Now that you have space to work, what are you going to do?

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Blog entry by RHaynes posted 09-18-2014 05:22 PM 2471 reads 0 times favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Being a complete noob, I didn’t understand that successfully clearing some space in the shop creates two “problems.” First, you now have room to work, which means more wood shows up and more projects get added to the list. Second, now that you have the room, your tools tell their friends, their friends start coming over late at night for keg parties, and sooner or later you wind up with your tools’ friends living in your workshop, consuming more of that space you just fought to clear. I tried very hard to continue steering my projects in the direction of “real” woodworking now that I had become comfortable with making cabinet boxes, doors, and the basic operation of most of my tools.

So what defines a real woodworker from a novice? I had no idea, but I liked to read and tried to pay attention to everything that other people seemed to focus on, and pretty soon my little brain latched onto a recurring theme: quality of joint-making. And what joint is the true test of woodworking prowess? Yep. The dovetail. My brother in law has a Leigh DT jig, borrowed from a friend of his to make some drawers for his kids’ room’s built-in. We messed with it for awhile and I came to 2 clear conclusions: (1) I’m not smart enough to make that thing work without destroying a LOT of wood in the process, and (2) I don’t have the room for one of those things. In addition, something about it seemed, I don’t know, not right. So I looked around and found plans for a DT jig for the TS.

It’s a pretty simple jig, one that I could build in one night in the shop. It’s small enough to fit on my little DeWalt contractor saw and once you get used to putting the good face in the proper position and cutting on the correct side of your lines, the jig is pretty simple to use. I managed to turn out a joint that didn’t draw too much laughter on the first test.

After some more practice, I managed to make a few dovetailed drawers from 1/2” oak for lower kitchen cabinet storage.

But unable to tear myself away from YouTube, I got caught more and more in the gravitational field of Frank Klauz, Paul Sellers, and Rob Cosman. I don’t remember the exact point I became insane, but I remember watching Paul Sellers cut a few dovetails and thought to myself: “I can do that.” It turns out, no, not really, not even close. But hand tools showed up in the shop after that, including the Veritas guide and a nice fret saw from Knew Concepts.

And even with better tools and all of the instruction available out there for free, I still turned out hilarious joints. Which is when Captain Obvious finally got it: This is an ART—knowledge and skill are only PART of the equation. I spent the first twenty years of my life as a musician—a trumpet player. I practiced for HOURS every day, from the time I was in elementary school up through when I got my masters from conservatory and my doctor of musical arts from UT Austin. This woodworking things is exactly the same—listen to your teachers and practice your ass off. So I did. After my daughter went to bed, I cut two joints per night for two weeks. And after two weeks, they looked like this:

And then somehow David Barron entered my world. You know the really beautiful thing about all these guys being out there on the www and all of you guys on here? Inspiration. If you can have a little faith and believe that all of these guys LEARNED their craft too, then you can learn too. Maybe not as fast and maybe not with the same impetus as those who do it for a living, but you can learn. Well Mr. Barron’s work threw me for a loop. If you haven’t checked it out, do yourself a favor. Within a couple weeks, I had the saw he recommended and a couple of his guides, which I must say are light years ahead of the Veritas system. After a few days of practice, I felt strong enough to make my first all hand-tool project, a box for my wife’s rosary. It’s poplar, with a friction fit lid, finished in Danish oil.

All of these joints were cut without a real workbench and with a tiny metal end vise clamped to my Craftsman workbench. They taught me that my sharpening sucked, my chisels needed work, I needed a real vise and bench, and that my hand plane set up and technique required serious attention. But they got me hooked on hand tools and really introduced me to “real” woodworking.

As for the other problem created by clearing space in the shop, yeah, that happened too. First, I had some credit from Christmas and managed to get a drill press for a whopping $35 delivered. I had no idea how much I needed one until I had this powerful tool at my disposal. And of course, it needed a place to live.

The cart is made from exterior grade plywood, edge-banded with thin strips of poplar. The drawer fronts are plywood wrapped with mitered poplar pieces. Casters and drawer slides are the cheapest I could find from the big orange store. The drawers are 1/2 plywood, assembled with box joints . . . cut by hand then glued and reinforced with 23-gauge pins.

A stationary sander also found its way into the shop when I realized that Ridgid is the only company making a machine like this at this price point, it went on sale at HD, and someone gave me a gift card. It also needed a mobile stand, which is similar to the one for the drill press, but hasn’t been edge-banded or finished yet. This face frame is pine, with drawer fronts made of poplar wrapped in pine. The table height is the same as the router table, which lives right next door, making the sanding station serve double-duty as outfeed support for the router table.

The jointer quickly got married . . . to a Delta planer. We argued for awhile, but the jointer kept saying “marriage is between a jointer and a planer,” and trying to convince me that a jointer by itself was only half the milling process. I also saved a small bandsaw from certain death. It was about to be put out for garbage by my brother-in-law, who picked it up for $25 from someone else who was going to get rid of it. It’s a crappy Spectra, but I could understand why they all wanted to get rid of it—it was terrible. But like most kids gone bad, it’s really the parents’ fault. The blade was bad and promptly broke (that was a new experience), it was noisy, shook, and the quality of cut was not great. So I started researching bandsaw maintenance and tune ups. Pretty soon, this little guy got new tires, new blades, had the cracked plastic knob for locking the guide assembly height replaced, had the table cleaned up and got a new ZC insert plate. It now purrs like a kitten and resaws small red oak and maple with no problem. It lives just upstairs from the planer on a new cart.

-- "Sometimes the creative process requires foul language." -- Charles Neil.

4 comments so far

View Kaleb the Swede's profile

Kaleb the Swede

1880 posts in 2206 days

#1 posted 09-18-2014 06:34 PM

I’d say that your dovetails are looking nice. Great job. Well thought out with your tools too

-- Just trying to build something beautiful

View kaerlighedsbamsen's profile


1257 posts in 1950 days

#2 posted 09-18-2014 06:50 PM

Enjoyed reding about your journey in the shop. Sounds like you have come a long way.
Thanks for sharing!

-- "Do or Do not. There is no try." - Yoda

View Richard's profile


1922 posts in 2927 days

#3 posted 09-18-2014 06:54 PM

Yep looks like you got those Dovetails down pat , time to move on the the next Challenge. And Join in on those late night Keg Parties. :)

View Ken90712's profile


17614 posts in 3425 days

#4 posted 09-19-2014 08:53 AM

Great job on the dovetails very tight.

-- Ken, "Everyday above ground is a good day!"

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