Diary Of An Amateur Woodworker

March 2008

Dear Diary,
Today my wife asked me to build her something. A toy shelf out of wood. I haven't done anything like that since I was a kid, and back then it was impolite to say, "Wow? Did you make that? Kid...that looks like garbage." I'm not even sure where to start. I have a workbench, but I hadn't actually thought of using it for anything. I hope my tools don't get freaked out by actually having to cut things. "Work? What's up with that? I though we were just for show!"

Dear Diary,
The toy shelf turned out okay. The children don't know what it's for and keep sleeping on the shelf like a set of junior bunk beds. What if it falls apart? That would be embarrassing trip to the hospital. "So, Mr. Brown...not only did you maim your daughters with your poor woodworking skills, but as I can see from this chunk of wood protruding from your eldest child's arm...you also need to work on more uniform staining application."

April 2008

Dear Diary,
Why is it that '10 simple steps' in a magazine come out to '25 impossible fitting joints' in the garage? Nothing is as simple as the cartoon drawings show stuff. I think they specifically leave out steps that are important just to get a laugh. "Hank, did you see my piece called "A fun afternoon project? I can picture grown men weeping into piles of sawdust. For my next article I'm thinking of writing, 'Antique Furniture in Thee Simple Steps.'"

May 2008

Dear Diary,
I'm hooked. I've found myself in the garage more than at my computer. I wonder if it's feeling lonely? I honestly don't care. My only regret is splinters. There are days when I feel that there are more trips inside the house to remove a errant piece of wood from my finger than actually building something. I've become a human pincushion for birch, oak and walnut. Certainly nothing I ever had to deal with in computing. Blisters and pockmarked fingers make it hard to type. Maybe I'll go back into the garage....

August 2008

Dear Diary,
Splinters are now the least of my worries. Today I am the proud owner of a table saw. So far I'm so scared of it I have trouble using it. I envision gruesome dismemberment every time I power it on. Fortunately now people are also willing to share their horribly graphic accidents with me. People, stop it! That's not helping. I spend most of the conversation in my 'happy place' fighting the urge to hurl all over them. I've resolved to try out some hand tools.

September 2008

Dear Diary,
I'm never going to get it. I can't cut a straight line with scissors and a hand saw is even harder. So far I've cut and hurt myself more with my chisels and flush cut saw, then any power tool I own. There's a reason our ancestors evolved and harnessed electricity. The simple answer is that, 'Hand tools suck' and all the rants about 'craftsmanship' and 'patience' now will only fall on deaf ears. Here comes "SEVEN FINGERS BROWN" mangled but productive!

December 2008

Dear Diary,
I live eat and dream woodworking. I'm constantly covered in sawdust and machine oil fighting the cold for another hour in the shop. I have a ton to learn and I'm still looking for another soul I can hook on this hobby, but I think it has transcended 'fad' and become a full blown addiction. We will see if this goes to wayside that some of my other addictions have gone. As for right now, I hope not. There is something so gratifying about destroying innocent wood for fun.

Sacraficing to Oops

There seems to be no shortages of people places or objects to bestow your esteem, regard, respect, approval or reverence. So how is it that I ended up here? Recently I find myself making sacrifices to a god that I didn't even know existed until a few moths back. This god is now the ruling force in my workshop, second to none with the power to change the outcome of even the smallest of event. That's right, the god of Oops.

Somehow I have unknowingly allowed myself to be ensnared in the firm grip of this relativity low profile god. What many folks would dismiss as coincidence, I see as evidence to the ethereal hand of Oops. Oops is a very demanding god

Oops demands regular sacrifices of nearly all of my projects. Sometimes, he only wants a small thing, like a striped screw head, or stray paint drip on an otherwise clean job. Other times my reverence is tested with something of a slightly larger scale. As I noted in an earlier post, Oops was apparently drowning in wistful melancholy, just as I had almost completed a project. As such his demands were much more stringent. I had the largest Oops offering to date, as I dismantled every last joint of a project to lift his spirits and cement my everlasting commitment to this terribly vengeful god.

So goes my current religious experience. I decided after that last project, that I would limiting my devotion and be giving less to this rather impish deity. I had a job that was to be a set of lattice framed doors to cover the top of my mothers koi pond. The hope was to offer some relief to an issue she has been experiencing with some rather pesky fishermen. The raccoons had discovered a nice source of fresh fish and I was charged with fixing it so they couldn't readily get at their after midnight snack.

As I put the last finishing touches on the doors I realized I hadn't made any amends to Oops. In fact I was quite proud of the fact, and mentioned it in passing to my wife as she looked over my handy work. I walked back into the shop about an hour later to sweep up sawdust and move the items, when I noticed a chip of wood missing from a joint.

Apparently Oops got wind of my statement and wasn't interested in loosing another follower. I searched all over the shop for the sliver of wood that was missing. It had apparently vanished, as if snatched up by Oops in a display of power. A sort of forced sacrifice to affirm who in fact was in charge of my so called free will.

I spent an hour or so repairing the corner. It seems I'm still an unwilling servant. Hopefully in the future I can find a way to rid myself of this god. Until then, I will continue in my sacrifices and increase my supply of wood glue and sandpaper.

What A Bargain

There is something appealing about free. Free. Something for nothing.

"You want it? It's yours."

"What's the cost?"

"No cost. Nothing. It's free. Just take it."

I should have known better. There is nothing quite as expensive as free.

Two weekends ago I got a deal. A real honest to goodness bargain. As I was browsing through Craigslist looking for inexpensive power tools to feed my new addiction, I found this post:

"Free Vintage Sears Lathe"

Needless to say I mashed out a frantic email to aforementioned giver of free tools letting them know how much I wanted it. "I will come and pick it up TODAY. no questions asked." Within three minutes of the ad appearing online, I had a phone call from the owner letting me know where to pick it up.

For those not in "the know" a lathe has one purpose. To take a block of material, wood in this case, and spin it at near dangerous speeds. My lathe spins at four speeds ranging from approx 600 to 1800 RPMs. This is changed depending on how badly you would like to maim yourself with a flying chunk of hardwood. Once you have the death machine up to full speed you attack this innocent timber with sharp objects in a effort to mold the log to your liking.

So I haul this thing home, set it up and spend about 2 hours cleaning off rust, scraping off buildup and sharpening its spurs. At this point I'm ready to 'turn' wood. Right? Wrong.

First off I had a broken drive belt, but that was a measly $20 to replace. No big deal, twenty buck to get my free tool working! Now I can turn wood.

Not so fast there junior.

Second I needed to buy some chisels, gouges, skews, and other lathe cutting tools. Otherwise I'm just trying to cut the wood with my wit, which much to my chagrin, is not that sharp. So now that I've bought $50 worth of lathe chisels, I'm ready to cut. Right? Nope. I need a face shield. This apparatus, that is both the height of fashion and safety will protect me from flying debris. There goes another $20. Now I'm ready to cut? Not likely!

Turns out to really begin turning, I need a lot. I need a sharpening wheel to grind my new chisels, because although you paid $50 bucks for them they do not come sharpened. There goes another $100 big ones. Now? Not yet. It seems your older lathe centers, the part that holds the wood in place, are too worn down and need replacing. $15.

"Okay, now what exactly do you want to turn?"

"Pens?"

"Well then, you will need a 7mm mandrel, a set of bushings, a 7mm drill bit and barrel trimmer. $60. Oh by the way...."

"sigh..."

"Do you have a drill press?"

"How much?"

"At least $100. For the cheap one."

"What If I wanted to turn bowls?"

"Yes. You could do that."

"Great!"

"You need a bowl gouge, new chuck and a set if calipers and maybe a spindle adapter..."

Anyway. I got this great deal on a new lathe. It was free. You know, free? What a bargain!

Starting Over

There are few things as defeating as starting over. When you believe that you have completed a project, paper, blog or task to realized that something is not satisfactory. You sit there putting the finishing touches on it when it hits you like a ton of bricks. You begin to rationalize. It's not that bad, I can fix it. No matter how hard you try, you know the truth of it cannot be escaped. Life is about to teach you a valuable lesson that you will shell out for in heaps of wasted time. Buckle up.

So you just finished the most amazing wrapping job on Earth. Perfectly folded corners and the most delightful bow you've ever tied. I mean, honestly, when does curling ribbon ever curl that well? Only when curling ribbon knows what you don't. It knows that you've been a total stooge and left the "HALF-OFF CLEARANCE" sticker smack dab in the center of Aunt Betsy's gift.

I recently found myself at the end of a woodworking project. It wasn't anything horribly involved, but in my mind it was nearly complete. It took me about 10 hours or so to get to this point, and this point wasn't pretty. No sir. My design, with two floating shelves, looked great on paper, but as paper doesn't have to worry about real world physics, it can't be blamed for failing to support itself in real life. Turns out I should have known better. Well, I do now...

As I stood there staring at it, I knew I what I was going to have to do. I didn't want to. I was getting down on all fours looking at it from weird angles. "Well that looks fairly good." I wanted to bust out the duct tape and bailing wire. Have you ever been there? Pretending you can fix a broken levy with a bucket of paint? You begin reasoning with yourself.

"Well, when you kinda close one eye, and tilt your head to the left...it's really not that bad."

"Are we talking about the same cabinet? I'm looking at the one that's shaped like a 'V'. Where's the one your blathering on about?"

"Is it really that far off?"

"You could check it for square, if you'd like a good laugh...."

"-sigh-. I'm going to have to start over from scratch."

"No doubt! You might want to even burn your old plans, just to be on the safe side. Better brew another pot of coffee."

I knew I was going to have to start over and re-design it from the bottom up. So I just bit the bullet and dismantled the entire thing. In the end, I'm glad I did, it turned out much better, and much more stable. I'm nearly done again. And this time, it looks like it's suppose to. Sometimes starting over, is just a simple fact of life. That being said, if I find some major flaw that I've overlooked... you can bet I'll be reaching for my can of paint!

Stealing From The Dead

It's true. I'm a thief, a scoundrel, a scallywag. My victims are totally helpless, and I swoop in a take what I need. They cannot stop me. I'm not in the least bit repentant about it. In fact I'm proud of it.

I say, "If your silly enough to pass on with nice stuff in your garage, it's your own fault when your wife and son sell it to me for next to nothing!" My soul is absolutely filthy. I need help.

I don't remember the exact date, but sometime in September I found myself souring thorough Craigslist when I found a posting for a '12" free standing band saw for $25'. It's not important what a 12" free standing band saw is, or what it does, just know this. That price was UNHEARD OF! So I did what I always do on Craigslist. I waited three days and then sent a email like, "Are you still trying to get rid of your old band saw?" This is a low tactic, but not too low for a jerk such as myself.

$25 for a 12" free standing band saw was hard to pass up. So I went down to see it. And so began my new life as a tomb raider.

After a quick look, I knew I had to have it. It looked horrible (see picture), all covered in rust and sawdust siting there dressed in a 1950's gold paint job. But in general, old tools last forever. This thing was made from cast iron and steel. New jobs are loaded with plastic, which just doesn't last. Under all that ugly, I saw a gem.

So I curled up my lip and said, "Does this old thing even run?" We plugged it in and she ran like a dream!

This gentleman was selling his fathers old tools for his mom. His father has purchased them in the mid 50's, and took good care of them, but passed away in '82 or so. They have just been sitting dormant in the garage for 25 years. His mom was moving so they needed to be sold. He was also selling a Shopsmith for $50 (another awesome bargain) and some other power tools way below market price. Was it my responsibility to tell him? Absolutely.

Instead I offered him less. I offered $65 for both units, and I'd "take them off his hands". He was so thankful he helped me load them into the truck. I'm a swine.

So after a bit of work, the band saw is working like a dream! All the rust is gone, her table has been leveled, parts oiled and bladed properly tensioned. She's cutting through wood like an absolute wonder. The Shopsmith was too big for my shop, so I'm selling it in pieces on Ebay. I've already recouped what I paid for it and I think I will more than triple what I spent.

So there it is. I'm scum, I steal from the dead, and gloat online. All in all, I couldn't be happier.

Declining Digits

"Where have all the fingers gone, long time passing?
Where have all the fingers gone, long time ago?
Where have all the fingers gone, gone to table saws everyone
When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn?"


I have a new hobby. Finger cutting. Okay, given the squeamish nature of some folks, and the opening lines of this post let me pause. I would like to say that I have never in my life cut myself with a power saw. I have all my fingers and no gruesome tales to spin here. Honestly.

That being said, my new hobby has my certain hazards that never existed with my other pastimes. Computing is a rather safe use of your free time. I have never, for instance, worried about safe mouse handling, or what horrible things I could do to myself if I left my attention drift.

August for me, was the month that I acquired a table saw. Life will never be the same. I now can demolish an unsuspecting piece of wood in a spectacular display of flying sawdust, whirling blades of carbide tipped steel and the added potential of severe bodily harm. All in the name of 'fun'.

Is it dangerous? Absolutely, but so are many hobbies. Motorcycling, and then there's...birdwatching? Okay I'm drawing a blank, but I know there are others like, shark petting or something. Sure it might not be as interesting as being a gongoozler, but it sure ranks at least second best.

What I find most rewarding is the potential. Potentially I could be building stuff. Currently I've spending most of time getting my shop setup. It's very self serving at this point. I've only build a couple of items, but I've spend hours in the garage. I always feel busy, but I'm not sure how productive I've been. For instance I spent an entire afternoon pretending electricity was never invented, as I used a hand saw and chisels to make dovetails. After two hours I had chopped through an unreal amount of wood yet still unable to get a really clean fit. All the while an expensive dovetail jig sat weeping under my workbench. There is a whole branch of these fanatics in woodworking. They call themselves hand tool users. It's like a freaking Neanderthal cult.

It's that sort of total time sucking ability that really draws me to woodworking. It takes time to plan, design and then build jigs to help you build the real stuff you intend to build. Honest, this is a normal woodworking practice. I've spent my last two weekends building jigs for my table saw. These are setups that help me do things like, cut clean 45 degree angles, crosscuts, splines and other exciting ways to cut away at your expensive planks of wood. It's like hanging out with your doddering grandpa for the whole day. I'm totally loving it. Now, if you'll excuse me I have to go and wax my table saw.

Runs With Power Tools

"Runs With Power Tools" It's my Indian name. I just upgraded it from, "Collects power tools and never uses them, even though he has a workbench." It was a bit awkward anyway. Introductions at parties were always a bit lengthy followed by a fairly pregnant pause.

Recently I have decided to try and build some stuff with my tools. It's funny because I really do have a nice selection of tools that I had never put to any real use. So there I am in my garage at my workbench which was was all together well organized, neat and tidy. In other words, it was a complete travesty. In only eight short hours though I fixed it. I fixed it as only a real man can. I turned into an absolute pig sty but in the mist of this pile of sawdust, wood chips, glue, nails and tools was a box. A box that I created.

The box was not square. The edges seemed to wave a little like it was cut by some recovering drug addict trying to keep his mind off the last fix. In addition I had a number of grooves that were not referenced in the initial design. So there I stood, with copious amounts of sawdust in my eyebrows and splinters in my hands, staring at this slightly misshapen, severely over glued, excessively sturdy box of wood, sweat and altered visions.

With each new project I attempt I find that my techniques are becoming more refined. For instance I now understand how to correctly use a straight edge and clamps while wielding the awesome power of my 15amp circular saw. In fact if CAL-OSHA had seen my first few saw cuts I would have been shackled and hauled away, correctly labeled as 'a danger to self and any immediate society.'

But now I got that down. Mostly. Luckily there are plenty more deadly tools in my 'arsenal of destruction'. I would say the shear shearing torque housed in my router is enough to destroy any piece of wood I incorrectly feed into its whirring blade. There is nothing quite like pitching wood pieces around the garage as the router blade grabs and sticks in a nice hard knot.

Noted. Buy new windshield before wife comes home.

For the most part though it's a blast to pick up a tool, and be like, 'I wonder what this is for?' I know I bought it, or was given it for a reason, but I've never used it before. I think I'll try it out. Currently I have constructed three projects in the last three weeks. I have tried things, failed, tried again, failed some more but learned during the process. In the end I have three new objects that cost me slightly less than if I'd purchased them outright, but not by much.

I've already dreamed up three new projects and two of them are pretty adventurous. I'm just happy to finally be shaping wood to my will and getting something that I can say, "Yeah, I made that. Yes, I think I can do better." Which in the end is all anyone can really hope for.