All posts by Tom

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Things have changed

It has been nearly 16 months since my last post to Tom’s Workbench. Since then, a lot has changed in my world.

  • I grew some more gray hair.
  • My oldest son graduated high school and went off to college.
  • I got a new job.
  • Oh, and probably most pertinent to this blog – I am in the final stages of getting divorced.

Yes, that last change is the one that has tossed everything into the air for me. I moved out of my house in January of 2016, and have been living in an apartment since.

I do not hate my ex wife. I do not wish her ill. Many of the problems we had in our relationship were my fault, and I have told her so and take full responsibility for them.

The time has come to move on.


Part of this moving on process involves the shop – or should I now say garage – of the family home. That’s where 18 years worth of tools, memories and learning the craft of woodworking took place. And, now that we have reached an agreement, I have to re-imagine my woodworking and reduce the number of tools in the shop.

One of the greatest inspirations I have had during this process was the work of Vic Tesolin and his book the Minimalist Woodworker. Vic’s observations included the profound realization that no, you don’t need a fully-stocked professional shop to crank out woodworking projects. A more modest collection of fundamental hand and power tools – paired with some easily built shop appliances –  can do the trick just nicely.

So, for the past month, I made a list of the critical tools I would need to take for my new shop setup. I asked myself a basic question – what would it take for me to build a bookshelf or a wooden chest?  With that as my starting point, I wrote down the ideas as quickly as they came to me …

  • My track saw
  • My routers
  • Some clamps
  • My Tormek (to keep tools sharp)
  • Hand saws
  • Chisels
  • Planes

I also threw a few other ideas on that list as well. For instance, while no one would ever call a pocket screw a classic joint, they can prove indispensable for building cabinets.

Armed with this list, I entered the garage to see the old, familiar tools I haven’t touched in more than a year. It could almost be described as a surreal experience. Things were obviously not arranged as I had them, but that’s OK. This space is no longer mine, and it is my responsibility to get it turned over to its rightful owner.

Working with a few friends, I boxed and labeled what I wanted to take, and loaded those items into my buddy’s van. Those are going to my new workshop.

The other items that pain me to part with .. the table saw, band saw, dust collector, drill press..  well, I worked with the St. Petersburg Woodcrafters’ Guild. They agreed to buy those tools for pennies on the dollar and resell them, with the benefits going back to fund the guild. While it killed me to lose them, I knew they were going to good use, I wasn’t going to be paying through the nose for storage until a new, more permanent shop situation opened for me and I when I do replace those tools, I could get the latest and greatest safety features on them.

By the end of the day, I was sore, but the shop was ready for the movers to come in and unload the tools. I closed the garage door for the last time as the shop, walked to my car and drove home with the essential tools in tow …

Facing a future that was wildly different than the one I used to know.

First things first … and this is the last

Nine years ago, I was but a wee lad, bright-eyed and bushy tailed full of vim and vigor. Marc Spagnuolo, my woodworking svengali, asked if I would be interested in writing a few guest posts for him.

Once I started writing three articles a week for him – and he had only asked for maybe one every two weeks or so, he asked me, “Dude, would you want to set up your own blog?”

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Oops, I guess I went a little overboard with the writing. And, for the first seven years of this blog, I adhered to my rigid posting schedule of four posts a week. Articles on Monday and Wednesday, the Link of the Week on Friday and the Quick Poll on Sundays.

Believe me, it was a ton of fun, but it was also a ton of work. On average, I was spending anywhere between 12 and 15 hours each week – every week – on the blog to meet my self-imposed deadlines. It was a thrill. I was in demand, asked to speak at – and later serve on  – the board of directors for the local Woodworking Guild. I started attending woodworking meet-ups.

Heck, I even got the attention of sponsors. Companies such as MicroJig, Infinity Cutting Tools, Tormek, Bora Tools, Bell Forest Products. Laguna. Eagle America.

I was asked to join Dyami Plotke and Chris Adkins on the Modern Woodworkers Association podcast, and I have met so many interesting and awesome folks.

Wood Magazine even approached me and had me write a column for their magazine. I was doing online content for Popular Woodworking. It was crazy…

LucyThen, I realized something. It wasn’t all of a sudden, but it had been building over the past year. I am starting to feel a little like Lucy Ricardo, joined by her friend Ethel Mertz on the candy wrapping line. Suddenly, instead of getting all of the candies wrapped beautifully for packaging, I was rushing to just get them out.

Sunday night would roll around and I would look into the shop in terror and panic, realizing I hadn’t done any woodworking, but I had to write SOMETHING.

Basically, I’m discovering that I just can’t maintain this second job, my primary job and my  sanity all at once.

That being said, it pains me to make this announcement. Effective today, I will be putting Tom’s Workbench on an indefinite hiatus.

Does this mean the site is going away?  No. I will continue to maintain it so you can go back and check out the articles I have written. Does this mean I am going to crawl away into a cave and disappear from the face of the planet? Nope. I will still post to Twitter and Google Plus as I finish projects and seek the wealth of advice of the woodworking community.

What it does mean, however, is that I am going to get a little much-needed balance back into my life and spend some of the time I have been writing about woodworking to actually get back into the shop and do some of it. Isn’t that why I have all of those tools in the first place?

In the meantime, please e-mail my Trained Shop Monkey at iggy@tomsworkbench.com if you have any questions, and be sure to get some time for sawdust therapy.

dyami-tom

Trust me, you need it!

Mele Kalikimaka from the shop!

Our final Last Minute Elf winner comes from our friend Doug Moulder who just blew me away with his entry. Again, very simple (once you get the hang of it) and elegant.

OVAL SHAKER BOXES-NO 2-3- 4 SIZE-WALNUT-MAHOGANY- WITH LACEWOOD TOPS

Here’s two sets of Shaker oval boxes that I just finished making for my sister’s Christmas present. I got all the information on “how to”- from the May/June-No.247 issue of Fine Woodworking-pages 38-43, by Pete Baxter. The video (Matt Kenney) on FineWoodworking.com/extras. It was great on watching how to do the bending.

They are pretty quick to make after you make the bending and drying forms, and practice some on the bending technique.

One set ( #2,3 &4 size) is walnut sides-with clear quartersawn Douglas fir top and bottom-and the other 3 piece set is mahogany sides and the top is quarter sawn sycamore-“lacewood.”

I don’t care how they were built, they are stunning. Very well made and executed. Who wouldn’t want something like a set of those in their home?

SuperGeneralDoug, since getting nice, straight cuts is essential for that kind of work, our friends at Infinity Cutting Tools want you to have a super-premium blade to make sweet cuts. That’s why Infinity Cutting Tools will be sending one of their Super General Thin Kerf 10″ saw blades. They are a very cool blue, easy on the ears and leave a beautiful cut line.

Congratulations, Doug!  Hope you enjoy it!

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MicroJig Art

Up on the workbench! Quick! Quick! Quick!

Day three of the Last Minute Elf, and we have a stunner of a project for you from our friend Mike Boulant.

IMG_1881 IMG_1884

I’ll let Mike tell you a little bit about these honeys:

These photos are 2 dartboard cabinets I made for my brother and brother-in-law this year.  These were two of the most complex projects I have attempted, but there wasn’t a ton of material and it only took 1 day to get all the components milled and cut to final size, including the joinery.  So the time criteria should count as a last minute elf project.

What took the remainder of the time (approximately 2 weeks) was the finishing process.  I used Arm R Seal for the first time.  The dry time between coats is MUCH longer than I am used to with spray lacquer.  I pre-finished all of the door panels and interior parts because I was worried of messing up the cork on the back and I figured I would get better results that way.  I ended up doing about 4 coats of gloss and 2 coats of satin for the final top coats.  I sanded between each coat with 360 grit and 600 for the final coat.

I used 4/4 Cherry for the case and veneered the 1/4″ MDF door panels with walnut.  My inspiration for the project came from two sources. Initially, I watched Brian Grella’s video series on his cabinets.  I took the inspiration for the cloud lifts on the doors from him.  But I love the chunky box joints for the case construction that Marc Spagnuolo has used on some of his pieces.  I’m proud of how these turned out and hopefully they will be enjoyed for years to come.

Wow, Mike, I’m gonna tell you those are some impressive gifts. And, since you said that finishing was one of the problems you experienced with the piece, well, do you have an awesome piece of tooling coming your way!

How about an Earlex Spray Station HV2901, which will allow you  to get into the wonderful world of spray finishes – and the efficiency of an HVLP system. Use it in good health, and we look forward to the other projects you have up your sleeve in the future!

Jingle to the shop!

You know, for the past eight plus years I have been doing this blog, I have been thoroughly impressed by the creativity of the readers when they have sent in projects for contests and when they just want to show them off.

Today’s Last Minute Elf winner is no exception.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

This incredible looking frame – made by Steve Henry – features gorgeous curly maple and a sweet looking live edge. Where on earth did he source this awesome looking material?  Let me have Steve tell you:

Here’s a live-edge picture frame made from some curly maple rescued from the firewood pile!  Makes a nice impression, at zero cost.

The FIREWOOD PILE!  Holy smokes, now that would have been a huge loss had been turned to ash. Not only does Steve’s project meet Last Minute Elf specs, it also gets the cheap elf stamp of approval.

A project that sweet deserves a sweet prize pack!  So, Steve, when you find yourself out in the field trying to get some awesome straight line cuts, our friends at Bora Tools want to send you their WTX 50 inch saw guide, the 50 inch extension (that’s 100 inches of cutting length!) and their Bora Saw Plate.

We have a few more days left in the Last Minute Elf event, so if you have any ideas you want to submit, my hairy shop assistant Iggy is standing by!  Be sure to shoot him an e-mail at iggy@tomsworkbench.com.

Ho Ho Holy Smokes!

Wow, can you believe that we are now in the Last Minute Elf week?  Where has the year gone so far?

Now that we are just 17 days away from Christmas, 18 days from the start of Kwanzaa and we are in Hanukkah, it’s time to come up with our first entry and winner in the Last Minute Elf contest.

candle stand

Dan Zehner submitted this first project, which is both clever and green. If you have access to an old barrel – whiskey, wine, water – whatever – you have the material you need to build this graceful candle stand.

Dan said that this is easy to build with just two tools – a drill press to create the bases for the candles, and a sander to round over the edges of the staves so there’s no chance of splinters. Pretty clever!

Since Dan’s project will keep fingers safe from fingers, how about keeping his fingers safe from saw blades and router bits?  Dan, congratulations!  You are going to receive the MicroJig prize pack!

Oh, and while you have the option to finish the piece or not, you might want to have the ability to choose a finish that will work on a very tight timeframe. That’s why Wood Magazine published this Countdown to Christmas Finishes article a few years back. Believe me, you will enjoy it!

NOW it’s time!

No, it wasn’t time when the kids went back to school. Nor was it the time when the carved pumpkins were on the porch. It wasn’t even time when the turkeys lay in the brine, or after those bronzed beauties were pulled from the fryers, ovens or smokers for Thanksgiving. 

2015 Turkeys

Wow, that was impressive.

No, NOW it’s the time for the holiday season to begin in earnest. Which means after a turkey sandwich or two, I had to start stringing up a few sets of lights.

winter wonderland

Oh, and I had to start a little bit of shopping. Now, I was not about to start doing any of the Black Friday madness which took place early the morning after the feast, but I do have to say that the home improvement centers are definitely stepping up their game when it comes to impressing woodworkers.

Formerly the home of just the avid DIY woodworkers, home centers are stepping up their offerings considerably. Take for example that Lowe’s is now carrying many of the Kreg and Bora lines of tools, especially their Portamate Wood Rack – definitely a specialized tool to the woodworking community.

Lumber rack

Add on the folks over at Home Depot carrying a wide array of power tools and high end Bessey Clamps, and if you are looking to drop a few hints to your loved ones, or seeking to buy a woodworking gift for a friend, you might want to consider there.

At more specialized woodworking stores, you can definitely find whatever you seek. From the major 220 volt cabinet saws to paring chisels that can nick off a whisker at a time, there’s a tool for everyone. Here’s a hint if you are looking to buy for someone or make some suggestions – try to think of a particular aspect of your shop work you want to focus on. For instance, we so often overlook safety in our urge to get the shiny tools. Why not spring for something like a MicroJig Grrr-ripper push block?

microjig_grr-ripper_system_01

And, we all know that today is Cyber Monday, when we tell our bosses to take a hike and we get a ton of shopping done at our desks.

cyber-monday

Just kidding. With wi-fi and 4G speeds so darned fast these days, there’s no need to soak up the company’s bandwidth anymore.  The deals you can find online are totally impressive, and you know there are a few places I would recommend you check out for some awesome deals (ahem, Infinity Tools and Bell Forest Products).

Also remember that most online places have wish list features, so be sure to ask your friends for their lists – and put your own items up there – just in case you want to make shopping a little easier for friends and family.

Oh, and if you want a chance to get some awesome goodies for yourself, Iggy and I are still looking for some Last Minute Elf ideas for our ongoing contest.

Just be sure to send an e-mail to Iggy@tomsworkbench.com with a photo of a holiday gift you have built. The idea is something that doesn’t take a lot of time or material, but will make for one happy recipient on the big day.

In the meantime, we’ll post the best ideas on the site the week of December 7 – 11, and we’ll name the winners by random draw or by my hairy woodworking friend throwing banana peels at random entries.