Get to Elfin’!

Ready? Set? BUILD!

The holiday season is upon us like a full-court press, and if you are building, now’s the time to get busy. Of course, at Tom’s Workbench, we want to help make building those gifts easier for you – and those of us who will be waiting until the VERY LAST MINUTE to start building.

We like to call it the Last Minute Elf.

Again, what we are hoping that you will do is share with us some of your most awesome last-minute gift build ideas. We will mention everyone, and my trained Shop Monkey and I will be selecting the best of the best for some fabulous prizes. How fabulous?

Glad you asked!


How about package of a GRR-RIPPER 3D Push block, two GRR-RIP blocks and two Zero-Play guide bar systems from our friends at MicroJig? Nothing makes for a better holiday than accurate work – and safe fingers! (And, no, you won’t get the ones that Iggy has worked with…)


Or, maybe an Earlex Spray Station HV2901 is more your speed.  If you ever wanted to get into the wonderful world of spray finishes – and the efficiency of an HVLP system – this may be just what the doctor ordered, provided courtesy of our friends at Wagner/Earlex.

saw plate

Looking for table-saw accuracy from a circular saw (if you ever work with sheet goods, your back will thank you!)?  Our friends from Bora Tools are offering up their WTX 50 inch saw guide, the 50 inch extension (that’s 100 inches of cutting length!) and their Bora Saw Plate. One heck of a prize.


And, if you are cutting on that table saw, you are going to want a super-premium blade to make sweet cuts. That’s why Infinity Cutting Tools is offering 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.

My fellow shop simian and I are working to bring in a few more sponsors to improve the prize kitty, so stay tuned!

How do you get in on this action?  Easy. 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.

Now, get out there in the shop and get to Elfin’!

Dam, that’s impressive

I was traveling again this past weekend to instruct another great group of public information students. The destination? Las Vegas, baby!


Sure, we had to teach for a few days, and there was the allure of the many casinos, restaurants and other night spots, but the highlight of my visit had to have been the incredible Hoover Dam.


I had never been so close to something that impressive in my life, and I have stood next to Matt Vanderlist!  

The architecture and embellishment that went into structure were just incredible, but the dizzying height from the top of the dam to the bottom of the gorge was impressive. I just had to snap this selfie.


Dam. That’s high.

Another thing I discovered was just how much wood was involved in the building of the Dam thing.


You see, the dam wasn’t poured in one piece. That would have been an insane amount of concrete to pour all in one shot, and there would be no way to guarantee the aggregate wouldn’t just sink to the bottom. So, the concrete had to be poured in forms, each measuring 50 feet square and five feet high.

To build those forms, it took an incredible amount of wood and steel. You can still see the grain pattern of the wooden forms in some of the tunnels leading to the power generating plant far below the top of the structure.


Also, a lot of black powder and dynamite had to be brought in to prepare the site for the concrete. This panel from one of the powder boxes shows the box joint fingers that held the corners firmly in place for transportation. Makes you wonder how hard it was to pop that box open at the site.

Add to this the scaffolding, wood for huts and other structures, and you get an idea that a tremendous amount of lumber was required to make this all happen.

Pretty darned impressive.

In the buff

This past week in Florida has been intense. I mean, the temperatures on November 4 were more like what we would expect on July 4… sunny with highs in the low 90s and overnight lows in the upper 70s.

Record highsIt has almost been enough to make me want to seek out a pool, drink an ice-cold beer or completely retreat into my air-conditioned home to seek solace.

The other problem with warm weather like this, especially in Florida, is that it is very humid. This just means that no matter how lightly you dress, there is really no way to ever get totally cool.

The late, great Chris Farley

No, I’m not about to go in the altogether on this blog. If I did, I would probably most resemble the late, great Chris Farley.

The real issue is that this humidity has a negative effect on my tools. You know what it’s called – rust.

The rust issue is so feared that I actually had a woodworker moving from a northern climate to Florida tell me he was considering giving up the craft, what with the constant maintenance and upkeep he was going to have to invest in keeping his tools rust free.

rusty_ts2My answer to him?  Hogwash. I know plenty of woodworkers here in the Sunshine State, and all of us have to work with the same issues of humidity in our shops. Add woodworkers from other areas of the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, the northern Pacific coast with its seeming ever-present fog, and it’s safe to say that rust can be handled.

My 3612And, surprisingly, it doesn’t take a fully air-conditioned shop to do the deed. I was able to keep my cast-iron topped Ridgid table saw in my shop for more than a decade with minimal rust issues.

Buff it out

How’d I do it? It’s not as difficult as you would imagine. The simple ingredient is wax. I typically use some type of furniture paste wax for the deed. Johnson’s is cheap and cheerful, but when I really want to break out the top shelf stuff, it’s hard to beat the Bora Protectol wax.

When do I do it? Well, typically after I finish a project and get to cleaning and sharpening to get the tools ready for the next project, I will rub a coat on, let it sit about five minutes, than buff it off.

That simple.

Not only does it keep rust at bay, it also allows the wood to slide easily across the surface, making cutting a whole lot easier. And, even though the rip fence is aluminum, I still buff on a coat just for that purpose.

With just a few minutes of work between projects, the rust is busted, and the only thing I have to worry about is finding parking at the beach.

And, I promise I will be wearing a proper bathing suit.

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.

Looking ahead for holidays

Gosh, we are just a little bit less that one week from Halloween …


Which, of course, means that all of the stores put their holiday displays up about four weeks ago, right after they pulled the back to school stuff off the shelves.

shop 'til you drop

And, just as merchants need to plan ahead for the busiest season of the year, so do we woodworkers!  To help with this effort, it’s time to bring back the ever-popular Last Minute Elf event!


If you have been here in years past, you know what this is all about – we are in the last week of October, and you think you have TONS of time to go out and build a project or projects for the loved ones on your list. It’s going to be something over the top impressive, and you just know everyone’s going to just be wowed.

inspiration, please strike!

Only, of course, to find yourself totally stressed out in your shop the last few nights before you have to give the gift trying to figure out what to build in the first place.

What we’re looking for is for you guys to share your ideas for simple projects to build that don’t require a lot of time, material or crazy advanced skills to build or execute. Be sure to send a photo, a few dimensions and some simple instructions on how to build the piece. Maybe a few words on how the project was to build or why it was so important for you to build it.

Iggy will check out each of the projects, and for the week of December 7 – 11, we will feature the winning entries on this blog. If your project is chosen by my furry friend, I will beg, borrow or plead for a few gifts from my sponsors and anyone else who wants to help with the effort.  I will keep everyone up to date on what we come up with.

Be sure to send your entries to, and be sure to put Last Minute Elf 2015 in the subject line.

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.