Lessons Learned in my Small Korean Woodshop

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Blog entry by MilFlyer posted 09-05-2014 02:26 AM 3841 reads 1 time favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Okay, so I started this blog with the intent of helping anyone else working in smalls space. After a year of living in an apartment in Korea, while constantly amassing new toys, I mean tools, I’ll have to say it has been a year of constant learning. I’ve said before, I’m a relatively young (new) woodworker so some of these anecdotes may be things you more experienced folk will laugh at. I’ll illustrate the first point with something from my personal experience. As a military flight instructor, I would always smile inside, when young flyers would say something like “Why do it that way? This way seems better?” and after trying to explain I would realize that some things the young guy/gal just has to learn for themselves. That being said, you’d think I’d be smart enough to follow suit in woodworking. Not! I would look at all these complex jigs guys were making and think “Why the heck do I need to build that when I can cross cut just fine or miter just fine with my saws/gauges?” So after a year away from the seeing eye of my woodworking mentor, I finally realized the importance of repeatable results in a cut or step on any project. Doh! So I ended up spending an entire weekend making nothing but basic “essential” jigs so that I would have dependable, repeatable, results on my cuts. My hats off to you more experienced woodworkers who chuckle when us younger guys think we know a “better” way. Lol

The next major lesson learned is one that applies to all shops, but has slightly different emphasis in small space woodworking is safety. I am not a safety freak by any means, but I’ll have to say I’ve definitely learned some lessons here recently. When you’re working in a small space like the deck of my apartment, you end up having to haul things back and forth as you need them, table saw, router table, miter saw, tool buckets (multiples here), work bench, power strips, shop vac…you get the picture. Well, there’s a natural tendency to try and keep things around 1)in case you need it again 2)because hauling that router table back into the laundry room only to find you need it again, totally stinks. What I wasn’t thinking about was the fact that it gets crowded real quick and while we all joke about tripping hazards, at the least I’ve knocked a few project boards onto the ground and had to repair them and at the worst, I almost face planted on my table saw blade. So always keeping the work area clean and organized has become one of my priorities. To that end I keep a broom out on the patio while working and just shop vac the end of the day.
The above experience also led me to realize that I should be “safing” my tools if they are not in immediate use. This is even more of a factor if you have small children. Again, in a small workspace, no space is really yours and my 4 children constantly remind me of this by wandering out onto the porch where I work so they can see what I’m up to. I always make sure to lower my table saw blade when I’m not using it and I unplug any of my power tools. This latter lesson learned after I saw my 3 year old plug in the Shop Vac so he could vaccum the patio! I had a heart attack realizing that could have been my miter saw!
I’ve chewed on your ears enough, but as always, I welcome any suggestions, comments, or critiques to help me grow as a woodworker. I’m still having a metric ton of fun making sawdust!


-- VR, Richard "Fear is nothing more than a feeling. You feel hot. You feel hungry. You feel angry. You feel afraid. Fear can never kill you"--Remo Williams

7 comments so far

View NormG's profile


6252 posts in 3147 days

#1 posted 09-05-2014 04:11 AM

We all learn as we go along. Its just the remembering part to follow up with

-- Norman - I never never make a mistake, I just change the design.

View stefang's profile


15947 posts in 3478 days

#2 posted 09-05-2014 09:58 AM

As a flight instructor you undoubtedly know how fast things can go terribly wrong. Safety in the shop is more about attitude and diligence than just woodworking experience and I think you must be extremely well qualified in that area. We all unconsciously do dangerous things in the shop occasionally, but more often than not we are very lucky that it doesn’t lead to major injuries. These are learning experiences that are added to our safety checklists.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View MilFlyer's profile


939 posts in 1815 days

#3 posted 09-05-2014 12:22 PM

Norman, very true. Just gotta keep working at the remembering part. :)

Mike, You couldn’t be more right! I’m counting myself lucky that none of my learning experiences to this point have brought about nothing worse than a bruised hip (long story). You are spot on about it being attitude and diligence. I think I understand the diligence part a little more clearly now. BTW, you mentioned to me in a previous post that I would grow to love metrics…and I’ll have to say you were right! I have started finding myself defaulting to the metric side of my tape measure for easy math in finding a midpoint or in trying to get more/easier to understand accuracy on a close measurement. I NEVER thought I would be saying that about the metric system! lol :)

-- VR, Richard "Fear is nothing more than a feeling. You feel hot. You feel hungry. You feel angry. You feel afraid. Fear can never kill you"--Remo Williams

View stefang's profile


15947 posts in 3478 days

#4 posted 09-05-2014 12:32 PM

The metric system is wonderful, but of course it’s easy to understand why so many resist it when they have so many tools, nuts and bolts, etc. which would make it impractical for them to convert. Metrics are the standard here in Scandinavia and Europe too, perhaps with the exception of Britain where I think they, like the US still use both.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View handsawgeek's profile


648 posts in 1539 days

#5 posted 09-05-2014 01:43 PM

No chuckling here…I think you are doing a splendid job. A major part of the fun of woodworking is in coming up with new stuff and finally hitting the realization of “Hey…I CAN do this!!”

Kudos !

By the way, I know all about the apartment decks in Korea. My wife is from there and we take a trip out there every so often to visit her family, many of who live in the high rises. It looks like it might to be a challenge doing woodworking in such an environment. Is it hard to find tools and materials there?

-- Ed

View Mean_Dean's profile (online now)


6877 posts in 3291 days

#6 posted 09-06-2014 12:42 AM

You’ve definitely got to be safe! It only takes a second, and something can go horribly wrong. One thing you might consider is putting safety plugs in your electrical outlets out on the porch, so the kids can’t plug the tools in if they get ahold of them.

Keep building those jigs! The time invested in them will be repaid many fold over the years.

As far as your student-pilots, an older fighter pilot told me once: “There are old pilots, and there are bold pilots—but there are no old, bold pilots.” Gives them something to think about before they do something stupid and try and kill you up there!

-- Dean -- "Don't give up the ship -- fight her 'till she sinks!" Capt James Lawrence USN

View MilFlyer's profile


939 posts in 1815 days

#7 posted 09-07-2014 02:38 AM

Ed, Tools aren’t hard to find, but tools of acceptable quality are. I’m definitely not on the wicked smart edge of tool knowledge, but smart enough to recognize the cheap “junk” tools as opposed to reasonable quality. That’s what I”m guessing makes it hard for the average guy/gal to pick up woodworking out here. Decent tools are about half again to twice what we pay back in the states. So Amazon/Woodcraft mail order has become my best friend. Really, the hard thing to get is woods other than construction grade pine and anything other than water based finishes. I’m not sure why, but they seem to import almost all of their lumber. I’ve asked specifically about local woods, hard or soft, and the only locals I know into woodwork say the local wood is horrible. I can’t believe it’s all really that bad. They also seem to have an aversion to oil based stains/finishes. It’s taken a year for the only local woodworker I know to find a supplier of oil based finishes. And that cost me 40 dollars for 1/2 liter. I live just outside of Osan city and there are lots of Construction suppliers for Pine and the occasional hardwood baseboard you can repurpose. I found a place called DIY in Pyeongtaek. He does custom woodwork and through a translator he will order anything for me with a few dollars (won) attached. To give you an idea he ordered 6×5’ lengths of 3/4” pipe for me and it cost me $120.00 (That’s the extreme though, most things only about 20% over stateside cost). He also asserts he’s the only woodworker within 100Km and I’ll have to say I think he’s telling the truth. I’ve asked and asked and there just don’t seem to be local woodworkers other than Americans stationed here.

Dean, excellent idea on the safety plugs for the porch. The youngest about gave me a heart attack with plugging in the shop vac and turning it on. And I will keep on with the jigs. I’m definitely learning the importance of repeatability in project work….and just how accurate that repeatability needs to be!

Thanks for reading and commenting guys. I learn every time I talk with one of y’all.


-- VR, Richard "Fear is nothing more than a feeling. You feel hot. You feel hungry. You feel angry. You feel afraid. Fear can never kill you"--Remo Williams

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