Recipe for contentment
A small shop, a stack of lumber, the fragrance of wood in the air.
I've spent a lot of time looking for and reading online tool reviews, and I often find myself wishing there were more personal reviews by amateur woodworkers around, so here are mine. These aren't reviews in the sense of comparing several of the same tool; rather, I'm just sharing some thoughts about the tools I appreciate using: Woodworking tool reviews.
A passionate weekend woodworker
I love wood above all other materials, and I love simplicity and quality. The few times I've wandered into furniture stores I've either had an allergic reaction to the shoddiness of manufacturing in evidence or just plain sticker shock, so in most cases I've opted to make my own simple stuff. Because I love books, much of what I've made has been bookshelves. I also love shoji lamps and polyhedron shapes, so that's been another focus. And I've made a variety of other things: desks, end tables, book stands, bed platforms, a large oak cabinet for my sweetheart's business (she's an herbalist and hand makes a line of natural skin care products called Wild Sage Botanicals), and so on.
I've tried a lot of different tools over the years. One lesson I learned—unfortunately the hard way—is to always buy quality tools if possible, even if they cost far more than cheaper versions. Sometimes I've really had to stretch to buy some of my tools, but I've never regretted it. Quality tools provide two things that cheap tools often don't: accuracy and longevity. In some cases, they're also safer. And it's simply a pleasure to hold and use a tool that has been designed and made with care.
On the other hand, tools are just tools
While I think buying quality tools is a good idea, I don't think a lack of quality tools should stop anyone who is interested in woodworking (it didn't stop me when I was getting started). Quality tools make it easier to do good work, but they don't make it possible to do good work. That comes from desire and practice.
When I lived in India 20 years ago, I watched barefoot woodworkers who had only a few shoddy hand tools sit on the ground and turn a pile of rough-sawn rosewood into beautiful and precise window casings. It took them a really long time (weeks to do the store front I watched them do), but they were obviously practiced at their craft and could do things with their poor hand tools that I still struggle to accomplish with an indoor shop, a workbench, and quality power tools.
An interesting mix of tools
My collection of tools is a bit unusual. My hobby for many years has been making shoji lamps. This requires a lot of small hand tools—micro clamps, small hand saws, a hand miter saw, mini sanders, and so on—as well as some power tools like a band saw, planer, miniature drills, and a palm sander.
Here's an older series of photos showing a lamp making project using these tools.
In 1999, we purchased a beautiful piece of property that came with a beat up house needing full remodeling.
Having grown up with a hammer in my hand in a house that my father remodeled as we lived in it, I already knew a lot of the necessary skills, but needed to get an additional set of tools to work on the house and build some of the furniture for it, such as circular, table, and electric miter saws, bigger sanders, routers, and so on.
Here's a newer series of photos showing a furniture making project using these tools.
Recently, I've been preparing to do cabinetry work, so I've added some bigger tools: a cabinet saw, a larger bandsaw, a drill press, a dust collector, and a small jointer so that I can handle rough sawn wood (there are a couple nearby places that specialize in local woods that I'd like to take advantage of, including TC Woods in Fort Lupton, Colorado, which specializes in beautiful salvaged woods).
Finally, though I love using power tools, I've begun acquiring more hand tools, hoping that someday I'll have more time to spare and can slow down a bit to explore working by hand more.
Finding tools is a challenge, especially living in a somewhat rural area as we do. We have a wonderful local hardware store, but I often have to reach beyond it to find exactly what I'm looking for. The most delightful outcome of my online explorations has been finding a handful of individual craftspeople and small businesses who are making incredible tools; I've also stumbled across some good general online tool sources: Sources.
Being an avid reader and having an incurable stubborn streak that manifests in a determination to teach myself everything, I often turn to reading to glean clues about how to proceed. In my quest to learn woodworking I've come across some wonderful books and woodworking-related websites (as well as a few videos) that contain a wealth of knowledge: Learning woodworking.
Looking forward to weekends
I'm finally returning to my hobby of making shoji lamps, which I set aside for several years to focus on remodeling our home and making furniture for it. This is a fairly significant milestone in my life, a good time to take a step back and think about where my journey has brought me: Is it worth it?
A glimpse of my current woodworking project
This week (December 2011) I began working on a project I've looked forward to (and slightly feared, because it will stretch the limits of my capabilities) for perhaps seven years, ever since I first conceived the idea: a lamp in the shape of a rhombicosidodecahedron, a polyhedron made up of 12 pentagons, 20 triangles, and 30 squares. I had forced myself to put the project on hold so that I could focus on remodeling and making furniture for our home, but the time has finally come when I can play around a bit.
There were many weekends of preparation work before I got to the point of these first photos: planing the maple that will make up the frame (because of the different angles between the pieces, the frame's triangles are slightly thicker than the squares and pentagons), initial sanding, cutting the strips on the table saw and bandsaw (the bandsaw for the angled edge), routing the rabbet into which the kumiko (the ¼″ × ¼″ inner frame that will hold the washi or rice paper) will fit, and then a second sanding. The frame requires 100 feet of these rabbeted strips.
In the following photo, you can see the finished frame stock for the 12 pentagons and 30 squares (by the time I took this photo, I had already finished gluing up the 20 triangles, which you can see stacked behind my glue bottle). Of course, I spent some time tidying up before I took this photo; my workbench is typically in a state of chaos during assembly!
Next I created a gluing jig for the three components: triangle, square, and pentagon. I used ordinary prefinished pressboard shelving as the base because the finish is a kind of plastic that glue doesn't stick to. Then I made reference shapes out of basswood, in this case 5″ on a side. Finally I screwed down maple holders for the three shapes, leaving gaps at the endpoints where the glue squeezes out.
In the following photo, you can see a closeup of my gluing jig, with one of each shape drying. I dry them long enough so that they won't separate, then pry the pieces out of the jig holders, and use a scraper and a sharp punch to scrape away any glue squeeze out. When they are completely dry, I sand them with my palm sander, which provides an initial glue joint strength test.
Here's the first assembled section. It's much more difficult than I had hoped it would be … or perhaps I should say that it is as difficult as I had feared. As much as I try to make perfect cuts and glue up perfect shapes, everything is always a little imprecise, and those imprecisions magnify quickly in a complex shape like this.
Still, it's encouraging to have gotten this far. I always despair a bit mid-project, thinking I'll never be able to successfully pull it off. But having been able to glue up a complete section means that there is at least the possibility that I'll be able to create a complete frame.
For more information about the idea behind this lamp, see the On my workbench pages of the Shoji lamps and side journeys section of my site.