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

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.

Continue reading

A Miter Saw Station for Many

Sometimes being Woodworker’s Journal’s “Field” Editor, I feel like I’m way, way out in some field. What I mean here is, I’m one step removed from the day-to-day feedback we receive in our home office from readers about what we publish. A lot of mail comes in, but generally I don’t get to see it. I work from home, which is several states away.

Continue reading

Workbench You Can Build in an Afternoon

If you're looking for a quick project this Memorial Day weekend, or any other for that matter, here's a low-cost bench option for you.

A couple weeks ago, I reported on my trusty old, cosmetically challenged workbench. The goal, really, was to support those of you out there who are more concerned with utility in your shop fixtures than high style. In other words, you build sturdy workaday shop fixtures so you can get on with more important projects. And, that’s okay in my book; I do it, too.

Continue reading

Closer Look at Our Full-featured Miter Saw Station

Chris Marshall shows us around his Ultimate Miter Saw Station, featured in the June 2010 issue of Woodworker’s Journal magazine.

Matt Becker
Internet Production Coordinator

EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to the enormous amount of interest in this project, we have made the Ultimate Miter Saw Stand (including the plans for the entire project and the optional Scrap Bins, as well as the Cutting List) available as a Downloadable Plan in our online store. Click here to purchase and receive the plan immediately!

Getting it Done in ’10

Ah, resolutions…

Depending on how you look at them, they could be the best or worst part of flipping the calendar to January.

Here are my plans for 2010: instead of vowing to drop 20 pounds or remodel my basement—both of which are equally unlikely—I’ve made a couple of woodworking-related resolutions this year. The first one should be easy to pull off:

1. I’m gonna tame my tangled mess of air compressor hose.

Sounds ridiculously easy, doesn’t it? Right now, it lays on the floor in a pile where it gets in my way, because the hose has a memory to it and doesn’t coil up easily. I kick it around and shove it here and there, but I need a better solution. Retractable? Maybe hung from the ceiling? This year I’m going to figure something out. (Advice anyone?)

Continue reading

Got Rules for Your Tools?

When it comes to staying organized, drawers work for me.

When it comes to staying organized, drawers work for me.

“Put things back where you find them.”

Can you still hear that one ringing in your ears from childhood? I can, but in my shop, it’s one rule I really do try to live by.

Some woodworkers wonder what kind of real work gets done in a clean shop. I guess for those folks, clutter helps get the creative juices flowing, or at least it doesn’t grind productivity to a halt. But the “Oscar Madison” approach sure doesn’t work for me. Continue reading

No More “Name That Grit”

Here's my sad excuse for sandpaper organization. Amazing it lasted this long!

Here's my sad excuse for sandpaper organization. Amazing it lasted this long!

Aside from being a dull-as-dirt photograph, this empty box is not:

A) Evidence of my secret stash of cookies. I don’t have one, but if I did squirrel away a few boxes in the shop, they’d be Thin Mints. No question.

B) A rough idea of how many boxes of Girl Scouts Cookies® my kids have eaten this spring, although it’s probably pretty close.

C) Some sad prototype for my next Woodworker’s Journal project.

Actually, this Thin Mints carton, circa 2001, has been my poor excuse for sandpaper storage. Tattered, taped up and tossed around the shop, it’s been a dumping ground for the past eight years.

Continue reading