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.

Bench Shavings – 2/17/17

It’s been a little while since I wrote, well at least publicly. I have a couple of posts lined up in the pipeline, one is dependent on pictures from the stage project I did. The other just needs to be fleshed out a little more in my head, and it’s one that is very self-reflective.

But regardless of that, what is going on in the shop right now? Well, next time I get out there it will involve a lot of cleaning. There is a massive amount of sawdust in the shop from the last project, and although I cleaned up after I thought I was done, a couple of revisions have thrown it into chaos again.

The neighbor next door has built himself a shed over the last couple of weeks, and it has renewed my interest in getting a new one done for myself. The more I think about it, the more a two shop solution within the confines of local ordinances seems more appealing. Scrap storage, lathe, and yard equipment in one, full-blown shop in the new one. Naturally, I’d aim to tear down and replace the current one at some point after, but as long as it didn’t leak I wouldn’t care too much. It might even be worth looking at fixing it up a bit to forestall that. If the neighbor can do it, I can too.

Weather lately has been up and down, which isn’t that unusual for a Georgia winter. Just when you think warm weather is on a good run, a cold snap for about a day comes through. There is some cleanup outside that I need to do both related to the shop and not. I need to fix my push lawnmower so it can help trim down some unruly brush, or rent one of those lawn hogs you see advertised on TV.

The last few weeks I’ve been on a self-reflection path, looking at ways to improve things. Or just change things. I made some tech changes, there is some household improvements to make that involve organization, and the same can be said for outside the house. I’d like to write a bit more on tech and that side of things, and I’ll be writing a bit more on the other side of the site.

I do hope some of you will check out the tech and lifestyle side of the site, as I often feel like I’m able to write a bit more confidently and with less fluff sometimes with those topics. I’m hoping to start publishing three-four articles a week combined.


Updated MFT clamp rack

Normally I just put stuff like this into the Bench Shavings posts, but I thought I’d go ahead and highlight.

This was my first attempt. The clamp holes on the bottom were an afterthought, as was the addition of the two Rockler knobs for the Kreg clamps to the right.

So, I went to Rockler, bought a 20mm bit (because the stops in particular were very loose with a 3/4″ bit), and had another go. The result is above, but one more time for direct comparison and explanation.

I used the Incra Rules to get me nice consistent spacing for everything, and drilled eight 20mm holes for the stops and clamps. I have room to store double of both, because I know at some point I’ll at least buy more stops, and it might make sense just to get another whole set. I also grouped the clamps and stops together for better use of the space.

I then drilled some 5/16″ holes (I think) for the knobs to fit their stems in. I drilled eight of those, once again for expansion capacity. Then it was 1/2″ holes at the bottom for the clamps to sit in. Plenty of room for expansion there, four extra spots. The quick clamps are completely awesome, and worth the price difference above the manual ones.

That’s basically it, but it’s nice to have all this completely at the ready. I reused the angled ply off the old mount, but it’s completely the wrong angle for the much longer orientation. Will have to make some new ones at around 5°. But speaking of being at the ready, I moved my wrenches/snips off the wall right there and put it at a better reach than the old ones were. Now I don’t have to lift the track up to get by and get them on the other side of the MFT.

Yet another small project that organizes and gives me small pleasure in the shop.

Bench Shavings – 1/25/17

By now I hope you’ve read my Parallel Guides entry I posted yesterday. I’ve mostly cleaned up for that and I’m just about ready to cut all the pieces for the stage set project. Just some sweeping, vacuuming and very minor putting away.

I did a minor bit of organizing after I was done with the parallel guides. I put those on the wall with four screws, very simply. I think I took a picture and posted that last time. Pretty simple to imagine if not. I also found, at the newest Rockler opening, a pair of captured knobs and nuts to use with my Kreg Automaxx clamps and the MFT. I drilled a couple new holes in my MFT clamp rack, and stuck them up. I can already see the need to redo it with more storage spots in the future.

That’s….pretty much it. Very short entry for now, I’m hoping later today to get all the material I need to cut for the stage set project, and I may post updates on Instagram. The other thing I really should do – really, really a need for – is to make a level platform so that I can cut full sheets on the Centipede system. Unfortunately I don’t think I can get this done in time to cut these OSB boards. I’ll have to do the best I can like usual, and see about it in the future. I could conceivably cut them inside my house, but even the largest room, the former carport, doesn’t have level floors either.

I guess though, if I was going to put money into making a small little deck to cut something, it would be better to put that money into making an entire new shed. I guess I can simply cut on the patio, and I’m wondering why I didn’t think of that ten minutes ago. I’m tired.

DIY Festool Parallel Guides

I love my Festool TS55 track saw and rail system. I also love my Festool MFT for crosscutting. Both, however, have their limitations when it comes to repeat-ability on large items. The MFT has a woeful crosscut ability with the rail installed, and even without is still limited – no full sheet crosscutting here.

To solve that, Festool has available a parallel guide system. Unfortunately it is beset with issues from those who own it, and it is terribly expensive. Third parties like Seneca Woodworking and Precision, and even Woodpeckers have come up with their own solutions. I needed a solution relatively quickly, and I didn’t want to spend the $100 plus on one of their systems, plus supply my own track. I decided to design something myself, use that same track, and if it didn’t work out I would then go with a commercial solution.

I got my main inspiration from a user on the Festool forum, and I’ll link directly to the thread at the bottom of this entry. I did see some room for improvement, and while not all of my ideas bore fruit, they were still worthwhile.

I headed to Woodcraft and picked up everything but the two bags of bolts to the right:

Two 24″ sections of Incra T-Track Plus – $14.99 ea

One Incra 1/4″-20 Build-It System bag – $12.50

One Festool rail connector (482107) – $18.00

I decided early on to go with MDF, being dimensionally true and stable. I also figured out that I could use M6 bolts, so I went with what I call thumb screws. The ones in the picture are 20mm, but what you really need is more like maybe 25mm.

I had a piece of 1/2″ MDF on hand that I tried to use, and glued everything up separately after fitting the T-track. At this point I wasn’t worried about the stops, just the attachment to the rails. I then did my best guess at getting the Festool rail connector to where it needed to be, drilled holes, cut the connector in half with my miter saw, and mocked it up with the Build-It kit.

It wasn’t bad, but I knew I could do better. Since I was out of MDF the right size, I bought a project panel (2’x4′) from the Depot and started again. This time, instead of cutting small parts and gluing them around the track, I went with a full glue up of two pieces. Then I could use the table saw and remove the material for both the rail connector and the T-track.

I had a third glue-up that was similar that I turned into the stops. The Incra T-track plus is exactly 1/2″ high, and I went with 3/8″ deep dado for the rail connector. I think in actuality it should be more like 1/4″ deep, but I’m sure there will be a third revision to this that will correct it.

I used drill bits that just fit those M6 bolts, so they threaded in to the MDF just like the rail connector. I did the same for the 1/4″ bolts that attach the guides to the T-track. I don’t know why I did this, but it seemed to make sense and worked.

As I said, I made the stops the exact same way as the connector part, thinking that a wide base would be better for getting a true measurement. I used slick tape to line where the T-track touched the stop, so I could get a good connection there and still slide easily. That worked well.

The width of the stops however did not. When I did my test cuts, I was out by about 1/16″ over two feet.

Now, there could have been a few factors here, but I chose to improve the stops. I cut them a lot narrower, and added screws where it would contact the piece.

This gives me pretty good adjustability for getting good contact with the workpiece. My method for these, for now, is to make sure I have a clean edge on the piece I am cutting. Then I mark the width I need, line the Festool rail up with my marks, then adjust the stops and screw heads to where everything is snug like it needs to be. I then verified my test cut.

There’s only the slightest bit of difference, and this is over 16″ wide. At least for the upcoming project this will be completely acceptable, but I won’t stop striving for excellence. To that fact, I decided to freestyle some softening of the edges and corners on the connectors and hung them on the wall.

Yeah, I’ll make a version three at some point. I’ll be a bit more exact on my hole placement, etc. But I think this is a fully functional setup at this point and I’ll be using it very soon…like maybe tomorrow.

Including the 1/4 sheet MDF I had to buy for version two, I’m all in for right at $75 for the entire lot, including going back and buying additional M6-25 bolts. Since I have plenty of that MDF left, a third version will not cost me a cent if I decide to revise.



Link to my motivation:


Bench Shavings – 1/21/17

It’s been an interesting few days in the shop. I’m working on a pair of DIY Festool parallel guides, and the shop is a bit messy again. Lots of MDF dust around the saw. I really should consider going ahead and upgrading my dust collection, even if it’s doing something just to the saw. The dust shoots forward and not down. Might help if I had the guard on with the dust port, but with the vac it isn’t that much of an improvement. In the future I’ll have to close in the saw to get better collection.

The dust on the floor is pretty slick, and my saw was sliding around a bit. It was a good reminder of not to have a polished shop floor surface. Even the unfinished MDF (?) that makes up my floor is too slippery at times. I wonder what my solution will be in a new shop.

If you’re looking for details on the guides, I will have a dedicated article about them when I am done. They are most likely functionally done at this point, but I need to test them out and then work on the aesthetics. These are the second version, and I’m sure at some point there will be a third. The third might even include video, something I was seriously considering, but I still had some things to work out. I’m sure v3 will be what the two people who read this site and check out my Instagram will be talking about.

I will need to clear up the mess a bit, but mostly it will consist of a vacuuming and sweeping session, plus a put-away of the tools used. Won’t take very long at all, considering just about all of the tools now have a good home. In fact, I told my wife the other day that my shop was probably as clean as it has ever been, even before it became a shop.

Unfortunately, when it becomes clean again it won’t be to build the side table for my son. Yes, it is getting pushed back again. That is because my wife and I are tasked with building a theater stage set. Thankfully I am not handling the artistic side but the practical side. I’ll have to build a main rotating display, which I am still working out, but my main task will be to build boxes. Lots of boxes. The group has about six of these 18″ cubed OSB boxes they use to sit or stand on, or use under stuff. My task is to build a whopping 14 more of them. Each cube has five sides, and while the dimensions of all the pieces isn’t purely identical to get a true 18″ cube, you can see why I would want parallel guides for this task. I plan to crosscut the full 4’x8′ sheets at 18 inches, then cut down by 7/16″, the height of the OSB, on a couple of dimensions depending on the piece. Some 2″x2″ braces in the corners, attach with pins and glue, and the job should be done. I might preassemble part and deliver flat to save space. Otherwise I might need a box truck.

It’s raining pretty good today, and I have pretty much a full day of appointments, so I don’t know if I’ll be able to test the parallel guides out. Perhaps this evening.

Finally though, I get to share what was (mostly) a Christmas present that finally arrived – the picture at the top, a Veritas Medium Shoulder Plane with a PM-V11 blade. I’ve been wanting one for awhile, and it joins my Router Plane in the Veritas family. Here’s what I have so far, in preparation for making a hand tool cabinet. I have plenty left on my wish list, and at some point all non-Veritas planes will be replaced. Lots of new stuff on the list too.

Bench Shavings – 1/14/17

Another wonderful day in the shop. In contrast to last weekend, when it was about 20°F in the shop, today it was around 70°F. Welcome South, Brother.

So first off the bat, welcome to the redesign of the site. I figured a new year, a fresh start. Going to see how I like it across the different devices I use, but so far so good. Let me know what you think.  I think the larger featured image will be nice, I’ll have to come through and take more pictures overall. Perhaps with a better camera as well.

So, for the afternoon in the shop. I continued with the plan to steadily improve the place, both by cleaning and doing some mild organizing. The goal is to start on the side table soon, perhaps in the next couple weekends. I still don’t have a final design, so I need to work on that at the same time. For today though, it was all about cutting down some more of the worst quality plywood and getting it bagged up. I probably got about a full sheet’s worth of ply (obviously not still one piece) cut up and in bags, ready to sneak out into the trash pickup.

I also temporarily put up the little wall cabinet over by the bandsaw. After getting it up there, I’m almost positive it won’t stay long term. It juts out a bit too much in relation to both the bandsaw and the lathe, the latter being the much bigger issue in operation. I’ll leave it up for a few weeks while I figure out where that last systainer will go, plus the lung protection. I also secured the power strip right below it so it stops partially hanging off the wall.

I also moved the big grinder into the router table for the time being, until it too can find a permanent home. If I can arrange a strong enough shelf where that cabinet went, perhaps there. It needs to be removable because the Wolverine jig sticks out too far out the back.

I also made a nice storage solution for my MFT clamps. Normally assigned to a shelf somewhere, I drilled 7/8″ holes for the clamps to sit in, and 1/8″ holes for the knobs to thread into. I’ll go back and make a better version with 20mm holes at a later date with a bit more room for expansion. I cut a couple strips at a 10° angle at the miter saw to keep things from falling out.

It was a good day in the shop and on the site, and I’m hoping to have another one tomorrow.

Bench Shavings – 1/8/17

A little cleaning a day keeps the junk at bay.

I started this day knowing I wouldn’t be appearing in my shop. It started out around 11F, and wasn’t going to get above freezing. So naturally, I made it out there. It was about 21F when I came inside, and where I’d normally leave and let the heaters do work, I stayed and turned on the Steelers game. It took 37 minutes to rise 10 degrees, and about an hour and fifteen to rise 20 degrees. This really isn’t bad for a shop as poorly insulated as mine, with no permanent heating or cooling source. By the time I was done, it was in the mid 40s, and I was fairly comfortable. Of course, I was wearing four shirts, two pairs of pants, two pairs of socks and my feet were still a bit cold. But, I made it work.

So, while I was enjoying my Steelers advance to the next round of the playoffs, I followed through on my promise of the other day by continuing to clean and get things organized. Breaking down sheet goods was less of an option than it even was on Saturday, so I went with just finding homes for things. I got the counter cleaned up to where the only thing left on it were my drills, remotes, heater and a keyboard. The counter is clean enough so that I can bring out any of the hardware containers, and did just that to put away a bunch of screws that were hanging out in different places.

That was a fairly easy task, so it was on to the workbench. I took off the two long pieces of plywood, and set them near the door for disposal. I took off all the spring clamps and put them on my router table, while I try and figure out what I’m going to do. In reality I just need a piece of ply sticking out of a wall, but still ideas are going to be looked at. Otherwise I took the drill bit container, sorted out all the loose bits, and mounted it on the wall near the drill press. There is a perfect little area under the parallel clamps and above the F-clamps.

I slightly redid the wall next to the door, making room for the screwdriver holder. I moved the fire extinguisher and thermometer to accommodate.

I ended the day with the workbench not completely clear, but big strides made to getting it ready for work. I have some room on the wall to put a few more flat-ish things, so there’s more opportunity for storage work. I’m one more session like this, plus one really good plywood cutting session away from having the shop be ready for the next project.

Present and Future Tense, Part Three

Now that I’ve hit on just about the best outcome I can get with a 12×12 shop, it’s time to look to what life could be like in the next shop.

The lessons I’ve learned with my starter shop have been tremendous. When it is all said and done, I learned way more about having an overstuffed shop than I ever would with a garage-sized or larger shop. Unfortunately my woodworking has lagged because of it, but ultimately I think I will be better for my experiences this way.

Just to recap, this is what I have going on now, minus some minor details like dust collection and some things that just haven’t been modeled to this point (the header pic above is current as well):

As I said, there’s probably not much more I can do with this space. Now, what a new shop of the same size could do would be to have additional storage space in a loft area. I could move and upgrade the air compressor upstairs or to a nook outside. Dust collection could get an even bigger benefit from that, moving the main and miter saw vacs, plus the dust separator. This would allow for a bit more flexibility with storing the spindle sander, mortiser, etc. Basically anything that just needs a home out of the way. So even a redo of the current footprint would gain benefits.

That said, things open up when the footprint expands. Here’s what a 12×16 layout looks like, just four more linear feet:

Looks largely the same, but that’s the point. The table saw can be pushed almost right up against the wall, for better floor space clearing. I can get a few more inches between the router table and table saw, so that the fences clear each other. There’s quite a bit of room for moving things around and assembly toward the back. There’s room to use the jointer and planer in either the square space or the walkway.

On the left there I’ve moved the planer out from under the miter saw, but it doesn’t have to. That space could then be used for a drum sander, or storage. Or for a stand for the mortiser or sander. Lots of possibilities there, but obviously being able to add a drum sander, my last big tool want, would be the priority. The drill press would move to the counter, which I’ve wanted to do for a bit a la Dave Stanton. Or if it wasn’t feasible I could find a home for it a couple other places, one of them where it is in my shop now.

The 12×16 shop is an intriguing layout to me because, if planned properly, the shop could start out as 12×12 and be expanded to that size. Theoretically I could have that extra four feet as a deck, then pull the boards up, put down floor, and build the walls up when feasible. It would be a really smart play if I could pull it off.

That said, I’d honestly like to go even bigger. This is what a potential 14×16 shop looks like.

As you go bigger and bigger, many more layout options come into play. You can start to tailor things to a workflow instead of the space available, and this layout keeps things very simple and relatable to the other sizes. I could use the workbench as an outfeed, do a few other things. I don’t think it’s quite big enough to have the workbench be accessible from both sides, but it’s close. Having it as an island gives some advantages for assembly and some hand tool work, so it’s a nice goal to have, but not at the expense of having to give up a needed tool or other goal.

To be quite frank, anything over 12×16 isn’t likely on this property. While I have a carport, there’s not enough room to turn it into a garage without removing the chimney that juts out into it. Putting a garage-sized shop elsewhere in our backyard would be a massive amount of doing and money. I don’t like our house that much, and certainly don’t like my neighborhood that much. I’d much rather put the money toward a new house with either land for a blank slate, or a big garage or basement area. I’d even take a shared garage space, because most of what I have could be converted into mobile storage and tools pushed to the perimeter when needed.

I think I’m pretty much done messing with Sketchup and layouts for awhile. There’s really nothing else to add unless/until a new shop space comes along. Same thing for talking about it, I think I’ve beat this topic to death over the last six years. I will continue to seek out improvements, but aside from small tweaks I don’t see what much else can be done. I’ll post updates on what goes on, but I don’t see much point in dedicating entire posts to it anymore. Not unless some epiphany comes along, or there is some major change in how my shop is equipped. With what I have, I’m happy. Or at least I will be once I do some final cleaning. I think it has been a great exercise in getting me back up and running in a short time frame when it happens, and now I know. If for some reason I have the opportunity to work in some sort of different space, I’ll take that opportunity and challenge as it comes – there’s little point anymore to dreaming and thinking what if.

Dance with the date you brought. I’m about to head out to the shop to clumsily step on her feet.