Fair Woodworking

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.


January 4, 2015

A long road by design

I have a confession to make.

Sometimes when I’m board, I go to the Handworks web page and pretend to pick the nose of the guy in the logo with my mouse pointer…

Give it a try, it’s fun.


So last night it re-occurred to me how soon Handworks is going to be a reality.

This happened while I was plotting the 24 hour, 2500km long road trip, plus finding the most likely 24 hour gas station, and pee-pee stops that we will no doubt need to take advantage of.

Ya that’s right. For all you American sissys out there that are whimpering about how it’s too far away, #RealWoodworkers just get it done.

Unless you live in Hawaii, Alaska, Key West Florida, California, and some parts of Washington, or Oregon, you probably have a shorter drive than I do. Shoot, Mexico City is only 6 hours further.

Or you could fly…

Anyways, while checking to see what time we had to arrive in town in order to attend Roy Underhills opening presentation, it finally really hit me how many awesome vendors will be there. What a great chance to meet so many interesting people, and what’s more, perhaps fondle a few tools in the process! I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a few of the vendors already, and really look forward to watching them squirm as I enthusiastically prod them into “pretend” remembering me from many years back.

Then there are others that I have never met, but for years have cyber stalked, cyber harassed , cyber bullied, or cyber mocked. If you see a guy dressed in plaid sporting a fresh black eye, you will know that one of them has figured out who I am.

Finally there are the vendors that would fit into category three. These are ones that I may, or may not have heard of, but certainly have not collected enough information from blog pictures to make a shoe box diorama of their work shop. No, these ones I have yet to add to my woodworking shrine, and at this point, I am not yet at risk of violating restraining orders during the show. In fact, I don’t even know what these people look like.

So I start clicking on the vendor links in hopes of becoming more familiar with them and their work. One of the vendors was some dude named George Walker. As soon as I clicked on the link I knew he was one of those “design types”. You know the ones… Pictures of greek buildings, and sketches of horses and anatomically incorrect, yet athletic men?

I know, right?!!! “Bla, bla, bla, proportion. Bla, bla, bla, golden bla, bla, bla. Causes the eye to be drawn to the bla, bla, bla…”

Anyways, one of this years Christmas gifts, “By Hand & Eye” by Jim Tolpin & some other guy, was the inspiration for my 2015 New Year’s Resolution. Learn something, ANYTHING about design. So since I still have a few other books in the hopper to read before this one, I thought I would see if this guy could prime the pump so to speak for future reference.


So as I’m scrolling through the blog, I stopped at one post called Build-in portable, waterproof, hairy handy ruler. As I scanned through the post, I noticed George mentioning meeting Jim Tolpin in person. Well I’ve always been a sucker for a good name dropper (Neil Cronk) so I dive in for a more thorough read.

He talks about how he learned from Jim about using/knowing the measurements of the segments of your hand rather than having to rely on a ruler so much. That was super cool, and a real eye opener for me, but it just made me wish that Jim Tolpin was going to be at Amana.

I wonder if the other guy will be there….

So I told you that story so I could tell you this.

Have you ever heard someone say that they knew something like the back of their hand? How well do you really know the back of your hand? I’ve always wondered about that saying, and have even tried googling it. Today I even looked it up in The Cassell Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins by Nigel Rees. It’s a good reference most times, but not today.

However, in light of the previous story, I wonder if it refers to an ancient time when the every measure of the back of your hand was common knowledge?


December 27, 2014

The 2015 Fairwoodworking Buyers Guide

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog — fairwoodworking @ 12:00 am

So if you were hoping this guide included a table saw shootout, you will be mildly disappointed. No, this is more about how to buy than what to buy.

First off, it’s a really great first world problem to not know what or how to buy another tool. I’ve come to discover that woodworking, above and beyond the side hobby of acquiring the tools needed, can be an expensive way to fill my free time. There have been times when I’ve reveled in a Cocobolo and manganese bronze budget, and other times when I’ve wished I could buy 2×4’s with Canadian Tire money.

What I’m saying is, not everyone that is interested in woodworking can afford either the time or the money to take up the hobby, and as unfair as that may be, most of the world is trying just to put food on the table.

So with a little perspective in mind, here we go.

1. Avoid beginner sets of tools.

The word “Beginner” is marketing slang for cheap, disposable, garbage. Yes, the big boy tools are somewhat more expensive, but if this is your argument, you may need to re-read the introduction of this post. Bottom line, if you can’t afford it, save your money, until you can.

2. Save your innovative tool re-purposements for once you have mastered the tool in its intended use.

Too many times, I’ve seen beginners (including myself) get sidetracked by wacky ideas of taking tool “A” and if they just hold it upside-down and backwards, and lubricate with jello, they can remove the need for any other costly tools that would normally be required.

If that is you, re-read the beginning, take two aspirin, and call me in the morning.


So now that we have wisely chosen a good quality tool, desired for the attributes its makers intended it for, we are half way there. The final steps are just a critical.

Getting away with said purchase.

3. Always pay in cash.

Cash is the old school “hand tool” of the financial world. Cash is real.

When you take the time to save your pennies, well not here in Canada any more…

When you take the time to save your nickles, you ensure that you are not accidentally stealing from the mortgage account, because you’d hate to return from a buying spree to discover that you no longer have a shop to work in… But on more of a day to day level.

Cash is relatively untraceable.

That’s right! Cash is the king of the “Unauthorized Purchase”. Some of the folks at my favorite local tool store get a real charge out of this concept. They think it’s funny, but we know it’s a key to survival.

4. Workshop camouflage

This tip is not entirely my own. The idea was there, but I learned the perfected version in a class with Vic Tesolin of Minimalist Woodworker fame. We’ve all known that a making a new tool look a little older and dirtier is great camouflage, but an application that has no adverse effects can be easier said than done. The genius is in the simplicity. A dedicated bucket of clean sawdust for the dunking, nay, purification of each new, nefariously acquired addition. This both masks the vintage, and welcomes a new friend into the fold.

5. Don’t throw out the box the tool came in.

This one is a little tricky in the short game, but pays off huge in the long. I found that getting Authorization for purchases is easier in the beginning. Those first few boxes are the key. They are the forest that will hide the newly purchased “trees” that you didn’t get the time to discretely dispose of. Oh, and a little dust on a new box never hurt anybody either.


6. Don’t let your wife read this post…


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.

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