Fair Woodworking

November 17, 2014

You Aren’t Sweeping Enough (And I’m not, Either)

Filed under: Favorite tools,Favorites — fairwoodworking @ 5:43 pm


If a students shows me the floor during class and asks: “Should I s….”

I cut them off. “Yes.”

I have found that when you ask yourself if your floor is dirty, the poor pathetic thing is way past being dirty and is on its way to getting covered with trash. I think you need to sweep a floor before it actually occurs to you to sweep that floor. Sounds impossible, but it’s not.

I sweep a lot, and it is part of the rhythm of my day. As I finishing planing up panels with a jointer plane, I stop to sweep the floor before I take on the parts for the lid – even if the floor is performing well.

When I chop dovetails, I touch up the floor between each corner of a carcase – even if the floor is clean and doing well.

This is the opposite of the way I was taught to evaluate floors. I was told: “The surface of the floor will tell you how your floor is performing. If the floor looks bad, it’s time to sweep.”

While that makes sense on one level, I don’t want the floor to ever look bruised or scraped or chunked out. So I sweep the floor several times a day.

This approach not only ensures my floors will look their best, it also removes most concerns about what material your floor is made of. If you keep a floor wicked clean(and nothing less) then it really doesn’t matter if a wood floor stays clean longer than concrete.

So shut up and sweep.


Editors note – Some of you may be thinking this is quite possibly the dumbest thing I’ve ever written, and you people are what I like to call “wrong”. The above post is actually a near direct ripoff of a recent post over at Lost Art Press. The idea made me laugh more than any sane person should laugh about their own joke, but that is just how I roll.

Deal with it.

The truth is I was getting ready to talk about ultra sexy topic of sweeping anyways, and the above “upright dust pan” is a real thing of beauty.

Having now moved into my ultra tiny work shop, there is really no spare floor space that you can push sawdust and shavings out of the way, and so as dumb as the this post may sound, I really do “sweep a lot, and it is part of the rhythm of my day”, but it’s not so bad if I’m not down on my knees when I’m doing it.


So shut up and sweep.

November 3, 2014

The Ambidexterity Theory

Filed under: Skill development — fairwoodworking @ 5:23 pm

About a month ago I bought some lumber to build a couple of simple saw horses and a workbench in the style of the Naked Woodworker. Having sold my old work bench before the “Great Move”, I thought it would be interesting to try following along as a new woodworker might do.

Fast forward one month to the present, I’ve managed to complete one single sawbench.

Now it’s not that I haven’t been able to make time for the shop. It’s more like the time I’ve invested into shop time has caused the delays.

Something I was doing in the shop was destroying my back. At one point, just a few minutes in the shop left me all but unable to walk for a 4 day period. It wasn’t that I was pulling a muscle, or putting my back out as I have done many times in the past. It was just a very tight crook in the lower left of my back. Just like you would get if you fell asleep in a chair with your head cocked at an angle, but to the extreme.

I couldn’t figure out what the problem was, but since that time, less that half an hour in the shop would cost me at least a day or two of extreme discomfort.

Then one day I was listening to a podcast or the radio or something, where the guest was a strength and conditioning instructor. One of the things he mentioned was that many athletes fall into a rut of practicing their skills with only their dominant hand. Right handed kickers only kick the football with their right foot. Left handed golfers only use left-handed clubs. He was finding that this mono-dexterous training was occasionally causing the athletes bodies to become unbalanced, and resulting in injuries.

That got me to thinking about what lead up to my back problems. It started with installing a plywood floor in the shop over the concrete. The plywood was secured to the concrete with Tapcon screws, and these screws all have to be pre-drilled with a hammer drill. After that, I painted the floor with a roller, but first you have to cut in the floor along the walls with a brush. As soon as the paint was dry I was fast to work sawing by hand the material for building the first saw bench.

The drilling, the screwing, painting, and sawing. In each case I was bent over and using my right hand exclusively.  I then paid a 4 day penalty for it.

So I determined to experiment a little as soon as I’d recovered from the last round of back spasms.

Saw a little with my right hand, and then switch and saw a little with my left. The saw felt a little foreign in my left hand, but I was able to get by with it. Certainly better than I might have thought.

But who cares about the quality of the saw cut.


But that’s not all…

The guy on the talk show also mentioned a benefit he hadn’t expected. He found the athletes that took part in this ambidextrous training noticed a dramatic improvement in their skill with their dominant hand.

And we all could use a boost in our hand skills.



Except for me.


October 22, 2014

Easy Woodworking Projects for Christmas

Filed under: Christmas Gifts,Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog,Favorites — fairwoodworking @ 9:04 pm

It’s way, WAY too early to be thinking about Christmas gifts (that’s what Christmas Eve is for), but as it would happen. I ran into a couple of people today that had big plans for Christmas woodworking.

The funny thing was, that none of them were woodworkers.

So what is the ideal NonWoodworker Easy project?

Well, picture frames obviously!

I mean hey!? What other woodworking project needs just 4 pieces of wood, and 4 simple mitres to put them together?

It’s so easy that it hardly counts as woodworking…

So now that I have the chance to talk behind the backs of these nonwoodworking people, let me say this.

Every woodworker has had this very same thought before they tried making a picture frame. They all thought it would be easy. Most of them had no idea that their tools were nowhere near accurate enough to cut 4 perfect 45 degree miters.

And all of them gave their loved ones “Rustic” styled picture frames because there is no other way to hide the fourth miter that will hopelessly NEVER close up properly.


I wonder if rare earth magnets would help…

October 20, 2014

You don’t know what you don’t know until you know you don’t know it.

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog — fairwoodworking @ 11:00 pm

In the past week I had the pleasure of taking 2 classes with Vic Tesolin of Minimalist Woodworking fame.

I  should state, that I signed up for both classes with the clear knowledge that I knew everything that would be covered in the class, but since my new shop is still under construction, it would simply be a chance to woodwork. Also, being the social butterfly that I am, I’m also always game to hang out with other hand tool woodworkers.

What I knew for sure was that I wouldn’t learn anything.

What I didn’t know was that I didn’t know there were still things I didn’t know about both class topics.

Now however.

With my new found knowledge, I can dogmatically say that I have a truly exhaustive knowledge in two more woodworking subjects.

That is all.

September 25, 2014

Stop reading this blog!

Filed under: Skill development — fairwoodworking @ 10:55 am

Although I’d like to think this blog is at the very least pseudo educational for the beginning woodworker, you can’t teach most people skills with words.  There simply isn’t a physical hands on component to blogging instruction, and as a result I’ve become a little disillusioned with what blog instruction is for. I know there is a small percentage of beginners that can take simple instruction and run with it, but I think most people who have an emerging interest in woodworking, lose interest for lack of in-person instruction just like I lost interest in learning Karate from a book as a teenager.

If you are a beginning woodworker, and can barely afford wood, let alone tools. There was a new class announced today by Chris Schwarz that can help you get the skills and tools you need so that you can stop reading this blog.

If you are a quick learner, you have the chance to learn in 5 days, what it took me nearly 5 years to learn!

Stop reading this blog.


September 5, 2014

Have a flat chance with woodworking.

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog — fairwoodworking @ 2:28 pm

If you search this blog, you won’t find much about winding sticks. It may even look like I’m not a fan of them. The truth is they are an amazingly simple and effective tool to determine how flat a board is, and exactly where you need to plane to make a board flat.

Most of my work is too small to require winding sticks, but for non jewelry box work, they are a must.

You can use just about anything that is straight with two parallel edges, for this task, but there is something a little off about using rough scrap metal for such a fine and important test. You can do it, but it just seems wrong.

A valued friend of mine has just released a limited run of some truly beautiful winding sticks that are worth considering.

He writes about them here.

I’m sure many of you are already familiar with Neil and his work. I have had the pleasure of working with him in his shop and I’ll tell you a little secret. Although I ride him incessantly, his need to complete every task to perfection would often find him still working while I had wondered off to play with a paper clip or something.

Check his stuff out.

August 30, 2014

Face vises. Good or Garbage?

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog,Favorite tools — fairwoodworking @ 9:55 pm

People, well woodworkers at least, seem to get defensive if you question the value of their preferred bench vise. So it can be difficult to get an objective opinion about them. I’m sure I am no different but I’m going to share about mine a little anyway.

About a month ago I was listening to a podcast (I just discovered podcasts) on the topic of vises, and it seemed that all three of the hosts had had nothing but bad experiences with them although they all also admitted that they were old, and were not in good repair.
They proceeded to point out some of their concerns with this style of vise and I found many of them rather interesting.

But first I should acknowledge that there are many types of face vises out there. I’ve seen them entirely made of wood, a wood chop with steel guide bars and an acme screw, and a full steel vise that you can add wood pads or a proper wood chop if you wish. I can really only comment on the steel vise as that is what I have experience working with.


So first issue? Face vises wrack. Boy do they ever!

I recently got the chance to hang out with a woodworker that I had first only known via the Internet. He had both a face vise and a tail vise so I asked him about them. He said that his face vise wracked so much it was almost unusable.

It turned out we had the same vise, so I suggested that he try tightening the bolts to the guide bars. He looked at me skeptically, but I do hope he tries it.

The next complaint is about the guide bars. It seems they are always in the way.

Not to pick on Paul Sellars, but in the way he uses a vise, I can see this being a very real issue. If all you do is add a wood pad or liner to the inside of the vise you would only have a couple of inches of the jaw that is clear of those darned bars. You can solve this issue taking Paul’s mounting design and throwing it out the window. It works for him, and if you like it who am I to judge, but in my view it looks a useful as a parka at a California beach.

First you need to mortise the back jaw into the bench. I used a powered router. This can get a little crazy since you really kind’a need to do it in one pass at full depth. It’s slow and at every second you wonder if there is going to be a fire, but in the end it is worth it.

The next step is to add a wide chop, and that is pretty easy.

Here I’ve clamped a 6-1/2″ wide board. It’s fully supported, and the only limitation to its length is the height of the bench.

Since the bolts on the guide bars are tight there is very little wracking. I also planed the chop so it is skewed just slightly. You can see above that the chop makes contact at the outside right first to accommodate the little bit of unavoidable wracking.

The end result is a sickeningly strong grip on the board.

This vise is not for everyone. It’s not the cheapest option but other than the mortising it’s just a matter of bolting it to the underside of the bench.

I recently sold this vise along with the bench because I just moved and the price to ship them was almost the value of them. I’d like to try a different vise just to see the difference, but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t kinda just want to get another steel vise.

Stay tuned to see what I choose.

August 13, 2014

I lost a friend and a teacher this week

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog,Favorite tools,Skill development — fairwoodworking @ 6:18 pm

Well that’s a little over dramatic even for me. And really “lost” is not even the right term. Now sold however, sold is more appropriate.

This week I sold a friend and teacher.

Seeing as slavery is not legal in Canada, obviously I’m not talking about a human teacher (real woodworkers are self taught), and my invisible talking dog is neither a great teacher nor of any significant monitary value.

This week I sold the workbench on which I’ve learned almost every woodworking skill I have.



Workbenches should not be teachers. Woodworkers should be teachers, and aspiring woodworkers should see their benches as teacher’s assistants.

But we all know that woodworking is a solitary hobby, so real woodworkers hide themselves in their basements alone, avoiding contact with other woodworkers unless it involves wifi.

The Internet is great, but it is worthless until it is put to test on the bench. The problem is the Internet can’t phisically walk you through the steps of a new skill. It can’t point out to you when you completely miss understand the directions and completely blow the process.

I appreciate that my old bench was there for me as I struggled to learn. It was patient as I ran back to my computer to try to decifer what I did wrong.

I’m sure if that bench could talk like my imaginary dog can, it would remind me that if God wanted woodworkers to get together, he wouldn’t have invented the Internet.

Ya right.

July 21, 2014

Going Dutch on the Dutch Tool Chest

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog,Favorite tools,Favorites,Things I've made — fairwoodworking @ 11:23 pm

Tool chests are stupid!


I said it, and it feels good.

I literally don’t like tool chests, but I also don’t really like to brush my teeth. However, like having teeth, owning tools may require some things we don’t like. I also don’t like, no screw that! I HATE top lifting lids. What a stupid idea! If you have a 12″ deep chest, you lose at least 12 inches of valuable real estate directly above the chest. Then you have morons that do these sloping lids that turn 12 inches into 15 or more inches.

It’s a fool’s paradise.

Sooo… With such strong opinions about this topic, how did I get here? Well I’ve been designing the perfect tool chest/box/shelf/backpack for nearly 15 years now.

After my first day as a trim carpenter, I went to Walmart and bought the largest Rubbermaid container I could wrap my arms around to hold all my new tools. It was perfect because I was certain that I could fit all my tools in it, and I could make just one trip from the work site to my truck at the beginning, and end of the day. Once I carefully fit all my tools in that tub, I discovered that I couldn’t much more than drag the blasted thing.

It was frigging heavy.

The next day I’d replaced the big tub with two smaller tubs and a 5 gallon bucket. It took me 3 trips now, but there was no risk of needing surgery after lifting any of them.

When the world rediscovered the monstrous/traditional English Tool Chest, my first thought was that it had the same problem as Gigantor the Rubbermaid container. It’s not portable, well, not with a one man crew at least. I recently learned that the awesome size of these chests was intentional so thieves would have to team up to steal them, and since thieves are not great at sharing, they would often get caught.  Well my tools will stay safe by staying with me, so the ATC is dead in the water.

When I first got into hand tools, I tried making different styles of small tool cases that fit the tools I had at the time.

But then I’d buy a new tool and the case was suddenly too small.

In the past couple of years, the DTC has found overwhelming popularity. I immediately approved of its lower half, but despised the upper half due to its massive gaping top lifting lid. The lower shelves with the removable front face was perfect. However the DTC had become so trendy that I felt like spitting every time it was mentioned.

What the world doesn’t need is another “I made a Dutch Tool Chest” post, I thought.

Now If you just have a couple of shelves for a tool chest, you will have a great place to store your block planes, smoothers, a plow plane, and what have you. But at some point you will start looking for a home for, oh, I don’t know… Perhaps a jack plane or a jointer. Oh, look I own saws as well…

This shelf idea falls flat on its face with these tools.

So let’s soften our stance a little on this top lid idea a little. Sloping lids are stupid, but I could live with a simple flat-topped lid.

Hey, a tool rack to hold my chisels, and screwdrivers would be awfully nice on the back. Ya, that is a good part of this lidded chest idea.

Hmmm. My chisels are kind’a tall. This is going to be a rather deep chest if they are going to stand on end like this.  Well they fit so nicely there on the back, I think it will be worth it.

Hmmm. The front of this chest fits my longer planes really well, but with a flat-topped lid, there will be tons of space above the planes, and reaching over the high front is going to be awkward. It may be better if I lowered the front a little…

Ahhhh Crap! How did that lid get sloped?!?

Through years of struggle, I finally accepted that the Dutch Tool Chest despite it trendiness and idiotic sloping lid, was actually very well designed.

Well it’s at least half well designed.

It’s still a little too big and heavy.

I know people will argue this point, and say “what are you talking about? I can lift my DTC. You are just a wimp”

Well just being able to lift something does not make it portable. Being able to lift your chest off one stool and set it down on another stool does not make it portable either. It makes it moveable.

My shop is in the basement. To get to my truck I need to get the chest out of the shop, up the stairs, down the hall, out the door, down the stairs, and up the driveway. The large DTC, and even the smaller DTC are not especially portable in my opinion.

That’s why I decided to go Dutch.

If you haven’t noticed, this chest is really two chests stacked on top of each other, just like my two smaller Rubbermaid tubs. You may also notice that the top chest is a little wider than the lower one. I know this may bother some, but it’s for a reason.

The top one is 27″ wide so that it can fit saws on that darned sloping lid. The problem with that is many door openings in many houses are for 30″ doors. Most door openings also have a 1/2″ thick door stop on both sides of the jamb reducing the opening to 29″. A wide chest is a problem in a small doorway.

In the lower chest, most of the tools are stacked side by side. The longest tool in there is my framing square, and it is only 24″ long, so I was able to get away with just over 25″ wide. That makes it just possible to walk through most doorways with out scraping my knuckles.

But there is more.

Part of portability, is being able to bring as much of your workshop with you as possible. I built a simple stand that the chests sit on that also makes the top of the lower chest just the right height for free hand sharpening.

That’s right!

My tool chest is also a sharpening station.

How cool is that?

I’ve already talked about the sweet rope handles, so I’ll just let that alone except to say that the upper chest handles still need some tweaking, and have not had the ends trimmed yet. I’ll get to that… or I won’t.

And finally the gravity latches.

Once described as a “Cool locking system”, is not really that big of a deal. Almost every fence in the free world has a latch on its gate that utilizes gravity to make it latch. The idea was simple. Getting it to work in all levels of humidity was the real challenge, and resulted in the guts of it looking a little less “realwoodworker”ish than I would have preferred.

I’m still making friends with this whole tool chest idea, but I think I’ve come up with a chest that I might one day come to tolerate.


July 11, 2014

The truth about Full Blind Dovetails

First off.


Lies are best wrapped around a kernel of truth.

The truth hurts, and…

When there’s no pain, there’s no gain.

And we all need a little gain.

So when I started hearing rumors told by big fat (but mostly skinny) liars, I had to check it out.

**The Lie**

Full blind dovetails are easier than through dovetails.


The claim is that because the dovetails are hidden you can’t see if they suck. The joint doesn’t suck if you can’t see that it sucks.

This is the premiss to lying through joinery.

Where is the truth?

Through dovetails tell the truth about how really truly horrible we all are, and the big bosses don’t want us to know how bad they are.

Where is the truth?

Through dovetails are simple to cut, but for the beginner, they can seem complicated. Full blind dovetails are somewhat more complicated, and they can seem more complicated even when you know what you are doing.

The great thing with full blinds are that even if your saw can’t find the broad side of a line, you still have a chance at making a nice looking joint.

And really, the truth is overrated.

So here is my overrated conclusion.

1. Through dovetails need less tools, less skills, and involve a simple process.

2. Through dovetails show all, ALL, your mistakes.

3. Through dovetails are easily recognized on most projects.

4. Fullblinds need more tools, and more steps.

5. Unless you lean on a drill press and a handfull of other power tools, Fullblinds can take a little longer.

6. With fullblinds, only the most savvy of wood workers will know you did anything more than a half lap joint.

7. Fullblinds will impress the heck out of savvy woodworkers that don’t know how easy they really are.

IMG_8710 IMG_8709



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