Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Winter Workspace, Part 2

As I wrote in part 1 of this series, it was time to build myself an indoor workspace for the winter.

Last night, I finished clearing the space, and did the setup work.   I promised to add photos once I was done with that, so here they are...

"Before"  This is what the space looked like when I walked into the basement last night.

Basement Shop --

You can see the corner of the bench on the left side, and the corner of the dryer on the right.  The lighting is better than it looks, but still not great.  Also, there's only one outlet in the basement, so that hanging worklight is mostly used as an extension cord.

Once I moved the pallet out of the way, I put the floor tiles down.  They're not quite two feet square;  they're actually about 23.5" square, and 7/8" thick.  So they don't quite cover the space, but they're close enough.

With the floor down, I put the milk crates back in place (that's going to be temporary, I think), and moved the shop stuff in.

Basment Shop -- Finished

As you can see, there's not a lot of space to move around.  The sawbench can be tucked into the corner behind the bench, but it's still pretty tight.  That said, tools are just about one step away from the bench, and there should be plenty of space to build smaller things.  I'm not going to be building anything huge here, but anything up to the size of an end table should be pretty easy.

Next up... making things!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Winter Workspace, Part 1

Like so many other woodworkers, my shop is a garage.  Or, more precisely, half of an unheated, uninsulated garage with no lights and almost no electricity;  The space I have available, assuming I use the pool table as an assembly bench, is about 10'x18'.  While that has its own share of problems in the summer, in the winter it's just not usable.

Unfortunately, and also like many other woodworkers, there's no good space in the house to use.  So I have two options:  make a good space, or pay to insulate, heat, and provide light in the garage.  Inside the house it is, then, at least for another 8 months or so.

Over the last week or so, I've managed to mostly clear out a corner of my basement.  It's a space about six feet square, bounded at one corner by the door to the outside, and the opposite corner by the clothes dryer.  The floor is cracked old concrete, the walls are fieldstone, and the ceiling is about 6'4" high.  I'll post before and after photos in a later post.

Believe it or not, this is actually a step up from my first indoor space, which was only six feet by four feet.  Here's the plan:

1) Standing on concrete sucks, and dropping edged tools on it sucks more.  I'm going to buy some of those chip-board subfloor panels with the raised plastic nubs on the bottom, and lay them in the corner.  That will make it a lot more pleasant, and also a lot more level.  Some of the panels may need to be shimmed, but most will be fine.

2) The bench I'll be using (from my Inexpensive Bench post) is four feet by two, so it will sit along one edge, probably against the wall, with about 18" of space to the right.  That should let me easily plane boards up to about 5' long.

3) My tool chest will sit on a pile of milk crates in the corner near the clothes dryer.  I don't have a good place for the milk crates anywhere else, and it will put the chest at just about exactly the right height.  That will be next to the dryer, so it will only be a few steps away from the bench.

4) That will leave an open space in the middle for me and the sawbench.

My hope here is, first, to be able to do some woodworking this winter.  I want a new monitor stand, a wine rack, and some bedside tables.  But also, I want to prove that you actually can do reasonable woodworking in a very small space:  in an age where I've hear people gripe about "only" having a one car garage (usually about 12'x20', or 240 square feet), proving it can be done in a 6'x6' space would be satisfying.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Electric-powered or Hand-powered?

Someone on asked recently what limitations there were on what could be done with hand tools.  I started writing with the intention of just saying "There are none, everything used to be done that way."  I wound up with something long enough that I've decided to put it here, as well.

I started out down the power tool route, then did a 170 (not quite a 180 -- I still use a few power tools) after seeing a presentation by Paul Sellers and some videos of a few other hand tool workers. I said I use a few power tools, still: they are a corded electric drill, a drill press, a band saw, and a circular saw. I've also got a chop saw, but it's really a rough carpentry tool... I could spend a month calibrating it, and I still don't think it would cut a perfect 90 degree angle. If I were starting over I wouldn't buy the handheld drill or the circular saw, so I'm leaving them out of my math. Here's my take.

Anything you could make with power tools, you could also make with hand tools. Anything you could make with hand tools, you could also make with power tools. The question of "Can it be done?" is therefore pretty meaningless. So what's the difference? Cost, convenience, and complexity.

Cost: Hand tools are arguably cheaper. I'm pretty sure I'm less than $800 into my hand tool kit, and the only things left that I know I'll need sooner or later are a pair of router planes and some new drill and auger bits. I'm including the two power tools I anticipate using regularly in that number, by the way -- a band saw and a drill press. I'll probably buy the planes and bits new, which means I'll probably add another $300-350 to my total. If you buy all new, instead of mostly cheap and used like I have, you can still probably get a good kit for under a grand, just slightly less complete. On the other hand, a nice solid table saw can run upwards of $500 on its own, and you'll still need a router, router table, bandsaw, drill press, miter saw, and so on. I priced it out. Buying good quality new tools, or even high quality used tools, gets expensive.

Convenience: In many cases, power tools are more convenient. I have a band saw for doing long rip cuts, long curves, and resawing. I have a drill press for drilling perfectly aligned holes of any size. In other cases, hand tools are more convenient. I don't know of a way to come up with the same end-grain surface that a hand plane used with a shooting board will get. For cutting a small board to exact length, I'd rather use a carcasse saw and a bench hook than a miter saw: it's faster, more accurate, and less prone to throwing little bits of wood around the shop like buckshot. And in just about every case, the hand tool will be quieter and cleaner, which is a nice bonus.

Complexity: In my mind, this almost always goes in favor of hand tools. Complex compound miters are relatively easy with hand tools: draw the line you want to cut on, put the piece of wood in a vise, and cut it. With power tools, you frequently end up needing complex jigs to do the same job. Given the need to cut a piece to an exact length, I can measure it out on the piece, mark it, and cut. I find that a lot easier than setting up a table or miter saw. Most operations, though, aren't any less complex either way: cutting curves with a bow saw or a band saw are the same except in terms of effort. Ripping is simple with hand or power tools, it's just more work with hand tools. There's one specific place this goes entirely in favor of power tools: production line work. If I need a hundred boards cut to the same length, I'd far, FAR rather use a miter saw with a stop block than a hand saw. It's faster, it's easier, and it's simpler. No question. If I need to produce a huge run of identical molding, a router or shaper is the simpler answer by far. There's really no room for debate, it's just true.

So. What does all that mean? It means I value quiet and simple more than I value fast and physically undemanding. I like being able to listen to the radio while working, and I don't mind that woodworking makes me sweat. (I need the exercise anyway.) I also, so far, have built small one-of-a-kind things; if I wanted to make a run of ten identical dining room chairs, or anything else for that matter, I might well re-consider. You might find the value equation goes the other way. I really couldn't tell you. But I can state that anything you can do with one type (power or non-powered) of tool, you can also do with the other type. It just may take more work.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Remembering to check the simple things

I've been meaning to write this post for a while -- started it several weeks ago, in fact -- but life keeps getting in the way.

One of the first things I built that was useful was a bench hook.  It's a simple device:  a piece of 1x8 scrap, with some scrap 1 1/2" square cedar for a fence and the hook.  It's always been pretty good as a bench hook, but this summer I started using it as a shooting board.

And it worked OK, except boards were never quite square.  So I fiddled with it.  I checked the base for square:  it was fine.  I made sure the fence was square:  it wasn't, but I fixed that.  I checked to make sure the top of my bench was really flat, and that THAT wasn't throwing things off.  Nothing worked.

Finally, one day, driven to the point of distraction by this oddity (the plane was cutting nice shavings, it just wasn't leaving the edge of the workpiece square to the faces), I realized there was one thing I hadn't checked.  So I checked it.  And, as you've probably already guessed by now, my PLANE isn't square.  In fact, the side of my nice old #5 isn't even flat.  The thing rocks, somewhat at random, which is why I couldn't get a consistent cut.

It's not worth replacing the plane for, and I didn't feel like trying to flatten it, but at least now I know, and I can make allowances.  Or just use a plane that IS square.

So remember:  if your jig doesn't work right, the problem might not be the jig.