Apartment Woodworking: Year 10 Retrospective (Part 1)

I recently celebrated my 10th woodworking anniversary. About this time in 2012, I got sick of paying for furniture that didn’t quite match my sensibilities and took matters into my own hands. I’ve probably covered this before, but growing up, we were a New Yankee Workshop household (not a Woodwright’s Shop) household. So when I decided to get back into woodworking as an adult, I went first for some power tools. A home center run with my father resulted in 12″ chop saw, a plunge router kit, a cordless handheld tool bundle, and a boatload of wood screws (plus one hard point saw and one chisel). Those tools alone got me through a bed (that was reclaimed into the base frame for my bar), a desk (that was reclaimed into the base frame for my regular outdoor workbench), and a console table (reclaimed into god knows what).

But I quickly gravitated toward working primarily without power. Not just because it’s loud and dusty using a plunge router in your foyer, no matter how great your shop vac. But also because it’s meditative to me. Now I am sure there are some folks who Zen out with the random orbit sander. But not I. My happy place is a No. 6 or No. 7 hand plane and a stack of rough sawn lumber to S4S.

My other happy place.

Sure, I still have that same chop saw and cordless circular saw. And I regularly use them, along with a hollow chisel mortiser and a thickness planer. I even bought an impact driver a couple months back and can’t believe how I’ve lived without one for all these years. But the fact is, nowadays my power tools support my hand work; not the other way around.

Although I joke that I am an artist, I will never make anything that ends up in a museum. I’m not a savant at anything woodworking related (although I consider myself well above average at hand cut dovetails). I have a day job, that keeps me very busy. And in these 10 years, I’ve devoted enough time to the craft to have picked up a thing or two. And I’d like to share that collected wisdom with the world.

This will be a multi-part series. I’m not sure how many installments there will be, and I certainly expect I won’t make it straight through without deviating to regular posts. I have literally no sponsors.

Getting Started in Woodworking

If you’re here, it may be because you’ve searched “Woodworking in an Apartment” or “Small Space Woodworking” and took a flyer. If so, welcome. I’m James and I have very strong opinions on literally everything.

If you think you might want to get into hand tool woodworking with a limited tool kit and limited space, there are better resources than me. You should go to YouTube and check out Paul Sellers and Richard Maguire. Paul and Richard are giants to me. Paul’s 10 part workbench video came out a few months before I started woodworking (although I didn’t discover Paul until 2014, after 2 years of fapping about with power tools). Paul is like a combination of Mr. Rogers and Bob Ross.

Richard started posting a year into my woodworking career. Paul’s website, Common Woodworking, didn’t exist when I needed it most. Richard’s site, The English Woodworker, has long form content (both paid an unpaid) that cannot be beat. Richard is at the same time exceedingly practical and esoteric. Trust me; you’ll see.

So check their stuff out and maybe come back here if you want more of those very strong opinions of mine. If you’re open to using more substantial power tools, the Woodworkers’ Guild of America and the Wood Whisperers Guild are both good resources.

Beginner Woodworker Hand Tools

People have written entire books on this question. I have my own thoughts, sure. My only piece of real input is to buy a few tools of good quality, rather than a bunch of tools of crappy quality. But if you want my 10 year retrospective take on the absolute core tool kit, here it is.

  • Hardpoint panel saw from the home center (Home Depot has DeWalt; Lowes has Craftsman; I have used both)
  • 1/2″ (and maybe 1″ too) Lee Valley bevel edge chisel (the ones with the clear handle; they work both for fine work and mortising)
  • No. 5 Stanley Bailey pattern Hand Plane (Patrick Leach at http://www.supertool.com/ can get you a good worker that won’t take much to restore; sign up for his monthly tool list so you can build your kit with good vintage stuff if you want to go forward)
  • Stanley 10-049 folding utility knife (Paul Sellers swears by this knife and so do I; get it from Amazon)
  • Thorex double face mallet (both Paul Sellers and Richard Maguire use one and so do I; get it from Amazon)
  • 12′ tape measure (the Starrett “exact” one is pretty great, and cheap, from Amazon)
  • 12″ combination square (I use a Starrett, but Lee Valley sells a 12″ in a set with a 6″; they are pretty accurate for the price)
  • Taytools double sided diamond plate sharpening stone (these are pretty good for the price, Amazon available, but also get a sharpening stone holder from powertec or peachtree and some 3 in 1 oil)
  • Vise type honing guide for plane and chisel sharpening (I like the eclipse-style one you can get from Lee Valley, but make sure to make a stop block system for repeatable angles)
  • Cordless drill driver (let’s face it, you probably have one already)

And that’s it. Don’t forget the glue and the mechanical pencil.

You can probably get away with a speed square from the home center instead of a combination square.

Workbenches

I currently work on a Moravian-style knock down workbench based on Will Myers’ excellent video series. And Christopher Schwarz of Lost Art Press is the modern authority on workbenches of all styles. His Ingenious Mechanicks book changed my life.

But for my money, I would check out either The Naked Woodworker workbench, which can be built with just dimensional framing lumber from the home center and the tool kit described above. Or check out Rex Krueger on YouTube and his “Joiners Workbench“, which is similar but arguably easier to build with the same kit.

Or just find a thick plank and make that Grandpa Amu low workbench, which I love.

I’ve built a few of those Chinese-style low benches, two of which are shown in this one picture.

I’m going to stop it there for now. I could otherwise go on forever.

Btw, I’m not on twitter anymore. I have a strict “no social media owned by delusional man child” policy (I’ve been off facebook for several years for the same reason and never had an instagram).

JPG

3 comments

  1. The videos from Paul Sellers and Richard Maguire are excellent but one will find information in their blogs which one will not find in the videos alone.

    Chris Schwarz and Paul Sellers have very different views about workbenches and their use (work holding).
    I am personally very satisfied of my Paul Sellers workbench. (I {try to} mimic his way of working) . I have made a Moravian one for the son. (He hasn’t done much woodworking until now but he is very satisfied to have such a workbench).

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks for sharing! I always look forward to see what you are up to. I too, have found that hand tools add a little more joy to my woodworking attempts and complement my electrical apprentices. I credit Paul Sellers with giving me the courage to try hand planes after a bad experience with a bad plane.

    When I first attempted to try to use a hand plane there was no one to mentor me or enlighten me to the fact that what I had was only a facsimile of a plane and not a good one. We are now lucky to have scores of people who share tidbits of knowledge that removes the little barriers to picking up a keep simple skills alive. Keep up the good work and again, thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A real minimized list. I really like my Japanese ryouba saw. I think most beginners will become accurate sooner using it. Just don’t apply strong force during the cut stroke like I’ve seen many famous youtubers do.

    Taytools has blemished combo squares that will stay square longer than the aluminum/cast zinc ones from the box store. The speed square works until you save up a bit.

    I’d add some clamps to hold things in place. A wooden handscrew clamp or 2 to hold your work and 2 F style clamps to hold it to the bench will go a long way.

    Making a mallet is a nice 1st project.

    A low work bench like Grandpa Amu or the Schwarz Roman or Rex Kruegar version is an excellent 1st bench. When you make your 2nd bench, don’t make it wide!

    I like your youtube recommendations. There are others of course 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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