building this amazing structure, he looked at his hand holding his axe and, unwilling to consider that this same axe might create such beauty elsewhere, flung the axe into the lake! Although the story is almost certainly apocryphal, I found its tale of doing great work with simple tools inspiring.

Making something with only the tools you have on hand is not only challenging, but it can help you to become a better woodworker. This certainly has been my experience. Way back before there were fancy mortising machines, we learned to chop decent mortises with a basic chisel and mallet. I remember drooling over the cool dovetail routing system that the Canadian company Leigh introduced some decades back. As a fledgling furniture maker, I was perpetually broke, so I had to cut all my dovetails by hand. It took a lot of practice, but let me create dovetails in sizes and proportions that fit the furniture I was building — not just the capabilities of the jig.

Speaking of which, lack of money and special tools also led me to design and build many of my own jigs and fixtures. For example, I had a commission to build a sleek mahogany frame for a daybed. I wanted the piece to feature box joints in all four corners. But since the members were way too long to cut on the table saw (using a dado blade), I created a router jig to guide all the joint cuts. The jig worked so well that I ended up using it on dozens of other projects, eventually making miles of tight-fitting joints before the jig wore out.

Such circumstances not only helped me develop better hand-eye coordination, but cultivated my concentration and patience as well. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have acquired the majority of my woodworking skills if I could have just gone out and bought a new tool or ready-made jig every time I needed it. And as an added bonus, you get a lot more physical exercise sawing, chiseling, drilling and planing your joinery into existence than you do simply pushing a router around. That’s a lot more important nowadays, as I’m not as skinny (or as poor) as I used to be!

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

Veneer on Video

Have you ever wondered how hardwood veneer is made? Yeah, me, too!

One of my woodworking friends sent this link to me — and it does a really great job of showing the process. Even though I’ve been around the industry for a long time, and have even seen veneer being made firsthand, I thought this video was great. Check it out!

Rob Johnstone, Woodworker’s Journal

Grizzly Adds New Tool Comparison Feature to Website

Grizzly ChartIf 2013 is your year to buy a new stationary tool, and Grizzly is one of the companies you’re considering for that purchase, they’ve just added a slick new search feature that could make the process quite easy. It’s a machinery comparison chart widget that generates an instant side-by-side cross-reference for up to four Grizzly machines at once.

Continue reading

From Our Woodworking Colleagues


Our colleagues at The Taunton Press sent out this message regarding the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and we feel moved to pass it along to our readers.  Taunton, and specifically the folks at Fine Woodworking Magazine, are competitors but this initiative is the sort of thing that far transcends any sense of business competition.

We at the Journal offer our condolences to the staff at Taunton and the wider Newtown community. And if it is in your heart to help out with a donation (see link below), we offer our thanks to you for your kindhearted generosity.

Larry Stoiaken (publisher),  Rob Johnstone (editor in chief) and the staff at Woodworker’s Journal magazine

A message from The Taunton Press
Taunton Press Logo
Dear Friends,
Last Friday’s tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, shocked the nation. Here at The Taunton Press, the events of December 14 were all too close. Newtown is not just a place on the news for us. It is our home.
The Taunton Press is a family-owned company located in Newtown since its start in 1975. We have deep roots here. Our founders, Paul and Jan Roman, raised their family in Newtown and live here along with two of their five children. Five of their grandchildren attend Newtown schools. Many of our 230 employees are Newtown residents; we have long been closely involved with our community as individuals and as a company.
Many of you have reached out to us, knowing our connection to the town, offering condolences and prayers to the community. We thank you for your concern in these dark days.
People across the nation are asking how they can help in the wake of this tragedy. The community is receiving generous help with immediate needs. But we also know the community will need help long after the news coverage has faded, so we want to focus on what comes next.
We have established a fund with the Fairfield County Community Foundation* with a clear purpose of helping with the ongoing needs of the Newtown community. The fund is called “The Taunton Press Newtown Children and Families Fund.” It is, in part, a memorial to the victims; it is also an affirmation of the importance of families in Newtown and the surrounding area.
The Roman family and The Taunton Press have made giftsto establish this fund. The fund will have an advisory committee that will consist of family, company, and community representatives, who will direct support where it will have the most lasting impact.
If you’d like to demonstrate your support for the Newtown community, you can make a tax-deductible donation by visiting here, or simply click the link below.Click Here to DonateIf you would prefer to send a donation by mail,
please mail to:
Fairfield County Community Foundation
383 Main Ave.Norwalk, CT 06851
Attn: The Taunton Press Fund
On behalf of the entire Roman family, the employees of The Taunton Press, and our Newtown friends and neighbors, thank you for your support.
Sincerely,Tim Rahr
Sandy Hook Flag Painting
*The Fairfield County Community Foundation is one of over 700 community foundations throughout the country, which promote responsible and effective philanthropy. FCCF is a federally recognized public charity with over $150 million of permanent assets under its care and it is able to handle gifts other than cash, such as publicly traded securities. Please call them at (203) 750 3200, if you have questions.