Thursday, July 31, 2008

Driving Screws into MDF

I often use medium-density fiberboard (MDF) for my shop jigs and fixtures. There are many things I like about MDF. It's stable, heavy, and costs about half as much as cabinet-grade plywood. One thing I don't like about MDF is its tendency to split along the edge of a workpiece. But, luckily, there are a couple of things you can do to avoid this problem. MDF tends to split most often when drilling and screwing in its edge, especially when using a tapered woodscrew. It acts like a wedge to drive the workpiece apart. So I've gotten into the habit of using a straight-shanked screw.
However, a straight-shanked screw isn't a cure-all. Even when using a pilot hole and the right screw, MDF can still split out. So one final precaution is to support the sides by clamping an ordinary handscrew across the workpiece, see the photo. It makes it almost impossible to split the MDF.
You can have woodworking tips like this sent to your emailbox each week from the editors of Woodsmith magazine. Sign-up for etips here.

Space Invaders Cutting Board

Space Invaders is a video arcade game that came out in the late 70's. The two-dimensional invaders dropped down from the top of the screen. The player moved a laser cannon horizontally across the bottom of the screen firing up at the aliens, and thus saving the world. What makes this iconic and worthy of cutting board memorialization is that it was one of the first games of its kind and greatly influenced the games that followed.
The pixel art of the Space Invaders works especially well in a cutting board made up of blocks of wood (end-grain up).
From the catalog: "This cutting board is hand-made in the U.S.A. Each cube of walnut and hard-maple lovingly glued to its brothers, then sanded and polished to a shiny finish. Because they're made by hand, there's an extremely limited supply, so make sure you get one before they're all gone!" has info and lots more photos.
Of course you could shamelessly rip off the idea and build your own. And you might check out a Legos catalog for more ideas, and you might find something more appropriate to your generation.
[Thanks to BoingBoing.]

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Bamboo Everywhere

I really like the look of bamboo, and it's a good thing because it's turning up everywhere. It's been around forever it seems as furniture. Perhaps the difference now is that it's being cut into strips, laminated, and sold as flooring and just about anything that requires a flat panel. Here are a couple of examples.

Dell's brand new Studio Hybrid mini computer is available in many colorful "sleeves." The exception is the sleeve made of bamboo. It's getting the featured center spot in the group photos. It sort of makes me want one, even though I just got a new laptop.
Apparently the Hybrid is very nice inside too. Review at the Cult of Mac blog.

Or, how about a bamboo sink. Yup, a sink made of laminated bamboo. Read more about the Stone Forest Moso Vessel here on ThisNext's blog. Do a search for bamboo at ThisNext, and you'll get a sense of the range of bamboo products available.

I've never used bamboo in the shop. I'm going to have to give it a try. Besides its great looks, bamboo is very hard, and it grows VERY fast. A wood for the future.

Nutty Device

One thing I've noticed about woodworkers is their curiosity about how things work. It's probably why so many woodworkers are also interested in tools and machinery. If you're in this category, you'll enjoy watching the video of 70 year old Del Short's new wooden machine, produced by Art Maddox.
It's all gears and sprockets and linkage, made of many kinds of woods. It doesn't do much, but that's not the point. You'll find the story and lots of other interesting stuff at the Automata/Automation Blog.
[Thanks Jim/WoodworkersWorkshop]

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Why Woodworking?

"Why do you like woodworking?" This is a question I hear a lot, and I'm sure you get it, too. In response, I usually mumble something about how I like to work with my hands, or like the smell of wood, or the atmosphere in my shop. But I've never really been very happy with my answer. Well, guess what? There are actual, clinically verifiable reasons why you and I like woodworking, according to University of Chicago psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and explained in his book, "Flow: The Psychology of the Optimal Experience." See if these "elements of enjoyment" describe your woodworking "optimal" experience.
1) You like woodworking because it's a challenging task. It's not simple enough to get boring, and it's not complicated enough to create anxiety.
2) Merging of action and awareness. You're just in their doing it. You're not conscious of yourself standing in your shop "woodworking." You are simply a part of the process and the woodworking happens.
3) Clear goals. You know exactly what you want to build, how you want it to look. How many other things are this clear cut in your life?
4) Immediate feedback. You look at what you're doing and you know that it's right (or wrong), the joint fits or it doesn't.
5) High degree of concentration. You're absolutely into it. Most things that would distract you go unnoticed.
6) Altered sense of time. I'm not really aware of how much time has passed until my wife comes down to my shop and says, "Are you EVER coming up to dinner?"
There are other elements of optimal experience, and you don't have to experience all of them to enjoy woodworking. And this sort of analysis can explain why you find happiness in other activities besides woodworking. But when I read this, I recognized something that I think applies to most woodworkers. So the next time someone asks you why you like woodworking, you can say, "There are several reasons I like woodworking, six of them to be exact. First, it's a challenging task..."

New Pergola from Workbench

A couple of years ago, Workbench magazine offered plans for a Sun-Filtering Pergola, a decorative grid that covers a deck or patio. It's been a popular plan at PlansNOW too. So I was happy to see them offer a variation on the pergola concept in the current issue. It's called the Eyebrow Pergola. It looks terrific, and it's not difficult to build. No special tools or skills required. This one's worth checking out.
You can find the August, 2008 issue of Workbench on the newsstand for the next couple of weeks. Or, the plan alone is available at

Monday, July 28, 2008

Another Chuck Key Keeper

The July issue of Woodsmith magazine has a short tip from a reader for making a drill press chuck key keeper. I'm not generally impressed by this sort of quickie tip. BUT this one is pretty cool, and it works really well.

The key keeper is just an inexpensive white plastic cable clamp from a hardware store. One end is screwed to the drill press. The barrel of the key fits neatly in the clamp.

I promise this will be the only chuck key holder tip you'll see in this blog.

From Log to Bowl

There's something mesmerizing about woodturning. I can watch people turn wood all day. Here's a series of short videos by Joe Fisher that shows the process of starting with a log and ending with a cherry bowl.
Joe is, among other things, one of the moderators at, riding herd over WoodNet's Woodturning Forum. He's also responsible for the beautiful cherry bowl in the photo, although it's not the one turned in the videos. That one was offered up for ritual sacrifice -- the value of which is known only to practitioners wearing strange hats and brandishing sharp tools.
See more of Joe's work at his website.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Guess I'm Not Much of a Designer

The shelving unit in the photo is called Stagger Shelves from a company called Brave Space. I don't know how crazy I am about the design, but a better photo with the unit mounted on a wall and properly propped might help.
It reminds me of a time when I was moving and I dropped a large bookshelf off the back of the truck. Amazing, it looked just like the Stagger Shelves with the back broken off and some other bits missing. And stupid me, I threw it out!
[Thanks to ThisNext]

Workbench Height

Does your back start to ache after you've been working at your bench for a while? Have you ever tried to hand plane a board and decided it was just too much work? The height of the work surface of your workbench can make a difference. It should be the right height to fit you and the way you work.
On most benches, the working surface is somewhere between 33" and 36" high. If you're average height (between 5'9" and 6'0"), that's usually a comfortable height. But even a change of 1" up or down can make a big difference in how easy it is to work at the bench. We've used a lot of methods to determine the best height for a bench. But one simple method seems to give the best results. Just measure the distance from the floor to the crease on the inside of your wrist. Adjust the length of the legs on your workbench so the height of the work surface matches your wrist crease measurement. If you're 5'10" or taller, you may find a wrist crease measurement of 35" to 37". This may seem too high for a bench -- especially considering the old standards. But those standards were developed and valid when the general population was shorter than it is today.
You can get more tips like this delivered to your computer each week, just sign-up here.
BTW: The bench in the photo is the Woodsmith Workbench. has details.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Knockdown Sawhorses

A set of sawhorses always comes in handy – until you put them away. They’re hard to stack, and they take up valuable space.
If this sounds like your experience, build a pair of sawhorses that “knock down” for storage. Besides saving space, these sawhorses can be assembled (or taken apart) in just a few seconds.
Each sawhorse consists of a long stretcher that fits down into a notch in two A-shaped supports. Drawings and details here.
This plan was one of the weekly woodworking etips from Woodsmith and ShopNotes magazines a while ago. You can have tips and plans like this sent to your emailbox each week (they're free).
BTW: The guys over at WoodNet Forums are sharing photos of their sawhorses.


Inspiration from designer Thomas Bentzen in Denmark.
From the catalog, "PINECHAIR 1.0 is a solid chair made from pine planks, created in a tradition which positions itself as a natural extension of traditional Scandinavian furniture. The idea behind the chair was to work the flat planks of pine into a three-dimensional shape."
More photos and info here on Bentzen's website. And while you're there, be sure to check out his cafe concept for the Danish Design Center. Also in pine. I'd eat there everyday.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Checking for Square

Comparing the diagonals of a cabinet or a box is a great way to check it for square. But when you're working alone in the shop, measuring long diagonals accurately can be difficult. To make this job easier, make a pair of simple tape holders.
Each holder is just a scrap of ¾″ thick plywood cut to 4½″ square. Screw two pieces of ¼″ Masonite 2″ × 4½″ to two edges of the plywood to make up a corner. Then, miter the corner to form a slot to hold the tape and allow for an accurate reading.
For more shop tips, visit Or sign-up here to have a new etip delivered to your email box each week.

It's OK, He's Makin' a Million

We all make multiple projects for holiday gifts or whatever, from time to time. Often, if you're making one, it's just as easy to make two. Heck, you've got the saw set up...
Well let's take this idea to it's illogical extreme: Chicago-based artist Sighn has taken on the mother of all projects, hand-cutting 1,000,000 wooden "ornaments" each with the simple slogan "It's ok." That's right, a million: a one and six zeros. Hand cut, one at a time.

How's he doing? Check here for an interview and lots of photos. [Thanks to]

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Wooden Cars - Big is featuring a video of a Pennsylvania-based artist, Lee Stoetzel, who uses woods chosen for their natural flaws to make large-scale sculptures.
In this video, Stoetzel is in his home studio where he's disassembling his life-size replica of a VW bus to transport to an art fair, we also see a full-size jeep, a motorcycle and a group of old Macintosh computers made of mesquite. He also shows his latest work—giant models of fixed-gear bikes—and his workshop.

Wooden Cars - Small

Is anyone making really nice, simple wooden toys anymore? They are in Italy. Take a look at these cars, each one hand made, cedar of Lebanon bodies with mahogany wheels.

Check the website for more information and some cool in progress building photos.

Monday, July 21, 2008

First-time Gazebo

Over at, member ephmynus is showing photos of his new gazebo.
For this project, I did actually use a plan I found from PlansNOW. I've never built anything other than furniture so I had no idea where to begin without a plan. So, this is the first time I've ever used a plan, the first time I ever built anything like this, the first time I've ever laid a deck, the first time I've ever done any roofing. Lots of firsts so I'm pretty glad how everything turned out.
Sure doesn't look like a first-time effort! More photos and commentary at WoodNet. Garden Gazebo plan at

Waste Wood and Cutoffs

Save 'em! At last, here's proof that there's a value beyond firewood for the contents of your cutoff bin. A designer has turned her talents to furniture made totally of cutoffs and waste wood.

From's website, "Wood waste and off-cuts were collected from factories in Denmark. This collection is made entirely out of the factory waste collected. The pieces were put together to form a wood patchwork before they were made into a chair, a book box and a series of 12 lamps."

Cutoffs rule! More photos and info here. [Thanks to BoingBoing.]

Friday, July 18, 2008

Fun with a Framing Square

Question of the day: What's the difference between a framing square and a carpenter's square? I'll give you a hint, as a home woodworker you'll want a framing square. There are lots of obvious uses like checking to see if one surface is square to another. But, in this video, Carol Beronich, assistant editor at Woodsmith, shows you how to draw circles, draw octagons, and figure board feet. Note: Carol also answers the question above, but you'll have to stay with the video for about four minutes to find out.

Woodsmith 178 out now

The latest issue of Woodsmith magazine is in a mail box or on a newsstand near you. Lots of table saw techniques and jigs in this issue, plus sharpening techniques, custom mixing stains, one-hand clamps, and routing a rule joint. The projects are a lighted display cabinet, a traditional swing leg drop leaf table and a weekend project magazine rack. Great summer reading.
Check it out on the newsstand, or go here for more photos, details, and get a preview issue.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Treehouse Retreat

WoodNet member toj is just about finished building this backyard treehouse for his kids. He designed it himself with some online help from some professional treehouse builders.

The treehouse design itself is attractive, but I think the tree branch design in the railing is exceptional.

Click on the photo for a larger view, or go here for the forum discussion and more photos.

Extreme Cube Makeover

If that were my cube, I'd be smiling too. Mahogany walls and a cherry floor. I think this is for real, but I can't tell. Even if it's a fake, I like the idea. I'd I choose a lighter colored wood, though, like maple or maybe bamboo. The dark mahogany would make the cube feel too closed in.

Click on the photo for a larger view, or click here for some more info.
[Thanks to Boing Boing Gadgets.]

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Jointing on the Table Saw

Woodworking is a lot more fun when you can work with edges that are straight, smooth, and square. That's not a problem if you own a jointer. But what if you don't?
Here's a technique from the latest issue of Woodsmith that will turn your table saw into an edging machine - giving you super-clean, straight edges that rival the work of a jointer.
This article is the free download that PlansNOW members got with their bi-monthly e-newsletter last week. Members get a woodworking tip or technique in each e-newsletter, and a link to a free download like this from Woodsmith or ShopNotes magazines.

Last Chance for Router Workshop

Woodsmith says they're running out of copies of Router Workshop, a 100 page softcover book. This is the book for hand-held router techniques and tips (a router table book is planned for next year). Plus it has router upgrades and jigs and all sorts of cool stuff. And when you buy a copy, you get access to online videos, 100 more tips, and a couple downloads. If you haven't seen it, it's worth checking out.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Hand Scrapers

This is one hand tool every woodworker should be comfortable with. Once you get the hang of sharpening and using it, you'll be sorry you took so long to try.
A while ago, ShopNotes magazine produced a short video demonstrating how to sharpen a scraper, and a couple ways to use it. And once you've tried it a couple times, it really is as easy as it looks in the video.
And another cool thing, they're inexpensive too.

Scaling Up

Wondering what to do with that beautiful piece of bookmatched veneer you've been hanging onto forever? Well, here's an idea: a wooden bathroom scale. The one in the photo is for sale at I think it's pretty handsome. It's also available in three other wood designs that are not as nice. This looks like a good time to rip off someone's idea, but upgrade the execution.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Laptop Platform

Thanks to wireless internet in my house, I can now sit in my comfy chair in the living room and read my email and check my favorite websites. The only problem is my laptop gets hot, too hot to sit on my lap for long. I recently bought a lap desk sort of thing made of I don't know what. It works and it cost $20.

But if I were made of money, I would have bought one of these, a Laptop Platform from Bedworks. It's made of bamboo. More details here.

If you can figure out how to make one, leave a message in the comments.

Upgrading Your Shop

The biggest thing now in home centers is all the cool stuff you can buy to upgrade your garage: cabinets, shelves, work surfaces, tool racks, made of plastic or metal, plain or colorful. I love the look and the organization of those garage systems.
A couple months ago, ShopNotes magazine designed a Workshop Upgrade that achieves the same levels of organization, flexibility, good looks... and you can build it yourself. It easily configured to what you want and need, and it's all made of MDF, 2x4's and a little pegboard. Here's a video. And here are the plans with a couple big photos.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Free Patio Tray-Table Plans

It's the middle of July, and if you're like most of us, you haven't spent much time in your shop for past couple of months. Cutting the grass, going to the pool, picnicing with family and friends just hasn't left much time for woodworking.
Well here's something to get you back in the shop, if only for a day or two. It's a patio tray-table project. Make it out of cedar or redwood or pine (if you want to paint it), and it will look terrific and last a long time.

The plans are free, though you'll have to sign up for PlansNOW's bi monthly e-newletter. You also get an e-coupon that you can use if you decide to buy downloadable plans. But that will be more useful when you get back into the shop this fall. In the meantime, building the cool little table will give you a chance to dust off the tools and do a little woodworking.

Small Woodshop Layout

Have you seen the photos of the big home shops that some guys post in woodworking forums and elsewhere? Wouldn't that be nice? Well, that's not my experience, nor is it most woodworkers experience. A while back, ShopNotes posted an article about small woodworking shop layouts, complete with floor plan and lots of advice, over at
It's a terrific article and one you'll find useful if your shop is squeezed into a space the size of a one-car garage or smaller.

And while you're there, sign up for the free weekly woodworking tips from Woodsmith magazine.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Laptop as Hammer?

In honor of tomorrow's iPhone launch, let's make this "high tech day" here at Woodworking Extras. This video, which I first saw on BoingBoing, may make you cringe. A guy is using a laptop to drive nails. I think we've all used creative substitutes as hammers now and then, but I don't think it would have occurred to me to use a laptop on purpose.
There have, however, been times I wanted to do this to my laptop, nail or no nail.

iPhone Wood Case

Tomorrow (Friday) is the launch date for the new 3G iPhone. It's got a couple of new features that are pretty cool if you're into that stuff, but one thing I'm definitely into is dressing up the latest high gadget tech with wood. is selling these form-fitting wooden cases to protect your plastic iPhone for almost as much as the phone itself. I won't be buying one, I won't be buying an iPhone either, but it's a terrific mix of high tech and traditional. Comes in oak, cherry, walnut, mahogany and padouk. Details and more photos at technabob.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Roll Top Chair

Like most woodworkers, I'll see something and think, "Hey, I can build that myself." Well, maybe I can and maybe I can't, and I'm not sure about this one, a roll top chair. At least, it's a chair when it's closed and a kid's toybox when it's opened.
I think the design is terrific, but I wonder about the weight limit on those tambors. Link

Cutting Rabbets on the Table Saw

Cutting rabbets on the edges of boards and panels is one of the first joinery techniques most woodworkers learn when they upgrade their joinery skills from glue, screws, and butt joints. There are several ways to cut rabbets, including on the router table, with a free hand router, and on the table saw.
In this 4 minute video, Woodsmith magazine's Managing Editor Vince Ancona demonstrates two ways to cuts rabbets on the table saw, using a dado blade and using a combination blade.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Coolest Table Ever?

I saw this "Capstan Table" video a couple weeks ago on You Tube, and knew immediately that this is the sort of thing I wanted to share -- it's cool, and it's also inspiring. Watch this video and see this beautiful round wooden table expand and contract. No leaves to worry about here. It's just amazing. I can't imagine how it works, or what something like this would cost. But like the yacht it's on, if you have to ask, you can't afford it.

ShopNotes Hits 100

Well, here's something cool to start off with. It's coincidental that it's happening now, but convenient for my purposes: The 100th issue of ShopNotes magazine. I was here at August Home Publishing when the first issue was published 16 or 17 years ago. The featured project in issue No. 1 was a router table. It's a terrific design (and you can still buy/download a copy for, but everything can be improved, and the router table is no exception. Hence the new router table.
The magazine itself has evolved in lots of ways, but it's stayed the same in the important ways: it's very readable, very friendly, the drawings and photography are first rate, and the ideas just keep on comin'.
Now it's not a magazine for everyone, and that's one of the good things about it. It's for serious home woodworkers. Guys with a shop, tools, and experience. This magazine will take you to the next level. Issue 100 is on the newsstand. Or check it out online.

Why Extras?

There's lots more to woodworking than plans and tools and sawdust. Woodworking is meditative, interesting, challenging, solitary, useful, and creative. There are also elements of design and environment. And while it can be utilitarian, there's also an sense of making and leaving one's mark on the world.
How does all this happen, especially in one's basement or garage? Well, it doesn't happen just in the shop. It happens in your mind. And that's what this blog is about, bringing the full spectrum of the woodworking experience to one place where it can be accessed and enjoyed.
The sawdust will be yours. The plans will come from Woodsmith and ShopNotes magazines. The tools, designs and everything else will come from where ever I find it and you can get to it.
I've been thinking about this for a long time. Now let's see if it works.