Thursday, October 20, 2016



Once the lumber rack was built, I wiggled my big ol' bench against the other section of painted wall. The idea was to give me a place, a space, somewhere to do good work. It wasn't where I wanted the bench to end up, but it was a space the bench could sit until the rest of the shop was painted.

Of course the bench doesn't just work alone. It's companion (in my shop at least) is the tool chest and for the move I packed it full of things not normally located there: bench hooks, holdfasts, doe's feet, shooting board, miter saw, Moxon vise, bench dogs, the block with the toothed plane stop mounted into it, and several other things. Filled to the brim I praised the fact it rides around on heavy duty caster wheels. 

Many of these things live on the shelf under the bench, but some do not. As I started to sort through things with the idea of setting up to do some work, I found out something about myself. 

I consider my workbench a shop necessity. I consider my tool chest and it's contents a shop necessity. These two things should come as no surprise. But a bit of anxiety began to set in, I just wasn't happy with trying to store everything that needed out of the chest underneath the bench. I was missing a third necessity, Something I wasn't even aware of my dependence on until I tried to create a basic set up without it. 

This simple shop shelf.

It's my take on a Popular Woodworking Magazine project done by Chris Schwarz. He based it on a drawing of an old woodworking shop.  I built it in anticipation of my last shop and the things that hang on the pegs, sit on the shelf, and fit into the tool space behind the pegs has grown organically over time. 

Early on in the last shop. Circa summer 2013.
Before my family started buying me stickers for my tool chest too!!

Now, those items seem to live there permanently. Like the organization in my tool chest, I know exactly where a tool is before I go reaching for it and once you begin to work like that it is difficult to go back.

So I eased my OCD anxiety and hung the shelf, even though I had to take it down again to finish the painting, having it up just feels right.

In the end, "just feels right" is pretty important.

Ratione et Passionis

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Sequel Is Never As Good As The Original.

Oldwolf Workshop IX

Oldwolf Workshop 9: Live Free or Workshop

Oldwolf Workshop Nine: Red, White and Workshop

Oldwolf Workshop: The Quickening

Son of the Oldwolf Workshop

You get the point . . .  I've moved shop a couple times. With movies the sequel often fails to live up to the promise of the original, but with workshops. I'd say with every move I've learned a little more and been able to refine things down to a pretty specific set up that works for me.

Okay, Okay. Moving on.

The new shop loses a little square footage from my last one, but it makes up for it in insulated walls paneled in 4/4 pine recycled from shipping crates. The shipping information was clearly printed on several of the boards. There is evidence of a wood burning stove existing in here at one point as well, but I don't think it was very clean or well maintained because all the boards were dark, sooty, and oily. Three factors that suck light right out of the bulb and create a dim atmosphere unconducive to cutting dovetails.

The first order was paint. The previous owners left behind a full can of oil based white primer so I started there, covering one and a quarter walls and ceiling. The improvement was immediate.

Old wall color meet new wall color.
The second order was a lumber rack. I haven't used a real lumber rack in years, instead leaning boards against walls and stacking them on rafters, but the paneled ceiling and slightly more compact footprint meant I needed to be more organized. With one wall painted I could install the lumber rack by the garage door, pretend I was more organized, and get the piles of lumber off my workbenches so I could use them.

I picked up some 2x4's and threw together a simple four shelf lumber rack using the tailgate of my pickup as a workbench.

I decided glued and screwed lap joints would be workmanlike enough. Unable to get to my tool chest I dipped into the tool box I haul around for general carpentry tasks to handle the job. No marking gauge? No problem. This old trick of holding the pencil point to a mark on the speed square and sliding the square (and pencil) along the board works fine in a pinch for rough work,

No premium Bad Axe Carcass Saw? No problem. The little job saw I keep in that tool box worked just fine to establish the shoulders of the lap joint.

No nice wooden handled chisels? No problem. I keep a full set of decent plastic handled chisels in that tool box too. Hey what's a hand tool woodworker without these things, even when doing general carpentry. After this I'm considering adding a marking gauge to the box as well.

No router plane? Who cares. The rough surface from the chisels chunking out the waste is fine for this application. The only downside? Having your Father-in-Law sit in a lawn chair during the process and explain to you repeatedly why a radial arm saw is the only real way to cut joints like this.Never mind a radial arm saw is the only power tool I have experienced a close call using, I will never own one, I will never use one.

Seriously I'm already working on a pickup tailgate, how am I supposed to find and set up a radial arm saw? I know he meant well and I was laughing about it by the end of the day. Yesterday I caught him cutting a sandwich in half and asked him why he didn't dig out the electric knife. We've got it figured out.

The shelf end of the lap joints. sawn shoulders and split out cheeks. Put the two together, attach it to the wall using some "L" brackets and screws and you get . . .

A simple lumber rack!!

That evening I moved the lumber over and reclaimed the space atop my workbenches.

The new shop was underway.

Ratione et Passionis

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Stop And Smell The Shavings

This story was supposed to be about how good I am. It was supposed to be about how I built a saw bench very quickly using a limited amount of hand tools. It was supposed to demonstrate my perspective that hand tool woodworking is not inherently slow. Then Tom Fidgen got in my head, dreadlocks and guitar strings caught in the wheels and cogs and seized up the machine.

And I'm probably better for it.

It has a lot to do with my good fortune. One of the premier woodworking events of the last few years was Sawlapalooza. The brain child of Mark Harrell of Bad Axe Tool Works and wood artisan/instructor Tom Fidgen where students not only built and filed their own Bad Axe saws but built a frame saw, kerfing plane and saw bench. I didn't get to make any sawdust, but I did get to hang around and photo-document the amazing week. 

As a thank you, Mark handed me an extra precut lumber pack for Tom's sawbench. Pine instead of the fantastic quartersawn oak the students received. I took the bundle home. Moved it from one shop to another. Until last week.

I had loaned my pair of saw benches to a friend. I still had projects to do and decided to put together the bundle into a version of Tom's. I was determined I could build it in a portion of a day using the least amount of tools possible. 

Was I trying to show off how awesome I can be? Maybe a bit, ego is a bitch. But it's more innocent than it sounds on the surface. You have to understand, there is a certain trap you can fall into when you read a lot of old books about woodworking. The books were written by, and often for, professional woodworkers. Even when it's not obviously stated, efficiency and speed of production are highly valued traits. When you think it through it makes sense and it hasn't changed in this day and age. 

Time is money. Efficiency is profit. Speed is important. When it's you're livelihood on the line it makes sense, and reading a lot of this can put the seed in your brain that efficiency is god. 

I was about an hour in, finishing up the joinery cuts for the legs and cross members, when Tom Fidgen's voice gave me pause.

No he wasn't standing right behind me. No it wasn't just like Ben Kenobi would advise Luke. No Tom has not entered the cast of schizophrenic characters that inhabit my mind. I was remembering something he'd said to the students at Sawlapalooza. 

"Remember. We all want to be "that" woodworker so let's make sure we focus on realizing that." 

The statement gave me pause when I heard Tom say it. It makes sense that we each strive to be that idealistic woodwright. One part Krenov, one part Underhill, one part Pekovich, with a sprinkle of Schwarz, Miller, and Tolpin, All knocked back with a Gary Knox Bennett chaser.

Chasing efficiency and professionalism is noble to a point, but more so is remembering that I am not a pro. I don't rely on sawdust to feed my family, and I have no real desire to trap myself in the thankless circle of dealing with customers and their assumption they're always right and important.

I slowed down a half step, stopped keeping close watch on my time, and instead went back to simplicity. The thing I really love about being in the workshop. Working in the moment.

I enjoyed the rest of the saw bench build much more.

Ratione et Passionis

Friday, September 30, 2016

An Evangelistic Gestation.

This past Sunday I was once again joined a couple friends to demonstrate the traditional woodworking skills of turning logs into stuff at The Castlerock Museum of Arms and Armor in Alma WI. This is the third time we've done this "Forest to Furniture" event, this time they let us make a mess inside due to uncooperative weather. Of course I'd happily work in the driving rain to stand in the company of Tom Latane ( and Paul Nyborg (

The best thing about doing these shows is most of the audience doesn't know the first thing about woodworking. I don't like it because it's easier, (in fact the questions can be more complex) I like it because it spreads the word outside the already converted. Many woodworking demonstrations happen for woodworkers. These can be good things, new techniques and new tricks can be learned.

Showing hand tool woodworking to the uninitiated is a lot like performing a magic show. The awe at the effect sharp steel and the concept of a log turning into something useable is palpable. It seems like something that we've left behind as a society and when it's rediscovered, . .  well it's a hell of a lot of fun to be the catalyst for that. 

Ratione et Passionis

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

. . . And Another Step. The Big Move.

Is it true that absence makes the heart grow fonder?

A quick recap of my past month and a half. Packing up the house. Packing up the shop. Packing my In-laws home. Moving all the above into a new (new to us) home across town amidst banking red tape and bureaucracy bullshit. Last minute closing date modifications. A week and a half of homelessness. Regular work schedule. The start of the school year for my daughters. Doing a museum lecture on medieval blunt force weapons. Doing a few days of spoon carving demos four hours north. Combining two households of "Things" into one cohesive household. A million donation trips to the Salvation Army.

There's more but you probably wouldn't believe it. Please don't ask about the banking bastards. I could write a Tolstoy length dissertation. Never the less. Things are finally finding a new version of normalcy and I'm able to peel off some time to continue writing here instead of just throwing pictures up on Instagram. I just hope I haven't gotten too far out of the habit.

We were talking about packing up and moving a shop. One of the biggest concerns in moving is the biggest piece of shop furniture you probably own. Your workbench.

In my case I had a behemoth to wrangle. 12 foot long, four inch thick top with 10"X 8" legs. Probably pushing the weight of a compact car. Thank goodness I had no stairs to overcome or this beast probably would have been a donation to the new owner of the old shop.

The top rests on the legs located in place by 1 1/2" maple dowels. It was not glued or mechanically connected but expansion and contraction have resulted in a fit it would probably take a tractor to pull apart. Still, being who I am I reinforced the connection with two angle brackets per leg.

It seemed to me that putting the major weight (read: the bench top) closest to the ground wold be good, make things less tippy. I picked up a couple rolling mover's dollies and screwed them to the benchtop.

Then I bribed a good friend into helping me flip the tortoise on it's back.

From there we pushed it out the garage door and onto the Uhaul. There was one problem to solve at the ramp. I was using the biggest truck Uhaul offered and when I have had this in the past I've had a decent length ramp, this one must have been a replacement because it was short and steep. I used one of my homemade wheel dollies to get us started on the ramp and up we went.

Amazing that no photo exists of us actually going up the ramp, but there is some of us loading the second bench, The measly 8 footer.

After the benches were on it was just a matter of loading everything else.

and then unloading it of course. . .

and then setting up the new shop of course. . .

and then getting back to making things of course . . .

Ratione et Passionis

Saturday, August 6, 2016

One Step Before The Other . . .

As I said a few weeks ago my family and I are moving to a new home across town, and that means my shop is moving too. Having moved shop many times I thought some of my experience could help others.

First, the tools of the trade.

I am very partial to plastic tote/tubs for a shop move. Even the cheep ones hold up better than cardboard boxes. Plus, cardboard boxes attract and hold on to moisture, and these plastic totes do not. If a mason jar of finish happens to break inside one tote, the problem doesn't spread to others.

I throw a moisture absorbing desiccant pack into each tote, The little packages that come inside nearly every boxed/sealed item you can buy. The only drawback to these is the slanted sides. I wish they made them straight sided and some of the pricier ones are, but I'm not wrapped up enough to pay double for it.

I buy the 10 and 20 gallon variety, Anything that doesn't fit inside these sizes can probably be dealt with in another way more effectively. I find the larger ones become too heavy to deal with. I pack them carefully paying attention to the weight and balance. The tote pictured above looks heavy because of the wood piled on top, but beneath is my steam generator, basically an empty plastic jug, so the wood applies extra gravity to even the equation. .

The other two essential supplies are painters tape and a cling wrap roll.

The roll is great for binding together like size and length items. my pipe and bar clamps get this treatment, I bind my sticking board to my long doe's foot bench helpers. Packages of board stock together. The wrap is a fixture in my shop anyway, used in oddball clamping situations for instance, I might as well make use of it's intended design when moving.

I use the painters tape for multiple things too. Sometimes binding a box with a weak clasp closed before tossing it in the tote, but often I use it to protect sharp edges.

It's a fairly well known trick to make a tip protector by wrapping painters tape around a chisel edge inside out (with the sticky facing out) letting the tape stick to itself and then dunking the tape into Plasti-dip to give it some form and permanence. (See Chris Schwarz make some HERE) I'm not interested in making a bunch of guards I'll never use again so I just wrap the edges in blue tape sticking it to the steel. taking care to bunch up extra along the cutting edge to create a little bumper guard.

I don't think of it as a long term storage solution, I tend to think the adhesive might promote rust over time, but for a couple months while I have things in transition it will do the trick and keep me from having to grind and polish out big nicks and busted edges. Blue tape comes off pretty clean and when there is any residue I have plenty of denatured alcohol and GooGone to make that go away.

When it comes to moving solutions I do have a small collection of long plastic toolboxes I bought for moving shop with many times ago. These are just long enough to fit tools I want to transport and protect well, like my turning chisels.

More ideas next time.

Ratione et Passionis

Sunday, July 24, 2016

A Special Wine Ceremony Box

Around a month ago I had a special occasion to celebrate. My youngest sister was married. It was a fun, free-spirited ceremony set in a outdoor pavilion set right near the banks of the Mississippi River. A beautiful setting and despite it falling on one of the hottest days of the year, I was more than happy to wrap up in a rented monkey suit to join the ceremony. Other than my much sought after attendance, I had one other reasonable contribution to the day. My sister had asked me to build a box for the Wine Ceremony.

Wine Ceremonies seem to be a trendy thing for couples to do in recent years, If you haven't heard here's how they work here's the basics (with plenty of variation between couples). The couple starts with a nice bottle of wine, and two letters sealed in envelopes and a wooden box. The letters are written by each, for the other and sealed unseen into envelopes. Then the letters and the wine are sealed into the box and every so often, every five year anniversary . . .every twenty-five year anniversary . . . the box gets opened, the wine is drank, the letters read, and the honeymoon is revisited.

It also can be used in case of emergency. Marriage problems begin, the box is opened, the wine consumed, the letters read, young love remembered, and the road to resolution begins.

I have built a few of these for clients and friends over the years, but this occasion called for something special. I determined instead of a carved box with a hinged lid I create something that lifted off entirely and was large enough to hold a bottle of wine, a pair of glasses, the letters, and a oversized can of beer (the groom's request).

I determined my sizing, and edge glued up the lid. Cut a molding around the perimeter with a complex molding plane. After digging into my library for a while I picked out the 17th century period carvings to use as inspiration. I mixed a frame and a center from two different pieces, but on paper they worked well together. I scratched in the layout lines with dividers and awl, following with a little line work with a "V" chisel.

The next step is to lay out the rest of the carving work with strikes from various gouges.

With the gouges stamped in it's working back into the pattern, back cutting into the design with those same sweeps.

I cut dovetails for the box sides and glued them up.

Once the glue dried, I planed and trued the box. Then marked a line and ran a saw separating 1 1/4" from the sides. This rim would connect to the bottom of the lid, acting as a cleat system to help maintain the large panels flatness over time. For the connection I used glue along the long grain and two pocket hole screws per side.

I wrapped a little mitered walnut strip along the bottom because the combo of red oak with a little walnut is pretty magical and finished the piece with Tru-oil and dark paste wax.

I machined up some brass rod as registration pins located in three of the four corners (to maintain the same orientation again and again) and installed two hasps on the sides. One for the bride to padlock, and one for the groom. Here is a shot of it set up before the ceremony kicked off. It turned out quite nice.

Congratulations Ben and Majel. Here's to a satisfying life together.

Ratione et Passionis