Friday, December 5, 2008

Getting Started in Woodworking

I've always wanted a woodshop and tools and the ability to build things, never mind that I didn't know what that might be. But aside from a few simple hand tools and a small contractor's table saw I once owned, I never had room for anything. That was especially true after my first marriage ended and I landed in a second-story condo with only an outside balcony for workspace. Even so, I set up to make picture frames there with a Craftsman miter saw and a Wolfcraft router table and Ryobi router. I even managed to make a few before the idea of spreading that howling noise throughout the neighborhood put me off. After that, the equipment sat exposed to the elements for several years, unused.

Fortunately, I found and married the woman of my dreams. I've jokingly described her as "the widder lady with the big basement." She's much, much more than that to me, as you might expect, but it's nonetheless true. I took over payments on the house where she was living and, yes, it did have a large, relatively unused basement. What might have been off-putting to others was pure opportunity for me.

Since we married a year ago, I have been on a journey to make something different of that space. That has meant cleaning it out of old, unused and unwanted furniture (Goodwill knows me when they see me coming!), a non-functioning Honda motorcycle of uncertain vintage, and what for lack of better description can simply be labeled as "stuff." That's not complete yet, but enough room has been created for me to work with.

The second task was to buy a couple 4X8 sheets of pegboard, frame, paint and hang them. I painted them a bright yellow, two coats, and managed to bolt them to the concrete block basement wall with masonery screws singlehandedly (if you want to know how that is done, just ask). That was sufficient to get many of my accumulated tools off the floor and out of the toolbox where I can actually see and find them.

Third, I built a workbench. Not the tiny, slapdash, unstable kind of thing I had been used to, but a large, solid device featuring doubled, glued and bolted 2X4 members and two sheets of 3/4" plywood glued together for the top. I bought the plans for this from somewhere on the Web, I no longer recall where. It is nothing if not sturdy, though now that I have read more about them, I find that it lacks holes for bench dogs (something I never imagined I would ever want). Perhaps I can retrofit it for them. I am in the process of adding a Lee Valley vise which will feature maple facings.

Then I hung lighting to convert the formerly dingy space into a brightly lit, inviting and safe workspace. And, I installed a heavy-duty wall rack system to accommodate all the hardwood lumber I expect to be acquiring in future months.

Those tasks accomplished, I set out to acquire the tools I would need for a genuine woodshop. I started with a Craftsman radial arm saw, something I had always aspired to own as an alternative to a table saw. In retrospect, I think it is a tool I could have done without, a table saw proving to be essential. I added a Grizzly 14" band saw, a Craftsman 12" drill press, a Grizzly 6" jointer, replaced my old router table (which was frozen up with rust) with a Freud router table and router. I added a Craftsman planer. I ordered a SawStop contractor's saw, which is on a truck somewhere in the middle of America as I write this. I bought a Delta belt and disk sander after using one in a class I took recently. And I added a Steel City mortising machine. I also purchased a Steel City air filtration unit, which is still in my car, and I am negotiating with my brother-in-law for a deal on a 1-1/2 hp. Delta dust collection system. When all this is in place, I will have, I believe, a very complete woodworking shop and I will be ready to create huge piles of chips and sawdust and maybe, even, something worth looking at.

In addition to preparing the space, I have invested in a number of basic books on woodworking and have been devouring them over the last several months. I've become the accomplished armchair woodworker and subscribe to numerous magazines and more blogs than I can really keep up with.

In future postings, I'll have a lot more to say about the details of this journey and about my soon-to-be-started first projects.


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