From cradle to grave

I have learned a lot in my 15 or so years of woodworking. From how much it hurts – and scares the heck of you – when you get hit by a board kicking back from a table saw to how practice can make a ton of difference in your abilities.

But, this past week I have learned so much more about the craft. It was once said that before the age of steel and plastics, that we were surrounded by wood from the cradle to the grave. It makes total sense.

Steven's Cradle

Over the years, I have built cradles for my newborn sons as well as anonymous moms at pregnancy crisis centers. With nothing as precious as a newborn child, it was an overwhelming feeling to know that my handcrafted work was providing comfort, security and the gentle soothing only a rocking cradle can provide as my sons slept soundly, conducting the important business of growing up.

Toy boxes. Rocking horses. Book shelves to hold a growing collection of tomes that would expand my sons’ learning and exploration of the world.

A dining room table where we could all gather – the four of us to enjoy an evening meal or to expand considerably as we gathered for a family feast to celebrate a major holiday.

cutting board

Coffee tables to host a competitive family game night, or to rest a few beverages and plates of wings on while we watched the big game or hosted parties with our friends. Cutting boards as gifts for those friends to help host us at dinner parties they threw.

Lauren's hope chest

Hope chests for our nieces so they could save those important mementos of their lives as little girls as they blossom into beautiful young ladies. Keepsake boxes for friends who got married – and now for nieces and nephews who are preparing to tie the knot.

A comfortable bed for my wife and I to rest our tired heads at the end of our long, busy days. Maybe a few outdoor projects that will help her enjoy her gardening and love of nature.

And, over the past week, I have been rather scarce due to the passing of my father-in-law just slightly over a week ago. It happened while I was coming back from Woodworking in America. Since that time, things have been a blur as Rhonda, her mom, her sisters and brother have all pulled together to make the final arrangements.

My father-in-law, a very strong and plain-spoken man, wished to be laid to rest in a plain wooden coffin, and that’s exactly what was chosen. And, on a chilly autumn afternoon in a beautiful cemetery just outside of Washington, D.C., that’s what we did, surrounding him as a loving family.

The beautiful cemetary

As I write this at about 34,000 feet somewhere above Virginia coming back from the funeral, it has struck me like a thunderbolt – every project I build is becoming a part of someone’s life. From the cradle to the grave.

And, I am humbled.

Quit monkeying around…

Hey, everyone, Iggy here, and you’ll never guess what happened – again. The tailless one – Tom – got picked up by the people at Wood Magazine for their November edition. I mean, come on, by now you would have figured that they would have gotten wise to him and his hijinks.

Wood Nov Cover

Anyway, it’s a story about – you may have guessed it – Tom making mistakes in his shop.  The guy runs a cottage industry in doing that. In this edition, he also share some lessons about his time back in Catholic High School.

Come here, Mister Iovino

I only wish I could have been there to see him get in trouble with the nuns. I’m sure THEY never put up with any of his nonsense.  Be sure to look for his words of wisdom on page 24 of your upcoming edition.

You may have also noticed that if you have tried to post a comment to one of Tom’s blog posts recently, you have been unsuccessful. There’s some type of fatal exception error that comes up. I’m sure that he had NOTHING to do with it, yet I have been working around the clock to try to figure out what he did to mess things up.

You think this is easy?

So, if you know anything about WordPress and want to help, try to post something to the blog and see what the error is. Maybe one of you is smarter than Tom (I’m willing to bet that most – if not all – of you are), and we can get the ship righted…

Fired up

Coming back from Woodworking in America is one of those experiences which if you aren’t pumped to get into the shop, you either aren’t a woodworker or you you may need to visit a doctor.

Of course, there were tools like you wouldn’t believe at the marketplace…

De Planes!


There were also some great instructors sharing their knowledge with the attendees.

Underhill and the Schwarz

Who knew that Roy Underhill could operate a video camera?

David Marks

You know you have arrived in the woodworking world when someone as renowned as David Marks stops what he’s doing at his instruction bench (doing some awesome gilding, by the way) and asks, “Is that the famous Tom Iovino of Tom’s Workbench?” You could have knocked me over with a feather.


On, no, wait… that was the awe I was in looking at the gorgeous turned vessel he was passing around. My bad…  (I guess there’s a reason why he’s so darned renowned!)

Ahhh, Megan

There was the ever gracious host of the event – Megan Fitzpatrick of Popular Woodworking – who answered my slew of obnoxious questions with quite a few zingers of her own.

The MWA recording

Dyami Plotke and I got a chance to lay down episode number 80 of the Modern Woodworkers Association podcast from the expo floor. Nothing quite like having your own heckling crew on hand for an interview!

Cut those tenons

And, as always, one of the best parts of the event was seeing the spark being lit in the eyes of the next generation of woodworkers. I don’t think this young lady realized that she was holding a Bad Axe tenon saw in her hands, but I get the idea that from here on out, she’s going to want nothing but the finest for her hand sawing.

Mmmm, ribs...

Oh, and the simple fact that we were in Kansas City, home to some of the country’s most amazing barbecue, didn’t hurt either.

Now, what to build next?


What’s up with all of these people traveling lately?  First, you have Xi Jinping, the President of China, swinging through Seattle on his way to talk to business leaders and address the United Nations.

President Xi Jinping

Then, Pope Francis arrives in Washington, D.C. to speak with congress – oh, and did he ever look sporting in that FIAT…

Pope Francis in a FIAT

NOW, woodworkers from across this fair land are converging on Kansas City, Missouri for Woodworking in America 2015. 


As with previous years, this year’s event promises to be a rollicking good time where there will be a ton of woodworking classes, lots of tools to get some hands on time with and a bunch of knowledgeable woodworking experts who will take the time to answer your questions.

Fun for everyone at the Hand Tool Olympics

There are two other important things that Woodworking in America provides. First, there will be incredible feats of woodworking prowess to challenge yourself with at the Hand Tool Olympics. Mike Siemsen is back this year to put a saw, bit and brace, plane or chisel in your hand and have you try your skills in six different tests of skill. Besides the ongoing onslaught of trash talk heaped upon woodworking bloggers, the folks running the booth will stop and take the time to show you exactly how to make those hand tools sing. No need to be intimidated in the least.

The second, and most important part about being in an event like Woodworking in America is the camaraderie that you experience with the other woodworkers. There is a critical mass that is reached. You can feel the excitement as people talk about what’s going on in their shops, what they want to build and even down a few libations.  When I come back to my shop, I feel like my batteries are recharged, and that any project I want to build is well within my reach.

That makes me feel like a woodworking VIP.

Happiness is an air gun

After much hand-wringing and many side projects, I am pleased to report that the summer of coffee tables is quickly coming to a close. With construction done and sanding complete, it’s time to turn my attention to how I plan on finishing the piece. Of course, before I started working on the finish, it was only appropriate that I take my favorite youngest son out for breakfast, the most important meal of the day.

Mmmm, breakfast

From there, we came back to the shop, and tried to figure out the best way to apply the basecoat of shellac for the rude-and-crude finishing method. The top was going to be easy, as it was just flat. However, the base was going to be a little intricate, it’s still hot here in Florida and there were football games to watch. What was I going to do?

The Beatles working on the White Album in 1968

I took my cue from a John Lennon composition from the Beatle’s 1968 masterwork known as the White Album – Happiness is a Warm Gun. Actually, Happiness is an Air Gun in my shop – and HVLP gun to be exact.

My HVLP gun

Yes, I have been holding out on you guys for a while. Even on myself. A few years ago, I bought this HVLP system. It was cheap, and I thought it could get me into the wonderful world of HVLP spraying. And, for a few projects, it has. But, for some reason, I can’t bring myself to use it on every project with different materials. I have sprayed shellac, but I hesitate to spray anything else because, well, it doesn’t have really fine control. Maybe it’s just operator error, but for the shellac basecoat, it’s a winner.

Table time

So, I popped open a few Portamate saw horses and moved the table out to the side yard for a little work. I popped it face down on the sawhorses so I could do the base first, and got the gun ready.

Filling the gun

It’s actually a simple system, with the only real prep being to pour the finish into the finishing cup and screwing the business end onto the top of the cup. OK, that’s pretty easy…

ready to go

From there, I plugged in the system and started up what basically is a small shop vac that blows the air through the system. I closed my eyes, pulled the trigger and started sending the finish onto the piece.

Wow, that was fast

Holy smokes, how fast could that be?  I mean, the entire base – with all of the angles, edges and such was covered in less than two minutes. A fairly decent coat, too, with just a few boo boos… nothing that can’t be sanded out when i get to that step of flattening out the undercoat with some 320 paper.

Top it off

A quick flip over and I was spraying on the top. A really nice looking coat.

Clean up was easy by running some denatured alcohol through the gun, followed by hot water.

Now, I have to let the shellac cure overnight before I can really take it down with some paper. Because the top is going to take a lot of abuse, I know I am going to need a few coats of something tough to resist moisture, spills and other nastiness.

Maybe a water based topcoat administered by my old new HVLP gun, just to make clean up a little easier…

The weekly plan

Chris Schwarz’s Saw Bench

If you are going to learn some new woodworking skills, you may need to build a few accessories along the way. For instance, a miter sled for your table saw can help you make more accurate and safe cuts. A bench hook can make your hand planing a whole lot easier.


And, if you want to learn how to hand saw properly, a saw bench is not a bad thing to have on hand. This model, built by Lost Art Press woodworking guru Chris Schwarz, will allow you to improve your hand sawing skills by holding your workpiece at the optimal height for sawing. In addition, it will give you an opportunity to practice your woodworking skills as you build it. Not a bad deal!

Grit and bear it

Sanding again. This time, I am getting the front coffee table into fighting condition, which is coming along pretty well. All that’s going to be necessary now is to sand the piece into shape. Yes, I did use my hand planes to do some general flattening of the top, but I did have a bit of tearout when I worked with them. Sure, I could tweak my settings and technique, but it’s still hot in the shop, and I was looking to use a technique I knew like the back of my hand.

Belt sander

My belt sander was a very good option for this. Starting with an 80 grit ceramic belt – a perfect medium for heavy duty power sanding – I attacked the top going along with the grain to ensure that the scratch pattern was going to be easy to hide later.


After the first pass to get everything leveled out, I turned to another great trick I had picked up from my dad when it comes to sanding – shining a flashlight from the side  With the sidelight from the flashlight, it’s easy to see where any sort of tearout, dings or scratches live.


Needless to say, those areas get some special attention. Of course, you have to be very careful when it comes to sanding these imperfections, lest you dig a hole in your board. So, a little focus on the affected areas, followed by spreading the love around the rest of the table top to ensure you have a table top that looks its best.

DSC02366Once done with the 80 grit, I took the time to carefully sweep all of the dust and loose grit off the table top to prevent the coarser grit from making deeper scratches in the wood. Once I got the 120 grit pass on the board, I switched to my random orbit sander with a 120 grit pad on it.

The bottom

With the top taken care of, I flipped the table over to start working on the legs – being sure to take the time to protect the table’s top with a beach towel. Soon, it will be time to get a finish on this piece and move it to its home. I can hardly wait!

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