Friday, November 22, 2013

Welcome Home, Used Tools

  I'm busy with Christmas production, both family gifts and website offerings, but the plans
for a new hand tool cabinet are always teasing at my brain.  (See my plan for it here:
Thinking Through a Cabinet Design)

  My hand tool collection has some gaps I am trying to fill, before I have to lay out the
storage plan for the upper cabinet. I have only one narrow mortise chisel, and am lacking
some good screw drivers, since my 'batch bought' foreign series of them broke at the tips
and caused many bad words for doing so. 

  Now I've discovered e-bid, and a seller in the UK with many more resources for 'boot sales'
than I have here in my local area, which is a dry desert for flea markets or hand tool sales.
His older tools are of heavier steel, nothing is stamped into shape, and he cleans and sharpens everything before putting it on the market.

  These arrived by 'Royal Mail,'  flown all the way across the Atlantic Ocean and the
continental United States and right into my hands.  They'll start a new life now:

  It has been quite cold here recently, with lows into the high teens and sunny, daily highs
just at freezing temperatures, so these have had a chance to sit in my living room for a
few days before finding a position out in the garage.  I've had a chance to handle them,
examine them, and think about them. The blades are somewhat pitted, scarred and marked.
The handles are worn and could do with a good sanding, because some of the 'patina'
slips over into 'grime' and comes off on the hand. The hooped end of the mortise chisel is
dug into and decayed like it's been hit with a tack hammer instead of a mallet... what's with
that?  What was someone hitting it with? The wood extends above the metal hoop though,
so it can be sanded down and improved. It's very good, thick steel and I'm pleased with it.
Even with shipping, I paid under $20 for it, and a new 3/4" mortise chisel goes for well
above that.  The little calipers are a treat...weighty in the hand and with a good screw
mechanism that will hold a setting without moving. The veining chisel is 1/8" wide.
I've sold all my carving tools because someone else would get much more use from them
than I had been over the years, and now I'm looking to replace a few of them I've missed.
The Archimedes drill was quite inexpensive, and was purchased just for fun.

  So, Welcome to America, old used tools. I don't know what projects you've been a part
of, or whose hands have held you, but you are now destined for new endeavors in a new
land. You'll gradually, with use and time, become 'mine,' and I won't think much about it
any more. Then someday, when I die and my kids have a big (choke!) yard sale, you'll
move on to someone else's hands, and continue your craft.  I'm not going to mark my
name on you, or brand you with initials, but I am going to ask a lot of you...
Performance, Integrity, Reliance.
I think you'll do just fine here.  Welcome home.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Buying The Wood: Elegant Elm

 This weekend I made the full commitment to doing the large hand tool cabinet.  I had gone back and forth for weeks, trying to decide what to use for wood.  It looked like my budget was only going to handle a hardwood frame inset with plywood panels, but even in figuring that cost (alder faced plywood at $179 per panel, plus shipping) and alder lumber at $4 bf,  it was looking more expensive than the value of the final product, at least for what I wanted.
  Then I contacted a man I'd met through He lives 150 miles away, but has shipped me some very nice maple and walnut in flat rate boxes.  I asked about his walnut stash, and he replied, "Yes, but right now I have all this Elm sitting."  He showed me photos of a desk he'd made from it, in a warm, golden-oiled beautiful finish, and he had lots of it, in 8/4 thickness and everything from 8" wide to 20" wide.

We drove over to his place, and
here's what I brought home.

I need to add a correction here. 
I'd originally blogged this wood 
as Yew but my seller corrected 
me, it is not Yew, but ELM.  I 
knew that, but was so tired after unloading this pickup, I messed 
up on the unmarked wood and 
had Yew on the brain. Sorry for
the confusion.  It has been 
corrected throughout this post.

And here it is unloaded into the garage:

All Elm, 7' long boards, 14"w down to 8" wide.

And several large slabs, all Elm except for the center one, third from the left, which is 8/4 silver maple, six feet long.

Now that I have it unloaded, I spent some time just sitting on my shop stool staring at it all!  It's so beautiful it makes my heart swell. Silly me.

 Now, I'm just hoping I can get the lower base cabinet of the hand tool cabinet completed before the cold sets in and I can't trust any glue-ups. By then I'll have to wait for spring.  In the meantime, I have grandkids' presents to make, Christmas projects to stock for websites, and a min-lathe stand to build so I can DO the Christmas projects.  I'm hoping those duties will go quickly.   This Elm is going to make an amazing large, floor-standing cabinet, and I am quite excited about building it!  

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Thinking Through A Cabinet Design

 Sometimes I think I need to have my own private 'think tank.' It takes many days of cogitation to come up with a plan, and then it is usually altered in a quirky 'light bulb' moment of inspiration that changes everything.
 I revamped my entire garage/shop in order to make room for a large, free standing hand tool cabinet, now in the planning stage.  My internal debate on construction materials is ongoing, but the design is now pretty much decided.  I had looked at hundreds of examples, being very impressed by Andy Rae's tour de force cabinet in The Toolbox Book by Jim Tolpin  (Taunton Press.)  But my heart kept going back to a wonderful piece of furniture made by Megan Fitzpatrick for Popular Woodworking's February issue in 2009:

(Sketch Up model by Bruce Beatty,  PW website)

 This is a Shaker-style, step-back cupboard over seven feet tall, and forty-four inches wide. The upper unit is 12" deep, and the lower cupboard is 16" deep; plenty of room for a wide assortment of tools, if I just reconfigure the inside shelving. It sounds so simple, doesn't it?  I've almost decided on cherry ply for the panels and cherry boards for the casework, but that's not a final decision. American Cherry is extremely expensive here in Eastern WA.  I could also go with walnut.  I'm undecided on this option, because I tend to use free space by hanging things on outside surfaces of my storage units, and defacing a fine piece of furniture like this would seem like a sacrilege. If it was nice plywood, I'd not feel so bad about it.

 In deciding the interior structure, I had to list what I intend to store, and how to allow for extra room for new purchases.  I'm short on good hand saws, so some kind of saw till will be included. I own lots of useful marking and measuring tools, so the doors must display storage, whether that be deep, box-like doors or frame and panel with fitted hooks and holders, I don't yet know. And I have a large  bow saw to hang, with another smaller scrolling bow saw, and a long panel gauge. And a big 'Commander mallet.' 

 A main consideration is having the upper doors high enough off the floor to swing clear of my workbench, which is currently 35" high. If and when I build a nicer one, it will have to be at least 36" high, as I am six feet tall and everything in my shop feels sized for midgets some days. The Shaker Cupboard has a base cabinet at 34", so raising it a little won't alter the proportions too much to look bad.  It is crucial the upper doors swing free of the bench, so I've no choice there. The 44" width puts it squarely over the end of the bench, and I'm going to have to be careful to place the cabinet so the lower doors can swing open to at least 90ยบ without hitting the bench or the newly-added garage storage shelf I've found so useful.  Space constraints.

 I set to work designing the interior of the base cabinet, changing the feet to some form of club foot for strength, and adding cubbies for smaller hand-held power tools like a trim router, an angled screw driver used for sanding pads, and a random orbit sander. The saber saw proved bigger than I'd thought, with the blade sticking out ready to use, so I had to make one space larger than the others. Then I added in a shelf.  Organizing the upper cabinet is going to be an exercise in tool layout, putting cardboard down on a table and actually tracing around tools to see how packed I can get everything in. That's an exercise for later, but as I thought about it, considering an angled, lift-up shelf for planes, etc., it occurred to me I was packing the upper space and leaving no room in this cabinet for one thing I really wanted: a nice presentation box for my growing collection of wood samples.  This photo is an old one; I am now up to fifty 3x6" sample pieces of different species of wood:

 With that realization, the interior space is radically changed. This was my 'light bulb' moment.
When I make the box, it will sit front and center upon opening the top doors. So. That means a bank of small drawers on each side of it, filling out the 40" interior space, with tools arranged above them.
Somehow, I keep cutting into the upper storage space for these large hand tools, but I'll just have to do the best I can. There are priorities, after all, and an artsy burl box of wood samples is just too good an idea to pass up.

 So here is my initial design for the overall cabinet, drawn out on my 'Bucket Boss' graph paper, which is old as the hills, I think. Feel free to let me know what you think of it, and to make any suggestions before I truly get started.  The base cabinet, of course, is first.  Wood selection has me stymied right now, but I just have to make a decision and go with it,  I think. The upper unit will probably take me all winter, as it is much more complicated than the base.  The height will be changed by adding crown molding as Megan did on the Shaker cupboard, but that depends on whether elves come in and lower the height of my garage rafters when it's all done. We'll see.

 All comments are very welcome!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Simple Storage Shelf

 I am amazed at how much a simple shelf unit can hold. My new one is basic open shelving, attached to the garage rafters. It is only 34" long and 14" deep, but those four shelves are holding all sorts of odds and ends I had scattered around the shop, and sit nicely in the space the Radial Arm Saw used to occupy.  The two long boxes of veneers are safely tucked away on top, and I now have a place for almost everything, and everything easily accessible in its place. 

 Here is the 'other' side of the garage during the makeover, piled with scrap bins and at least one box full of garbage to go out the door.  There will probably be two.  Or three.

Even the top of the table saw was piled with 'extras' needing a home.

And here is the new storage unit with much of that now housed where I can get to it easily, with room to spare.
  The unit is open for a 36" stretch below the last blue shelf, where I will move a kitchen-garbage-style container to hold long wood cutoffs, and a low barrel-type for shorts I don't want to throw away.  There is more sorting to do, but my bench top is finally clear, the TS is open for use, and I can finally get to making some catch-up products I needed to do.

  The design for the hand tool cabinet will begin earnestly, now, on paper.  Wood selection is still a consideration, with prices to be checked.  I can't wait to get started!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Rearranging Machinery

 At last, I got the back bench torn out and the space cleaned up, and have moved three machines into it.  I was a bit worried about access to that upper back wall, but there's plenty of room to reach around the machines and get to my sanding supplies shelf and any tools I need.  This arrangement is going to give me quite a bit more space, even after I build a simple storage unit for the overflow, and then the hand tool cabinet. Putting the router table cabinet on casters was something I should have done a long time ago! It's perfect.

 There is quite a bit more minor organizing to do, but now I can sit at night and play with designing the main part of this endeavor, the 7' tall, 40" wide floor standing hand tool cabinet.  That will be the Fun part!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Cleaning the Shop

 This is where I began in my new shop renovation. The intention is to eliminate the old garage bench along the back wall and move machinery in that space (see previous post.)  First I cleared the cluttered bench top, then sorted through all the stored wood salvage shoved underneath for twenty years.  I have one huge box of garbage to discard (can't believe I even saved pieces of cheap wafer board and chipboard back then) and two more tall garbage bins to sort through later...lots of hardwood pieces I knew I'd need someday for jigs and such.  Now there is way too much. 

 I'm keeping four feet of the bench on the right, because it is space for my hollow chisel mortiser and some plastic drawer bins for hardware.  Today I put up brackets elsewhere in the garage to hold odds and ends boards and some 2x4 material I'll save.  There were surprises in cleaning this out.  Between two long cardboard boxes of veneer, lo and behold I came across a thick veneer sheet of maple burl a new acquaintance had given me about 15 years ago.  There isn't enough for my new hand tool cabinet door fronts, but I'll find something to use it on!  And there was my beech coffin plane, too, pictured up on the workbench.

 I also got the new casters on the bottom of the router table cabinet. Now when I'm ready, I can just put all the machinery in place and fill in back wall floor space with whatever fits for storage.
The pegboard will stay until I get the hand tool cabinet built, when much of that will be fitted to the doors and shelves inside the new cabinet. I'll have to see what remains, but I'm hoping I can fabricate a wall storage system for clamps behind the machinery.  I have clamps hung all over the place, and it is definitely not convenient. 

 Tomorrow I'll be setting up a new table for the belt/disk sander so that I can move the huge machinist's vise onto its space across the room, clearing all things from that old bench top, and then I'll get into de-constructing it. I don't yet know what I'll do with the scrap from the torn apart work bench.  So after that, more lumber storage to set up.  Then, some retail product to make, and it will be on to designing the new hand tool cabinet.  I'm all ready fiddling with it on paper, and quite excited!  I'm even making room in the center of it, for a nice box for my wood samples collection.

 More later, when I have the bench gone and the machinery in place.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Big Plans in the offing

I've not recently had any blog-worthy projects to cover here, but now I've decided on another Shop Overhaul that may be of interest to others.  As I've added machinery in the past, the shop had to be rearranged for simple fitting in, but this idea is a new one. Or rather, a one-year-old one. I decided I want a large hand tool cabinet instead of the existing open shelving, something as big as Andy Rae's beautiful cabinet on the cover of the Toolbox Book. I may, however, have to be more practical in the materials selected, and do without the inlays and stringing decoration. We'll see. Here is what I have now:

 Two recent acquisitions helped push this decision: I bought my first antique 'collector' tool off the web,  a lovely rosewood panel marking gauge, 20 inches long. I fell in love with this thing.

And a massive slugger of a 'Commander' mallet, sent to me on a trade with another woodworker. It is a wonderful piece made of mulberry and walnut, and both these tools are too large for my little open cabinet shelves.

 So, first step: I combed through books and magazines looking for what would work for the space I had to fit in my shop, and what I could alter to pack in as many hand tools as I could for efficiency. There are hundreds of designs of floor-standing tool cabinets available.  However, I kept coming back to a strikingly simple piece of furniture, a Shaker style step-back cabinet that Megan Fitzpatrick had made for Popular Woodworking, February 2009, as an entertainment center.  It's a 16-1/2" deep base cabinet, with a four-inch step back to a 12" deep top cabinet, the whole being 88" tall.  I need a tall cabinet, and it struck my fancy as perfect for my space.

 Here is a photo of one-half of my garage/workshop as it stands now.  It is pretty crowded.  I need the hand tool cabinet behind the small bench on the left, where the radial arm saw is taking up too much space. I use it for a lot of cross-cutting, and it has to go somewhere else.

 The RAS protrudes 40" from the back, mainly because a hooded garbage can conveniently catches all the dust and cut offs behind it.  At the back of the room, behind the floor fan, is 24" worth of wood and scrap storage under an old garage workbench covered with clutter. Pegboard hangs on the back wall above it.  To move things around and fit in a large floor cabinet, I plan to eliminate the back wall bench and move into its place the RAS, a floor standing drill press not in this photo, and a router table cabinet I'll have to put on casters so it remains functional.  Parking it at the back wall would prevent passing longer wood pieces across its table surface unless I can roll it forward, so that is easily fixable with casters.

 The wood stored under that back garage bench is mostly scrap, but a couple of bins of hardwood, a selection of dowels and a few boxes of weighted veneer selections, are all worth saving, so moving them means building another wood storage unit also. It will go where the router table now stands, around the corner from the RAS pictured.  There are table saw jigs under there to be saved, too.

Oh, man. How one thing leads to another! And all this started with a beautiful, innocent rosewood panel gauge.  I don't know how long this will take, especially with Christmas retail stock and gifts to consider, and a commission or two coming up.  Rearranging everything in the shop and keeping it open to function as necessary is going to be a challenge. It may take me all winter, but once I get started, all the problem-solving will keep me going with gusto.  It has been years since I've dug into that space under the bench at the back of the garage. There is no telling what surprises await. I may even find that old beech coffin smoother I put away because it had no wedge. I haven't been able to find it for some time now, but I know it's there somewhere, and needs to be fixed.

 I wish I could just sit down and design the tool cabinet, but first things first.  I think I'll get the leaf blower, and then put on a dust mask.  It's raining today. That's perfect!

©Barb Siddiqui

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Spoons: An Introductory Project

  The goal of Get Woodworking Week is to encourage any admirers of the craft who may think they'd like to try it, to Get Going!  Beginners are often overwhelmed by the variety of woodworking subjects available to tackle, and have no idea where to begin, or how to prepare.  Be sure to check on the sponsor's blog, Tom Iovino at Tom's Workbench for many more articles to do with getting started in this rewarding craft.

  This year I'm offering a suggestion on a beginning project that does not require a lot of investment in tools, or a shop full of power equipment.  Making a spoon will introduce a new woodworker to dealing with grain direction in the wood, to sanding and finishing techniques and a little bit of sharpening knowledge.  There are many YouTube videos and helpful websites available, so don't be intimidated!  You can carve a spoon with a pocket knife and a towel across your lap to catch the shaving, if you want to.

  The history of wooden spoon making is as old as soup and stew.  And as for variety, you can make anything from a coffee stirrer to a ladle, to an Artistic Sculptured spoon only meant to be displayed and dusted.  You can make it however you want it, and for whatever purpose you wish to use it.

Handcarved Spoons of various woods gifted to me by Albert Avila, from California.

  It's best to have a scroll saw or a hand held coping saw to cut out the basic shape from a board, but it can be whittled out, too, though it's more work. Start with a hardwood such as cherry, or beech, or maple, a close-grained wood that won't open up with holes for food residue to hide in. If you don't know where to get wood, you can check nearby lumber merchants on

  Draw pencil lines on the top surface to shape the spoon you wish to cut, and on the side edges to show its depth and the arc of the handle, if there is one. Cut away the waste wood until you have the basic shape, remembering the one cardinal rule of carving: Never Cut Toward A Body Part. Always hold the workpiece so that your stroke of cutting is away from your hands and fingers.  It also helps to set your thumb against wood while holding a knife, and Leverage a cut away from you with two hands, slowly and in small bites so it is controlled and sure. A sharp tool is actually safer than a dull tool, because it takes less effort and force to do its job, so re-hone on a leather strop or resharpen the tool frequently.  Cut away in shallow strokes; don't try to hog off deep shavings of wood.

  Start with a small spoon, and don't be afraid of messing up!  If the first one looks awkward, begin anew. You will get the feel for carving a spoon more quickly than you ever thought you would. You could always set a teaspoon or a serving spoon beside your work, to eyeball the arcs and dimensions of your creation. When you're through carving, sand your finished product up through several grits of sandpaper (80, 150, 220) and apply a light coat of walnut oil (safe for food use when cured, and will not go rancid) or leave it unfinished. When done, you'll see there is nothing quite like the feeling of saying, "I Made This!"  and showing it off to others.  

  Here are some suggestions for carving tools. These exact tools may not be available, but there are enough look-alikes on tool vendors' websites that you can easily find what you need.  The first is a basic Sloyd Knife, sharpened on both sides of one edge. It comes in a range of sizes and is very sharp Swedish steel.   The second photo is of Bent Knives, and are my favorite tools for hollowing out the bowls of spoons. The third photo is of a small Scorp. It is difficult to sharpen, but can work well on convex spaces. You wouldn't need all of these.  One bent knife and one straight knife can help you make a fine spoon.

  Many of these tools are available from The Traditional Woodworker, and a bent-knife selection you can put handles on yourself is available at Lee Valley Tools .   All of these tools could find other uses than spoons, as your journey into the woodworking field strengthens and your curiosity develops about other projects.
  Another necessity is a sharpening stone for the steel you use, whether it is a pocket knife or a dedicated carving tool. There seem to be as many sharpening systems as there are woodworkers, and a simple pocket whet-stone will work, but it is better to have a selection of grits to sharpen steel with, where each higher grit eliminates the scratches from the previous grit, leaving you with a razor-sharp mirror finish that slices wood rather than tearing it.
  Here is an inexpensive multi-stone system that can be purchased from The Traditional Woodworker where you turn the stones upward to use any of four densities of Arkansas stones, with oil provided. It's small, at only 4" long, but is sufficient for the carving tools shown.
  Dell Stubbs has a wonderful website, Pinewood Forge with handmade tools and a page dedicated to sharpening advice: Sharpening 

I hope this information encourages beginners to take on the project. Woodworking forums are literally full of experienced artisans eager to answer questions and bring new people into their craft, so don't be shy about seeking them out.  Here are some further references for you to browse at will:

from 'Top20Sites':   Top Wooden Spoon Sites

Artist 'Spoontaneous':  Spoontaneous on

And, a Gallery Art Work by  Norm Sartorius

 Also, don't forget Tom's contest this year. He has major vendors offering prizes for your submission of how you got interested in woodworking, if you're new to the craft within the past year.  Send an e-mail to and tell your story to be eligible!  Here's his post on the subject.

Play Safe, and Enjoy Your Woodworking Experience!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

February sneaks up on us

  It is now February, 2013, and I thought I had lots of time for a writing deadline.  Not so. I'll soon have a post up for Tom Iovino of Tom's Workbench fame, a noted blogger and woodworking enthusiast.  He has sponsored and instigated a push for wanna-be woodworkers, encouraging them to Get Started and not be intimidated with, "But, where do I begin?"  

  What is different this year is the assistance of several very big magazine names and vendors who want to offer prizes for the best story of a new woodworker, within the last year's time.  Here is a link to what Get Woodworking Week is all about, and Tom's words on qualifying for his contest:

Tom's Get Woodworking Week

Get Woodworking Week Prizes

and in Tom's own words:
"How will we figure out how someone can win these?
OK, here’s how this will work. If you are a woodworker who has been in the craft for one year or less, send me an e-mail at and explain  how you got into the craft. On Saturday, February 9 (the last day of Get Woodworking Week), I will take the entries that I get and pick the new woodworker with the best story to feature."

Stay tuned. There are lots of good articles coming up this week for your interest and delight!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Used Books... What A Deal

  I've always been a big book fan, preferring the hard copy held in the hand and quality paper pages to turn one by one.  A friend who is a woodworker/sculptor/woodturner/historian/polymath is selling off his vast woodworking library so he doesn't have to box and move it again someday. This means seriously good deals for all woodworkers, from beginner to advanced experts.  If you love learning new skills in woodworking, or are just starting out as a beginner, take a few moments to browse his pages. All his prices include domestic shipping, and there are many valuable buys here. All are sold via PayPal.  Some examples below.