Rest in Peace Steve LaMantia (Mr. Scary Sharp)

Long before social media became commonplace, there were list servers on the internet. These were text-only email lists that you had to subscribe to. Everyone that subscribed had the ability to post to the list so that everyone on the list could see their post. It was a great way to get to know other like-minded folks that shared a common interest.

One such listserv was OldTools. As a matter of fact, it’s still around and very active.

I learned a lot off of that mailing list and got to know a lot of good folks. It’s a tremendous resource. But over the years, I’ve had to back off simply due to the sheer volume of emails and the time required to read them.

Nowadays, I subscribe to several Facebook groups where posts show up in my Facebook feed.

It was on the OldTools mailing list that I first read about the “Scary Sharp” method of sharpening tools using sandpaper. It’s a method I used for decades. I bought a 12″x12″ granite tile from The Home Depot and used various grits of wet/dry sandpaper to sharpen chisels and plane irons.

The originator of the “Scary Sharp” method was Steve LaMantia. He recently passed away.

John Johnston posted the following on the Facebook group “Unplugged Woodworkers.”

“Derek Cohen just reported on the Old Tools listserve that Steve LaMantia had recently passed away. For those newbies out there, Steve was the one who came up with “Scary Sharp” back in 1995, writing on the Old Tools listserve. Derek also thoughtfully posted a copy of Steve’s original post, and I thought I’d share it with Unplugged Woodworkers as there are many here who use the ‘Scary Sharp’ approach. Steve was a man of humor, so I think you’ll enjoy his original post.”

The D&S Scary Sharp(TM) System

[No, you can’t sharpen sandpaper. And please don’t ask me how I know that.]

[Required warnings:]

[If you don’t like sharpening tales, or sandpaper, or handplanes, or any deviation from simple declarative sentences, please don’t read this post. Also, it’s a process gloat, and it’s windbaggy, so be forewarned.]

[And if you prefer one-clause synopses, here: “I sharpened a plane blade with sandpaper.” Now move along now.] For anyone else:

I recently emailed a few folks about some attempts I made at sharpening a plane iron with sandpaper. Some suggested I post my story to the group.

So here it is.

Let’s see. Who’s left? Oh.

Dear Mom,

I’ve recently been experimenting with using sandpaper for honing. I had been getting tired out with the oilstones getting unflat and glazed and needing to be lapped all the time, tired of oil all over the place and on my hands so I couldn’t even scratch, tired of having to clean the stones after each use, tired of having to keep a conscious effort going to distribute wear on the stones evenly. So tired of all of this.

So I started thinking about abrasives and abrasive action in general, and read up a bit, and asked around, and found out that there’s nothing different, in principle, between sandpaper and an oilstone. Silicon carbide sandpaper (i.e., wet-or-dry) goes up to 600 grit in the hardware and woodworking stores, but up to 2000 grit in the automotive finishing stores, as I learned from David Opincarne, a local rec.woodworker and admitted metalhead who works right here at the school and who sent me some 1200-and 2000-grit samples and who’s recently been helping me greatly to understand the secrets of metal. For example, did you know that to produce high-carbon steel, crushed bone from the skull of an infidel is an excellent carburizing agent? Me, neither. Or that hardening the steel in cutting blades is achieved by the sudden and even cooling of the blade, and that the best known way to achieve these dual goals is to quench the blade in the still-living body of an enemy warrior? Same here; I had no idea. David’s been teaching me a lot.

Me and him and some other wreck.the.woodwork folks had been talking lately about this abrasive business, and it got onto sandpaper somehow, and so I decided to test something out. For the sharpening-with-sandpaper experiment, I used a slightly-pitted 2″ wide jack plane blade that came with an old beat-up Stanley Bedrock #605 I bought last year at a tool swap. The bevel on the plane iron had been somehow ground *concave* by the previous owner (or else it just wore that way), so I first straightened the edge out on the grinding wheel, grinding in straight at first so as not to create a thin edge that would burn, and then grinding in a bevel but stopping a bit short of a real edge, again to prevent burning. Because of this care not to burn the steel, this grinding goes slow and light, but it’s time well spent. Time now to lap the back behind the cutting bevel. I took a page out of the plane-sole lapping book — figuratively speaking of course, you should never tear pages out of a book — and used very light coatings of 3M “77” spray adhesive to temporarily glue small 1-1/2″ x 3-1/2″ rectangular pieces of sandpaper along the edge of a sheet of 1/4″ plate-glass. The paper I used was Aluminum Oxide in grits 50, 80, and 100, and Silicon Carbide (wet-or-dry to you lay people) in grits of 150, 180, 220, 320, 400, 600, 1200, and 2000. The plate glass was placed with its edge flush to the edge of the workbench.

I lapped the end one inch of the back of the iron on each grit in turn. I didn’t use any water; I just went at it dry. So as I lapped — can you call it lapping if it’s dry? — anyway, about every ten seconds or so I’d stop and brush off the sandpaper with a whisk broom and wipe the blade off on my shirt. (On the coarser grits, I found that a dustbuster vacuum actually cleaned up the paper quite thoroughly, much better than sweeping it off, but this sucking advantage disappeared at around 220 grit.) Since I progressed through the grits so gradually, I found I had to spend only about a minute or so on each grit, including the suck-down and sweep-off and shirt-wipe time.

One trick to efficiency is knowing when you’ve lapped the back sufficiently on each progressive grit. I had previously had trouble gauging this, and didn’t know how to tell when enough is enough. Thanks to a clever suggestion from Jeff Gorman, I tried a trick that seemed to work wonderfully. I have a cheapie Radio Shack 30-power hand microscope — “microscope” sounds impressive, but it’s only $10, although I forget where I got it from — and used that to tell when the striations from the new grit had replaced all the striations from the previous grit, and when they had, I stopped there and moved on to the next grit.

About ten minutes after starting, I had gone from 50 grit on up to 2000, and there was a mirror finish on the back of that iron the likes of which must be seen. The back of the iron became so shiny I could count my nose hairs in it; 98 on the left, 79 on the right, but 109 and 85 if you count the white ones.

I then jigged the blade in a Veritas honing jig — which, by the way, Mr. Lee, should be called a honing fixture, not a jig, since a jig’s for holding a tool and a fixture’s for holding a workpiece and in the sharpening operation the plane iron, while usually thought of as a tool, or as a part of one, is actually in this instance the workpiece — man, near-terminal digression there, almost lost it for good; Boy, snap out of it! — I clamped the blade down in the Veritas blade-holder device, taking care to have the hollow-ground bevel resting on the glass perfectly along both edges of the hollow grind. I then adjusted the microbevel cam on the jig up to its full two-degree microbevel setting — Robin, tell your uncle that Steve said “way to go, old dude” — and honed away on the 2000-grit. Even though I had not ground a sharp edge on the primary bevel with the bench grinder, even on that little slip of fine 2000 grit it still took only about another couple of minutes before I had a nice sharp little 1/64″ microbevel gleaming back at me.

I flipped the blade over on the sandpaper several times, hone and lap, hone and lap, each time gentler and gentler, to remove the little bit of wire edge. (Which, by the way, as a result of using such a fine grit must have been so tiny that it was very hard to see or feel, so pretty much just from my awareness of the process I assumed it was there.) The resulting little thin secondary bevel was shiny. I mean *clean* shiny, like nothing I’d ever seen before. Unlike the secondary bevels I’d previously coaxed out of my hard white Arkansas stone, this one was unbelievably Shiny with a capital S. I mean *clean* shiny, like nothing I’d ever seen before. Oh, I said that already. Okay, it’s hard to describe; about the best I can do is to say that it looked almost *liquid* when you catch the light on it just right. I mean, it was so darn clean and shiny that it takes ten lines just to say it was so shiny it’s hard to describe.

Of course, shine is not the ultimate goal. But sharpness *is*. Still, they equate. The more shiny, the more uniform the surface is microscopically, and the closer to the geometric ideal of a *line* is the edge, and hence the sharper it is. Cool. I mean *COOL*!!! I was trembling in my Mickey Mouse boots in anticipation. Hell, this cutting edge looked downright *dangerous*! I didn’t dare touch it. But yet, there was still something I just *had* to try.

I removed the blade from the jig, and anxiously tried the old cliché “cut a finger off before you can notice and bleed all over your screaming wife in the car on the way to the hospital” test. Oops; no, wait. Sorry, that’s the wrong test, for those other kinds of tools. Sorry. For the Neanderthals, it’s the “shave some arm hairs off” test. Now I’ve done this test before, on other blades sharpened up on white Arkansas, and while these other blades would pop *some* hairs off the back of my wrist, many other hairs would just bend on over down under the blade’s edge (probably from the sheer weight of four prepositions in a row), and those hairs that *did* pop off would do so quite painfully, as though the blade was more grabbing the hairs and *ripping* them out, and I could feel every one of them offering their stubborn and vengeful resistance. Not much fun, and nothing to be doing voluntarily in front of others.

But the edge on this blade was something else! Not only did it cut off every little hair in its path with total ease, but it didn’t hurt at all. In fact, I couldn’t feel a thing; for all I could tell, there were no hairs there in its path to begin with. But of course there were many, since I’m Italian and also since I could see the fallen hairs all over the back of the blade. And my arm where I had shaved it was a smooth as a non-Italian baby’s butt.

Again, man, this had gotten downright *frightening*.

But of course, the ultimate test of a plane iron’s sharpness is what it does on wood. So I put the blade back into the plane, that old early-model Bedrock jack, which I’ve not yet tuned in any way. I tried it on the edge of a piece of pine, and as I adjusted the blade for the finest cut possible, it glided through the wood with no effort. None whatsoever. In fact, it almost seemed like the plane was pulling itself along, or that the wood was *wanting* to be planed and was throwing itself into the blade — no, I’ve not read Krenov — it took that little effort.

I ended up getting a shaving that was so darn thin I could read newsprint through it easily. Unbelievably easily. So easily, in fact, that I thought for a moment about taking the iron back on out of the plane and putting the shaving over the shiny part of its back and counting my nose hairs again, but by this time I had grown weary of counting nose hairs, and of my concerned wife repeatedly asking me why I was doing that.

I thought, no way, this can’t be! So skeptic that I am — I’m so skeptical, that I can’t be fully sure that I’m really that much of a skeptic — I put a micrometer to the shaving, and get this: it measured .0004 thick! Four ten-thousandths of an inch! (Or, as my eternally-pestered but forever-patient metalmentor David Opincarne showed me, “four-tenths” in machinist talk.) No, I read the mike right. Less than one half way to the very first line after zero.

Man! That’s a cubic hair less than one-half of a thousandth of an inch! Incredible! Amazing!

And it just gets better. For a while there, I actually thought I had taken off another shaving that was even thinner, one so thin in fact that it was invisible and of no measurable mass. I’m pretty sure I did, actually, but I’m having a hard time trying to think of a way to check this out, or even to find the spot on the ceiling that it floated up to.

And what about the planed wood itself? Well, the surface the plane iron left on the wood in indescribable! It’s like glass! No, it’s like glass wet down with water and a tad of liquid soap added and then some Slick-50 and then frozen and polished. And this is on pine, a softwood! Not only that, but I then gave it the torture test: end grain. I put the same piece of wood in my shooting board, and had a go at the endgrain. Man oh man, I’ve never seen such a smooth surface on *endgrain* in my life. And again, this is on *pine*! The endgrain was almost as smooth as the edgegrain!

This has gotten good! Still, having exclaimed all this, I’m making no claims to the throne of King of the Neanderthals. I’m the first to admit that this was kind of like when I was a kid and one year I batted a thousand in the Kiwanis Grasshoppers when I was really four years too young to actually play in the league but it was the last game of the year and Dad the team manager put me up in a losing game as the last batter just for the novelty of it and to stop my pestering — he figured I’d get beaned and would shut up for a while — and the opposing pitcher Terry Crowley the hotshot star started laughing at me because I was so scrawny and tiny and he taunted me who’s this, Mickey Mantle or something, and he threw a pitch at my crutch and I just shut my eyes and said a curse and swung and slammed a hard grounder right down the line and under the legs of the first baseman 20 some odd years before Bill Buckner got his chance and I got a hit. I know it was kind of like that, because this shaving wasn’t the minimum three feet long as per the Rules for the Contest to Become the King of the Neanderthals, so it shouldn’t qualify. But it still feels just as nice. One more good thing is that in the process of taking this plane iron from misshapen funkiness to terrifying sharpness I used up all of about 25 cents worth of sandpaper, and probably about 3 cents worth of spray glue, and about fifteen or so minutes of my time, twenty if you stop for a nosehair count.

When it was all done, I peeled the sandpaper from the glass and threw it away — well, actually I could have but in truth I stick them together back-to- back and save them in a “used-sandpaper” box for odd tasks that never come up. I then scraped the little bit of residual adhesive from the glass with a razor blade, a quick wipedown with acetone on a piece of paper towel, and the cleanup was done in a minute. No oil, no water, no mess, no glaze or flatness problems to worry about, and a cutting edge that is Scary-Sharp (TM).

I think I’ll still keep my stones, though; they can sit atop the packets of sandpaper to help keep them flat.

— Steve LaMantia [I’m talking about my oilstones.]

Seattle, WA

Rest in peace, Steve. Your method has helped many of us sharpen our tools. May your tools always be “Scary Sharp.”

Designing a Hopper Window

Hopper Window Open

I’ve never built a window. I never had a real need to. That is until someone contacted me about building a window sash for a stained glass window she designed. As much as I tried to convince her that a fixed-pane window would be easier, less expensive, and quicker, she insisted on a ventilating hopper window. My first thoughts on a design are shown here.

Hopper Window Layout

My immediate design concerns revolved mostly around keeping it weathertight. How do you design a window from scratch to account for keeping out wind and moisture?

Obviously, carpenters and millwork shops figured this out 100 years ago or more. Plus, common sense dictates allowing for drainage so water doesn’t accumulate and cause decay of the wood.

The design of this window started with the sash. The stained glass will be trapped  and vacuum-sealed between two panes of glass. This assembly will be installed into a rabbet on the exterior side of the sash and set with modern glazing compound by The Stained Glass Store.

The customer wants me to make the sash from kiln-dried walnut from trees that were harvested on their property. The sash with be treated with a clear penetrating oil finish like Penofin before delivery to the stained glass shop.

The sill and jamb will be made from a less-expensive wood and will be primed and painted for weather resistance. The sill will be sloped 12 to 15° to help shed water. The head and sill will be joined to the jambs with dadoes with waterproof glue and screws for added strength.

I plan on using butt hinges at the bottom of the sash. To hold the sash open for ventilation, there are a variety of window stays I can use. I’ll want to have them on hand before I start building just so I can make sure everything will work as planned after assembly.

For weatherstripping, McMaster-Carr has a wide variety to choose from.

This seal will be used on the bottom of the sash to keep out wind and rain.
This seal will be set into a rabbet in the stop that surrounds the jamb and header on the exterior side of the sash.

Hardware stores and home centers have a variety of weatherstrip materials to choose from, too.

There’s no guarantee that any of my plans will actually work until I get into the assembly process. But for me, half the fun is finding the answers to some of these problems and watching it all come together in the end.

First Impressions: Triton TRA001 Plunge Router

Triton TRA001 Router

I’ve written before about how router’s can be frustrating at times. This was particularly in reference to a 15-year old Porter-Cable 690. There are a lot of fans of the P/C 690s and they are a good router. At least they used to be, but that’s a topic for another post.

Tom Walz at Carbide Processors saw my complaint and somewhat tongue-in-cheek commented that what I needed was a better router. So he sent me a Triton TRA001 3-1/4hp plunge router to try out. (Side note: If you’re looking to buy tools, you need to check out Carbide Processors. They even make custom tools.)

I’ve been watching Triton Tools for a number of years. Originally developed and manufactured in Australia, they were known for their innovation and quality. Now, it’s hard to get any solid information on the complete history and evolution of Triton Tools, but they eventually had financial trouble and were purchased by an outfit in the United Kingdom. Some manufacturing was outsourced to Asia. (If that upsets some of you, let me remind you that most power tools are manufactured overseas.) I did find this dated article online from 2011 that sheds some light on the Triton history.

There were a number of years where Triton Tools developed a reputation for poor quality. I believe that they overloaded the supply stream with too many product offerings and didn’t spend enough time and resources on quality design and better manufacturing oversight.

But Triton Tools stuck around. And they want to convince you that their tools will stand up to the competition. They offer a 3-year warranty, as long as you register the tool within 30 days.

The photos below detail some of the features of the TRA001. The most notable feature is the 3-way adjustment for bit depth. One of the handles features a center button on the outside. You press this button to make coarse adjustments to the bit height to get you in the ballpark. A spring-loaded collar on that same handle engages a rack and pinion system. As you rotate the knob with the collar pulled against the know, you can fine tune the bit height. For even finer control, use the micro-adjust knob to sneak up on that final bit height. Then you can securely lock it in place with the plunge lock lever.

The router is quieter than most. Its soft-start feature means it won’t torque out of your hands when starting up.

Overall, I’m impressed with the TRA001. But I wouldn’t recommend this router for use in a router table. Unless it’s the only router you own. If you’re going to use a plunge router in a router table, you need to remove the plunge springs. To Triton’s credit, they make this as easy as removing a cap.

It’s the “Table Height Winder” and “Table Height Winder Connection Point” (as Triton calls them) that I have issues with. They seem like an afterthought.

First of all, as with all routers, when mounted in a table, you need to drill an access hole in the insert plate for the wrench used to adjust the height. On most routers, this access hole is incorporated into the baseplate. On the TRA001, its a notch on the outside diameter of the base. That’s not a deal-breaker, but it makes it harder to guide the wrench to engage the micro-adjuster. (Bosch routers get it right — their micro-adjuster extends all the way to the baseplate.)

The wrench itself seems cheaply made to me. It’s got a hollow shaft that looks like it’s made of rolled sheet metal. The end of the shaft has a hollow plastic tip with slots that are designed to engage the crosspin on the micro-adjuster. Only mine didn’t. I should say, the slots would barely fit over the pin. While I could make adjustments, it wasn’t very secure.

If you go online looking at user comments about Triton tools, I think you’ll find most of them favorable. After spending some time with this router, I would agree.


Own the Entire Process

ShopBot Desktop

Sometimes, to succeed at a project, you have to own the entire process.

I have a ShopBot Desktop CNC machine in my shop. I was experimenting with it this weekend cutting a handwheel to be used on a light-duty benchtop woodworking vise. The toolpath files were developed by a friend of mine. It’s a two-sided part so there is a roughing and finishing pass on each side, for a total of four files (each pass a separate file).

The toolpath files were set up to reference the center of the wheel as the origin of the X and Y axes. Since I was using a 1/4″-dia. ballnose bit, I drilled a 1/4″ hole through the center of the wheel blank (a 2″-thick piece of ash). This way, setting the origin point of the X and Y axes can be done by locating the cutting tool in the center hole. The Z axis was zeroed at the top of the blank.

Cutting a Handwheel

Routing one side of the handwheel using the supplied files presented no problems. Though both the roughing and finishing pass took a couple of hours to complete, it looked great. Both toolpaths included “tabs” at each of the four quadrants to hold the handwheel in place in the blank as material was removed.

After routing one side, I flipped the blank over, again referencing the center hole as the origin of the X and Y axes. I started the roughing pass and all was looking great. Until the cutter cut through two of the tabs, which forced the handwheel to move inside the blank. I stopped the cutting and tried to figure out a way to complete the handwheel without scrapping it altogether. So I cut the rough handwheel from the blank, used double-sided tape to hold it to the CNC bed, and reset the origins of the Z, Y, and Z axes. After completing the final roughing and finishing pass, I had a complete handwheel. The only problem was, the X and Y origin was off just enough that the two sides didn’t quite match up.

So I scrapped it. And started over. Another piece of firewood.

I’ve got one blank left before I need to obtain some more lumber.

What’s the main lesson here? For me, I was at the mercy of using files that my friend had supplied to me. They worked for him on another project, but for some reason, they weren’t working out so well for me. So I’m asking him for the original design files to see what I can do to regenerate the toolpath files. Or at least find out if I need to do something different on my end. I need to see if I can find another way to make the process more accurate and foolproof. And while I’m at it, I’m going to try to optimize the cutting speed so this one project doesn’t take half a day to cut. I’m also going to have him explain to me his thought process on developing the files so I’ll have a better understanding of the whole picture.

If you’re in the business of woodworking, outsourcing some of your design work or parts can be a huge time-saver and eliminate a lot of headaches. But you need to own the entire process. What I mean is, you need to be intimately familiar with each phase of the project from the initial design sketches to delivery and installation. A sure way to wreck the budget and schedule is to be caught off-guard with an incorrect assumption from someone on your team or from an outside supplier. Stay on top of the project’s progress at every phase.

If you’re a hobbyist woodworker, owning the entire process means you’ve read and understand the plans you’re using to build the project before buying the lumber. Then you spend time selecting the best lumber for the project, taking care when milling it and fitting the joinery. Then you test out your finish on scrap material before applying it to your final project. No surprises.

Own the entire process.

Pay it Forward by Supporting the WCA Auction #WNlive

Woodwork Career Alliance

There’s a practical way you can help further the cause of woodworking education and help steer the younger generation into choosing woodworking as a career.

All you need to do is donate a piece to be auctioned off on Thursday, April 16, 2015 at the Cabinets and Closets Conference and Expo in Chicago. Your item should be small enough for a buyer to transport on their way home. Small boxes, turned items, carvings, small sculptures, and art pieces are all fair game. The donated items will be displayed online and bids can be emailed in advance of the show. The items will be present at the show with bids so far included.

All proceeds from the auction benefit the Woodwork Career Alliance (WCA). This organization works with employers and schools to help certify individuals in various woodworking tasks from measuring and layout to setting up and operating a CNC machine. You can read more about the WCA by clicking here. Proceeds from this silent auction will go to support education and travel by teachers and students to industry events like AWFS and IWF.

To donate your pieces to the auction, send them to:

Carroll Henning
Woodworking Network
400 Knightsbridge Road
Lincolnshire IL 60069


Be sure to spread the word about the auction and your donation on facebook and twitter using the hashtag #WNLive. The more we get the word out, the more we can help students and teachers!

Your Success Depends on How You React to This

Image courtesy of

Years ago when I was consulting with architectural and engineering firms about their Computer-Aided Drafting (CAD) processes and procedures, I always preached the importance of backing up their data. Back then, hard drives for personal computers were very expensive and nowhere near as reliable as they are today. The only way to reliably back up the data was to copy it to an external tape or backup device. There was no “cloud” storage with automatic backups.

One day as I was working on a long-term software project for a manufacturing firm, I was deep into programming some complicated software when my hard drive died. It suddenly dawned on me that I had not followed my own advice and backed up my hard drive any time recently. I immediately panicked and started to sweat. I realized all of my client files were on the hard drive. They were now gone. I even sent the hard drive off to a specialty company to see if they could recover any data. They could not.

So I was forced to start over with a major portion of my software project, starting from scratch in a lot of instances. But you know, the software I finished was way better than what I had been working on when my hard drive crashed and burned.

Early in my woodworking hobby I set about building a cabinet for my brother-in-law to house his stereo equipment and music collection. I was routing dadoes in the cabinet sides for the shelves. On one pass, I noticed the router motor slowing down. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the 3/8″-deep dado I was routing was now ramped deeper across the cabinet side and eventually routed through the 3/4″ plywood and into my workbench. The router bit had slipped out of the collet during the cut. My project was ruined. I turned out the lights and went to bed.

Lying in bed that night I began to wonder — could I possibly make a patch to hide my mistake? So the next night, I spent hours fussing over the fit and grain pattern to create a plug that fit perfectly. I learned a lot. To this day, you have to look really hard to find the patch.

As I spend more time in the workshop, I still occasionally make mistakes on projects. We all do. Sometimes the mistakes are minor and easy to fix. Sometimes it means cutting another part. And, at times, it means scrapping the project and starting over. When this happens, it’s normal to get angry at ourselves (or others), perhaps say a few choice words, or stomp out of the shop (or all of the above).

Sometimes it’s hard to swallow our pride and admit to ourselves that our ideas aren’t going to work. I recently worked for a few hours on a small project and realized it wasn’t going to work, no matter what I did. So I put it aside and tackled it from a fresh perspective the next day. I was much happier with the results.

What can we learn from these experiences? Sometimes catastrophic failures and mistakes can cost you dearly. Perhaps not always in financial terms, but in lost time and resources. But mistakes can make you take another look at what you were doing and rethink the problem. Often, what you come up with is a better solution than what you were working on.

Yes, there are still times when something goes wrong and I simply turn the lights out in the shop and calmly call it a day. Tomorrow brings a fresh start. In the meantime, I give a lot of thought to what happened and why. And then I start thinking of ways not to let that mistake happen again. More often than not, the ultimate solution is miles ahead of where I would have been otherwise.

Yes, mistakes can cost us dearly. But they can also be the best teacher.

Coolbox redefines the lowly Toolbox

The toolbox you lug around on the job site is usually nothing more that a container for your tools. It’s a single-purpose necessity for keeping your most-often used tools handy.

A creative group of guys have set out to redefine what a toolbox should be. They call it the Coolbox. They call it “The World’s Smartest Toolbox.” You can see in the box above how much they’ve raised through crowd-funding on IndieGoGo. Their original goal was to raise $50,000. You can see how much their product idea must be hitting home with a lot of folks to have far surpassed their goal by several times. It’s one of those “Why didn’t I think of that?” products.

The Coolbox it’s loaded with features you’ve longed to have on the job site. It’s a USB charger for your phone or tablet. There’s an integrated tablet stand. It’s got Bluetooth speakers for cranking out your favorite tunes. A pass-through power strip supplies juice to your power tools. LED lighting floods the area with light so you can select and use the right tool. There’s a whiteboard in the lid for jotting down notes, dimensions, or a shopping list for supplies. Built-in batteries supply power to small tools and the clock when you’re not near an outlet.

There are other features that are worth noting on the IndieGoGo page. You can pre-order one with as little as a $169 investment.

Oh yeah…the Coolbox is also a spacious toolbox to hold a lot of tools. Be sure to check out the video below.

Look to the Future: Get Kids in the Shop

When you do what you want to do, honestly and squarely, it does not at all deserved to be called work, but is the most splendid part of play, and every day is a holiday.

C. Hanford Henderson

Hands-on, technical skills aren’t being taught and encouraged in the U.S. public education system as they once were. So it’s up to parents, grandparents, and potential employers to fund and provide a basic understanding of woodworking and provide practical training. After all, not all kids are destined nor want to go to college. These creative individuals are bright and want to create with their hands, so it’s up to us to point them in the right direction and encourage their efforts.

One way to do this is to get kids into the workshop. Whether you’re a hobbyist woodworker or run a production facility with dozens of employees, letting kids see, smell, touch, and hear in a woodworking environment can spark their interest and imagination.

If you have a home shop, invite kids in. Show them how the tools work. Let them pound a few nails. Show them how a hand plane can put a glass-smooth finish on wood.

If you run a production facility, have an open house and invite local schools and homeschool families to schedule field trips. Give students a tour of your facility. Show them how projects start in the design department, are manufactured, then finished and shipped. Let them watch a CNC machine in action. Explain how computers and technology can be used in a woodworking environment. Invest in the lives of kids in your area. They could be your future employees. You can change the direction and life of a child.

One way to practically get kids in the shop is to help them design and build a project. Jack McKee knows how to do this. In his own words:

I took care of my kids when they were little and they liked woodworking. When I followed them into school, as a volunteer, I found other kids like woodworking too. Not only did I find I liked working with kids, I ended up working at a Montessori School teaching shop (including woodworking with kids) to 4-6 year olds. And I worked for the parks department teaching working to kids ages 5-12. It was the most interesting, fun and meaningful woodworking I’d ever done. I went on to write two books (see affiliate links below).

Jack’s books show how to use hand tools to build simple projects that kids can easily finish. In the end, the projects may not be worthy of entry at a woodworking show, but that’s not the point, is it? The goal is to help them develop their skills working with their hands and being creative with their minds.

Jack maintains a web site, Woodshop4kids. Go check it out.

Start thinking about how you can help kids in your area develop their skills and creative talent. You’ll be paying it forward. And that’s a good feeling.

Modular Cabinets are Key to Long-Term Organization


Shop Wall CabinetsWhether you’re trying to organize a production shop, garage shop, or your home, consider a modular cabinet design. It’s flexibility means you aren’t locked into a permanent arrangement of cabinets or their contents.

I am in the process of reorganizing the bench area of my shop and spent a lot of time thinking about how to go about it in a way that offered the most flexibility, ease of reconfiguring, and options for future expansion.

For my application, wall cabinets roughly 30-32″ wide and 32″ high would fit my space nicely. The cabinets would be a standard 12″ deep.

I decided to focus and start with one wall. The cabinets I would be building and installing aren’t permanently attached to the wall. Instead, they hand on a French cleat. So I ripped some 1×4 stock with a 45° bevel along one edge. I installed this cleat on the wall with the bevel up and facing the wall. A couple of long screws secured it at each stud location.

To make construction quick and easy, I cut the parts for the top, bottom, and sides of the cabinets the same length. Of course, you can modify the dimensions to suit your space and storage needs. I used 3/4″ plywood left over from previous projects. They’re shop cabinets, plus they’ll eventually have doors, so the mix of plywood didn’t bother me. Plus it’s a good way to use up project leftovers. The tops and bottoms of the cabinets are joined to the sides with pocket hole joinery. I didn’t feel the need to use glue.

Shop Wall Cabinet Shop Wall Cabinet

The backs of the cabinets are a bit unique from conventional cabinetry because they’re 1/2″ thick. I used Baltic birch plywood. The reason for the thicker back is twofold. I assembled the entire cabinet using pocket hole joinery. I used Kreg’s Micro-Pocket Drill Guide to drill the pocket holes spaced about every 6″ along all four edges of the back. The smaller pocket holes were more suited to the thinner stock. You can certainly use a standard or industrial pocket hole machine, but you’ll have to adjust for the stock thickness.

The second reason for using a thicker back is that it allow for mounting custom tool holders or racks. In some of the cabinets, I plan on mounting racks for hand tools like screwdrivers and chisels. Layout tools like squares would fit on custom brackets.

Once everything is joined with pocket screws, I added a bracket at each upper corner of the back to engage the French cleat on the wall. They’re 6″ long and cut from the same 1×4 stock used to make the French cleat. At the bottom corners on the back, I added some 3/4″ kickers so the cabinet would sit plumb on the wall.

And that brings me to the doors. If you’ll notice on most 12″-deep cabinets, things get lost on the back of the shelves. So I plan on using narrow shelves and mounting some items on the inside of the doors. This makes everything in the cabinet easier to access.

As with any organizational project, it’s a work in progress. But the beauty of a modular design is that you can rearrange and move things without a lot of effort.

You can download and take a look at my SketchUp model of the cabinets and how they’re built.

A Custom Shaker-Style Bench with Carved Sports Logo

randy02 copy randy

Making a custom project doesn’t always need to be as involved as having every part of the final piece be unique from anything you’ve ever done. A project can be “custom” just by taking a stock piece and adding a little personalization.

This Shaker-style sitting bench is simple enough that it could be mass-produced quickly using conventional shop tools or CNC machines. The customization can come by adding CNC- or hand-carved details to one or both of the rails. Of course, you can alter the overall size of the final piece per your customer’s request, but this design makes it easy.

To build this piece, I used a combination of power and hand tools. The carving was done by hand. I used 5/4 poplar for the legs and top. Because I was going to add carving details to the rails, I used basswood butternut for them. The rails are 3/4″ thick.

The legs are joined to the top with wedged through tenons in open mortises in the top. The rails have 1/4″-deep dadoes on the back that fit into 1/2″-deep notches cut into the legs. This allows the rails to provide strength against racking without the use of fasteners. I cut the curved profiles on the legs and rails at the band saw and sanded them smooth with an oscillating spindle sander. The rails were carved before assembly.

For finish, the carving was painted with acrylic paint. A coat of boiled linseed oil was allowed to cure for 24 hours before it was topped off with three coats of water-based polyurethane.

The design of the bench plus the ability to personalize it for each customer makes it appealing. It’s a popular project that gets a lot of attention.

I’ve created a SketchUp model of the bench. You can download it here.

Shaker-Style Bench