Fair Woodworking

January 22, 2016

Death to clubs. Woodworking that is…

Having “sampled” three different rums in the past hour, I’ll first say that this Mount Gay rum is really not terrible stuff, and excellent primer for a rather tardy, and totally off the cuff first post of the year.

I wonder where this post will lead.

I guess I’ll give you an update on some of the stuff I’ve been working on as I think of something to write, and if nothing else, this whole thing will give me a kick in the butt to get a move on it.

The slow progression of building a rolling cart with 6 to 8 drawers is currently on the bench. This cart will one day be what my thickness planer will live on. Can’t wait till this is done as it is proving to be a real test of a number of skills I thought were well beneath me or at the very least, well within my grasp…

SMOOTHING PLANES!!! Brace yourselves, I’m going nutz on smoothing planes.

Something like nine of them.

Ya, I know. Who the hell has NINE smoothing planes?

*Cautiously raises hand*

We’ve all read what is really necessary to make an old plane into a first string smoother, and I’m looking forward to testing it out with a mess of rust hunting finds.

Oh, and photography.  I caught myself in a trap of hypocrisy that I am currently digging myself out of.

Whatever could it be?

Later this year, I think I’ll be ready to offer more hands on opinions on both the Nicholson bench and my attempt to use Moxon hardware as a twin screw vise.

That and dancing girls, all makes 2016 look like a block buster of a year here at Fairwoodworking!

But on to a more current issue.

Woodworking clubs.

I struggle to remember positive feedback about a woodworking club. I’ve mentioned how I was wrestling with the dilemma of an aging club that seems unaware of how uninviting it has become. I’ve heard anecdotal evidence of highly respected woodworkers shunned by their local club because they admitting to a fondness of shoulder planes, and then there is the apparent absence of a desire to grow as woodworkers.

Recently I vowed to hang in there at my woodworking club in hopes of getting them to come around to seeing what outsiders are not returning for.

This last week, faced with the $70 renewal fee, I felt the need to reconsider how effective my perseverance should endeavor to be.  (Bonus points for words I hardly know the meaning of.)

And after a sober (much sober..er that I am now) discussion with a good old woodworking friend of mine. We’ve decided that we may not be able to right the woodworking club ship, and best just move on…

I’ll just let that sink in for a moment while I marvel at what a great guitarist Joe Satriani is… WOW!!!

Ok, Focus!

The thing is that most clubs seem to be a get together with some guest speaker that is NOT A MEMBER, discussing something that few/none of the members will ever endeavor to emulate, followed by a quick intermission of juice and cookies.

The president then thanks everyone for coming, and we all go home to watch the evening news.

At what point does the club work… How you say… Ahh.. er… wood?

Well, two former club members are hopefully getting together in a basement this weekend to do something about it. There will be no guest speaker. Cookies are doubtful, as is the juice. Not to mention rum, but there may be beer, and there will be wood.

And something sharp to cut the wood.

YES! WOOD WILL BE CUT!!! And dam it! Wood will be worked!

And if we are not careful?


BYOB (Bring Your Own Bandages)

November 21, 2015

Don’t just own. Learn.

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog,Hand tool,Skill development — fairwoodworking @ 5:00 am

I live in a city with a fair amount of disposable income, not to mention a rather healthy appetite for pretty new hand tools. I’ve met a number of people here that openly admit that they really have no interest in building anything. If you are one of them this post is not directed at you.

However, there is a entirely different group out there that have all the tools, who sit there looking at all their shiny bits and wonder, “now what”.

If that is you, it’s time to learn my friend.

If you haven’t noticed over the past 4 years (yes fairwoodworking turned 4 today) I’ve been on a bit of a “develop your skills” kick.  So why wouldn’t my birthday post be directed at pointing a few Calgary locals to a great chance to learn?


Above is an unauthorized cut & paste from a friend of mine who’s boxes make my offerings look like so much monkey poo.

In early January, Jeremy Pringle will be teaching a class at the Calgary Lee Valley on box building. This is a class that any new woodworker would be fortunate to be able to attend. (Brace yourself Jeremy, the Fairwoodworking effect may overwhelm you…)

Anyways if you are in the area or anywhere near a Lee Valley store, check out their In store seminar schedule.

You just might learn something.

You can find more of Jeremy via
@jeremylachlan on Instagram
@JeremyPringle1 on Twitter


Editor’s note – I just read the sad news that the woodworking world lost Carl Bilderback last night to cancer. Like many, I’ve read about what a great guy he was, and all he’s given to the craft. Although I never got to know him beyond a handshake, I hope a little of his Mojo rubbed off, since we all have some pretty big shoes to fill now that he’s passed.

October 3, 2015

… for several years…

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog,Skill development — fairwoodworking @ 10:07 pm

Just in case any of you weren’t paying attention, recently 17 #babyanarchists probably learned more in 5 days than I did in my first 5 years of hand tool woodworking. It was super cool to watch although I must admit that my “past Me” was a little jealous.

Although it seems Chris Schwarz is stepping down from the role of “teacher of the masses” to focus on publishing and family, and such, I really wish every beginner could take a 5 day baptism into the craft.

Well… kind’a.

I’d mostly hope that when they got home they had a physical woodworking community in their town to help them keep going.

I guess both wishes won’t be coming true very often.

Sadly, I suspect that many of these 17 will not find anyone, and I don’t think that is any more negative than it is just simple reality based on my own experience. You see I live in a Canadian city of over a million people, and although I know there are literally thousands of woodworkers in my city alone, they are pretty hard to find. Actually that’s not totally true. I’ve had pretty good luck finding very nice elderly woodworkers that unfortunately seem pretty stuck in their own little groups. Ya, that’s right, I joined the local woodworking club. I’m in my early 40’s, and most meetings, I’m the youngest one there. They really are very nice and very welcoming, but in the past year, I’ve not seen anything that would be of value to a beginner or really, anyone that just wanted to learn something. I’m not ready to completely give up on this aged clan, but I’m not sure they are aware they already have one foot in the grave, and are offering nothing for the younger generations. Really, I can watch the woodworking club die as I pout in the corner, or I can try to be a positive influence until change comes around, or they ask me to leave.

It’s a choice I get to make.

At the same time, there are baby woodworkers out there that are having trouble with their tools, and having trouble finding anyone to help them in their own town, and have gotten nowhere with their local woodworking club.

And so I have a another choice to make.

Do I sit behind my computer and pout, or do I choose to make myself available.

And what should you do. Should you hide and tell yourself that you have nothing to offer, or do you offer what little you do know in hopes that someone else has a little to share with you. Not on a forum, or on twitter. In person, in a wood shop or over coffee, or a beer.

We all get to choose…


So woodworkers of Calgary.

Especially beginners!

If you are out there? and you are reading this, and you want to help keep woodworking alive in our city, let’s talk.

I have no idea what it would look like, but it’s worth a try.


The rest of you,(my great Fairwoodworking Army!!!) I challenge you to do the same in some way. Sure classes are great, but local woodworking friends that are willing to share are better.



September 12, 2015

Naked or afraid. What Nicholson bench is right for you.

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog,Things I've made — fairwoodworking @ 11:26 am


It’s funny to me how I’ll be working on a topic that I feel is not the topic of the month, and then before I get to it someone beats me to the punch. Some may call it coincidence, but it seems it’s just my life.

So now that the Nicholson bench has returned to the public eye, let us quietly proceed…

If you are not familiar with these two designs CLICK HERE and read up on Chris’ blog.

Last year about this time I was just days from taking possession of our new (to us) home, and I was mentally preparing for my new workshop. I had already chosen the “Naked” Nicholson bench as my future bench, but over the next few months it turned out that I had switched over to what most people call the KD Nicholson. I’ve discussed the two benches with a number of woodworkers from beginner to experienced, and found that there is a strong preference to the KD vs. “Naked”, and so you may assume that I also feel that the KD Nicholson is the superior design.



I think comparing these two, or any other benches for superiority is an un-fruitful venture, and as with most things, cost/benefit will get you a superior fit in your shop.

For those that have not watched the Naked Woodworker DVD, it is targeted at woodworkers that either have never woodworked, or are very new to woodworking. That being said, I’d recommend it any woodworker that is man/woman enough to admit that they don’t know everything. It starts with a DVD on acquiring a beginner set of tools, and enough on their setup to take on the bench build. The second DVD is proof that yes you can build a bench without a bench.

So could a DAY ONE woodworker build this bench? Honestly? I really don’t think so. And wisely the first project on the DVD is not the bench. First the beginner is tasked with building two saw horses that you will build the bench on. These are not the simplest of design, but they are a good place to cut your woodworking teeth. If you can build the saw horses, you can build the bench. It will be rough, and snobby woodworkers will turn their noses at it, but unlike most beginners, you will have a functional workbench.

The biggest criticism I’ve heard about this design is that it seems like a backwoods hack job of a bench. If you are one of those that would agree, I’d humbly suggest you may have a little “snobby woodworker” in your blood, and you completely missed the point of the DVD. So let me restate it.

Any Frickin’ woodworker can build this bench! No bench required, and really, no experience required. Show me any, ANY other design that can make that claim, and is useful. No? I thought so.  It removes one of the biggest catch 22’s of woodworking. So if you still turn your nose at this design… Lose my number!

So why would I chose the KD bench over a bench I’ve so aggressively defended?

Obviously because anything knock down is awesome, and I also have a serious man crush.

While both of those are true, the real reason is, I discovered that the doorway of my shop is really small, and it opens to a very narrow hallway. Just getting the lumber into my shop was a real eye opener. Once built, the Naked bench could never leave the shop without being completely destroyed, and that one point is what made me change.

I’m really looking forward to the new article on the KD bench. I have no idea what all it will cover, so I’ll offer my thoughts that are entirely my own.

The KD design is fantastic, but I don’t believe it should be attempted alone by a beginner with a handful of flee market tools and two 5 gallon buckets. Unlike the Naked bench, I think that a critical part of sturdy collapsible anything is precise tight fitting connection points, and many collapsible bench designs have failed at this requirement. As I mentioned before, the strength of the Naked design is that it can be build with the slop of a beginners inexperience, and still work well.

My initial goal in this build was to simply build a KD bench using the “Naked” method, and quickly discovered that Rough dimensional lumber no matter how precisely cut, still lacked the accuracy the bench required.

Have you ever tried to dimension bench parts by hand on a roughly built saw bench?


I have…

It was the final straw that brought me to this point.


If only I could fit a jointer into the shop. Not likely…

So what am I saying?

The Naked bench is accessible to all. Additional skill and power tools would make it better, but are not necessary. If nothing else, it is the perfect bench to build “your” perfect bench.

The KD Bench is also a great bench, however is no less miserable to build than most other benches without a proper bench to build it on, or your typical table saw, jointer and thickness planer to handle the dimensioning it will require.

Or both.


One last thing before I go.

If you are looking to build the KD bench you may have read about Chris’ challenge with mounting plates. He started with some cheapo inserts that failed. This was all an attempt to avoid using Tee-nuts. The complaint being that as the wood dries, they lose their hold, and will fall out when you collapse the bench. I know that some people (like me) would prefer to avoid ordering in hardware. I’m old fashioned, and believe that the only mail order you should invest in should also include a Russian marriage license.

What I’ve tried is just the good old pronged Tee-nuts but I also added some exterior grade caulking.


Quad by LePage is super thick and is a real pain in the butt to remove after it has cured. This is very different stuff from what you would use to caulk your tub. You only want to apply it on the perimeter of the nut mind you. It would suck if you got it on the threads or in the hole, so don’t do that!

I don’t know if it will solve the problem, but I’m hopeful.

August 8, 2015

The movers broke my woodworking mojo

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog — fairwoodworking @ 2:01 pm

20140828_084807About a year ago I was elbow deep into choosing what moving company would be tasked to move all our worldly possessions less one Ford Ranger load… Considering services and booking mover estimates, there was simply no time for woodworking. I was far too busy deciding what I would pack and what I would pay the movers to pack because many movers will only ensure items that they packed. Well wouldn’t you know it, every single thing the movers packed got damaged in some way, meanwhile the fine china, crystal vases and ALL THE OTHER STUFF I packed, not a single thing got damaged.



Except for one thing that neither of us thought to pack.

The movers broke my woodworking mojo.

But now that I think of it, about the only woodworking related stuff I trusted to the movers was my miter and table saw. Being as both are power tools, they only just barely qualify as woodworking tools, so it may not be fair to blame the movers.

Could my mojo have been in one of my other tools? The most important tool in a hand tool shop is easily the workbench and I did sell mine rather than move it. I sold it to a friend or so I thought… Could this “so-called friend” have stolen my mojo?

Well two can play at that game! I’ll just call upon my followers, my great and evil fairwoodworking army to troll and belittle him at @holleywoodshop until he gives it back.
Come my children.  Feed on his entrails! Ha ha ha!

Perhaps just my mom…

Well first I’d have to teach her the difference between twitter and wifi, and really it would be pretty sad if I needed my bench or any tool to keep my hobby alive.

I guess I can only blame myself. Or at least I can say that I let myself fall into this slump, and over the past days I’ve gone on a mental walkabout in search of the telltale hazards that brought me to this place.

Life has changed for me in the past year and a half, and while it took a turn I neither desired nor expected, I have really nothing worth complaining about.

It’s a really great first world problem to have to move to one of the most prosperous cities in the country for work. Ya. I know.  Poor me!

Not really, but I thought it may be beneficial to discuss some of the mojo killers that can happen once moving day has been set.

For starters.

1. Unchecked expectations of your new shop, especially if you don’t yet know what your next shop will look like. Somehow I envisioned a larger shop with two larger benches and plenty of room to possibly teach a student or two. I started making plans and even went so far as to drive four hours out of my way during my cross-country move to pick the brain of one of my more respected teachers. Having come from a basement shop about the size of a one car garage, moving into a shop about half that size was a bit of a jolt at 144 square feet if you include the closet. It’s livable for one person, but two people would be a real struggle.

2. Nostalgia. When I set up my last shop, I was just barely a woodworker. I had just enough hand tool experience to know how I wanted to layout the shop, but had never really built anything. It was in this shop I cut my first dovetails, M&T joint, learned how to resaw by hand, mastered free hand sharpening, set up my first proper workbench, and on and on and on. More importantly, it’s where I first took my newly acquired bag of skills, and pieced them together to build something real.

Without that shop this blog would not exist.

3. Losing your old work flow. My old shop flow grew organically as my skills grew. Where I put my tools, and how I worked was all a developed process that fell into a routine. I’m a routine guy, and the attempt to hit the ground running left me with some road rash on my chin. Shop jigs, cabinets, heck! Even my workbench was left behind, so before I could take on any fun  projects, I had to build up a new shop without a functional shop to work in. Boo Hoo for me, but we sometimes forget about that part.

4. Changes in your professional life. Errr, What? Who would have thought that my job would affect my hobbies? Ok, maybe that’s a no brainer, but I missed it. When your job is high stress and very low activity, you come home in a “MUST SMASH” mood, and the physicality of hand tools is a very good match. Now with a very low stress, but high activity job, I come home in a “must crash” kind of mood.

I’m sure there are some other things, but these are the big ones. It’s funny how easily these things can mess you up, especially as they really are pretty minor. Sure my new shop is small, but I still know people that woodwork in their kitchen or living room. Yes I had to give up my old bench, but I know a guy that has dog holes in his coffee table. Yes my work flow is messed, but I don’t have to pack up my shop every night so my wife can fit her car in the garage. I may not need anymore stress relief, or the opportunity to break a sweat with a panel saw in my hand, but woodworking is still fun, so why shouldn’t I enjoy it.

It’s easy to blame.

To blame those pesky movers for breaking my woodworking mojo, but it never really was broken.

If I chose not to adapt my woodworking to fit my new situation, I may not have had much mojo to begin with.

All I know is that rolling thickness planer cabinet is not going to build itself.



July 6, 2015

Dutch Tool Chest One Year Later

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog,Favorite tools,Things I've made — fairwoodworking @ 1:08 am

One thing I can’t really stand is the opinion of someone based on their first impressions because how I expect something to function for me can be way, way different from how it will actually function.

What I’m saying is, Love at first sight can easily fall prey to the seven-year itch, and it’s interesting how expectations are tempered by the test of time.

So lets compare today versus what I had as expectations last year. You can read about them HERE.

One year ago today I was taking a class in Warren Maine building what was to be my second Dutch Tool chest, having just finished building my first DTC to house the tools I needed to bring to said class.

IMG_20140705_175213 copy

I really didn’t need or want a second chest, but it was a great opportunity to take a class taught by my #1 man crush in the red shirt. In the end I decided that if one DTC is good, two would be better since I seem to be a minimalist with a hording disorder.

So 1 year later, how are things going?

One of my big requirements for a chest was portability. Not moveability from one corner of the shop to the other, but out of the shop, up the stairs down the hall, out the door, up the driveway, and into my truck. Then from my truck, across the parking lot (in the rain) up the stairs, and into my hotel room. The following morning, back down to the truck, across another parking lot, through the door, up the stairs, snake my way through a bunch of sweet Lie-Nielsen benches to the furthest corner (what was I thinking). All to be repeated two days later in reverse.



Splitting the chest into two pieces was a very good call. If you are reading this post and considering building a DTC, build it in two pieces. An additional benefit of this small design change is the ability to grab just the top part for a quick visit to a friend’s house or a day class. The top half is easily capable of holding enough tools to keep you busy for a day.

But here is the down side. Just because a tool chest is capable of containing a large quantity of tools, does not mean it’s nice to work out of. A chest packed full of tools quickly begins to feel more like the kitchen junk drawer we had as a kid. If I have to pull 5 things out to be able to see the tool I want, I will quickly become frustrated, but we will get to that later.

Last year I praised the design of the lower shelves, and mocked the sloping lid of the upper half, and it all seemed well founded. Boy was I wrong. Well, to a point.

When we all first were introduced to the “Anarchist” tool chest, one of the most common negative observations was that nobody in their right mind would be happy stooping down to reach into the bottom of the chest. The thing is, before stooping down, you can look directly down at the tool you are after, and then with one hand resting on the side of the chest, reach down with the other hand and grab the tool. With the shelves of the DTC, you must stoop down just to see some tools, and there is no place to lean against as you do it. Often times to look into the very back of the bottom shelf I find myself down on my knees. That was not the plan…

On the other hand, the upper part with its ridiculous slopping lid has been a very pleasant surprise. The ability to look down at my tools is wonderful, but I have to admit the top access has actually turned me more and more on to the English style chest with sliding tills. Trouble is, tills add weight, and weight lowers portability.

Well shortly after my trip to Lie-Nielsen, I was faced with the challenge of moving my entire home over 5,500 km (3,400 mi) across the country. This was a great test on how the chest packed into a truck with a whole mess of other prized possessions. Did I mention that the DTC has a sloping top? I have to admit, I found it challenging to say the least to pack efficiently around this heavy chest with a stupid sloping top. The Dutch Tool Chest does not play well with others…

So let’s get back to the whole capacity thing. When I look at an open space in a tool chest, I just can’t help but want to try to fit another tool in there, you know, Tetris style, but then to access many of the tools, you nearly have to empty the entire chest, leaving your bench covered in tools. When you cut back the number of tools in the chest to the point that you can grab any tool without having to lift any other tools, the chest looks barren and under utilized. Finding that happy medium has been a challenge. Really, I think I just have too many tools, but I’ll deny it if you tell anyone, and that may be my biggest problem with the DTC. It suits a very limited, very lean yet functional collection of tools. Meanwhile, my idea of having a second DTC to hold my additional nick-knacks and misc oddities is an oddity in itself. The second chest is wasted as a catch-all for peripheral odd shaped widgets as it is odd shaped itself based on a very specific set of tools in the first place.

All in all, I still think the DTC is a very good design.

Its strengths are in its day to day portability, and smaller footprint than an English floor chest.

It struggles with larger tool collections, and as cargo. It’s also not ideal for people who don’t like bending over to get access to the lower shelves.

April 29, 2015

If I could only have three planes

So the other day I was listening to an old Fine Woodworking podcast (I’ve been listening to them from the first), and this same old listener mail question reared its ugly head yet again.

If you could only have 3 planes, what would they be?

I’m really tired of this question for a number of reasons, but I decided to listen to their answers anyway.

1. Block Plane

2. Smoother

3. Shoulder Plane

For what it’s worth, this is a good list of planes. I can’t say that it is incorrect for what I know of their type of woodworking.


It’s a terrible list for my workshop, and that is one of the reasons I don’t like this question.

For a shop ruled by power tools, a shop that has no hand tools, these three planes could really up the game of the woodworker at the helm.

In a shop where almost nothing is done with power tools, this list is both redundant and inadequate at the same time.

That may be harsh, but let’s have a look at what Fairwoodworking of today would say to baby Fairwoodworking elect.


Firstly, to dimension wood you normally use 3 planes, the Jack, Jointer, and Smoother, but that’s just for dimensioning.

At the same time joinery has a its own stable of planes, but we only get to have 3 total.

Then there are planes we use to clean up cuts, break hard edges, and plane end grain. Typically we’d use the block plane, but imagine if you were to reach for your block plane and discovered the blade was far too dull to use, but you needed it now, and you forgot your sharpening gear at your friends house. What plane would you use as a substitute?

In my shop I’d turn to my Smoother.

And if I was to do without one of my bench planes for dimensioning, would I drop the Jointer, or the Smoother? No. I’d have to do without the Jack. I wrote about this a while ago, by using a modern thick blade in an old smoother for smoothing tasks, you can then swap to the old blade with a “Jack plane” like camber for rough work. The difference in thickness of the blades will remove the need adjust the frog for the two vastly different tasks.

I’d hate to ask it of my smoother, but it could get by doing 3 jobs in my shop.

The Smoother gets my first vote.

But the smoother won’t do so well as a jointer unless we are dealing with really short boards, and the more traditional jointer is really difficult to find a suitable substitution. Thankfully, the Jointer is also excellent in the role of both a Shooting Plane, and a boat anchor.

The Jointer gets my second vote. Not so much for what it can do, but for what every other plane can not.

With one plane left, how will we address joinery?

I guess I’d offer the router plane. It’s great at cleaning out the bottoms of grooves and dados, I love mine for mortising hinges, and some people use it for cleaning the cheeks of their tenons. My Veritas router plane has an optional fence that would make it work as a marginally functional plow plane, so there you have it.

Plane number three is the Router plane.

To recap.

1. Smoother plane

2. Jointer

3. Router plane

These are the 3 great planes I would choose if I could only have 3. And dare I say,

If the world was in jeopardy, and the only way we could save ourselves from alien destruction was the faint hope that I could build a box with these and only these 3 planes…

I will be your hero!!!

But like most of the free world, aliens don’t give two craps about what I build, and so I build for fun.

And that is why I hate this question.

Three planes is not fun.

Three planes is the opposite of having the right tool for the job.

Three planes is for some kind of weird “bang for your buck” collector types.


Three planes is a good place to start, and a terrible place to stop.

But really, DON’T go out and just buy 3 planes because of my or any other recommendation. Buy one plane. Probably a block plane or a smoother. An old Jack plane would be a great first plane as well.

Yes I realize that 2 of these 3 planes did not make the list, but that is because the 3 plane list is simply idiotic. If you are interested in planes, get one. Learn how to use it. Learn how to sharpen the blade, and use it until you can see what job it is not the right for. Then figure out what is the right tool, and look at getting it.

And save the lists for Americas Funniest Home Videos.



April 22, 2015

Fairwoodworkings Photography For Woodworking Dummies

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog,Skill development — fairwoodworking @ 12:49 am

Last week I attended a talk about Guilding (gold leaf), that was absolutely fascinating, and I have no doubt the guy that was doing the talk was one of the upper echelon in the world of guilders. I doubt that I will ever give it a try, but the concept is pretty cool.

Along with the talk were many in-shop pictures that were very difficult to look at. The guilder did what all of us have done before.

Apologized for his pictures, and said that they didn’t do the project justice. I mean him no disrespect, he just suffers from the same issue that many woodworkers suffer from. A simple lack of understanding of photography.

Before I go any further, I should mention that Chris Schwarz wrote about this last year. I agree with everything he wrote, but my concern is that it assumed a certain level of photography knowledge that not every woodworker may have. Before you continue, please go give his version a read. If all your questions are answered, and you feel like it is all within your grasp, I doubt my post will really add anything. However, if you finish his post, and are at all puzzled, or unsure how to make his recommendations work in your shop, come on back and I’ll see if I can’t muddy the waters a little more for you.


Be a good lad, and click on the link above. Don’t worry, it’s not a link to inappropriate pictures of Neil Cronk.



So in a classic case of the blind leading the slightly more blind, lets learn a wee bit about how to take a decent picture in a poorly lit and messy shop.

First off, most woodworking pictures would fit into the category of table top photography. These are pictures that are on your work bench that do not involve movement, and differ greatly from pictures of your children at soccer practice, or that of your trip to Mt. Rushmore.

Here we go.


There is a saying in photography, “The best camera for the shot is the one you have.”

While this is true, and you should never skip taking a worthwhile picture because your camera is not “worthy” of the shot, using your iphone with its lens covered in fingerprints and pocket scunge when you don’t need to is a little silly.

The Boy Scouts also have a saying, “Be prepared”.

If all you own is your iphone, well that is unfortunate, but if you do own a real camera, and you still just use your iphone, you may be wasting a perfectly good opportunity for a great picture.

If you can afford a DSL camera your pictures will thank you, but you can still get a good picture from a simple point and shoot camera.



DON’T  stand over an object, with arms outstretched shooting down. We all do it, but you will rarely get anything but a flat blurry picture.

God made tripods for a reason, and you will need one. Again, if you can afford a good tripod, you won’t be disappointed, but even a cheap tripod will perform better than shooting hand held.

A tripod is the gateway to good tabletop photography, and everything else here hinges on the camera remaining rock solid during the shot. If the subject is not moving, and the camera is not moving, you don’t need to rely on a fast shutter speed to avoid motion blur.

Additional tips

– Use a remote, or time delay (check your manual) to take the picture so you don’t have to be touching the camera when it takes the picture.

– Hold perfectly still during the picture. Even when not touching the camera your weight may cause the floor to move the tripod or your bench. Also when you move, your shadow moves as well.


The flash is designed to increase the light so you don’t need as long a shutter speed, but at great expense of exposure quality.

Unless you know how to make the flash work for you (and trust me, you don’t, and neither do I), the flash is not your friend. It will over expose the closest and most reflective parts, and under expose everything else. It also will cast unrealistic shadows.

Turn the flash off. (This may involve reading your manual. Hint – Try switching from AUTO to P or Program.)

If you can’t turn it off, cover the flash with electrical tape.

If you have no electrical tape, smash it with a nail set.

There are better ways to get a good exposure.



ISO is a term from the old days of film photography. It refers to how quickly the film would take to fully expose. The lower the ISO the more light was required (In low light situations, that would require a longer shutter speed = blurry picture). Back then, you would need to consider what kind of lighting you would have, and buy your film to match. On a sunny day you’d want 100, for exploring caves 3200.  The digital equivalent is improving over the years, but still in either case, the higher the ISO, the more grainy the picture. Since we have a tripod, and our subject is not moving, we can go with the lowest ISO your camera offers.


Auto focus sucks. It doesn’t know where you want to focus, and will often get it wrong. Many great pictures are made by getting just the right point in focus, and your camera won’t know intuitively where that is.  Every camera will be a little different. Most point and shoot cameras were not made with the expectation that the user knows what manual focus is, but you will benefit from learning how to control it.

With my DSLR I find manual focus, along with the LCD screen works very well to pinpoint the focus where I wanted it.

When I bought a new point and shoot, a functional manual focus was a key requirement that I shopped for.


You don’t necessarily need a bunch of lights to get a good picture. I’d love a pro style lighting kit, but I just can’t afford the space in my shop. Also, many of my pictures are taken in between woodworking steps. Just the tripod alone is inconvenient enough.

In most cases, I will stop my work, grab the tripod with camera mounted from the corner, set it in place, take the picture, and put the camera back in the corner. Setting up lighting stands does not fit into that equation.


Most of my pictures are taken with just my work light. I use and old fashioned 100w bulb and that’s it. It is easily moved around, and does not get in the way. If I want direct light I point it at the subject. If I want more diffused light, I point it at the white ceiling above.

So will all of this make you a professional photographer?

Heck no! Few of my pictures are anywhere near professional quality, but I do hope they get my points across, and on occasion, are beautiful.

The way I try to think of it is that while they say a picture is worth a thousand words. If you have to say “This picture doesn’t do it justice” it is only worth those 6 sad words, and would have been better served as a really good story.


April 10, 2015

The Amana Equation

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog — fairwoodworking @ 1:45 pm

Is there such a thing as an e-social disorder? I don’t think I have one, but then what is up with my apparent need to be anonymous on my blog, twitter, and Instagram? Well despite recurring dreams that I can fly but only when wearing nothing but a pancake on my head, I think I’m pretty normal.
The truth is, I do it for a couple simple reasons.
1. Woodworking is important to me, and I find I tend to bore, nay alienate perfectly good non woodworking friends as I wax poetic on the benefits of draw boring breadboards.
For my non woodworking friends, ignorance is bliss.

2. I don’t care about the fame. There are enough wanabe superstars in the world of internet woodworking. My woodworking worth is not defined by my association to the in crowd.

3. It’s loads of fun when someone figures out who I am on their own. I laugh every time I think back to when people have dropped the subtle hint that I am found out.
A favorite was in a meeting, when a guy referred to me as ToeJamb, in reference to the handle I was using on twitter at the time.
I don’t know.  I thought it was funny. We had a good laugh over it.

So all that is fine and good, but what to do when you want to meet people that you’ve gotten to know on the internet in person, in a large crowd of people you don’t know. Like next months Handworks in Amana.

This issue suddenly occurred to me when Jeremy of JMAW Works asked the question while commenting on one of my posts.

So what do we do? It seems a bit pretentious to put my logo on a shirt (plus I don’t want to disappear in the JMAW fanboy crowd)

While I actually do aim for anonymity, many bloggers and twitter/IG’ers are not easily recognized by the pictures of their hands holding chisel and mallet.

In my mind, this is what I’ve begun calling “The Amana Equation”.

While there are plenty of tool manufactures attending that I really look forward to meeting, it would be a bit of a disappointment if I leave Amana without having made at least a couple new “real life” woodworking friends.

But short of standing on a table and shouting “I’m that fairwoodworking guy” to a silent, and disturbed crowd, meeting some of you may be difficult.

I know I’ve started paying much more attention to what I see and hear on the internet. Any hint that will help me spot you in a crowd.

I’ve also been trying to come up with something to wear that would easily identify me to those that would care other than a Fairwoodworking t-shirt or the pancake of my flying dreams.

I’ll keep working on an idea, and keep you posted.

March 7, 2015

The Joker and Cabinet Maker

Filed under: Favorite tools,Skill development,Strong opinion warning! — fairwoodworking @ 2:44 pm

Ok, It’s hair splitting time again.

As many of you may know, I’m pretty much a hand tool guy. I rarely talk about power tools, and if you are familiar with me on the Twitters, I’ll mock incessantly anyone that dares admit to using them.

But I really don’t have a problem with people that use power tools. Power tools are great for those that enjoy using them. The hours that I suffered through (more accurately neglected) wearing safety glasses, hearing protection, and dust masks, turned me off power tools years ago. However, there are countless woodworkers that build amazing pieces with nary a hand tool save maybe a pencil.

I do however have a problem with the use of a common new term used by many hand tool users.

The Tailed Apprentice. As in how the masters of old tasked the young apprentice with grunt work, we as the modern shop master task our tailed apprentices with the lower beginner skill work.

As best as I can see it, the idea of the tailed apprentice was formed as a counter argument to the statements that using power tools is cheating, but really both arguments miss the core issue.

If you go to a track meet, you will see runners line up at an oval track. When the gun goes off, the race is on, and the runners head down the track. If one of the runners cuts across the middle of the track he would be considered a cheater.

In this scenario, running is NOT like woodworking. You can’t cheat woodworking. The final product is the finish line, but how you get there is up to you.

However, if you went to that same track on practice day two weeks before the meet, and you saw a runner practicing for the 10,000m but was cutting across the track so they only had to run 5,000m, who is being cheated? At the meet, this runner will have an amazing first half of the race, and a rather rough second half.

The runner cheated his or herself as they clearly only wanted to run 5,000m but chose to sign up for an unrealistic event.

If you have no desire to learn how rip wood by hand, that’s fine, but your table saw is not then your apprentice.

If learning to resaw by hand does not fit into your idea of a fun hobby, I can understand that, but to call your bandsaw a tailed apprentice is disrespectful.

My knowledge of the old apprentice system is not great, but I think I’m safe to assume that the average Master Cabinet Maker or Joiner had already put in his 10,000 hours of ripping, resawing, flattening, thicknessing, sweeping, and glue-pot cleaning. Nobody relishes accepting that they are still a lowly apprentice, but the true master earned the right to become a Journeyman, and then earned the right to be called the Master.

And now, I told you that, to tell you this…

I recently bought a thickness planer.


You see it’s been almost 9 years since I dimensioned my first piece of wood entirely by hand.

First hand tool project

I know I don’t know everything there is to know about dimensioning, and I’m nowhere near my 10,000 hours, but I feel I’m near enough to the top of the learning curve for my needs. Considering the limited woodworking hours I still have on this earth, there is still much to learn in other aspects of woodworking, and I’ve discovered that stock preparation now is interfering with my ability to learn. Thicknessing is just one step in dimensioning wood, but I think it is one of the more time consuming.

Think I’m splitting hairs? That’s fine.

In your shop you can call it a tailed apprentice, but in my shop it’s a learning aid.

OK, rant over.

Wanna’ know the first few things I was aided in learning?

1. Thickness planers are awesome!

2. Chip ejection impellers are powerful.

I first hooked it up to my Wet/Dry Shop-Vac, and soon discovered that the impeller trips the mechanism that protects the vac motor from water if it tips over. With the motor blocked, the impeller is powerful enough to pop a latch on the Shop-Vac canister, and spew chips throughout the entire shop.

What a mess!

In the end (as shown above) I’ve attached a hose to a dust collector bag, and this seems to work amazingly well.

3. I still hate wearing safety equipment.


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