New shop update – May 2017

I was a couple of days from starting on a new shop. Then I changed my mind.

The window sill on the exterior of my shop fell off, and I was in the process of clearing out a significant portion of my backyard from overgrowth. There is so much that the process is still ongoing, but it is now about 90% done and there is room cleared enough to build a new shop. My wife and I decided that we should spend the extra money and build a shop bigger than zoning code allows for.

But I decided not to do it.

My big concern remains being told it has to come down after all that work was done and money spent on it. I also got some push-back on my plans to build the base on deck piers on the hill. I think that did it as much as anything. I wasn’t in a mood to have my shop come tumbling down the hill into my kitchen.

So, what does that mean now? Well, this is the strongest I’ve felt in a long time about doing something, and that means that I will be getting a new shop in short order. I’m just not exactly sure how that is going to work. I can build it myself, I can buy a kit, or I can have something built for me. The latter holds some interest in just getting things over with, but I do like the challenge in doing it myself. I think it would be a great learning experience, and perhaps I can spread some costs out a bit and maybe save some money doing it.

I’ll be going back to the original plan of having it located in the corner of my property, the one that is probably the most level. The neighbors to the back of me just built a shop a few feet away, so there really won’t be much issue doing it in that location. The question will be about the base – do I go with blocks, piers, skids…quite a few choices.

One other design choice will be the roof. I can build to a total height of 15 feet, which gives me almost 7 feet of room to work on a roof. Go I go with a standard gable, or do I get creative with a gambrel and have almost a full second floor? The second option is more complex and will undoubtedly cost more. But if I do it right, I would nearly double my floor space, or at least add a significant amount of storage area. The dust collector and compressor could go up there, reducing the noise level when they’d otherwise be on. A few other things could go up there as well, but the big question would be how would I have access to it. Stairs in the shop cut down on available space on the main floor. A attic-style ladder cuts down on the things I’m able to put up there.

The task that requires the most immediate need is looking at re-imagining my current layout to accommodate these options. Could I really put a stairway in? Where would an attic ladder go and be able to drop down? If I just had an open loft, is there a way I could improve the space as it is? I think I might start with the idea of a corner staircase and see if that option works at all first. Then I can work with less constraints going forward. To be honest though, I think the interior height on a two-story would only be four feet or so, so a staircase seems less likely. It would be fun to play with storage options on that, though.

So, over the next few weeks as I am able, I will be working in Sketchup to run through these possibilities. One of the options I see with one of the vendors is to have a double door plus a single standard door. I’ll have to look if this fits my layout better, with being able to have my saw right up against the double door entrance. The other thing I should look at is if I slightly adjust the layout to be a 10×14 instead of a 12×12. I lose four square feet in the deal, but I gain two more feet along a length that might work better. Just things to think about.


Bench Shavings – 5/06/17

It’s been nearly a month since I last posted. I didn’t anticipate that. I also didn’t anticipate only spending a couple hours in the shop during that time. April was a much needed month of cleanup in the back yard. It was starting to get out of control, and over the course of probably a week I was able to tackle almost all the issues. There’s still a branch overhanging the back fence that I haven’t been able to reach. There was just that much overgrowth.

I also repaired both lawn mowers. The push mower required a new carburetor and a gasket, the riding mower a fuel filter and a carb cleaning. I even fixed the power assist feature on the push mower, something that had been broken for a couple years at least. Might help on the backyard hills keeping things tidy.

My attention the past few months has been divided between other passions and pursuits and not woodworking. I started thinking more about getting out and about the outdoors, including offroading and, something new to me, overlanding. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the overlanding videos on YouTube, much more than any woodworking ones.

Something else that has interested me is music. I was able to install a new head unit in my old (now current) vehicle. I get to listen to a wide variety of music, podcasts, streaming music…so much. I’ll have a post on this soon, I wrote it some time ago but forgot to take pics. But even more than that, I’ve restarted my decades-old mission to finally learn guitar. I bought a Fender Squire Series Mexican Strat back around 1995 or 1996, but never made much progress. A few years ago I bought a dreadnought acoustic. A new Guitar Center opening up near me rekindled that desire, and a desire to own my holy grail – a Les Paul.

So, I found an Epiphone version that was in excellent shape and had some extras and ordered it. I also have a new amp on order, because the old bass one I had was busted. So, I have no excuse as far as equipment goes to finally learning. My days will probably be spent doing this where I have a few minutes to spare. It’s just something that has been in the back of my mind for years, and a store close to me finally pushed me to do something about it. Here’s a pic of the entire family.


A Big Week

Last Sunday, I made two decisions: First, I ordered a new head unit for our “spare” vehicle. This would be the car that I would take on as my primary when my car sold. The other was that I made an effort to get my car cleaned up and listed on Craigslist late that night.

I wasn’t expecting the response I got. I listed the ad at 10:30 or so and was fielding emails by midnight. Some were, of course, sketchy. But I happened upon one the next morning that seemed like someone intelligent was behind it. Asked questions specifically about problems germane to the brand and model. We met Tuesday afternoon so that he could look at it, and by Tuesday night I had dropped it off for him and had a check in my hand. It was the easiest thing I had ever done in my life, and now I had just a touch more than I was expecting to start my big debt payoff push.

My head unit arrived between the time of the meet and the dropoff, so I started getting that ready as well. Thankfully, my (now) vehicle is extremely easy to install a new head unit in, so it took no time at all. I had to pull it out a couple more times over the course of the next few days to address wiring, but it is a substantial upgrade and I’m very happy to have it. It has HD radio built in, and Android Auto/Apple CarPlay capability. I have designated a phone to permanently stay in the car to stream music and supply maps/navigation duties. It is my goal to always drive a car with this ability, either natively or via an aftermarket solution. It beats the pants off of manufacturer’s solutions or plain head units. I’ll do an in-depth review of what I got later on.

There was also some mechanical things to take care of last week as well. I have an older push lawn mower that wouldn’t run, and our riding mower also would not run. Both of the issues were traced to fuel delivery, so I swapped the carburetor on the push, and added another gasket and now it runs. Not well, as it is hunting for a good idle point, but it is now running again. The riding mower needed a new fuel filter, and I also disassembled that carb and cleaned it. The next day, after I cut my grass, it had hydrolocked by fuel filling the cylinder. Something went wrong in my reassembly, so I had to tear it back down, make sure all the gaskets and seals were on properly, and try again. So far, so good, but if it happens again I will call for warranty work.

I also, on what is now my vehicle, finally decided to tackle the yellowing headlights. I had attempted it before, but it din’t work. I bought a Mother’s kit with a drill attachment, and it actually did the trick this time. Not perfect, as you can certainly see the scratches, but noticeable improvement in clarity from before. I will have to apply protectant often to keep it from coming back even faster, but it will work while I drive it.

This is basically what my life is now, woodworking only on the periphery. As such, I think I am going to start transitioning the site to just be one page, and be of anything I wish it to be. After all, this site, and it’s continued existence, is primarily for me. This week though I am going to review the plans for the table I need to build, and hopefully start making progress on it.

A Big Decision

It has been a quiet week in the shop, I suppose. Not sure, haven’t been out there to know. It’s simply been a busy week with work and other commitments. I did get out today to bag up a bunch of debris from the last couple projects that were stacked on the sawhorses. With my kids playing baseball and softball, a bunch of time has been spent at the ball fields, and today was no different. Perhaps tomorrow will bring some time inside the shop for a bit of cleaning in there. Also need to start outlining the table project for my son.

I have been thinking about selling my car for awhile, and buying a truck. This week, I formalized those thoughts and set a plan in which to do this. Not only do I need to sell my car, I need to pay off my last credit card before I can purchase a truck that will last me a very long time. It’s a fairly sizable debt, but one I can take care of in about a year or 15 months if I buckle down. I’ve decided to do just that. I have a set amount that I need to pay off each month, and as long as I hit that, I’ll be riding around in a new(ish) truck this time next year. Just in time to get some deals on the 2018s before the 2019s hit. I’ve pretty much decided on what I’m going to get, and the first mods I’m going to do. I’m also likely to donate the old CRV or sell for parts.

That’s cart before the horse stuff, though. What this means for the next year in the shop is simple: if it’s a big expense, it isn’t happening. The plan to get a HF dust collector is on hold. I don’t need to really do this before a new shop anyway. As for a new shop, that’s on hold as well. I’ll start budgeting for it when I’m debt-free and have a truck to pick up supplies with.

I don’t have any plans to sell anything off. This isn’t the end of the shop at all. It just means I need to be very selective in purchases and expenses. Since the wood is already on-hand for the table project, that goes forward. No more Lee Valley planes for awhile, though, unfortunately – I was really hoping to go on a shopping spree, but that’s the sort of thinking that got me here.

I’m also going to finally follow through on my commitment from last summer and attain my latest certification. I’ll get reimbursed for the exam and it should net me a raise. It does mean though that I’ll have to study and it might take away from shop time as well.

Lean times are here, but not end times. Fun times are coming.

Clearing more air

The air cleaner was the first step in getting a better handle on the dust. It’s working well, I think, but it’s so hard to tell with all the dust that gets generated by the major tools in the shop. So, the natural companion to buying the air cleaner is upgrading my dust collection.

I’ve long wondered if I could fit the HF dust collector in my shop in some form or another, but space restrictions have said no. Now, after seeing a modification on YouTube, I think I might be able to fit it in.

It’s a modification that makes it work similarly to much more expensive models. I don’t know if I’ll incorporate the Dust Deputy or my own Thien baffle, but it’s early in this decision process. I’ll also have to consider how to route a couple of 4″ lines for the table saw and miter saw.

This will be important in the remaining time in this shop and the next one. I don’t think I need more than 4″ duct for my limited needs here or there, and figuring out how it just might work will benefit detail planning of the new shop – orientation of the ceiling joists, etc. I should be able to put the DC in the ceiling of the new shop, but what if I can’t? What if a gambrel roof doesn’t work? I certainly hope it does, but I need to be prepared to go with alternatives. What I do in this shop could translate to the interior or exterior of the new shop. I could certainly build a little nook on the outside to house a dust collector and even a vertical air compressor.

I just hope it doesn’t constantly trip breakers. We’ll see. Just more things to think about in planning and cleaning.

Bench Shavings – 3/12/17

Occasionally there are weeks where I just can’t get out to the shop as much as I would like. This was one of those weeks where it just didn’t happen. I posted on the 7th, but in actuality I can’t remember being in the shop since at least last weekend if not before. Looking back at my photo history, it had been since last Saturday. With sports, weather, etc taking up time, sometimes the shop gets put on the back burner.

I did get out there today though, even just for a short while. My main accomplishment was getting the air hose reel fixed. I had heard the spring slip a few weeks ago, and the last six feet or so of the hose would not stay wound on the reel. In spite of the warning on the side, I did undo four of the six screws and peeked inside. Seeing a flat coiled spring, I decided to do a YouTube search to see if there was another way to get the whole hose wound up. It turns out that if you get some slack and wind it around manually, it does the trick. I wasted a bit of time taking it down and et cetera, but the end result was worth it. I have again a fully functioning air hose reel again.

I also mounted the snips and wrenches on the wall under the computer monitor. I don’t know if that’s where it will stay, but it works for now. It’s also one more thing taken care of and towards the goal of starting my next project. I think after next weekend I’ll review the plans for the table again in preparation of starting it.

Clearing the air

One of the last big improvements to the current shop I planned to make was to try and improve my dust collection issue. There’s two parts to this, one is upgrading the actual dust collection. The other is addressing air filtration, which is what I pulled the trigger on a week ago. I ordered an inexpensive Wen unit off of Amazon and it came a few days ago.

The unit came basically ready to use out of the box, I only had to swap four screw bolts on the top for hooks and through nuts. That’s it. The hard part was trying to hang it from my roof joists and getting it to hang level. Thankfully it is a pretty light unit.

It is also a quiet unit. I could easily have a conversation with someone, if that someone could squeeze into my shop, on the low setting. It comes with an about six foot three-prong cord. I need to look closer at the amp rating to see if it needs the heavier gauge extension cord, but for now I have it hooked up to it. I figure after I make a series of cuts I’ll turn it on and run it for 15 minutes or more to try and cycle the air.

I found a spot for it above my MFT and drill press, really one of the only options I had. It will be interesting to see where I would put it in a new shop, because I plan to close up the ceiling for storage. Might have to size at least one joist wide enough for it to fit sideways.

I’ll be cleaning the shop thoroughly for dust over the next few weeks, and be running the cleaner after operations to see if it makes a difference in how much accumulates on surfaces. I’m sure my lungs will appreciate it though.

The Only Constant Is Change

As someone born at the tail end of Generation X, I have a love affair with technology. In particular, I am reliant on my smartphone. It keeps me in touch with my family and work. It allows me to keep track of my kids, it allows me to access my work computer via tethering. I can play games, keep abreast of news, take pictures of anything.

The first smartphone I can remember owning was a Samsung Blackjack. Running Windows Mobile, in some respects I miss it. A physical keyboard, decently sized, it was very nice. I then had another, an AT&T 8525 made by HTC. These two were pretty good smartphones for the time, more like PDAs than what we would associate today. Then came the iPhone. The first one was a hand-me-down that I sold shortly thereafter to get an iPhone 3G. Then my wife got the 3GS. Then I got the 4. The 4, to this date, probably remains my favorite phone of all time. The design, the timing…it just all came together perfectly.

It might have been partially due to that reason, the relative perfection, that I decided it was time to try something new. I was tired of iOs, and more often than not wanted to jailbreak the device to add functionality and form. That, and the size was becoming cramped in an increasingly expanding market. The keyboard was becoming uncomfortable to use, and I was fat-fingering letters all the time.

Apple wasn’t going to increase the size (yet), so I switched over to a Samsung Galaxy S3. Android was a completely different world, as was having a removable battery again and expandable storage. Both of those things were important to me at first, but faded over time. I went through a different device what seemed like every few months. The glass cracked on the S3, and unlike the iPhone, was nearly impossible to replace on my own. So when the HTC M7 launched, I had one. Then I had a 2014 Moto X. This might be a tie with the iPhone 4 as my favorite, because I could customize it and it had software modifications that made it indispensable.  Unfortunately the updates were a bit slow, and I wasn’t impressed with the direction Motorola was going down. I wanted another stock Android experience, so I went with the Nexus 6P.

It wasn’t long before the iPhone 7 launched, and it gained my interest. The hardware was sleek, and although I think iOS isn’t as good as stock Android, I can’t lie and say the experience inside the apps is worse. The accessory ecosystem is also better. So, I ended up buying an iPhone 7+ last month. I sold my 6P, my Nexus 7 tablet, and my Moto 360 smartwatch and earned enough to pick up an iPad Pro 9.7. I officially am back full time with iOS.

Even though the experience hasn’t changed much in the three or so years since I left, it still feels like a new experience. I’m getting back used to things as I was before, and I do notice some of the limitations, like assigning default applications. But I just got back from a trip to the Orlando theme parks, and I was extremely happy with the battery life I got, thanks to a bit more strict resource management iOS employs. I also enjoyed how well the camera just worked, something that really disappointed me about the M7 when I went to San Francisco. I kept finding that Android devices would do a lot of things well, but would always fall short in one area. The 6P probably came the closest to fixing that, but I would still occasionally burn through battery too quickly. The Moto X and M7 had horrible cameras. The S3 had horrible software, TouchWiz. Whereas it seems like the only downfall to the iOS devices is the simple nature of the layout. I decided I could deal with that again, so I switched. So far, I’ve been happy.

Change for me lately doesn’t just end with my device choices. After seven years with Comcast as my internet and basic cable provider, I switched to AT&T Fiber. Even with a 1TB cap, I had come close in December to breaching it. I also felt I was paying too much, particularly with the TV recovery fees attached to my “free” local channels. Unfortunately with the cap I couldn’t stream a whole lot more to ditch the locals, so the solution was to sign up for fiber when it finally came available. I’m getting better speeds, no cap, and a cheaper price. I bought a flat antenna to help replace the local channels, but I’m still looking for a foolproof solution there. Perhaps a big outdoor antennal at the roof line. This change is saving me about $13 a month.

I also changed my cell provider in the last two weeks. I had been with AT&T since 2005, but just switched over to T-Mobile with their newest promotion. I was paying $135 for three lines of 15GB shared internet, but now I am paying $112 for unlimited internet for those same three lines. I will also be adding a fourth free line this weekend. That’s an additional $23 in savings a month, even more if I wanted to count that fourth line, which would have been at least $20 more on AT&T plus less internet usage. The combined savings of home and mobile internet/phone nearly pay for my new phone. EDIT – I just got my first T-Mobile bill and it’s actually $92, because you can get $10 back for each line under 2GB of usage. So this month, my brand new phone is paid for vs what I was paying before just off the cell bill.

What the moral of this is to not be afraid to make what might seem like fairly big changes, particularly when there really isn’t any consequences. I am under no contract with either of my phone or internet changes, and only am locked into a monthly payment on my phone, but it can travel to almost any network. The payment is also no added cost to paying it in full, and I can do so at any time. I am also subscribed to a few streaming services that I could drop on a month’s notice, should I need to. I’m on the lookout for what gets me the best deal, and am no longer afraid of what the alternative would be. It suits me best to get the best deal as a free agent for all of my services, and so far it’s working well.

Learning from Experience

So, I said awhile back that I wouldn’t talk any more about a new shop. I didn’t say, however, that I would talk about some learning experiences I’ve gained recently that should make it into a new shop, no matter the size.

There’s been a very big thing bugging me over the last couple of weeks, even more than any limitations on space – dust. Particularly on the edge of the MFT, dust accumulated very quickly from all the OSB cutting. But also at the table saw cutting MDF, and from the back of the miter saw cutting anything. There’s dust on every single surface, in every single crack. What I need to do is two things: get a higher volume dust solution, and install a filtration system.

A dust collector is a fairly easy thing from a purchasing standpoint. I could buy a wall-mounted unit, or modify something like a Harbor Freight unit to the wall. In a new shop, either in a loft or in the added space, this won’t really be an issue. But, I feel like I need to make a change before then or I run the risk of doing more damage to my lungs and space.

A dust filtration system needs to happen soon as well. I don’t know how I’m going to really pull it off in this show, but I’ll figure something out. A box fan and some box filters should do the trick, but it becomes an issue of how to mount it and all that. I’ll be looking into that first in the next few weeks. (EDIT: before I even finished writing this I found a inexpensive unit and ordered it)

I need to be a bit better about putting tools away so that they don’t get in the way of doing things, as I found out yesterday. The stage project was complete, but I haven’t yet put my tools away, or had even cleared out the hardboard dust from the MFT. I bought a desk storage unit that I needed to modify, and found myself having to vacuum and move clamps out of the way just to sit the drawers on the MFT to drill. I can do better.

Just a few thoughts over the past few weeks. These aren’t things that aren’t specific to a new shop, but are things that can be thought of in the construction and planning for. An overhead filter is easy to accommodate, the dust collection just a little bit less so.

All the Workshop’s a Stage

Stage building. I don’t have that much experience and I don’t like doing much of it. But, once or twice a year my skills are put to the test. This year was a bit different, because there wasn’t too much of a scene…um, scene for me to build, but structure. My wife would do everything with painting to make the play come alive, but I would need to make the (literal) building blocks to make it happen.

First up were some 18″ cubes that would serve as props and bases. There were a few already made with the stage company for me to take advantage of, so I measured and duplicated their measurements and construction. They were made of 7/16″ OSB, with 2×2″ pine as corner supports. The trick was, at the outset, how to quickly and easily make all the pieces the same size.

Enter the DIY Festool Parallel Guides. I was thinking of buying, but decided to make my own. This was an excellent idea, and I achieved good results on my test pieces. Indeed, this project was the genesis of that tool construction. With the testing a success, I went and bought seven sheets of OSB, plus four sheets of 3/8″ hardboard for the other aspect. A handful of 2×2″ boards were bought a few days later, they not needing a trailer to bring home.

For each of the OSB sheets, I did the following: I crosscut a fresh square edge off one end, then used the parallel guides, marked at 18″ on the first sheet, to crosscut at exactly 18″. There might have been some variance between the boards, but if there was it was very slight. Millimeter or so. They all felt the same.

So I had 35 18″x48″ sections which I then took to the MFT. I again trimmed one edge perpendicular, flipped it over, then cut twice at 18″. It took awhile, but that created 70 18″ square pieces of MDF. Now, only 14 of these would stay a true 18″ square. These were the tops. All of the rest of the pieces were then cut along one side 7/16″ short. This would allow the top to sit on the sides and keep the 18″ height. Then, half of those (28) were cut 7/8″ on the adjacent side. What this allowed is for two of the sides to tuck into two of the others, again keeping the cube 18″ in all dimensions.

With the OSB all cut, it was time to cut the 2×2 into 17-9/16″ sections. I needed 56 of those. Those 2×2 pieces were air nailed to the face edges of the shortest dimension boards. Then the longer side pieces were nailed to the attached 2x2s, and then the tops went on. For anything that didn’t turn out absolutely square with the top piece, I used my handheld router to trim it flush.

All in all, the cubes turned out fine. Not perfect, but perfectly usable. They were painted by my wife for use in the play in nice bright colors. I got plenty of splinters, and they held my weight just fine.

The other aspect of the stage play I had to construct was a big ‘X’ that some panels would hang between. The company had some 8’x4′ flats, made out of more 2×2 and hardboard. I doubled these together, made a top and bottom plate for them to attach to, and thus the ‘X’ can stand up and be wheeled around. I then used the parallel guides again to rip cut 18″ sections in the hardboard we bought to span the negative space. I made up some saddles to attach the panels by sitting on top of the connected flats. Hard to explain, but it worked. Again, the parallel guides worked brilliantly, since I don’t have a long enough rail to rip cut all at once.

The only thing I have left to do is to make a fake fridge that opens, and I’ll use some hardboard and 2×2 that are left over.


SO…I wrote this a week ago and just now got around to posting this with the pictures. The fake fridge worked well, as did everything else. The play was a success, and the entire thing only took about 30 minutes to take down. For my first set construction, I think it went pretty well, and I look forward to what will come next.