Odds & ends
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.
Heat. 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 for the task.
Light. 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″). 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).
I recently replaced all the old shop lights in my shop with T5 fluorescent lights, 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'm really happy with the much nicer light cast by the T5 bulbs (T5 = 5/8″). My shop is now much brighter and feels more welcoming.
There's some great T5 information at the Lighting Research Center: T5 Fluorescent Systems.
Vices. 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 (I've seen them available at Highland Woodworking and Woodcraft).
Drills. 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 about them.
Recently, 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.
I paired the drill with a Bosch Clic-Change chuck, my favorite quick-change system. Sweet!
Yard saws. 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. For those reasons, I've always had these two tools around.
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 chain saw 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 model XCU02Z). 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.
Planer. 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).
Jointer. 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 the chore of 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.
Joiner. I don't always join wood, but when I do, I reach for a Domino. Once again, Festool has taken something that worked okay—in this case, a biscuit joiner—and created a tool that does it exceptionally well, the Festool Domino DF 500 Mortise and Tenon Joiner. To accomplish this, Festool created a joiner that uses an oscillating router bit to create mortises that take a loose tenon rather than a biscuit, resulting in a stronger, more accurate join. As is typical of Festool, the tool itself is versatile, precise, and easy and fast to set up and use. Also typical of Festool, the dust collection is fantastic. The tenons and matching bits come in a variety of sizes (widths, thicknesses, and lengths) so you can easily join a range of projects from delicate to beefy.
Storage. 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. I find it easier to find the right drawer with an 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.
The Zometool. What's this doing in a list of woodworking tools? Well, I use this fun physical 3-D modeling tool to make models of my lamps. www.Zometool.com