Even a little garage shop like mine is made up of scores of miscellaneous tools, accessories, shelves, and other storage things. Here are a few of the things that round out my shop.
- Drills & drivers
- Yard tools:
- Window tools
My shop is in a converted garage. In the summer, it stays nice and cool, and I love to throw open the overhead door as I work to let in the fresh air and for the views of the foothills and pine trees. In winter, it's only marginally heated, and has a cement floor, which really can hold the cold. I tried an oil-filled radiator and a coil heater with a fan; neither did the trick. The Marvin Overhead Quartz Radiant heater does. When it's cool, I turn on one element. When it's cold, I turn on both elements. When it's bitter, I turn on a second one at the other end of the shop.
A radiant heater emits infra-red heat waves that heat objects rather than the air. That means people, tools, and the floor heat up. It's a wonderful heat source.
Important caveat! This heater draws a lot of current (at the high setting, it pulls 1375 watts), so make sure the circuits you plug them into are adequate.
I've tried a variety of different lighting over the years. The shop space had ordinary T12 fluorescent shop lights when we moved in (T12 = 12/8″ = 1½″), which I found too dim.
Full spectrum T12 fluorescent shop lights
I replaced the bulbs with full spectrum bulbs, which helped some. I also added a couple supplemental halogen shop lights at one point, but they burned way too hot for comfort (and they pull a lot of juice).
T5 fluorescent shop lights
Eventually I replaced all the old shop lights in my shop with 46-inch, double-bulb T5 fluorescent fixtures (T5 = 5/8″), changed the placement so that they are directly over each work area, and added a few more fixtures to ensure good light in all areas. I found the light cast by the T5s to be nicer. When I made this change, the only choice I could find in the T5-sized shop lights was 28-watt bulbs. Later, they came out with fixtures that use 54-watt "high-output" bulbs, so I put a double-bulb version of one of those over my workbench. That definitely gave me better light to work with!
LED shop lights
More recently, after seeing the lights in a friend's shop, I replaced the T5 fluorescent fixtures with 48-inch LED shop lights. I chose a double-bulb 38-watt, 4000-lumen daylight version, which puts out the equivalent of 100 watts (double bulb is a bit of a misnomer as they actually are made of two strips of LEDs in the approximate shape of fluorescent tubes).
They seem to cast about the same amount of light as the 54-watt high output T5s I had, but the light feels easier on my eyes, and since I replaced all of the fixtures in my shop, overall it is a huge improvement. The LEDs last up to 50,000 hours, so I think these will be the last set of lights I'll need for my shop. I definitely like the quality of light LEDs emit.
In the end, I think both LEDs and high-output T5s create great shop lights, though I think LEDs are the better choice in the long run given how long they should last and their somewhat better level of energy efficiency.
I really like the Record 52½ED bench vice from Sheffield. I use this heavy vice all the time when sanding edges and for many other processes that require another steady hand. It has a very smooth screw action and the fast action makes it a breeze to close with just an additional quick turn or two to tighten. When the piece I'm holding is longer, I simply clamp the other end to the bench using a deep throated, heavy duty bar clamp.
I mounted the vice on the end of the long side of my table, with the back plate behind the table's maple edge. I also added a thick matching maple jaw liner to the the front plate, so I'm clamping between wood surfaces.
I also have a smaller portable version of this vice that I use sometimes when working on lamps.
Unfortunately, Record has discontinued making vices. However, I've read that they sold the tooling for the vices to a firm in India that is now producing a similar set of vices under the brand name Eclipse. I think the Eclipse 9″ is comparable to the 52½ED. Woodcraft has a variety of similar quick release vises available, including the Eclipse: Woodcraft quick release vises⩘ .
Drills & drivers
I usually don't get very excited about drills. I have had several corded and cordless drills. They did the job, and that's about as much as I can say.
When I upgraded my workbench table top, I needed to drill a series of ¾″ holes into the bench top to hold bench dogs. Having just sweated over adding the new maple top to my bench, I didn't feel like risking boring holes in it with a cheap spade bit, so I purchased a good quality ¾″ HSS brad point. The only problem was that all of my drills are 3/8″ and this bit has a ½″ shank. Well, okay, that's not really a problem … it's an opportunity to get a new tool!
I looked at what was available in ½″ and decided that this was a good opportunity to take a leap and get one of the new Lithium-Ion cordless drills. After doing my usual research I chose the Makita BHP454 18V LXT ½″ Hammer Driver-Drill (every review I read rated it the best of the Li-Ion drills). You can see it below standing on the new table top next to a bench dog (clamped to the side of the table in a simple maple jig.
This is a surprisingly compact and lightweight drill compared to the others I have, but it drilled a ¾″ hole through the 3¾″ table top, which is made up of layers of maple, plywood, and furniture grade particle board, with absolute ease and no runout or wobble. After I had successfully drilled the first hole, I can honestly say that I was, for the first time in my life, thrilled with a drill's performance.
UPDATE: A few months after first writing about this drill and bit, I drilled another 20 holes in the table, spaced every 6″ along both sides. I am so impressed with this combination! The drilling was totally smooth, and the lines of dog holes came out beautifully. I like this drill so much that I picked up one of Makita's smaller, though still very robust, brushless drills, the LXPH05Z. It's even lighter and more compact, so it's great for some of the more delicate work I do on my lamps.
Quick change chucks
I pair the drills with the Bosch Clic-Change chuck, my favorite quick-change system for drills. Sweet!
I also found another quick change chuck I like, a smaller one designed for ratchets. The Wera 042750 1/4″ square to 1/4″ hex adaptor with quick-release chuck⩘ is a great little add-on. I've used it in a variety of situations already, with both manual and cordless ratchets. I thank my lucky stars that I have it every time I need to drive a screw with a ratchet.
Recently, I installed a ham radio in my car (even though I'm not a car person). Working on a car is like doing plumbing: there's seldom enough room to maneuver, you often don't have enough hands, half the time you can't see what you're doing, and you have to contort yourself in ways that are just shy of impossible. Ah well, at least there's no water running through the antenna cable, just waiting to leak all over the place the first time you turn the radio on after hooking it up. (Yes, I dislike plumbing, too!)
One of the more challenging tasks I had to do related to this installation was driving some of the screws that attached parts beneath one of the car's seats. The challenge was that it was in a tight spot where I couldn't see and had little room to maneuver, and I had only an old, cheap 1/4″ ratchet. I did get it done, but it took me a stupidly long time and a lot of needlessly frustrating effort. It was difficult enough to get the screwdriver bit to fit into the screw head, but then when I started tightening, two things kept happening: either the ratchet would go into reverse because I was exerting upward force on the ratchet head to keep it engaged with the screw head and kept accidentally turning the direction changer, or the screwdriver bit would fall out of the socket. Argh!
Thinking about it afterwards, I realized that my design was flawed (if I ever have to take it apart, I'll put it back together differently), and also I didn't have the right tools for the job. At least there's an upside to that, right? It's a chance to get some new tools! I decided to get two things: a better quality 1/4″ ratchet and an adaptor to hold the screwdriver bit.
As I was searching for a better 1/4″ ratchet, I stumbled across a tool that caught my interest, the Milwaukee M12 Cordless 1/4″ Lithium-Ion Ratchet⩘ . I was a bit skeptical, but if it proved to be a good tool, it could be really useful in situations where there's not much room to maneuver, so I decided to give it a try.
Turns out it's a great tool, compact enough to get into tight spaces, yet tough enough to provide decent torque. I've already used it several times; it turns tasks that otherwise would have been awkward into something quick and easy to do. In a very short time, it has become one of my favorite tools, especially when paired with the Wera square-to-hex adaptor, when it becomes a much more compact and versatile right-angle screwdriver than my full-size Makita 3/8" angle drill.
Speaking of ratchets, I did find a better designed manual 1/4″ ratchet as well: the Heyco 60145 1/4″ Reversible Ratchet Varicat 32 Tooth. It has a toggle to change between forward and reverse, so in a tight space, you can exert force on the head without accidentally switching direction. Life is good!
Finally, here's a tool that kind of caught me by surprise and quickly became an all-time fave: a ratcheting screwdriver. This is one of those tools that whenever I use it, which is often since I got it, I can't believe I ever worked without one.
I was at a ham radio event helping to put up some big portable antennas when someone used a ratcheting screwdriver. It struck me how easy it made the job of driving a screw, so when I got home I looked around for one and came up with the Wera 816 RA Bit-Holding Ratcheting Screwdriver. It is one fantastic tool!
Well, okay, these saws aren't really woodworking tools, at least not by my definition, but we've got a couple acres of mostly ponderosa and juniper trees, and we live in a dry climate, so fire mitigation is important. We also actively remove invasive plants to foster a better environment for native species. I've found some great tools for doing this work.
Almost every year for the 15 years we've been here, I do a couple days of clean up, trimming off dead branches and low limbs (so a grass fire wouldn't be so likely to jump up into the trees), pulling down any smaller trees that have died, and thinning clumps of trees that are growing too close together. Then I hire a commercial tree service to come in and chip up all the debris, and also to take down any larger trees that have died, which is a job that is beyond my skill level. We use the chips for our garden and pathways.
For most of the work I need to do, a pole saw is my tool of choice. After struggling with a cheap one for a few years, I got a Jameson LS Series and really like it. It has two 6-foot fiberglass sections that snap together and apart easily. For the most part, I use a single pole, but often enough I'm reaching up as much as 15 feet with the double poles, and I also do a bit of low work with just the saw blade head itself, which has enough of a handle to make it comfortable as a handsaw, at least for limited use. Really versatile tool, and the blade itself is great. (The LS Series tool also comes with a pulley pruner head, but I've never used that, though I think it would be useful for certain types of trees.)
Here are the two 6-foot sections of the pole saw leaning up agains the pile of branches and limbs I just finished pruning this morning.
For the bigger limbs as well as the smaller trees I need to pull down occasionally, I've always had a small chainsaw around. For years I had a small 12″ Stihl, which was a great saw, but I always hated dealing with the gasoline.
Last year I gave the Stihl away and replaced it with Makita's 2×18-volt chainsaw (model HCU02ZX2, now replaced by newer models⩘ ). Paired with their new 4 or 5-amp batteries, this is a small chainsaw that has both power and longevity. I was able to cut through the 9″ trunk of one of the small trees I took down this morning as easily and quickly as I could've done with the Stihl, but with no gas, no fumes, and only a small fraction of the noise.
Awesome tool! I'm really impressed that a battery operated chainsaw can perform this well.
Our yard is mostly wild with lots of wild grasses, which we love. But I do keep it clean around our propane tank and a few other areas that I want to protect from grass fires, and we also have wood chip pathways roaming around our property so we can enjoy walks around the place while leaving most of the land and the beautiful variety of wildflowers that grow here undisturbed. So a trimmer is an important tool to have around.
And what a journey it has been for me to find a great trimmer! As with my chainsaw, I wanted to avoid gas trimmers, so I started out with a couple different battery operated, house-brand trimmers from our local big box home improvement store. They weren't up to the task. The first had only a single trimmer string sticking out, which was no match for our tough, knee-high perennial grasses. The second had dual trimmer strings, but got tangled almost immediately on anything longer than mown grass. What a stupid design!
Finally, I discovered that Makita had an 18-volt trimmer, the XRU04Z, so I wrote off my two earlier tools, which was a bit painful, and ordered one. I was immediately impressed! The XRU04Z is a real tool. The only thing I thought could be improved was if it were one of Makita's newer 2 x 18-volt designs.
Lo and behold, Makita recently came out with just that: the Makita XRU07Z⩘ . No, I don't understand Makita's model names, but I went ahead and ordered one (at a reasonable price from Acme Tools⩘ ), and it just arrived a few days ago. Here's one of Makita's stock photos of the tool, without the batteries.
In addition to creating a 2 x 18-volt tool that goes and goes, they managed to keep the weight down (with batteries, it's under 10 pounds), and also introduced some other improvements, like a better dual switch system (two levers, one for the lock off and the other for the power, instead of the XRU04's ring switch and lever combination, which can be a bit awkward) as well as a shield that gives adequate protection while providing better visibility of the trimmer head and string ends. The unit is nicely balanced and appears to be well constructed, with a brushless, direct-drive motor. While only time will tell for sure, it looks like a tough tool that should go the distance, as I would expect from Makita. [Update: It has been several summers now, and it's still going strong.]
The only criticism I have of the XRU07Z is that it didn't come with a shoulder strap like the XRU04Z did. So I picked up a Limbsaver Comfort-Tech Trimmer Sling⩘ , which is anyway better than the one the XRU04Z came with. For one thing, the Comfort-Tech can be adjusted longer, so I can use the trimmer without stooping at all (I'm 6-foot tall), which is important when I'm trimming for a couple hours straight. The shoulder strap (the orange bit) is made from a vibration dampening material that is a bit sticky, so it's both comfortable and holds its position well.
In the end, I guess it was a good thing that the XRU07Z didn't come with a strap since the Comfort-Tech is a better solution; still, I find it a strange omission.
Red Pig Weeding fork
Each spring, we do battle against invasive plants, many of which (like thistle) are tough plants with even tougher tap roots. Fortunately, I found an equally tough battle axe to wield in this fight: a hand-forged, long-handled weeding fork made by Red Pig Garden Tools⩘ in, I kid you not, Boring, Oregon.
This tool makes it much easier to get down at the tap root even in our rocky soil, and it's strong enough to easily pop the gnarliest ones.
We have several of Red Pig's tools, actually, and they're all well-made, tough, quality tools. A couple favorites: the 2-Tine Jekyll Weeder⩘ , a weeding fork inspired by Gertrude Jekyll, and the Warren Hoe⩘ , which is a mini furrower.
World's Coolest Rain Gauge
We've had yet another too hot and too dry summer (with air often filled with smoke from the wildfires burning across the northwest). So when it started raining this week, we were beyond grateful! I'm so happy to see the wild grasses starting to green up again and knowing that the ponderosas will get a deep nourishing drink before winter.
We had nearly 3″ a few days ago, and it has been raining again last night and today. How do we know this? Because we have the World's Coolest Rain Gauge! And that's no exaggeration. As it rains, the blue tube with clear ¼″ markings floats up out of the copper tube singing, "Woo-hoo! It's raining!" Well, okay, the singing bit is an exaggeration, but the Archimedean coolness bit isn't.
The Makita 2012NB 12″ is the only planer I've used, so I can't make a comparison to other brands. All I can say is that it's easy to use, produces clean cuts, and features easily replaceable HSS blades. I'm not a big fan of spending a lot of my time sharpening blades, so that's a plus for me (the blades are two-sided so one set lasts quite a long time).
It does produce a bit of snipe at the leading and tail ends of the board (it takes a tiny bit deeper cut off the leading 2″ or so, as well as about 1″ off the tail. That doesn't bother me, but if you're concerned about that, there are a couple newer portable planers that claim to have further reduced snipe using a "head lock" feature. For more information about snipe, see page 5 of the Technical Information sheet for the 2012NB⩘ (PDF).
I picked up a Ridgid JP0610 jointer during the summer of 2011. With a 4-foot long bed, it's one of the smallest floor-standing jointers around, but that makes it compact enough to fit into my little shop and light enough for me to handle on my own, and it's really all I need for the kind of projects I do.
I spent a Saturday assembling it, including mounting it on a Rockler All-Terrain⩘ mobile base (recommend!), and converting it to 220v. Cranked it up for a few test passes … and discovered the infeed and outfeed tables weren't coplanar. Got kind of bummed and set it aside, not wanting to deal with returning it.
For the next several weekends I looked for other things to do in my shop, but finally decided to tackle the jointer again one weekend. I took the tables apart, but couldn't find anything obviously wrong, so I reassembled them and decided to try adding shims to one of the tables. I had picked up a set of feeler gauges to use for this, and started out with a 0.010" shim. That was too much, so I slowly worked my way down to 0.002" and found that was still too much! What the heck? Then I tried it without a shim and found the tables to be spot on. Something must've knocked them out of alignment during transport, and simply disassembling and reassembling them eliminated the issue. I felt a little foolish for not having checked the alignment immediately after reassembling, but happy none the less.
I fired it up, did some test passes, and got wonderful results. What a relief! This gives me much more control over preparing stock. Best of all, I can visit some of our local sawmills and start picking up some rough-sawn wood for my projects, which gives me much more flexibility. There is one place in particular, TC Woods⩘ , that processes salvaged local woods, which is something I really like.
This is the last big tool I wanted in my shop, so it's a good feeling to have it set up and ready to go. I've already used it to prepare the edges of the top pieces of a small bedside stand for gluing up, and it worked like a charm.
You can never have enough clamps and you can never have enough shelves and drawers to store things! I built a lot of wooden shelves for my workshop, but I didn't know how to solve the drawer challenge cost (or time) effectively until I came across these steel toolbox trays⩘ . Until then, I had tons of lidded cardboard boxes, which work, but break down after a couple years of use. These drawers provided a wonderful solution, and I now have 40 of them in different sizes (1″, 2″, and 3″ deep) around my shop, most mounted on the rolling stands for my bigger power tools.
I use them to store the assortment of little things that make a shop a home, especially all the odds 'n ends that accrue over a couple decades of doing projects, and that make it possible to do or repair almost anything without having to run to a hardware store. I marked many of the drawers with a drawing of what they contain, finding it easier to find the right one by image rather than words.
The drawers are simple to install: you just use a circular or table saw to create grooves in a couple pieces of wood, and the drawers slide in those grooves. Nothing fancy, but they sure do the trick.
For someone like me, owning a home for twenty years means I've done just about every kind of handyperson remodeling and repair job imaginable, from plumbing to electrical, painting to insulation, and on and on. But one thing I had never needed to do, thank goodness, was to replace a large double-pane piece of glass. We did replace all of the windows in the house when we first moved here, but never the glass in an installed window.
Then one day I was out doing something I've done for many years, using a grass trimmer to cut down the tall grasses growing where we hang our clothes, and suddenly I heard a crack followed by a very strange sound. I took off my ear protectors and discovered that the sound I was hearing was of a large sheet of tempered glass forming thousands of cracked pieces spidering outward from where a stone my trimmer had kicked up had struck it. See the large vinyl windows in the background of the following photo? It was one of them. Oh shit!
(Interesting aside: I subsequently learned that our local building codes require ground floor exterior windows to be tempered because of the danger of brush fires around here. That was good because I was able to tape the window up with packing tape while it was still cracking, which kept it from turning into an even bigger mess.)
Anyway, time to get online and research what it takes to replace double-pane glass without replacing the entire window, which is what the guy at the building supplies store I talked to initially told me I should do. No way! Long story short, I ordered a unit of replacement double-pane glass, and we successfully installed it this morning (whew!). There are a couple tools that made the job possible.
First challenge was how to cut the old glass free from the window frame. I didn't think a standard utility knife would work because the blade would be at too much of an angle to slide deep enough in between the frame and the glass. I found a slim utility knife with something I had never seen before, a double-long blade: the Rapid Edge Extend-A-Blade Utility Knife. It is the perfect tool for the job! It is a folding knife; here it is partially unfolded:
A double-pane of glass that large is pretty heavy, and the window is in a location that provides only awkward access, so the next trick was how to maneuver the old double-pane out and the new one in without breaking still more glass! In this case, the perfect tool was a pair of heavy duty aluminum glass suction cups. These things are awesome! They provide a really firm hold on the glass, and the handles provide the necessary grip to get the job done.
There was one other simple tool that came in handy. These windows have plastic trim that fits in around the double-pane glass. I was struggling like crazy trying to snap the trim back into place with my finger tips (they're still sore!) until I realized that my old 1½″ flexible putty knife would be the perfect tool for the job. The trim has a indented portion that snaps into the window frame, and that indented portion has a little ridge running along it: the putty knife works perfectly to push against that ridge in order to snap the indented part into place. Sweet!
Even with the cost of the new tools, the job was far less expensive than it would've been if we had hired someone to do it. I'll confess that I was a bit nervous and sweated a bit while doing it, but it sure felt good when it was done, and it was nice to learn something new. I hope we never have to do this again, but it's good to know that if we ever need to, we now have both the necessary tools and experience to get it done.