Who am I? Why am I here?

I've been a professional woodworker for over a decade, the past few years of which I've spent as Cabinetmaker at Fernbank Science Center in Atlanta, Georgia. I also teach woodworking classes, mostly at Highland Woodworking.

I'm writing this blog to try and show what can be done with very basic tools in limited space. I have a huge shop with big machines at work, it's true, but for my own personal projects I work in borrowed space: half of a two-car garage.

I also hope to write occasional posts about why I'm a woodworker: the pleasures of working and the beauty of the material.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Hock Kitchen Knife Kits

I just put the first coat of finish on this guy:
If you've done much messing around with hand planes, you'll probably recognize the logo. If not, finish reading this and I'll try to start you down the path to enlightenment.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Planing Small Irregular Pieces of Wood

Just a quick post about using two-sided tape in a pinch.

The workpieces in question are a pair of scales for a kitchen knife I'm giving to my son. They're oddly shaped, so my bench vise couldn't hold them, and too thin to hold that way anyway. The ends have been cut off too far from square to use my Time Warp bench dogs; the force of planing would rotate them away from behind the dog and they'd just slide across the bench.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


Here's a great essay about Larry Hagberg, a blacksmith employed by the New York City Parks Department.

In general, what he says about making by hand is obviously backed up by his many years of direct experience and thinking. It confirms much of what I think about the inevitability of woodworking's (and blacksmithing's, and other crafts') survival: the crafts will survive because making stuff is a huge portion of what makes us human.

But there are two great quotes, from his answers to the last two questions in the interview, that I want to highlight here:

 In the old days, when we got tired and couldn't hold the hammer anymore, we would duct tape it to our hand and just keep working.

I remember a few moments like that from when I was younger, and learning a new woodworking skill created such an ecstatic buzz that my surroundings faded away, time ceased to exist, and gradually even my body felt peripheral to what the hand, eye, tool, and wood were doing.

At the other end of a working life, Hagberg has this to say about retirement:

I heard about so many guys who retire, especially when you do a hard job, you can't just move to Florida and live on a golf course. You're a working guy, that stuff'll kill you. All of a sudden you stop doing what you're doing and it all veers to the right and downhill.

Amen, brother. I'm nearly 20 years behind you, but already I feel the truth of what you're saying in my own body, and see it happening (both ways) with my older friends and teachers.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

To the Victor Go the Bench Doges

A few people have asked me "What happened with your Shop Stool Build-Off entry?" I wrote about building it in this recent post, but never followed up to let you know how it fared in competition.

Reader, I won! . . . not best of show or anything, but "best concept," I guess because I noticed that a shaving horse and a shop stool have many of the same features. You can read about (and see photos of) the REAL winners at this blog entry by Chris Wong of Flair Woodworks, the organizer of #SSBO. Some of the other entries are very, very well-designed and -executed pieces of genuine furniture. It was humbling to be put in their company.

Turns out, there were real-world prizes! About a week ago, I got an envelope in the mail from Canada:

It contained a set of wooden bench dogs from Time Warp Tool Works, a company known mainly for wooden molding planes. My bench already has 3/4" holes for round metal bench dogs, so I was able to compare them side by side right away.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Ebonizing Wood

One way to make your woodworking stand out is to invest some time in learning new finishing techniques. Ebonizing by the method I describe here is a great addition to the thousand-dollar shop, because it requires no special equipment or tools other than the plastic cups, gloves, rags, etc. you already have on hand.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

#SSBO (Shop Stool Build-Off)


A couple of months ago a few woodworkers I follow via their blogs and Twitter started the idea of having a "build-off" where woodworkers simultaneously build their own version of some specified project, and live blog about it. I was hesitant to join in, because some of these people have MAD skillz. On the other hand, the project they settled on is a shop stool, and I had just realized I need a comfy place to sit in the shop, so I signed on.

The other week, I was starting to resent the time commitment. My weekends are precious to me, and I might rather have the unstructured time. But then on Thursday, it hit me in a flash: if my shop stool could be really, really useful to me, as well as comfortable, even if it doesn't look like what the other guys are making, why not? 

So I'm re-committed to doing this. I will have a shop stool by the end of the weekend, win, lose, or draw. The design I settled on doesn't look like what you probably imagine when you think "shop stool," but it has three legs, is very comfortable as seating, and definitely belongs in the shop! I'll post pictures here as I take them, every few hours starting about 7pm tonight, and if you want to follow live, as well as keep track of the other contestants' progress, follow along on Twitter, where my handle is @JimDillon6 and the hashtag for this weekend's event is #SSBO. If you really get into it, Chris Wong, one of the main organizers, has a web page listing all the participants as well as links for following each of them. Here it is: http://flairwoodworks.com/2014/01/23/shop-stool-build-off-participants/

The above three photos show a crude method of putting a half-round profile on the end of a stick, in this case part of the stool's adjustable workholding mechanism. After tracing the curve I wanted on each piece, I quickly chopped back almost to the line with a chisel, then clamped the two workpieces together in the vise and sanded the curves fair with the R.O.S., working quickly through grits 40 through 150. It struck me as a good example of what the Wood Whisperer calls "hybrid woodworking" so I tweeted him to that effect. He seemed to agree.

 Laying out ratchet teeth for the height adjusting mechanism.

 I scribed a baseline on the back face of the ratchet to let me know when to stop sawing.

 Another form of hybrid woodworking: by coincidence, my best fine crosscutting saw is Japanese, and my best fine ripping saw is Western. So they're often found side by side on my bench.
Here's as far as I got on Saturday night. I had to take about 7 hours off to drive my son to social engagements and kendo, then after dinner I got back into the shop. I'm hopeful that tomorrow I can finish fabricating one or two more parts, chamfer all the exposed corners, and put the seat in place. Stay tuned!

 The height adjuster needs to have a large top to support its load.
 Yet another use for 1-2-3 blocks: tracing the seat profile onto the backing of some black naugahyde with a uniform 2" margin to allow room for the padding and to keep all the staples on the bottom, out of sight.
 Once the seat was upholstered, I was ready for assembly:
 Surprise! My shop stool does double duty as a shaving horse!
You'll be seeing this shop stool in future blog posts - - I expect to spend lots of time on that seat in the months to come. Stay tuned!

I finished at 6:15 Sunday. My son Carl and my partner Margaret and I went out for pizza, then came home and checked out the other stools on Twitter and the sites of the various makers. I strongly encourage you to check them out via Chris Wong's page linked to above, or by going on Twitter and scrolling back through the "#SSBO" tweets. This weekend was really wonderful for me - - taking part in something happening all over the English-speaking world, seeing all the varied designs people came up with, and making friends with people I've never met IRL. Good stuff! If you ever get a chance to participate in one of these build-offs, do it!