Just before moving into our house in 2010, I consolidated two spaces in the basement for my woodshop–a small workroom and a craft area. Both of these spaces featured a utilitarian but whimsical (read: wholly unappealing) linoleum tile floor. I’m pretty sure the color of the tile in this part of the basement was “Smallpox Barney” – a variegated periwinkle that either looked like a) Barney the Dinosaur just threw up or b) like an interior designer threw up – on Barney.

As my first goal when moving in was to just have a shop, the easiest and cheapest path to that goal was to simply extend the existing flooring to the new shop boundaries. Though by no means my favorite option, it allowed me to focus on other aspects of the shop’s infrastructure: walls, lighting and electrical. And oh yeah, moving the family across the country and getting them settled in.

Woodshop V1 under construction

Woodshop V1 under construction

Then came the flood.

Since the flood essentially ruined the ceiling and walls in the shop, the whole shop was going to be gutted and most of the reconstruction (thankfully) covered by insurance. As everyone knows, however, linoleum tile can only be damaged by a combination of black magic and Kenny Loggins. The floor was unharmed by the flood and as such, I was on my own financially for replacing it. Still, with everything moved out of the shop for a few months, there was no better time to replace the indestructible Barney vomit floor with something more appealing both aesthetically and ergonomically.

I’m writing these posts because while researching different flooring materials for use in woodshops, I found no information on using cork. Though I’m sure cork has been used by others before me, I was pretty much going into it blind. So I thought I’d contribute my experience with cork to the intertubes so that others could benefit from my experiment. But to cut to the chase: cork is an outstanding woodshop flooring material, at least for me.

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The handtool area of the current workshop

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Watershop Down

October 4, 2014 — 3 Comments

As most of you probably know (some of you firsthand)–last winter was a hard one in the middle of the US. In our town, school was canceled on more than one occasion due to cold–not due to snow–and in Chicago, we had more snow this year than any year on record except one.

Cue dramatic woodshop music. It’s time for a montage.

On January 8, 2014, a $1 piece of copper looked like this when it burst in the ceiling above my woodshop:

Burst Pipe Elbow

And so it rained inside my woodshop, which in turn made my tools look like this:

Rusty Plane

But later that evening, a good friend, some bourbon, those fabulous Klingspor rust erasers, and some serious elbow grease made my tools look like this:

title

The next day, my shop looked like this:

The Day After

And in fits and spurts over the next few months, the shop looked liked this:

Bare Walls
New Insulation
New Drywall

And by early summer the shop looked like this (Click these images to view larger versions)

Details to follow in upcoming posts, but here’s the summary:

  • Removed built-in cabinet and counter
  • New lighting fixtures and relocated / centralized lightswitches
  • New electrical and network connections
  • Better mounting job for air cleaner
  • Chalkboard wall
  • Antique library card catalog for hardware and tools
  • New sink
  • Cork flooring

It was a good thing the new woodshop was ready to go by early summer, because that was just in time to not have any time to work on projects. Work, family, and farm claimed my summer months, and those plus a new back injury, a couple of new puppies, and a side project are claiming my fall. But I’m itching to build and have a backlog of projects drawn up in Sketchup.

Computer Riser Stand

November 29, 2013 — 8 Comments
iMac Riser Stand: Installed

The almost-finished project

I recently replaced my 27“ iMac with… another 27” iMac. What I love most about these computers is the ability to use them as an external monitor with a MacBook Pro. This gives me the power and “consistency” of a desktop machine for personal use, but also a very capable mobile setup for work that can be used comfortably for design when I’m working at home.

Apple apparently decided that in order to mount the new iMac on a monitor arm via a VESA adapter (as I have been doing for the last decade or so), I’d have to buy a completely different computer–a special version of the iMac that has a built-in VESA mount. For all sorts of reasons, I did not want to buy a computer that could only be used on a monitor arm, but the stock iMac posed a problem:

Height Problem

The “normal” height of the iMac does not clear the top of the MacBook Pro’s screen. First world problem, I know.

Impetus to make something!

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Bike Bench

November 16, 2013 — 2 Comments
Bike BenchThis photo pretty much characterizes my spare time this year

A New Old Cruiser

November 3, 2013 — 4 Comments

As mentioned earlier, this summer my woodshop became a bikeshop. Now that Fall’s here, I’m in the process of reclaiming my woodshop, though that doesn’t mean the biking will stop. One of my favorite projects from this summer was rebuilding a commuter bike I’ve had for a long time, and I intend to continue riding it through at least part of the winter.

My rebuilt Electra cruiser

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The XO-1 Returns

August 7, 2013 — 8 Comments

I had every intention to use the summer to design and build some much-needed side tables for the house (the “just-put-your-mug-on-the-floor” thing is getting old), but shortly after finishing the raised garden boxes, my woodshop quickly turned into a bikeshop.

Late last fall, despite some significant reservations, Ray learned how to ride his bike without training wheels–just in time for winter. Then, during winter, he outgrew his tiny person bike. So in May, I purchased a new bike for him with the stipulation that I would not put training wheels on it. And within a few weeks, we were riding up and down the block together. And in no time, riding around town together. It wasn’t long before we wanted the whole family to join in on our adventures, so I set my wife up with a new bike for her birthday, order a bike trailer for Anya, and bought a bike rack for the car.

This sudden ability to bike as a family was impetus to bring a long-lost friend out of storage: my 55cm 1993 Bridgestone XO–1.

xoxoxoxoxo

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Standing Room Only

May 27, 2013 — 5 Comments
Our H.O. Studley Toolchest talk at Handworks was well-attended.

Our H.O. Studley Toolchest talk at Handworks in Amana, IA was well-attended this weekend.
I took this iPhone panorama during Don’s presentation.

My favorite moments? The absolute silence in a barn full of roughly 600 people (so I’m told) during the 15-image slide sequence at the end of my presentation. Seeing some good friends that I don’t get to see often enough. But also getting to meet the many of you who came up to me and introduced yourselves afterwards. Glad you enjoyed the talk.

This year, I wanted to make good on a long-standing promise to set the family up with a garden. I’ve looked at raised bed gardening because I don’t know too much about the quality of soil in our rather urban suburb. But like many people with bad backs, when I see people gardening (raised bed or not), my first thought is, “Aren’t farmer’s markets great?”

We visited some good friends in Sonoma a few years back and they had built some raised garden beds unlike any we had seen before. These were roughly 3.5–4 feet high and seemed like a brilliant way to improve the ergonomics of gardening. But I have some big ideas for the backyard over the next few years and I don’t want to commit to large, immovable containers of soil. I looked into commercially available elevated garden beds but I find them ugly, find them expensive, and like all woodworkers, I immediately resent the very notion of purchasing something I know I can make.

gb planters

Spoiler alert! The result, already sprouting some tomatoes.

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Henry at Handworks

May 21, 2013 — 2 Comments

This Saturday morning, I will be speaking along with Don Williams and Christopher Schwarz in Amana, Iowa at Handworks, a formidable gathering of people interested in woodworking tools and traditions.

I’m a late addition to the speaker lineup, which is perhaps appropriate because actually–I won’t be speaking that much. Doing most of the speaking for me will be a small selection of the thousands of images I’ve taken in the last two years of the Henry O. Studley Toolchest project. This will be the first time the public has ever seen most of these images, which will likely not be seen again until they are featured in Virtuoso, a book being written by the aforementioned Don Williams and published by Lost Art Press

The Studley Toolchest

I’ve written before about this project and my involvement with it, but I can’t say enough how great it is to work with Don and with Chris (again) and to have the privilege of examining and documenting this national treasure. I’m excited to share that experience and some of its results-to-date with the Handworks audience on Saturday.

Japanese Box Build

April 14, 2013 — 5 Comments

A few weeks ago Wilbur Pan wrote a post about a Japanese toolbox he built. This project caught my eye for a number of reasons—its simplicity more than anything. One board, some nails, and a few tools. The perfect project for Ray.

I figured a box like this would serve Ray well. He needed a way to transport his “contraption parts” and toys from one place to another, and he’s wanted a place to sister-proof toys he considers special. So he was excited when I proposed this project to him.

I showed him the box on Wilbur’s site as well as a Japanese toolbox that Chris found when he was in Australia. That box features some very simple finger joints that I find aesthetically pleasing. Ray, however, chose the simpler box, saying, “I don’t like those fancy sticky-out things”. So simple it was.

We were all set to go out to the home center to pick up some pine but I thought I’d first check the garage attic, where some miscellaneous boards leftover from my house’s construction remain. Bingo. A pine board more than long enough, totally dry, and only slightly twisted. Ray helped me bring it into the shop.

box board

I had him size the box using his arms, then count and mark out the pieces on the board. I then crosscut the pieces with a handsaw while Ray held them and stacked them.

L1030087

As I didn’t want the box to be too heavy for Ray, I dimensioned the lumber to a little over 1/2”, then asked him to pick up the stack of wood, telling him that the box with toys in it would be at least that heavy. He decided to make the box shorter, and I made the box a little less tall than wide. I then showed him how all the pieces would go together.

L1030091

Unlike the wooden jet project, Ray found putting the box together very challenging. With the jets, fitting the pieces together was not unlike putting together a puzzle—it was easy to tell which parts went where. When you pressed most of them into place they would stay together. Not so with loose boards. I quickly planed a very shallow rabbet (maybe 2 passes) on the bottom piece—he then had a very slight edge which helped him know where the box sides should go.

But clamps, even the quick-set ones, weren’t easy for Ray to manipulate, and in truth, I think it was in this initial assembly stage that Ray kind of gave up on the project. He made it through some glue and a few nails but started getting too restless and fidgety to keep him in the shop safely. I need to do a better job of realizing that it’s the instant gratification of snapping together LEGOs that I’m competing against. The trick isn’t keeping his attention span; he has an enormous attention span and boundless curiosity for things he enjoys; the trick is keeping the steps challenging enough to engage him but not so challenging that they become frustrating. In retrospect, I think setting the box up for him to drill and nail would have been a better approach.

After Ray went to bed that evening, I finished the box. I used box nails on the bottom, setting them deep so they wouldn’t scratch whatever Ray set the box on. And in addition to hide glue (unnecessary, but made assembly a little easier) I used wrought head cut nails for the sides and top handles. And for the pieces which go across the top of the lid, I used some cut brad nails, but only because I didn’t have any other cut nails that would work with the thinner stock.

L1030096

After milling the lumber (an unnecessary step if you buy appropriately dimensioned lumber to begin with), and not accounting for time spent helping Ray, the whole project probably went together in about 45 min or less. It really is a great project; if only everything I did in the shop could come together so quickly!

Japanese Box

I placed the finished box on the kitchen counter and Ray was thrilled to find it in the morning. He loves it—enough that he asked me to help him make a few more. A few things I’ll try differently as we make these boxes:

  • I’m going to pursue the finger-jointed version next time. I’ve already made a prototype, and by gang-cutting the joints, the whole thing comes together very fast. I think the finger joints will actually help Ray manage the assembly more easily by making more apparent what pieces go where and make the whole box easier to handle. The only clamp that will really be necessary is the vise in the joinery bench, which is easy for him to use.
  • Since we’ll be making a few boxes, the first one be an assembly-only project, with all parts prefabricated and holes pre-drilled. It’ll have the finger joints cut and small rabbets to help register pieces against each other. He’ll just glue and nail. He loves the hammer and cut nails.
  • For the second box he’ll drill at least some of the holes; he loves the eggbeater drill and the brace and already knows about pre-drilling from the jet project.
  • If we make a third one, maybe I’ll let him use a saw for one of the final cuts—maybe a flush-cutting saw to trim off one of the top pieces.

My wife and I are thrilled that the box is a place that Ray actually likes to keep toys that would otherwise lay all over the kitchen and family room, and of course, Ray is thrilled that his sister can’t get at them.

L1030122

But Anya’s strong enough now that she’ll just end up taking the whole box with her if Ray isn’t sitting on it. This is all part of the plan. Someday Anya will want to make a box for herself. And maybe by then Ray can teach her how.