Thursday, November 15, 2018

Who you gonna call?...

There isn't a day that goes by when I don't get a call from someone asking me to make a woodworking cut, or fix something that's broken. 

Just this week, I built a trunk deck in a car for someone who wanted to camp and sleep in their car, trimmed the boards on a trailer deck,  and shortened some table and chair legs for a dining room set. It's not glamorous, but it sure does fill a need in the community. 

Click on that link above to read a disturbing story about the shortage of tradespeople. With most high school trade programs and apprenticeships drying up, as well as younger people choosing to not get involved in more blue-collar endeavors, it's going to be very tough to find someone to perform basic tasks like hanging a door, replacing a garbage disposal, or rewiring a lamp. 

I'm not sure what the solution is, but high school counselors should probably be steering more students toward these fields. Not everyone is college material, nor can many afford it. There should be a way to educate students about the need for woodworkers, plumbers, electricians, and more. Not to glamorize it, because trust me, there are days when it's ANYTHING but glamourous. 

But nothing beats doing something you love, and working for yourself. 

Friday, November 09, 2018

Another quick scooping technique

It's funny how things get away from you.... a student and I set up this jig on the tablesaw a while back, and I'd forgotten how cool and easy it was to scoop wood with it.  

It's simple to clamp a beam over the top of the blade, and then drill a hole directly over the center of the blade, so that wood can pivot over the blade. 

In this case, we used a drill bit as our pin. 

This simple jig will create awesome bowls in wood... you just rotate the wood, raising the blade little by little, until you get the desired depth.

Here's one in pine, 

and one in walnut.  If you look closely, you'll see a lot of texture from the blade, and frankly - it can be sanded out, or left there for a cool effect.  I ended up sanding this out, as I wanted a perfectly smooth surface, but I've seen some gorgeous pieces with the surface left textured, right off the saw.  

In an upcoming Advanced Cutting Board class, we'll be employing this technique on some charcuterie boards - can't wait to experiment with scooping some longer boards to see how this looks!

Monday, October 29, 2018

Pony/Jorgensen Back in the Saddle Again

These band clamps have see better days, but let me tell you - they've helped over 3000 people make their boxes in the classes I teach. That's outstanding, and no doubt we've gotten our use out of them. 

But...  these clamps are starting to show their age. 

They used to be packaged like this - with four metal corners, and a cheesy little wrench that promptly ended up in the circular waste file... i.e. the trash can. 

These clamps are tired - the springs are wearing out, 

and the nylon straps are frayed and worn down. But they still do a hell of a job when gluing a box, making our corners match up perfectly. 

Seriously, thousands of people have used these, and the Pony/Jorgensen brand is far superior to anything else that's on the market. 

It was getting to the point where I was desperate, and considered buying some of the clamps shown below. But...whoever designed these bad boys (below) ought to go back to design school and rethink them. It's impossible to tighten them well, and they're awkward and bulky. OK, that's just my opinion, but whenever someone shows up with one of these at the shop, they quickly complain about it, too.

They're awful.

I started to panic just a bit when my clamps were showing their wear; they were hard to find, and mostly off the market, as Pony/Jorgensen was going through some issues. You can read about it here. 

There's no doubt that the Pony brand took a hit, and that they disappeared from the market. 

But at this year's Hardware show, I connected with some reps from the company, and explained how my school as in dire need of replacement clamps. We had a long discussion about the state of clamps in the country, and I lamented that one of the more popular brands had turned out to be a huge disappointment to me. They had sent me dozens of clamps to test, and almost every one was a failure. (I'll save that for a future post!)

So all the way back in May at the Hardware show, the Pony people took my information, and cheerfully told me they'd hook me up, when production resumed. 

Imagine my surprise to get this box delivered to the shop. I hadn't a clue what it was.

The paperwork didn't tell me a thing...

But when I opened it, it felt like Christmas in October!  

Just as promised - a few dozen clamps, replacing our old tired ones. I'd told the fellows at Pony that I would test these out and give them a fair review, so here are a few first impressions. 

The clamps come rolled up, and the loose end has to be threaded through the body, to create the loop. The clamp also comes with plastic corners, which keep your wooden corners crisp, so no dented corners on softer woods. 

One of the newest features is an integrated wrench on the clamp. No more fumbling for a socket or crescent wrench to tighten the clamp. And even better - the wrench has a toggle on it, so you can loosen the clamp, too. 


The coil of strapping had to be unrolled, and the end threaded back through the clamp. 

Since the ends were roughly trimmed square, threading the end through the clamp was a little tricky. 

Since I had so many to thread, I clipped the end into a slightly narrower shape, which facilitated the work. It wasn't pretty, as the strap is beefy and hard to snip.

 But once the end was just a tad narrower, slipping it under the the lever was easy. 

My first use of these was a solid test - a recent commission had me gluing up a cube, where all the corners were mitered, so that no end grain could show. It had to be perfect, with crisp corners, so this was an excellent way to test these clamps.

 I almost never use the corners, but in this case... I definitely needed them.

The clamps worked flawlessly, and the box came out perfect. 

So what did I think about the clamps?... there were definitely some pros and cons. 


  • I appreciate the integrated wrench very much. It simplifies things, and it is TERRIFIC that it is reversible. Who ever added that to the design wins "tool designer of the year" award from me.
  • The strapping is beefier than the previous design, and again - with so many people using these clamps at my shop, I'm happy to see that they're going to hold up better than the last ones.  


  • They're over-packaged. I had to unpackaged 24 of these clamps, and it took quite a while, with a great deal of plastic and waste. I think they'd be better shipped in a simple plastic bag with a cardboard label stapled at the top. Our trash sites have enough plastic waste in them.

  • The spring that holds the lever in place seems weak. Many of my older clamps suffered from weak springs, too, and we had to toss a few out, over the years, when they wouldn't hold their tension. Right now, the springs work fine, but in a few years, I suspect a few of these will fail, too. 
  • I'm not sure they need to include the corners with the clamps. Sure, I used them for the project I mentioned above, but I can count on one hand how many times I've used them in 20 years. Maybe sell the corners separately, and save some money? I suspect no one uses them, but that's just a guess.
Finally... my biggest suggestion...
  • Sell these already looped and ready to use. Having to loop the end into 24 clamps took much longer than I thought it would. If the average woodworker is only buying a few of these, it might not matter, but to me - it was a pain to have to thread each clamp. 
Thanks to the great people of Pony/Jorgensen for hooking us up with such a fine product! The students and I appreciate it!

Finally - I didn't realize this, but there is quite an interesting story about this company's founder. It's fascinating, and worth a read... click here. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The problem with not measuring correctly

Teaching a table class might be one of my favorite things to do - Table Making gives students a variety of skills to master, and let's face it - everyone can use another table in their home. 

So this month's Table class is filled with absolute beginners, and we're starting off with simple designs - meant to develop skills like proper design, precision cutting on the tablesaw, gluing and clamping to ensure squareness, and most of all, accurate measuring.

I love this group - they're energetic and fun, 

and they love everything about woodworking. The energy they've put into their tables is remarkable. 

One student had a little trouble with her measurements - so her table base came out a tad longer than her top. (That's why we measure twice! and cut once!) 

But it's nothing we can't fix... which is another reason to love wood. 

Saturday, October 20, 2018

This month's mitzvah

Don't ask where I've been - it's too complicated to go into... 

In addition to some traveling and teaching, I've spent some time giving (woodworking) back to this town, in a variety of small ways. 

Like this mitzvah...

 I was contacted by a fellow who explained he was a bit down on his luck, but felt he might be able to right his ship if he had a way to make a living, by shining shoes. All he needed was a shoeshine box.

If you Google "shoeshine box" - you'll get about 9,400,000 results in 0.51 seconds. I liked this design the best.

To be truthful, I get hit up all the time for donations and "volunteering" queries, but most of the time, they're not legit.  Something about this guy hit me in the gut; he was polite and honest, and just needed a woodworking favor. And for once, it was actually something simple that I could do. 

He and I collaborated on a design, and I built it in an afternoon.

 Hopefully, he's out there making a living, giving some great shines to shoes around Vegas!

Meanwhile, I have a few challenging commissions coming up. As Arnold says - I'll be back...

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Happy Birthday, Jimmy Carter

Tried to post this yesterday, on his actual birthday, but Blogger wouldn’t let me! So here it is, a day late (with apologies).

He is one of my favorite woodworkers, and a role model for many.  

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Boys and their toys...

Here is a quick follow-up on that massively thick table top that I made last week. As requested,  the top was a ridiculous three inch thickness, and weighed 65 pounds. 

A little overkill, but hey - if a customer requests it, I build it. 

After finding the center and laying out a circle, I mounted the legs. 

Jeez, if you thought the table top was big, these legs make that look tiny in comparison. Made of 3/8 inch plate steel, each leg weighed 24 pounds. They slante out at 10 degrees, and the top bolts were countersunk, so that the top was flat. 

And ready for weaponry! 

BTW, that curved cut-out in the corner is where the shooter sits. 

 This table was so heavy, we had to disassemble it to get it home, but that is when the fun began!  Here is the weapon as it is supposed to sit - propped up with a sandbag in front, and   whatever-the-thing-is in back. 

Can you tell I am not a shooter?

 This table is making one marksman in town a very happy fellow tonight, 

and I am just happy I don't have to move this table around anymore!