Traditional Tool Chest


Well, I feel like I just gave birth.  I’ve been working on this since before Christmas, and I finally just filled it up with tools.

I’m intentionally not calling it an Anarchist’s Tool Chest, but truthfully, if you don’t live in a cave, you know that this particular design was made popular by Chris Schwarz.  And everyone is building them.

I was originally attracted to this box, as I’m sure is the case with most people, because of the traditional look.  It just looks nostalgic.  And who doesn’t want a fancy box to hold some of your most prize possessions?

Well, I was attracted to the traditional design, but not the traditional size.  Huge.  Floor space-sucking gigantisaur.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the room in the shop for another piece of furniture, even if it is on wheels. And frankly, I don’t have enough tools to fill it up anyway.

I was perusing the latest Fine Woodworking magazine when I came across a John Tetrault video on making socket chisel handles.  The video was nice, but somewhere in the middle I caught a glimpse of his tool chest sitting on his bench.  On his bench.  What a great idea.  Just take the great design of the gigantic original and scale it down to a usable size.  Boy can I be slow sometimes.

And was it pretty.  Anyone familiar with Tetrault’s work is already familiar with his talent, and his chest was the single inspiration for this iteration.


I made some changes from the original design, and I didn’t follow all of the directions on some of the more esoteric details that most people follow when building this chest.

I didn’t use white pine

Simple; I didn’t have any.  I wasn’t too concerned with the weight of the box since it was going to be smaller, so I went with what I had.  White oak.  Heavy, hard, and beautiful.

I did NOT paint it

What?  Paint it?  This is the one thing I can neither follow nor forgive.  I don’t care what the reasoning is.  I don’t paint wood.  The wood is the whole reason I’m here.

There are a host of other things I want to talk about regarding the construction of this chest, but I’ll get to them in the next post, I promise.  This is just a teaser, and I couldn’t wait to brag a little about finally finishing it.  Enjoy some pics while you wait.


Posted in Nuts and Bolts, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Shop-happy :) (and mallets)

Okay, that’s the first time I ever used an emoticon, and I feel dirty.

But it looks a lot like the silly grin that’s been pasted on my face for the last three weeks or so.

I took a week’s vacation, spent some much needed time in the shop, and went back to work more or less content.  Usually it’s hard to go back to work after vacation, but I got some things done, made some sawdust and nice, thin shavings, and thoroughly enjoyed my time in my favorite place on the planet; The Bronze Oak Leaf shop.

I am not typically the kind of guy that likes to build small, crafty-type things.  There’s nothing wrong with that kind of woodwork, it’s just not my thing.  For whatever reason, I tend towards the larger, more complex pieces of furniture.  Just personal preference.

However, lately I’ve done a few small projects, and have really enjoyed the quick turnaround that comes with smaller-scale work.

Nice little spare-time project

Nice little spare-time project

This box was a nice exercise in dovetails.  A small knick-knack-y thing.

Took a little more time; almost qualifies as furniture

Took a little more time; almost qualifies as furniture

This stool was fun, took a little more time, and turned out great.

This is a ... what, now?

This is a what??

Loom 2


This was a weird little project my brother demanded.  It’s called an Inkle Loom.  No kidding.  I can’t even say that out loud because it makes me feel gay.

Anyway, I was spending smaller amounts of time on smaller projects, and having a ball.

The most fun I had, though, was building a couple mallets for use in the shop.

White Oak

White Oak

I saw St. Roy building these on his show, and I loved them.  He made it look so easy, and really, it is.

Walnut and White Oak

Walnut and White Oak

I had so much fun building the one from white oak that when I found a scrap of walnut left over from the (ahem) loom, I saw that it was the perfect shape for a mallet head.  Maybe not the perfect species; you want a heavy, dense piece of wood for that; but it was the perfect shape.  And pretty.  A small amount of sapwood mixed with the usual beautiful brown tones of walnut.

Its odd shape (it tapers from top to bottom) meant that I had to surface it from the rough with a jack plane followed by a smoother.  Even better.  My sharp #4 made the walnut shimmer a shiny delight in the sunlight.  It’s not a heavy, joint-coaxing hammer; it’s better suited for light taps on the chisel.

I shaped the handles first with the bandsaw, and then with a spoke shave. I went with a traditional hammer-handle shape with a swell just below the center of the handle.  It’s the most comfortable grip to use.  I then beveled the tops and bottoms of the handles and all corners of the heads with my trusty block plane.

It really was the most fun I’ve had in the shop in awhile.

And I can’t stop gawking at them.  I put a nice heavy coat of linseed oil on them, and let it soak in for a good while before wiping of the excess.  As expected, the oil made the white oak a beautiful, rich, deep golden oak color, and made the walnut a deep, rich brown.  The word “brown” doesn’t do the true color of walnut justice.

I plan on making a few more; maybe with more modern methods, maybe not.  I chopped out the mortises with a chisel, and any other method just seems wrong.

Either way, I spent a few evenings after work in the shop with the music up loud, the flip-flops on, and my attention 100% focused on what I was doing.  That’s a trifecta that is rare enough that when you can get it; you take it.


I actually just took a picture of the mallets, sat down, got comfortable, and started thinking about this post, when I looked up and saw this.  I chuckled to myself, snapped the pic, and wondered at how comfortable and content I felt at just that moment.

This is the stuff dreams are made of, kid.



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Shaker Step Stool

Yeah, I Know; boring title for a philosophical, high-brow, artsy-fartsy type of woodworking blog post.

Good thing this isn’t one of those.

It turns out that if you want people to read the non-sensical, non-sequitur type of tripe that I regularly dole out here you have to have some type of title that people may actually search for.  And, believe it or not, I searched high and low for the type of design I wanted to use to build one of these quaint, understated little pieces of furniture.

002 004 005 006 007 008

I knew I had seen a dovetailed version of this stool somewhere, but I’ll be darned if I can find it.  So, as most amateurs like me say: “hey, I can design that”.

I’ve been itching to find something to practice hand-cut dovetails on, and the opportunity came up to build this, but I had no idea how to pull it off.  Which leads me to an important rediscovery: Google Sketchup.

I fooled around with this interesting drafting program several years ago, and it came in handy for finding the proper proportions for this stool.



If you’re new to Sketchup, just download the free version and take the tutorials.  Much simpler than AutoCAD, but with less functionality with the free version.

Anyway, the dovetails went well enough.  On the next one, I think I’ll make the aprons with through mortise-and-tenons.  That would look better and also preclude the use of pocket screws (so uncivilized).

I’m finally getting back to working in the shop.  I’ve been away for awhile, tending to the more mundane, but necessary, tasks associated with everyday, middle-class life.

Also, I finally cut some wood last year.  I made the mistake of not cutting anything the year before, and boy, did I pay for it.  I ran low on lumber and was really kicking myself for it.  What?  They sell it you say?  Bite your tongue.

I now, as you’ll soon see, have too much lumber.  O.K., no such thing.  But I am having trouble navigating my small and rather packed woodshop.  It’s alright; that’s a good problem to have.

Check out the pics of the stool and let me know what you think.  Wordpress changed some things since I last posted and I’m not quite sure I have the hang of it.

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Tear-Out II: Bronze Oak Leaf’s Bane

A long time ago; in a galaxy far, far away. . .

. . . I wrote about grain direction, tear-out, something about an epiphany; blah, blah, blah.

Well, I’ve finally decided to finish my musings on how I learned to work a board.  Please, hold your applause ’till the end, it’s sure to be a convoluted mess of an explanation.

I have finally found some time to work on a couple interesting projects here at The Bronze Oak Leaf.  Well, okay, one interesting project and one made of plywood.  The plywood project isn’t so bad, except it’s made of plywood.  Absolutely no character to a piece of wood that won’t warp, twist, or otherwise make life miserable while you’re trying to tame it.

Solid wood is much more interesting (read: infuriating) to work.  It was alive at one time, and continues to live on in the form of individual cells that still soak up and expel water with changes in the environment.  But it’s not the fact that trees were at one time alive that is the point; it’s how they grow that affects how you work.

The project I was working on when I first got the idea to write about grain direction was the bookshelf I was building for my daughter.  Solid cherry, all naturally needing surfaced from the rough.

I was, as mentioned in the preceding post, monotonously feeding board after board into the thickness planer when I realized that I was flipping the boards according to growth ring orientation without even thinking.  When you think about which direction to feed a board into a planer, run across a jointer, or work with a handplane, you need to understand one simple fact: trees are cones.  TREES ARE CONES.  Big on the bottom, pointy on top.

This is the epiphany.  The blinding white light accompanied by the three-second blast of a thousand trumpets, violins, and angelic voices.  The proverbial palm-slap to the forehead.  The single most important concept to grasp before you can understand how you can work wood with minimal tear-out.

Try to follow me here, it’s a little difficult to explain.  Trees are cones.  Trees also grow at the rate of one growth ring per year.  Which means, every year, a new cone is stacked upon the preceding cone.  Picture that stack of cone cups you find attached to the water cooler.  That’s what the layers of a tree look like; cone upon cone, stacked up from the bottom to the pointy top.  Now picture this: cutting a straight line through the length of a tapered tree. tree grain Sorry, that’s the best I can do for illustration (click to enlarge).  Notice how you cut across the growth rings when you cut a plumb line through a tapered tree, forming the “cathedral” grain pattern you see with flat sawn lumber.  Notice how the growth rings on the end of the board tell you which is the bark side and which is the heart side.  This is the key to working your board in the right direction.grain 003

grain 002

Note the growth ring orientation

On the heart side, you work with the “cathedral” grain pattern, in the same direction it’s pointing.  On the bark side, you work against the “cathedral”, into the point.  Think about the way a tree grows; the way the growth rings form, and it becomes clearer.

I did not come up with this idea on my own, and I admit, I had to ruminate on this for some time before I understood it (I can be a little thick).  But once I “got” it, it truly changed my perception of handplanes, scrapers, planers and jointers.

For handplanes, the benefit is obvious (if you’re new to hand tools or if you’ve ever struggled to make a nice surface with one), but this method also helps when surfacing misbehaving boards in the planer.  Just make sure you’re feeding them into the planer with the right side up.grain 010

Remember, the planer cuts toward you.

Well, I’m sure this is as clear as mud.  Just think about it for awhile, it’ll come to you.  And it really will change the way you work with wood.

Posted in Nuts and Bolts | 5 Comments


I know I said I’d talk about grain direction next, but, obviously I’ve been a little distracted.

I figured the best thing I could do to bridge the gap between now and the time I actually do write about grain direction is apologize for my absence with a small “picture fest”.

There hasn’t been much time to spend in The Bronze Oak Leaf shop lately, except to work on quads, cars, and school projects.  You see, what is normally “that cozy little woodshop” in the winter magically becomes “that grease monkey’s humid, dirty, stale-beer-smelling metal and auto shop” in the spring and summer.  I know; bummer.  Lawnmowers, quads, dirtbikes, chainsaws, I even got to build a basketball backboard and weld up a steel frame to mount it on the shop for the kids (I’m actually kind of proud of that; and them, they helped).

But in the midst of all the wrench-turning, beer drinking, complaining and glancing wistfully at the already-surfaced red oak standing by to be made into stools for the basement, I did get to finish the two projects I mentioned earlier, plus a complete surprise (to me) that I decided off-the-cuff to dive into one day.


This is the Enfield Cabinet and my daughter’s bookshelf, all assembled and awaiting finish.  As I said, the wood for the bookcase was already cut to rough size when I started the cabinet, so while I was waiting on parts for the cabinet I was able to start on the bookshelf.  After I finished the bookshelf, I finished the cabinet and pow!- I was able to effectively double the odious task of applying finish.

I do apologize for the lack of good pics, I still can’t seem to learn that skill.

Anyway, on to the fun stuff.

There was a story in Popular Woodworking Magazine about the building of a dovetailed keepsake box.  It was billed as a dovetail-cutting skill-builder, and, what the heck, I had some leftover cherry.

I thought, in the middle of construction, of digitally documenting construction of this crazy foray into hand-cut dovetails (my first), but I really didn’t think it would turn out.

I was pleasantly surprised at what unmitigated gall will get you.  I took my time, made some mistakes, fixed those mistakes, cussed a little, and ultimately was able to give my wife a nice little piece of furniture that she should be able to pass down to her granddaughter.

I’ll go into the construction later for anyone who cares, but until then, what do you think? (Click on them!)  



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Tear-out and Grain Direction

I know what you’re thinking; “All these quotes from his Pappy and his wise old friends are just colorful metaphor”.  “He probably never cut down a tree in his life.”  “I doubt he really swears at his handplanes.”

Well, I’m here to tell you; my Pap and my friends did say everything I attributed to them (I don’t even know what colorful metaphor is), I cut all my own lumber, and you’re cotton pickin’ (this is a family-friendly blog) right I swear at my handplanes.  Profusely. And frequently.  Occasionally, I have to open up the big door to let out some of the blue fog.

Let me start by saying I love my handplanes.  When the irons are really–and I mean really–sharp, they leave a finished surface that sandpaper can never equal.  Truly, if you’ve never pushed a properly sharpened and tuned handplane across a well-behaved piece of cherry, you don’t know what you’re missing.  The word “chatoyant” comes to mind, because it’s the only word that describes the beautiful sheen and luster of a piece of cherry that has been attacked by an experienced (or lucky) handplane user.

My love affair with handplanes began when, as a teenager, I stumbled across a video tape of four or five woodworkers taking turns showing a particular tool and explaining how it works.  Michael Dunbar showed how to disassemble, clean, sharpen, and reassemble an old Stanley-Bailey No. 4 smoothing plane.  I was hooked.  What a graceful and beautiful tool.  The long curly shavings he was making were mesmerizing.

Well, being a teenager, and without the funds to start hunting and buying such graceful and lovely tools, that video was all the further I got for a few years.  Eventually, the internet came along, and, with it, Ebay.  I never forgot that beautiful No. 4 and eventually found one, up for auction along with a No. 5 jack.  I knew exactly scratch about the vintages or quality of these particular planes, but I had to have them.  Luckily, the No. 4 was a Type 11, a well-built tank of a plane built pre- WWI.  That was a lucky find; it’s a great plane.  The No. 5 is a good plane, though not from such a quality era.

Anyway, I eventually got those planes tuned properly and learned how to put a good edge on them.  When everything was working properly–nirvana.  But every now and then, when the plane’s iron just began to dull, or, worse yet, for no reason at all, the grain would begin to lift instead of shear, and behold: tear-out was born.  “What the @#%!”  Wow.  What happened? How am I going to fix that? @#$ %$^&* %$#@!!

Tear-out.  The bane of every hand-tool enthusiast, but the ruination of lots of new hand-tool enthusiasts.  When you don’t understand what’s going on with the grain of the wood, you really are stumbling ahead blindly.  I know.  Been there.

As I said before, I am almost finished with the Enfield cabinet, and it turned out pretty well.  While waiting for the hardware and some router bits to come in the mail, I decided to start on the already “chosen” and rough-sized lumber for my daughter’s bookshelves.  While the lumber for the Enfield cabinet was acclimating to the shop environment, I decided to run the “choosing of the wood” ceremony for Emma’s bookshelves.  I’m glad I did, it allowed me to start milling during my time waiting for parts.

Anyway, it occurred to me while I was monotonously feeding board after board through the planer that I was subconsciously checking the end grain and flipping the boards accordingly.  It’s almost second nature to me now, but it was not long ago that grain direction and it’s effect on the direction you work a board was only a distant rumor.

Soon, we’ll talk about that grain direction.  We’ll talk about the epiphany that led me to work wood more efficiently and enjoyably.  Until then, I have to get out my card scrapers and see if I can clean up some of the $#@%^& tear-out I left after trying to use my No. 4 past it’s peak sharpness.

In the meantime, here are some pics of the unfinished Enfield Shaker cabinet.  The aforementioned router bits are for the moldings that go under the top.  I also need hinges.  I was particularly pleased with how the shiplapped back turned out; I left the backs flat while I chamfered the inside edges with a block plane.

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Dehumidifier Kiln: Part Deux

**Full Disclosure**–I have recently heard from Daren Nelson, the original designer of this kiln.  He was not happy with my “ample deference and credit” to him for the design of this kiln.  I contacted him and had a nice 42+ minute conversation about copyright law and the general nefarious nature of stealing someone else’s intellectual property.  Though  I do not agree with his assessment of my well-meaning description of the construction of his kiln, I am happy to make the changes in this post that he requested.  Please note that I am providing only general advice as to the construction of his kiln, and can comment only on the successes/failures that I, myself, have encountered.  Daren offered, and delivered on,  his promise to provide any technical support needed during the construction of his kiln, and I cannot stress enough the instrumental part he played in the successful operation of my version of his kiln.  Please, if you are considering building your own kiln, visit Daren’s site.  He is the originator of this kiln, and, as such, is the best authority on its operation.

Well, hello everyone (all two or three of you), I’m back from the job from Hell.  The 10 hours/day, 7 days/week work schedule is finally over.  63 or 64 days straight, I don’t know, I actually lost count.  Anyway, I’m back in the shop for some much-needed cussing and swearing at cantankerous tool set-ups, finicky handplanes and the resultant tear-out, and lets not forget that now I have to start a fire every time I spend time in my little slice of Heaven, The Bronze Oak Leaf Shop.  That’s right, that old construction adage that “the heat’s in the tools” just doesn’t flush when you can’t get the shop above 50 degrees.

I’ve noticed a lot of hits on my Dehumidifier Kiln post, and, since I’m almost done drying another glorious load of cherry, I thought it may be a good time to add a little more explanation to the construction and operation of the kiln.  I avoided going into too much detail in the first post so as not to trample all over Daren Nelson’s feelings, being he’s the original designer, but with ample deference and credit given to him, I see no problem in detailing how I built my version of his kiln.

As I said in the first post, it’s almost so simple that it’s silly.  You start out with an air-tight, insulated box, add a small heat source and a fan, (and, of course, a dehumidifier) and you have a d/h kiln.  There is a lot of room for personalizing this box, and I built mine to suit its location, the amount of lumber I thought I wanted to dry per load, and my goal (in the tradition of all novice woodworkers), of minimum cost.  All things considered, it worked out pretty much how I intended.

Location, location, location

I originally was going to build the kiln outside behind the shop.  I thought seriously about where to locate the door to make loading easier, how to weatherproof it, and how well insulated it would have to be.  Thank goodness I came to my senses.  If this is the only place you have to put your kiln, think twice about building one.  Now that I have put three separate loads through, I can’t imagine how much more difficult it would be to have it outside. Weatherproofing, insulating, heating, oh my.

I wound up putting it in the nice large shed I built a few years ago.  It is a pretty big shed, but the kids do have a lot of toys, so I had to move some things around a little.  It was worth it.  Having it indoors is a plus.

Size doesn’t matter

Yeah, right.  As much as we’d all like to believe that one, you need to carefully consider the size of lumber you’ll be drying.  If you’re selling lumber, they like it cut as long as possible.  If you’re using the lumber, you need to adopt some unorthodox ways of thinking about length.  For instance; how often do you really need 10′ lumber? 8′ lumber?  This thought occurred to me the other day when I was cutting the 13’6″ cherry down to 10′ to fit in the kiln.  I thought I was doing the right thing when I cut the bole of the tree at its longest possible length.  I never stopped to consider that I would never need 13’6″ lumber.  I would have saved myself some time and aggravation if I had just cut the log into 2 lengths of 6′ each; a very useable size.

Anyway, the length of your kiln is a consideration, and remember that you have to add a dehumidifier and some fans, too.  My kiln is 41″ high (it had to fit under some shelves), 44″ deep, and 12′ long.  With these measurements, I can dry almost 300 bdft. if it’s stacked right (and if my math is right).  I can fit 123″ boards max, and have a separate chamber for the dehumidifier and fans.


I kept the construction as simple as possible, and it’s not pretty.  OSB and 2×4’s for the whole thing.  My door is on the front and hinged on top so it lifts up and out of the way for loading.  The inside is painted and all inside corners are caulked with silicone.  I used some weatherstripping around the door opening to seal the door, and screw it shut when in use.   **TIP** If you insulate the outside of your kiln instead of the inside, you can remove it for temperature control.  I used a cheap indoor/outdoor thermometer with a sensor that I mounted on the inside wall opposite the dehumidifier.  Just drill a hole, stick the sensor to the inside wall, and silicone the hole shut.

I walled-off a section of the kiln to house the dehumidifier, and I cut the dual window fans into that wall.  I was trying to solve the problem of air circulation through the lumber pile, and I think I’m on the right track.  The wall that separates the dehumidifier from the rest of the chamber is tight to the back wall and the roof, but I left an 8″ gap between the wall and the door.  The fans blow behind the stack of lumber, through the lumber, and back past the dehumidifier.   I also built some louvers to direct the air through the pile.  Click on the picture below to see how I installed the louvers.  They start at the fans and then angle to the back wall, creating a sort of funnel to help with circulation.  It seems to work, but I still have some tweaking to do.

The 2×4’s are removable for loading, then replaced before closing


Load the kiln, seal it up, then turn everything on.  It took me a day or two to reach 90 degrees, depending on the ambient temps.  The heat source (three 100W light bulbs) is run out separately so I can unplug it when the kiln is up to temp., as per Daren Nelson’s instructions. The fans and the dehumidifier make their own heat, keeping the kiln within the temperature range you want (Reference Daren Nelson’s site for the proper range).  Watch it for a couple days, adjusting the insulation as needed.  I ran a hose out through the wall from the dehumidifier, and I put it into a gallon jug to keep track of how much water is being removed.  No rocket science here, just making mental notes on the amount of water I dump out each day.  I have only dried lumber that has been stacked and air-dried for at least a year, and I usually dump out the gallon jug twice a day for the first couple days.  Then it slows down, and in about a week to ten days it seems to stop.  I let it run for a full two weeks, as per Daren Nelson’s instructions, and only then do I open ‘er up to check on things.  So far, two weeks has been plenty.  I open the door and let everything cool for a day or two, then check moisture content.  If you don’t have a meter, you can safely bet that air-dried lumber is between 6 and 9 percent; ready to move into the shop.

There is a lot more I wanted to say about this, but it’s already been too long since my last post, and frankly, I’m working on something much more witty and thought-provoking than the boring nuts-and-bolts of drying lumber.  However, I will be adding to this post as I run across anything important that I think may help you start drying your own.  I’m adding an email address to this already convoluted mess of a blog in the hopes that any questions, advice, or just plain B.S. about all things wood can find their way to me.  I love talking shop, so don’t be afraid to shout out.  Until I figure out how to put the email link on the home page, I’ll put it here:

Also, I’ve almost completed the Enfield Shaker cabinet, and hope to post pics soon, along with any witty or insightful revelations inadvertently found along the way.  Boy, wait ’till you hear about some of the stupid mistakes I’m capable of. Sheesh.

Posted in Nuts and Bolts | 19 Comments

Lonely Tools







What's wrong with this picture?Well, can anyone pick out what’s wrong with this picture (other than my pathetically small handplane collection)?  Hint: it’s the decoration on the handplanes.  No, it’s not Halloween, those are real cobwebs.  On my handplanes.  Hmph.

After I meticulously dried about 250 bdft. of cherry and maple, sorted and re-stacked it, performed the wood-choosing ceremony for one cabinet and drew up plans for four (four!) more pieces of furniture, I now have the problem most novice woodworkers face on a daily basis: time.  If time really was money, we’d all be broke.

I happen to now be on a job that requires an insane amount of hours per week to complete too much work in too little time.  Ain’t it always the case.  Working like this affords precious little time to be in the shop murdering electrons and swearing at finicky handplanes.

Anyway, about the 5 upcoming projects.  We’re going to have some fun at The Bronze Oak Leaf in the upcoming months.  A Shaker stepback, which is kind of like a curio cabinet for the dining room; a sideboard, which is kind of like a buffet for the dining room; a tall cherry bookshelf for my lovely daughter, and a top secret project for someone who’s been complaining about not having received one yet.  That’s going to be a fun one.  I’ll try to show as much as possible without giving up the secret, but let’s just say it’s going to be way out of my comfort zone.  Very few right angles or sharp corners.

Don’t forget the Enfield Cabinet.  That’s going to be a simple project for some much needed storage space, or maybe a short rest stop for some bottles of wine (they don’t last long here).

I’m not sure where I’ll start yet, but as soon as I get off this @#$%&* job, both of you readers will be the first to know.

Stay tuned

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Redneck Feng Shui

After coming up with that line, how could I pass up a chance to get a little more mileage out of it?

Well, the final coat of finish I previously mentioned was applied to the trim of the new gigantic window I recently cut into one of my shop walls. I was once on a job on the South Side of Pittsburgh, and they were getting rid of some nice store-front windows. Being the pack-rat that I am, I said “sure, I can use those”. They were nice; double-pane, tempered, around two feet high by six feet wide. I had no idea at the time what I would do with them, but hey, how could I pass them up?

They sat for a while in the corner of the shop, occasionally being used for lapping handplane soles and sharpening plane irons. Glass is a nice, flat surface for that sort of thing. This went on for a couple of years until I was off work for most of one winter. I spent some much-needed time in my barely-heated, cave-like shop. Cave-like because I had no windows. None. Not even one in the man-door. None in the garage door I cut in when I moved into the place.

You see, I was always of the opinion (partially from genetics; my Pap was always suspicious) that you never wanted anyone looking in on what you had when you weren’t home, and you never wanted anyone looking in on what you were doing when you were. Hence, no windows, and I was glad of the fact when I moved in.

Thankfully, though, it eventually occurred to me that I live almost in the middle of nowhere. No one was looking in on me, home or not. In fact, for anyone to be there at all would require a nasty hike through some pretty rough terrain, or coming down my rather long and narrow dead-end driveway. Time to let go of the “everyone wants my stuff” mentality. Time to make my shop more like a vacation home and less like a prison. Yeah, it was that dismal.

So, I cut in one window two years ago, and the second window I just finished. I can’t tell you the effect it has already had on my desire to spend time in my shop. The natural lighting is a definite plus; much easier on the eyes. But the real beauty of it is just that-the beauty of it. I hate to brag, but I’m not above it. I live in a nice little patch of woods, and the view from my newly installed windows is nothing less than, well, beautiful. It really adds to the overall experience to my time spent in the shop.

That’s what it’s really all about, isn’t it? Making sawdust and slaying electrons is fun, but there could be so much more to your time in your little place, wherever it is. Having your tools/power outlets/dust collector ports, etc. set up to facilitate an efficient and convenient economy of physical motion is all good and stuff, but it’s really nice when your shop looks pretty. When it’s a happy place. When you can turn your stereo up loud enough to hear over your table saw, dust collector, and through your earmuffs.

That’s what I’m talking about. When your favorite handplane sits on your window sill not just because it’s a convenient spot, but because you like to see it there. When your shop bookshelf gradually makes the transition from automotive solvents and assorted junk to an actual woodworking library. These are the things that, when you walk into your shop, make you feel like a woodworker. You become comfortable in your own shop, and, because you’re surrounded with things that hopefully embody the essence of you, your own skin.

So, whether you’re a woodworker or a seamstress, go to your place, wherever that may be, and hang a picture of something that you like. Take a trinket that means something to you and place it prominently on a shelf, or on the edge of your desk. Make the place yours. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your little place isn’t worth the time; that it’s just a shop. When you feel comfortable and happy, you will be more calm and creative, and you will find the overall experience to be one that you will crave more often.

When I finally finished cutting in the window (it was a real bear; I cut it into a load-bearing wall and had to build a header without destroying the interior), I sent a picture to my Dad with the question “trim in maple or cherry?” He replied simply “Cherry.” Cherry. To trim out a shop window? Why not?

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Shop Set-up

Well, today I put the final coat of finish on what is yet another chapter in an ongoing love story: the continually changing set-up of the Bronze Oak Leaf shop.  This will probably turn into a two-part post on the proper care and feeding of a woodshop; skipping over the placement of power tools (boring) and going right into how I made my shop fit me.  Remember me?  The one around whom all of this revolves?

I inherited a really nice start to a nice shop from Gary, the guy who sold us our house.  The only problem is, I’m lazy.  Yes, me. Lazy and manly.  Or maybe man-ish.  I can’t quite decide.

We are in the eighth year of blissful happiness in our little wooded corner of the world, and I am in the eighth year of ecstasy in my 24′ x 24′  box of total manliness (this time I’m sure).  In that first five years, I was plagued by two lazy-man syndromes: the “that’s good enough for a shop” syndrome, and the “I have enough scrap lumber laying around for that” syndrome.  I was putting up shelves made from reclaimed 2×4’s, running screws willy-nilly into the walls wherever I needed to hang something, and generally making a mess out of the nicest interior to a wood shop I have ever seen.

You see, Gary was a professional furniture builder.  And his shop and his home showed it.

Picture, if you will, O.S.B.  Oriented Strand Board.  Some call it particle board.  Most call it junk.  It’s the 4×8 sheets of–stuff?–that are made up of large splinters and shavings of wood glued and mashed together into the sheets most commonly substituting for real  plywood in sub-floors and exterior walls in home construction.  It’s cheap, ugly, and apparently an interesting medium of art for Gary, the man who shares his name with SpongeBob’s pet snail.

Gary took O.S.B. and made a complete conversation piece out of the future Bronze Oak Leaf shop.  He ripped strips of  5 1/2″ from sheets of O.S.B., tongue-and-grooved them, added a 1/16″ chamfer around the edges, sanded smooth, then polyurethaned the whole lot. He then hung them horizontally on the bare studs, staggering the joints to make beautiful interior walls.  Most agree that it was a lot of work for O.S.B.  They also admit that the results are stunning.  They are right on both counts.

This is the shop where I first started my foray into woodworking by building a gargantuan set of shelves from the ugliest used 2×4’s and plywood laying around the place.  Good enough for a shop.  Need to hang a hammer?  Grab the screwgun.

A few years of generally mucking up my shop later, something happened.  I had built a few pieces of furniture, and began to take note of my progression from the first piece, replete with mistakes and omissions, to the latest, which was looking decidedly better.  Joints were fitting more tightly.  Finished surfaces looked better due to a better-tuned handplane.  In short; I was becoming competent.

It was then that I began to notice some of the less-than-pretty work I had done in my own sanctuary.  “Wow”, I thought, “could I have picked an uglier 2×4 for that?”  “Where the hell did I get that piece of plywood?”  “Why did I trim out that huge, beautiful window in rough-sawn Hemlock?”  I realized that I had taken a chance to make something beautiful, and completely squandered it.

Now, I realize that your shop is your sanctuary.  For some it may be the basement.  For some it may be a 2000 square foot McWoodshop.  But for all of us, it’s a place that, when we’re out there, is ours.  Even when we share it with the kids’ bicycles, the wife’s lawn chairs, or the burnable garbage that can’t be burned until it quits raining.  The place where you are the Master and Commander in your own little world.

Very soon, we will talk about the aforementioned last coat of finish.  We’ll talk about red-neck feng-shui, and how I made myself at home in my own shop.  If we’re lucky, maybe  I can even help you come up with a cool name for a woodshop.

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