Entry to woodworking - rambling first post

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Blog entry by AaronK posted 11-30-2008 11:06 PM 1113 reads 0 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Hi everybody,

This looks like a fun/good place to be a part of – lots of nice folks and good ideas floating around. So here I am. First off – thanks for all the kind messages from people welcoming into the LJ community. They are very appreciated.

As my profile indicates, I’m new to woodworking. It’s always had an appeal to me, but I’ve never had any 1st hand exposure to it – never had a shop class in school, slipped through a woodworking merit badge in the scouts by doing a penknife carving of about 3” of the end of a fallen branch, etc etc. So when my wife and I moved into our first house here in spacious and relatively rural WV (as opposed to cramp urban greater Boston), the need for solid bookcases to house our literature habit became increasingly urgent, and out came my inner voice saying “I can build those better than I can buy them”, well that’s how this all got started.

So, my wife, Amber, encouraged me to do it. This was a full year ago now, and there were some nice sales going on at Sears (trouble brewing). She wanted to get me something nice and big for christmas. So, without doing enough research we went over to Sears to check out table saws. Anyway, we ended up getting the craftsman model 21805. It looked great at the time, a “bargain” compared to its normal retail price, and looked good enough for what I could imagine doing – which was simple things like bookcases, maybe some tables, things like that. And all simple designs at first. “mission” style, etc.

... it’s been a full year later and I’ve yet to produce anything useful apart from some shelving. shelving – not bookcases. now part of that time was spent obtaining enough tools to do anything – some sort of workbench, sandpaper, clamps, finishing supplies, a descent combination square – the BASICS. Man, I had no idea that even “simple” stuff like getting a board straight and square and finished smoothly could be so complicated, involved, and TIME consuming!

And expensive. yikes. $20 for a 3-shelf bookcase made of particleboard and other similarly engineered material and mass produced furniture really warps the mind – even the raw material of lumber itself seems expensive. What a crazy world huh?

anyway, back on track: it’s been a full year, yet to make anything real, i.e. involving actual joinery! but I’ve been reading a lot… and then there’s school… and then there’s struggling with the learning curve and tuning my tools. That table saw for example. Here’s my list of problems with the thing:

1. T-tracks and useless miter gauge make things wobbly.
2. awful flexible fence.
3. table is not flat
4. “arbor” tilt mechanism is loose and does not stay fixed in place, but slowly works out over time

well those are the big ones. other than that it runs ok – has plenty of power, decent side and outfeed support. but here are steps I’ve taken to solve those problems:

1. not use t tracks or miter gauge for anything. built LARGE crosscut sled which rides on two rails which are sandwiched between the main table and outfeed tables.
2. reinforce with MDF – but it’s still got some give, and it might need something stronger.
3. use crosscut sled as auxiliary base
4. check the angle like a madman

so I’ve basically learned now to not trust low budget Crafstman stuff (or any cheap power tool). These issues are not insurmountable, but they are sure as hell not fun to deal with.

But I dont have that much room in the shop, nor enough $ to throw at some of these woodworking problems, so I’ve been reading and thinking and I’m trying to come up with ways to minimize expense while having a good experience and maximize results. This led me to forgoing a planer and jointer – I’ll have to get surfaced lumber in the meantime, and I’ve set up my router table for use as a jointer. It also led me to the realization that in general in this woodworking stuff there’s always another way, you just have to think a bit. Finally, I realized that power tools alone could never do it all for me, since 1) the base unit – my table saw – could only do rough cuts and joinery would always need to be touched up afterwards and 2) power tooling MDF REALLY REALLY SUCKS because of the dust 3) power tools are loud and annoying, as well as incredibly dangerous.

So I invested in some hand tools. a couple planes – a stanley 220 block and bailey sweetheart #5. and some Marples chisels that were on sale at Rockler. Been using the scary sharp system to sharpen those. Seems ok so far. I should note that I’ve now cut myself twice with hand tools and zero times with power tools, so I’m not sure about that safety thing ;-) But I do like the satisfaction of using them (in practice so far). The handplaning is by far the most fun. The “zip zip” sound and feel of the thing is great – plus getting those nice curly shavings makes me feel like a real woodworker in a way that power tool dust just does not. I will still use the PTs though for the significant wood removal processes…

OK. My plan is to VERY SOON start on building the “Contemporary Bookshelves” from the Popular Woodworking site. I’ll do it out of poplar though, and try to challenge myself with using rabbets and M&T joints not included in the original plan.

Anyway, I wanted to say more, but I’ve said to much already. I’ll post some pics of workshop stuff.

7 comments so far

View Woodhacker's profile


1139 posts in 3720 days

#1 posted 11-30-2008 11:37 PM

Aaron, welcome to LJ.

I’m not familiar with the 21805, but it sounds like you could improve it’s accuracy with a miter gauge that has an adjustable bar to take all the play out of it. If you’re having trouble getting pieces square, make sure your table top (miter slot) is in align (parallel) with the blade, and that the miter gauge is 90 degrees to the blade. I’m pretty sure if you do a search for tuning up a table saw here on LJ, you’ll get some detailed “how to”s.

If you do a google search on table saw tuning, you’ll get a host of information on the internet too…

Good luck on your bookshelves.

-- Martin, Kansas

View douginaz's profile


220 posts in 3999 days

#2 posted 12-01-2008 12:28 AM

Hi Aaron, sounds like you are off to a good start. Just so you know you are not alone, there have been plenty of stories on this and other sites about the dreaded Crapsman table saws. Mine being one of them. As you stated, one of the biggest frustrations of starting out is not the making of the piece but rather the squaring of the lumber before you even begin. Know this, the methods you adapt now for dealing with the less expensive tools will make you a better woodworker. Knowing how to hold, shim, and manipulate stock to get it to do what you want it to do in spite of the tools will greatly increase your ability further down the road. True, it’s a PITA now but the knowledge and patience you gain is priceless. I’m glad to see that you have found PT’s and HT’s each have their prospective places. Enjoy the ride :)
Doug in AZ.

-- If you need craft books - please visit our small business at

View JoeButler's profile


39 posts in 3724 days

#3 posted 12-01-2008 01:15 AM

Hi Aaron,

I too, started off with the Craftsman and, even worse (hanging head in shame!) Harbor Freight stuff. My first couple of projects were repairs around the house. Cheap tools handled that ok. Then I got interested in woodworking. I quickly discovered that cheap usually didn’t mean good quailty in power tools. That $120 sliding compound miter saw from Harbor Freight could rough cut 2×4’s great, but try cutting an accurate 45 degree angle with it for a jewelry box.

If your 21805 is like the $165 (on sale) one that I started with 3 years ago, then the miter tracks on it are a non standard size. That lets out any aftermarket miter gauges. I wasn’t too unhappy with was accurate enough. Like you, a cross cut table solved the crappy miter gauge problem. I just hated that trying to cut anything bigger than a bread box made the saw want to tip over. I think it weighed around 60 pounds soaking wet! LOL

I finally sold mine this past summer and got an old used cast iron Craftsman off Craig’s List. The guy I got it from had no idea how old it was, since he had gotten it used years ago himself. What a difference in saws!!! And it DOESN’T tip on me. I feel a lot safer when I’m using it. Apparently, at one time, Craftsman tools were good solid tools. I guess that time has passed.

Anyway, I am wanting to get into hand tools like you are doing. I have quickly discovered that power tools can’t do it all, no matter what Norm Abrams shows on his show! But the learning curve does seem a lot steeper. I tried chiselling the mortises for the last jewelry box I made. MAN!! Talk about hard. I really made a mess of them. LOL

It REALLY makes me respect the craftsmen of yore, who did everything by hand!

Good luck on the bookcases. I’m sure they will turn out great!

-- Joe

View AaronK's profile


1506 posts in 3461 days

#4 posted 12-01-2008 03:33 AM

thanks for the comments!

martin – like Joe says – the new low end craftsman stuff comes in non-standard/proprietary sizing so I couldnt get a new miter bar even if i tried. I also forgot to mention that the table saw has a very small distance between the blade and front of the table, so the crosscut sled (~24” deep) takes care of that problem too. I think i’ve tuned the saw to the best of my ability – seems like it came with the arbor aligned perpendicular to the tracks/sides as closely as i can tell.

doug – yes, you’re right i believe. all this monkeying around with things has definitely taught me some lessons so far.

Joe – yeah – definitely good enough for rough dimensioning of carpentry lumber, but not nearly enough for any fine woodworking. I’ve stayed away from HF PTs, but their selection of clamps are great (so far) and come with a good guarantee. anyway, try getting some hand tools – i got the planes cheap off ebay, and fixing them up/tuning them was a good excercise.

View Karson's profile


35120 posts in 4397 days

#5 posted 12-01-2008 03:52 AM

Welcome to the wonderful world of Woodworking, LumberJocks style.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware soon moving to Virginia †

View gizmodyne's profile


1779 posts in 4086 days

#6 posted 12-01-2008 06:12 PM

Welcome to Lumberjocks and Woodworking. I would recommend the book, Getting Started in Woodworking by Aimee Fraser (Taunton). It has a ton of great looking projects for beginners. It builds skills as you go along. Actually all three of the books in this series are worthy of any woodworker.

-- -John "Do I have to keep typing a smiley? Just assume it's a joke."

View AaronK's profile


1506 posts in 3461 days

#7 posted 12-01-2008 06:17 PM

thanks Giz – I’ll check it out. All the stuff i’ve seen from Taunton – website and in print – have looked top notch.

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