Category Archives: Shop Talk

The Foundation

Now that I am in my new shop, I have to start re imagining the space.  Going from a two-car garage where it was all mine to a one-car garage that will have to share the garage with a car, well, it’s going to  take some time to get everything where it needs to go. But I know it will happen.

Oh, did I mention that there is only one overhead light, and a single 15 amp plug that runs the garage door opener? Yeah, that will be a problem, but that’s the situation. So, as far as power tools go, my options will be limited, and I will be leaning heavily on battery-operated tools to make mechanized things work well.

In the meantime, I need a solid foundation for my woodworking. Fortunately, I had a ton of help last year making things happen in my first apartment. Modern Woodworkers Association Podcast Host and Penultimate Workshop Blogger Dyami Plotke paid me a visit just before the 2016 Woodworking Show to get me set up with a bench.

Now, here’s a bit of a recap of bench history for those of you who are new to the party.

My first bench – big ugly – was a solid core door I was throwing out that I mounted to a 2 x 4 frame. It was big. It was nasty. It was super ugly. And, I built some pretty sweet pieces on it. But, it had zero functionality.

The next bench I built was better, but it too was plagued with issues that made its utility a bit more challenging. However, I was able to build some nice pieces on the bench, and it served me well for several years.

The next bench was my favorite. It was a Nicholson Bench. Eight feet long. Heavy as all get out. All built out of construction-grade southern yellow pine. Now we were talking. Dog holes on the top and the sides. Stiff. Solid. Great piece to work on. Could have done without the split top, but hey, not bad for a third bench.

The current one that Dyami and I built was a speed build – built in one day on the show floor at the Tampa Fairgrounds. Roll that fabulous bench building footage.

While it is a sweet little bench (it measures a diminutive four feet long), it has yet to really see a woodworking project built on it. It ended up serving as an entry table at my apartment, catching ballcaps and cans of sunscreen spray.

But, no more. Now, in its new location, the bench is getting set to get some work done.

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?”


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 if you have any questions, and be sure to get some time for sawdust therapy.


Trust me, you need 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?


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.


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 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.

There are those who call me…

One of my favorite movies of all time is Monty Python and the Holy Grail. And, one of my favorite scenes from the movie was when the brave knights on their quest came across the mighty Enchanter.

Who was he?

Well, there were those who called him … Tim. Funny stuff.

It got me thinking of those more serious movies made in the same genre. You know what I’m talking about, the ones where it takes a few moments for the main character’s name to be announced. Like in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy …  Aragorn, son of Arathorn known as Estel, the Strider, became king Ellesar, also known as Telcontar.


What a mouthful.

Why bring this up? Well, when it comes to making table saw jigs, you can create them from one of two prestigious lineages. You can get Grove Gliders or Fence Riders.


Groove gliders are the types which use the miter gauge groove to guide their movement. Some are simply screwed to the miter gauge itself, and can be as simple as a board attached to serve as a crosscut guide. Others, well, they can be elaborate  constructions which allow you to cut different kinds of joinery, miters, coves … the works.


These jigs really rely on snug, slop free fits in the miter slots to ensure that there is absolutely no play in the jig setup. This can be accomplished using wood or UHMW plastic, or a runner system like MicroJig’s ZeroPlay miter bar guides.

Fence Riders use the rip fence to control the jig. These babies either have some component that straddles the fence, or they have an edge which rides against the fence.


These fence straddlers should be constructed with carefully to allow a snug fit over the fence, yet not bind. It’s a delicate balance, which can usually be helped with some paste wax on the fence and the inside of the jig. It’s also important to allow for some type of clamping, a handle and some way to ensure the face of the jig stays perpendicular to the table saw’s surface.


Another very familiar Fence Rider are tapering jigs like MicroJig’s Microdial jig. Again, great care needs to be exercised to ensure that there is a safe way to hold and push the jig and material by the blade. The last thing you want to do is get hurt using one of these.

Given their usefulness in the shop, I have a feeling like you might want to invite both jigs to a spot at your round table.

Be sharp

So, this past Tuesday night, I was asked to come to the St. Petersburg Woodcrafters Guild to do a quick talk about sharpening.

Am I an expert on sharpening? Nope.

But, I have spoken with Ron Hock a ton, and I am sponsored by Tormek, so I can fake it until I make it when it comes to the topic.


First, though, I had to talk a little bit of physics… something I know less of. I used an interesting example that I picked up from one of my high school science teachers.

A 140 pound woman wearing high heels and a 2,500 pound elephant walk onto a beach (Sounds like the start of a bad joke, right?). Which one leaves deeper footprints in the sand?

The answer is the woman, even though she may be about 17 times lighter than the pachyderm. The reason? The force of her weight is concentrated on a much smaller area than the elephant’s foot.

That’s why we sharpen tools. Sharp tools focus the force used to work them onto a smaller point, making it easier for them to sever wood fibers. Pretty simple, no?


The other thing I mentioned was that steel is basically a carefully controlled mix of carbon and iron with some other elements added to adjust the  properties of the tool. An important part of the process is how quickly the steel is cooled and reheated to relieve stresses and tempter the material. Sharpening methods that generate too much heat can remove the temper, leading to weak tools. Ron Hock gave me a great lesson on this in a 2010 article I posted called Steel Yourself! 

With those basics out of the way, I jumped into business, recounting tales from my 2009 post A Honing Beacon, which talked about the pros and cons of different sharpening media. I went from the cheap and cheerful sandpaper systems to the more expensive diamond stones. Basically, if you get good results from your system, why mess with it?

I also covered the differences between a flat ground bevel and a hollow bevel, which can be obtained by sharpening on a wheel of some type. I posted The Right Grind in 2012 which covered the difference between the two, and what a microbevel is all about.

I also talked about different ways to see how sharp the blade is at the end, something I mentioned in a post called How Sharp? that I did in 2012. From creating woodworker pattern baldness to slicing sheets of printer paper, there are some tried and true methods to verify that you indeed have sharp tools.

I even went into detail on stropping back in 2012 with my article Strop! In the name of love. Stropping is that final step that puts the razor edge on tools, making them a real pleasure to work with.

While it was great to talk about sharpening, it was even better to be in front of the Guild again, sharing a little bit of what I know about sharpening and helping folks understand this important part of the craft again.

Hold your top

An interesting thought occurred to me during the summer of coffee tables. Namely, how do you attach a table top to a table base?

One hand clapping?

Oh, this sounds like a total Zen master type question. Kind of like what is the sound of one hand clapping? You just nail that sucker down to the base and … oh, wait.

Didn’t we once establish on this blog that wood moves due to changes in humidity? Oh, yeah, we did.


So, if you lock a wide table top down to a rigid base, there’s a chance that it could split due to differences in grain orientation and if you have not accounted for wood movement in your design. Believe me, you do not want to glue a breadboard end the entire length of the piece. Wait a few seasons and craaaack…. you got it.

So, what are some ways you can get around this? There are more than a few options available to you. For instance, a few years ago, I built a trestle-based work table, I captured the top of the trestles in between two battens screwed into oversized holes. The top  of the trestle simply rested between the battens and a dowel pin held it in place. Simple, elegant, and it allowed for movement.

Another technique I used on the Cotterman. Basically, I screwed the table base directly to the top using pocket screws, but only on the sides of the table which paralleled the top’s grain. Since wood moves very little along the length of the grain, socking it down in that direction provides little in the way of cross-grain issues.  That means I used just one screw on the short cross pieces of the table right in the middle to hold the top flat across its width.

For the round table, I turned to a mechanical fastener known as a z-clip. Either you can cut a saw kerf (or do what I do and use a biscuit cutter to make a small kerf) in the table supports.  One end of the clip wedges into the kerf while the other end is screwed into the bottom of the table. In this arrangement, the top is free to move, and the z-clip pivots to allow the board to move.

z clip

Sure, it may take a little bit more time and effort to design the table to accomplish these goals, but believe me, after all of your hard work and effort, you will be happy that you took the time.