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

Why Your Email Address Matters

Besides texting and social media, email is still a primary means of communication. And if you run a woodworking business or plan to start one, your emails make an impression.

Obviously, the content of your email matters. If you’re communicating with potential or existing customers, vendors, or business associates, make sure there are no spelling or grammatical errors. Make it look and sound professional. Use complete sentences and be succinct in your conversation.

But even before the recipient looks at the content of your message, the first thing they see is your email address. Does your email address match the domain name of your web site? (You do have a web site, don’t you?) In other words, if your web site is located at, your email address should be the same. For example,

When an email arrives in my inbox from or, it takes away the credibility that the sender is a viable business and takes their online presence seriously.

The first step in creating domain email addresses that match your web domain is to set up email forwarding with the company that hosts your web site. I use to host I set up email forwarding so that any email sent to any address with the suffix “” is forwarded to my email account at (or hosted by Microsoft allows you to set up email aliases. In other words, my default Outlook email address ends with “” But when an email arrives that has been addressed to, I have the option to reply to the email using the domain address. Google also allows you to set up email domains for business through their Google Apps. Check with your email provider to see if you can set up an alias for your account to use your web domain name. If not, it may be a good time to switch email providers.

And while I’m on the subject of email addresses, if you have employees or associates that work for you and they interact with customers or vendors, set up an email address for each of them as well.

In a competitive world, first impressions can be the difference between gaining a customer or losing a potential one. Make sure your email address is the first step that conveys a professional image for your business.

5 Principles for Any Woodworking Shop

I ran across an article by Steve Maxwell in the Ottawa Citizen a while back (unfortunately the link has expired). He wrote about 5 basic principles that apply to anyone in a shop. It’s well worth the read and I have to agree with him. Here’s my summary of what he said:

1. Sharpening Skills. Practice, practice, practice. Whatever sharpening method you use that gives you good results, become a master at it. I talked here about how much I like my diamond stones. Steve recommends a buffing wheel for honing. I’ve used a buffing wheel for sharpening my carving tools, but haven’t made myself convert to using it for chisels and plane irons. A buffing wheel works fast and gives you a polished edge.

2. Proper Sanding. How many of us hate sanding? I do. But we need to slow down and do it right if we want the best surface for a finish. And that means working through the grits. Steve starts with a belt sander. Belt sanders scare me because it’s too easy to get distracted and the next thing you know you’re rounding over an edge, gouging the workpiece, or sanding through veneer. I follow the advice of starting with 100- or 120-grit paper, but a random orbit sander is usually all I need. Then I work my way up to 180-grit. I usually don’t go any finer than that if I’m applying an oil finish. That recommendation comes from General Finishes when using their Arm-R-Seal product.

3. Know Your Tools. What I mean is, know intimately how they work and how to fine-tune them for the best performance. That goes for hand tools as well as power tools. Maintain and tune-up your table saw periodically. Make sure all of your chisels and planes are set up, sharp, and ready to put to use. Having to stop in the middle of a project to sharpen or fuss with a tool is a distraction you don’t need.

4. Invest in Your Tools. In other words, buy the best tool you can afford. And if you can’t afford it right now, save up until you can. I’ve learned my lessons on buying tools just because the price was right. It’s when you come to rely on the tool that it disappoints you. Steve’s comments on this topic are so good I have to repeat them here:

Choosing tools and gear successfully is a lot like hitting someone with a snowball as they’re running. Unless you aim way ahead, you’ll always miss. The tools and gear you need tomorrow will almost always be more than you need now, especially if you’re a beginner.

That’s why you should always buy better than you think you need. My only tool regrets have come when my snowball fell way behind the results I was aiming at. You need to buy for the ultimate woodworker you want to become, not the woodworker you are now.

Also — and this is crucial — always let actual needs guide your tool investments. Struggle for a while with a process or situation, then use the insights you gain to invest in gear that actually meets the needs you face. You’ll buy smarter.

5. Curb Your Enthusiasm. As Steve says, being motivated to get out in the shop and be productive is one thing. But being in a hurry and taking shortcuts (like not properly sanding, or assuming that the glue will fill the gaps in an ill-fitting joint) are another thing. So the key is not to be impatient. I have to talk myself into slowing down and “doing it right.” (Yes, I talk to myself often when I’m in the shop.) To quote Steve:

“The pursuit of quality is much more important and enduring. “

Marketing Lessons I learned from my Dad

When I was a young child, my dad worked the first shift at a company that made kitchen ranges. I would often hear him leave the house well before it was time for me to get up for school. He would get off at 3pm, come home, change clothes, get in his pickup truck and head out the door. He often wouldn’t return home until 9 or 10pm. And on Saturdays, he would often be gone all day.

You see, my dad was a handyman. He would remodel kitchens and bathrooms, replaster walls and ceilings, and even build room additions. He quickly gained a reputation for doing quality work.

My dad usually worked alone except when my brother or I were called upon to lend a hand. He instilled in me the notion that if you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself. He didn’t cut corners. He didn’t tolerate shoddy workmanship. He took the time necessary to do the job right, down to the last detail.

My dad’s reputation grew and soon he had a backlog of people that needed some work done. He eventually left his factory job to become a self-employed handyman. It was a proud moment for him. He even had a batch of business cards printed up to hand out.

But he really didn’t need business cards. My dad worked for over 30 years without doing any selling or marketing. All of his business was by word of mouth. He never lacked for work.

I remember listening to his side of the conversation on phone calls where someone was wondering when he could start on their job. “Not until I’m done with the job ahead of you,” he would say. Some people were upset. But they still hired him. Why? Because of his reputation. He did good work and didn’t leave the job until it was done right. If he made a mistake, he corrected it. He didn’t try to hide it.

What does this mean for you and me? The lesson is this: Whether you’re a hobbyist woodworker making a gift for a friend or the owner of a shop with dozens of craftsmen, your reputation is the most powerful marketing tool you have. Don’t take it lightly. Do an excellent job for your customer and word will get around.

One of My Favorite Tools

Screwdriver PunchIt’s been my experience in talking with woodworkers that we all share a common affliction — we’re all pack rats. We can’t resist a bargain. Or snapping up old, rusty tools because there’s got to be something you could use it for in the future.

My dad was an avid yard sale junkie. Every weekend he would head out in his pickup truck and make the rounds. He’d end up with all sorts of interesting items and collections of stuff. And when I’d visit him in his shop, it wasn’t unusual for him to show me his latest acquisition and say, “Do you need one of these?” I picked up a lot of free junk that way.

At some point I acquired a collection of old screwdrivers. Don’t we all have a collection of them somewhere? Whether the tips are worn out or broken, we just can’t bear to throw them away.

Such is the case of the old screwdriver you see here. It used to be a Phillips screwdriver. But the tip was mangled beyond use. So I cut it off. And ground the shank down to a point. And you know, that tool has been used on so many projects. It’s a handy punch. The wide angle of the point makes it much more stout than a brad or scratch awl for marking hole locations for drilling. And it’s less likely to split the wood as the narrow point of a scratch all might. The hardened steel shank means that I can use it as a burnisher to sharpen card scrapers, if needed. Plus, I’ve never had to sharpen it in over 15 years of use.

So this tool hangs near my workbench. Right next to my scratch awl. And where I can quickly reach it whenever I need it.

New Custom Handplanes by Veritas

Veritas Planes

Lee Valley is announcing a new line of Veritas hand planes. They are unique in so many ways, it’s hard to know where to start to describe them.

First, and perhaps the most revolutionary, is that the planes can be customized. There are up to 9,160 different variations. Here are just a few of the options:

    1. Size: The sizes of planes available include a No. 4, No. 4-1/2, No. 5, No. 5-1/2, and No. 7
    2. Frogs: You can order a custom frog angle from 40° to 65° in ½° increments for only an extra $10. 40°, 45°, and 55° frogs will be stocked as standard items.
    3. Totes (Handles): The totes are available in two styles and three sizes (small, medium, and large). They offer a traditional style of handle or the newer style found on other Veritas planes.
    4. Knobs: Three styles of knobs are available in short, medium, or tall heights.
    5. Iron (Blade): Choose from O1 steel or PM-V11 in a choice of bevel angles
    6. The speed with which the Norris-style adjuster advances the iron is yet another choice

The new line of handplanes is more of a premium line of planes. Their other planes won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. I’ll be anxious to get my hands on one and give them a try.

Beautiful Boxes by Ben DeLong

I met Ben DeLong through the local woodworking club in Des Moines, Iowa. He’s a talented young man that exhibits a lot of creative detail in his work. Just check out the photos above to see what I mean.

Ben understands that box miter joints are typically a weak joint. The end grain of the joint isn’t an ideal gluing surface. So, to reinforce the miters, Ben makes use of spline keys. This is a technique where saw kerfs are cut across the joint at the table saw with the box supported in a jig. Then, spline material is made so that the grain of the spline runs perpendicular to the joint line. The splines are glued into the saw kerfs, trimmed flush, and sanded smooth.

But Ben adds some decorative touches to his splines. One technique he uses is to tilt the saw blade on the table saw when making the cuts. This produces an eye-catching, almost an optical illusion, detail to the box. His use of contrasting woods draws the eyes to take in the beauty of the joinery.

Another decorative technique is to glue up spline material in alternating bands of various wood species. This produces the “dashed line” effect you see in some of his box splines after they’re assembled.

Finally, Ben goes a step further in decorating some of his boxes with appealing inlays.

Making small boxes is a great way to hone your woodworking skills whether you’re a beginner or experienced woodworker. It’s a way to use up those scrap pieces of lumber that are just too pretty to throw away. And working on boxes has another benefit. It forces you to take your time to get the fit and finish of the joinery just right. Any errors or gaps in the joinery are sure to be noticeable. It pays to be patient and take your time.

Patience is one of the most valuable tools in the woodworker’s toolbox.

The Making of a Wood-Frame Bicycle

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At a recent club meeting of the Des Moines Woodworkers Association, Shawn Brown showed off a new bicycle he recently finished. I asked him to tell me more about it. I think you’ll see from the photos the fantastic job he did. What follows is Shawn’s story on how the bike came together.

I have been interested in bicycles all of my life. One day when I was looking up local bike shops on the internet, I ran across a video of a wooden bike. The builder, Masterworks, was from California and had sold a bike to someone on the East Coast.  The builders were transporting the bike to the new owner and happened to stop into IchiBike in the East Village on the way through.  I have been woodworking for several years and thought it would be fun to try and make something similar.

I have used Sketchup to design a few woodworking projects and decided that would be a good way to “build” a virtual version of the bike to figure out some of the design issues up front. I liked the basic shape of their bikes and found a side view photo of one that was shot almost straight on.  I imported that photo into Sketchup as a background layer.  I knew that Masterworks used a 26″ wheel on their bike, so I zoomed the background image up so the rear wheel was 26″ diameter.  I then traced the main frame components to give me a rough outline.

I wanted to build something more aggressive looking.  More in the style of a Chopper motorcycle. Masterworks builds a wooden fork, which I did not want to attempt, so I found a Chrome Triple Tree bicycle fork on Ebay.  It gave me the length and style I wanted, but required modifying the head tube area for a steeper angle to keep the bike level.  Masterworks changes the rear triangle area of their bikes with different carvings and styles.  For mine, I wanted to go simple and maybe do some onlay wood flames.  (I never did do that.)  I also wanted a longer rear fender with a turned up lip on the end.  And I wanted to use 29″ mounting bike wheels instead of the 26″ that Masterworks uses.

After I drew out the parts in SketchUp, I printed out full-scale plans to cut the parts from.  The main frame is ¾” Baltic birch plywood.  I drilled out holes in the center core to lighten it up a little.  Masterworks bikes are only single-speed with coaster brakes, but I wanted gears and disc brakes on my version.  SketchUp helped with laying out the locations of the cables.  In the center core I routed out grooves and lined them with aluminum tubing that I could run the cables through later.  One of the pictures shows the holes and channel in the core.

I then epoxied on 18” Baltic birch plywood to the core, thinking this would be similar to a torsion box design and hopefully give me some strength while still being light.  I epoxied on walnut to the main frame and used a router with a flush-trim bit to pattern-rout everything down the the core.  The secondary frame is ¾” Baltic birch ply with 18” purpleheart on the inside and ½” purpleheart on the outside.  The rear triangle is made the same way.  To build out the rear fender, I started with a ¾” Baltic birch ply sanded to the shape I wanted, and then epoxied on walnut to both sides, pattern routed it, epoxied on purpleheart, pattern rout, epoxy on padauk and pattern route.

The part I was most worried about is the connection at the headset.  With the long and steep rake of the forks, I thought there may be a lot of stress at that connection.  What I did was to cut notches in the main frame that the plywood fits into and alternate the ply with wood.  This created a sort of internal tenon joint that seems to be holding up.  There is a photo where I traced lines that show what I am talking about.  After it was epoxied together, I drilled out a hole and epoxied in an aluminum tube for the headset bearings and races.

I had to make some aluminum mounts for the rear wheel connection.  That was a challenge since I don’t have any metalworking tools besides a drill press.  So I spent a lot of time with a spindle sander and files.  There are a few places around where you can buy bike frame parts for building your own frame out of steel or aluminum.  So the only part I needed to make was the mount that attaches to the wood frame.  It is the small silver part at the rear wheel in the side view photo that is bolted into the wood.  I was able to purchase the actual dropout where the wheel and disc brake mounts.

I also epoxied in a pre-made, aluminum bottom bracket where the front crank is.  That was as simple as drilling hole in the main frame the correct size and using epoxy to secure it in place and keep it centered so the chain would line up correctly.  I had to add a chain roller to keep the chain from contacting the frame in certain gears.  It really does not add much friction when pedaling.

The main frame and secondary frames are wedged through tenons in the rear fender.  There is a photo showing the connection by the rear wheel.

The seat post is a aluminum tube welded to an aluminum plate and clamped with a couple of bolts and threaded knobs.  It is very adjustable, since I can slide the whole thing back of forward and the seat post can be raised or lowered.

All of the joints are epoxied together.  I also used sex bolts to strengthen the connections.  Maybe not so much to strengthen the connection, but more as a safety factor.  If the joints give way, maybe the bolts will hold long enough to get stopped.

All of the bicycle parts are standard off-the-shelf items I sourced on the internet.  The wheels were hand-laced by me.  I wanted large tires to give it a muscle bike look.  The rims have cutouts in them to save weight.  The red bumps are a rim strip that keeps the innertube from poking through the holes.

The finish is a oil-based clear gloss spar varnish.  Hopefully the UV protection will keep the wood from fading too fast.  I have been working on it for about 18 months, whenever I had time, nights and weekends.  I would estimate probably 200 hours into it.

–Shawn Brown

Repairing and Tuning a Stanley 151 Spokeshave

I acquired (was given) a Stanley 151 spokeshave recently. I didn’t already have that particular model, so I was grateful to add one to my collection. The only thing wrong with it was that it was missing the screw that secures the lever cap.

I had a few hours to kill one afternoon so I decided to turn this old tool into a user. I started by disassembling it and sharpening the blade. I took it to my series of diamond stones to flatten and polish the back then the bevel. You can see in the photos the original factory grinding scratches revealing that the back of the blade was a little concave. This is not an ideal situation, but with a little elbow grease on some coarse sandpaper followed by the diamond stones, I was able to get it flat, especially near the cutting edge. For sharpening the bevel, I tried to use my Veritas honing guide but it was a little tricky since the blade is so short. I managed to barely get it clamped into the honing guide close enough to match the existing bevel angle. Then I progressed through the grits on my diamond stones, carefully removing the burr on the back side after honing.

The next order of business was to make some attempt to flatten the bed where the blade rests. The casting is fairly rough here and simply painted at the factory without any further machining. I dug through my ancient collection of files to find one thin enough to fit through the mouth. I wasn’t aiming for a shiny surface, just one flat enough to provide a solid bed for the blade. This helps avoid “chattering” as you use the spokeshave.

While I had the diamond stones out, I took a few minutes to polish out some deep scratches in the sole of the spokeshave. This had the added benefit of ensuring it was flat.

The final piece I needed to get this plane usable was a replacement screw. Stanley was known for using what are now obsolete thread patterns. I wasn’t sure what threads were used for this particular screw. I tried a #10 screw. Too small. A 1/4″ screw was too large. This led me to believe that is was a #12. I knew that if this was the case, I was going to have a harder time finding a screw.

I went to one of my favorite sources for oddball hardware, McMaster-Carr. Yep. They have them. But only in quantities of 50. I was at least encouraged that #12-24 fasteners are still made.

To verify that this was indeed the correct thread, I dug through a small box of thread taps I had collected over the years. Much to my amazement, one of them was a #12-24 tap. I tried it. It fit perfectly.

I dropped everything and set out on a quest to find a replacement screw. I went to my local True Value hardware store that has a reputation for having everything. My first pass through the fastener aisles yielded nothing. So I thought I’d check to see if, by chance, they had a tap and die set for #12-24 threads. Yep. They did. I bought it. I figured the worst case scenario is I’d somehow make a replacement screw from brass rod or something.

Then I decided to take one last look at the fasteners. There they were. Two of those cardboard “drawers” full of Phillips-head machine screws. So I bought a couple. Later, I thought perhaps I should buy a dozen or so, just in case another orphan tool comes into my shop. You can see in the photo above the new screw compared to a #10 screw.

I was excited to get home and put the spokeshave together and give it a test run. Not so fast. The head of the screw was way too large to pass through the keyhole slot in the lever cap. Not to be discouraged, I chucked the screw into my drill press and tightened the chuck tight enough to keep the screw secure without damaging the threads. Then I turned on the drill press and used a file to reduce the diameter of the screw head.

Once everything was back together, it worked like a champ. And that brings me to my next question: Do you push or pull a spokeshave? For me, I find I have better control by pushing it. But it depends on the situation. The key is, use whatever method works for you.