A while back I showed how I hang custom tool panels on French cleats, a great way to keep your hand tools safe yet close at hand. Recently I found a cool alternative to my approach, using multiple French cleats this time for an even more versatile system.
It’s all part of an article I just turned in to Woodpeckers Inc., a top-notch U.S. hand-tool manufacturer. They’ll be adding how-to articles to upcoming catalogs as another way to serve their customers, and mine will be one of their first.
The article came about because a lot of people don’t realize that the CNC-cut tool boards that come with their Woodpeckers squares and straightedges can be hung on the wall to store and display these handsome tools. Small tabs keep the tools safely in their pockets, making it just as easy to take a tool down as it is to put it away.
Turns out the time-tested French cleat is a great way to hang those tool boards. In fact, Woodpeckers suggested I hang several rows of cleats, giving users even more ways to arrange their tool boards. What’s funny is that the technique Woodpeckers is using to cradle their tools in pockets is called French fitting, so we have the Gauls to thank for that technique too.
The cleat array holds my custom tool panels just as well, letting you store and display the rest of your most-used hand tools in an even smaller space. Here are a few highlights. Look for the full article in an upcoming catalog or email from Woodpeckers.
When we moved to Portland in 2015, we bought a fixer-upper, with all the sad hallmarks of 1970s construction, including a world of nasty old carpet, filled with decades of dust and dander and God knows what. Let’s not even talk about what I found when I pulled up the old carpet pads.
As soon as I could, I started tearing the funky old carpet out of the house, replacing it with hardwood flooring–and with new carpet in two small rooms.
While the Home Depot carpet installers were at the house, I pulled up the last bit of old carpet in the house–on the stairs–and dumped it into their truck (with their kind permission). Then I waited till I had the time to tackle the stair remodel.
Underneath the carpet was just cheap 2×10 construction lumber, with thin boards nailed on as risers. But I had a plan and a few tricks up my sleeve. After seeing thick fir treads at a local restaurant, attached with screws and plugs, I figured out a way to do the same at our place.
My wife and I like rustic elements in home design, and I had purchased a pile of thick native fir for a song from a local sawmill, earmarking them for our new treads. The challenge was how to add thick treads without raising the level of the stairs too much and having an extra-tall step at the bottom and a problem where the top stair meets the upstairs floor. The solution was a miter technique that gives a thin board the appearance of a very thick one. I learned it from a great woodworking friend, Mark Edmundson.
The miter technique let me wrap a wide, 3/4-in.-thick board over the front of every 2×10 tread, and make that board look 1-1-/2 in. thick. I started with thick fir, but the cool thing about this trick is how it will let you start with 3/4-in. boards that are already surfaced. I only used thick timbers because I got them cheap.
The other challenge would be seamlessly fitting risers into the spaces between the treads. For that I used an old trick borrowed from the countertop and cabinet trades: a cardboard template.
By the way, we went with a simple oil finish to complete our rustic look, embracing the wear and tear as part of the character. But you could do this technique with a fine hardwood too, and top it off with a much more protective polyurethane floor finish.
I did my best to grab some shots along the way, so I could share as many tips as possible. Enjoy!
Back in 2016 I designed and built a Japanese-style gate, which appeared in Fine Homebuilding magazine this past year, and appears every day in my backyard (the best part). I visited the Portland Japanese Garden for inspiration, as well as a few websites and Google images. Once I settled on the design for the gridwork panel in the door, I realized it would also work at larger scale for the railing system on an upper balcony that sticks out of the house, just across the backyard patio.
Well, this year (2018) I finally got around to those rails and balusters on the balcony, which used to be that generic contractor grade you see on condos and apartment buildings. Fine for what they are, but a combination embarrassment/challenge for a woodworker like me.
I started by pulling down all the wobbly posts and rails and taking it all to the dump. Then I covered the joists with TimberTech, the same excellent composite decking I used on the deck in the backyard, and screwed new posts onto the deck using these long, awesome, decorative screws designed for thick timbers, from Home Depot. The posts are cedar, as is everything in the new rail system. I added top rails to the posts, and screwed a composite deck board onto the top of each one.
The next key part was adding a bottom rail, with would complete the rectangular frame where each panel of gridwork would go. To keep those bottom rails parallel to the top, I just made a spacer stick, which I pressed the lower rail against when screwing it into place. BTW, I held it in place with a combination of angled screws and these decorative angle pieces, which look nice.
As for making the grillwork balusters, I started with 1-1/2-in.-square cedar stakes/balusters you can buy at the home center. Then I did some drawing to scale up my original, small grillwork to suit the thicker pieces. You want to get the horizontal spacing adjusted so there are even spaces at each end.
Then I cut all the pieces to fit inside the rail system. Your spaces will probably vary from post to post, so keep track of which grid pieces go where. The vertical lengths should be consistent, since you used that spacer stick to set the lower rails. As for the rest of the process, I’ll let the photos do the talking.
I continue to design and build DIY projects for Digital Trends, and this is one of my new faves. It’s a great-looking, super-functional rack for your collection of vinyl records, which also happens to be totally easy to build. The how-to video is up now, and here are some of the highlights.
The four parts of the rack are held together with simple notches, which are so sturdy on their own that you don’t have to nail the fit of each one and they don’t have to be glued. That means you can cut them with a wide variety of tools, by hand with a coping saw, or by power with a jigsaw or bandsaw. If you’ve got one, I believe a dado set would do the tidiest job, but it’s not necessary.
I found one gorgeous 10-in.-wide jatoba board at my local hardwood shop, and cut all the parts from that. You’ll need about 60 in. of length, and a 1-in.-thick board will look better than 3/4, though it’s all good. You don’t even have to nail the dimensions, but the 10 degree angle in the feet and the splay of the sides is pretty close to perfect I think.
You’ll need a tablesaw to cut all the parts to width cleanly, though you could do it with other tools. Another option is to ask your lumber dealer to cut up the board to the lengths and widths you need.
After that, there are a couple of really cool tricks for laying out the notches. Start by chopping the feet to that 10-degree angle on the ends. I used a miter saw for that. After penciling in some tick marks for where the notches begin, you can use the end of one foot to lay out the notches in the other! Just lay one foot atop the other, reversing the angle of the end to create the same 10-degree angle in the other direction.
To get the other side of the notch, there’s another simple trick. Lay the foot on edge on that first line and trace its other side.
In other words, you are using the actual boards themselves to lay out notches that will fit them. The notches in the tall sides are square, so laying those out is easier, but still use the feet on edge to lay out the second side of each one.
After that I used a jigsaw to cut along the inside of each straight pencil line, and then made curving cuts to remove the waste piece between them. Then I sanded the whole project to 220 grit, broke the edges lightly with 150-grit paper on a block, and applied two coats of Minwax Teak Oil, rubbing each dried coat with a brown paper bag to burnish it–another great trick. As you can see, jatoba takes a beautiful polish.
I first saw this project at Maker Flat, a Portland B&B created by Bryan Danger and filled with handcrafted furniture and accessories. On the front deck was this awesome sign with the house number formed by screws, acting as pixels of a sort. I was blown away and decided right then to both make one for my house and to put a picture of Bryan’s sign in my next book (chock full of maker projects, coming out in fall 2018).
Since the book only contains a picture of Bryan’s sign, with no how-to, here is the step-by-step for creating one like mine. You can do it all with a cordless drill, but it helps a lot to have a drill press for the pilot holes, so each screw goes in perfectly square and the sign ends up looking very uniform.
Also, I used about 6 lbs. of 2-1/2-in.-long stainless steel screws, which aren’t cheap. You want stainless steel, which won’t rust or tarnish outdoors. I drove them into a cedar decking plank, which will weather to a nice gray. But you could use other outdoor woods for your sign, like white oak, teak or ipé, and put a finish on them to preserve the color if you want. Personally, I’ll enjoy the contrast between weathered wood and the shiny screws.
I also took advantage of a sweet Woodpecker’s T-square for laying out the grid, though a normal square and tape measure would work too. Read on for all of the steps and tricks.
We love the finished sign, and visitors always stop to give it a close look. “Gorgeous,” one said recently. Music to my ears.
With the help of two really cool companies, I’ve been producing videos of some of my coolest new projects. As always, the main idea is totally do-able projects that are totally worth doing, like the stuff in my 2017 book, “Build Stuff with Wood.” Links to the videos are below, and I’ll provide more as time goes along.
One company is Woodpeckers, a manufacturer of top-class woodworking tools right here in the U-S-of-A (Ohio actually). I’ll be sharing all sorts of techniques and projects on their YouTube channel. So subscribe to see all my future videos. This time around, they asked me to design a project around their new M2 box clamps, clever little gizmos that keep parts at perfect right angles while you screw or clamp the joints together.
I designed two cool mitered boxes in the Mid-Century style, and attached hairpin legs to turn then into little side tables or nightstands, with an opening in the middle for books and storage. Here’s the video that shows how the box clamps help.
The other company is Digital Trends, a hip reviewer of all things tech, based right here in Portland. They’ve hired me to design and build a bunch of stuff, like the pallet-wood beer caddy I blogged about here, and super-cool frames for your nicest vinyl records. Those frames were inspired by something very similar by Jonathan Odom of Instructables.com. He is a fountain of amazing ideas. I especially love how the album covers can slip in and out without removing the frame from the wall. Beautiful as they are, those record are meant to be played!
My latest book, called “Handmade: A Hands-On Guide,” just went on Amazon and I wanted to give you all a taste. While my 2017 book, “Build Stuff with Wood,” is all about making sawdust, this one blows open the doors to a dozen other ways of making things. There is a new handcrafted revolution happening, and it’s breaking down the old boundaries with an explosion of pure creative joy.
A brief history is in order. When the digital era first arrived a few decades ago—with video games and cable TV at first, then the Internet, social media, YouTube, Netflix, and so on—it dealt a crushing blow to the hands-on life. All you had to do was look around your neighborhood to see fewer people working on their homes and gardens, fixing things for themselves, and doing crafts like woodworking.
But the urge to make things by hand is an ancient one, and refuses to die. As best we can tell, homo sapiens walked upright onto the world stage 200-300,000 years ago, with a genetic lineage that extended millions of years before that. That makes modern society a mere instant in human history. We evolved—body and mind—to resist the brutal forces of nature, by hunting, gathering, making and using tools, and mastering all of the materials we could get our hands on. Our survival depended on it.
I argue that much of what makes us truly happy contains echoes of that evolutionary history: love, laughter, cooperation, outdoor living, being self-sufficient, and making things with our hands. For many of us, digital natives or not, these essential experiences are more deeply satisfying than pressing buttons and swiping screens.
Building things unites your body and mind in a single task, forcing you to focus on the moment, slowing your chattering monkey brain to a more methodical, peaceful pace. You were naturally selected to love it.
Like any tool the Internet can be used for good, bad, and everything in between. The whole time it was rendering us helpless, it was also feeding a rebellion. Inspired by the hacker movement and empowered by the Web, a new generation of makers began using digital tools like 3-D printers, laser cutters, microcontrollers, and circuit boards to build things on their own, outside the reach of corporations. Soon they were mashing up their projects with wood, metal, and other building supplies, and a rediscovery of traditional crafts soon followed.
While, admittedly, most modern citizens are still heading toward those floating recliners at the end of WALL-E (a must-see movie for readers of this blog), there are unmistakable signs of life. Etsy has exploded with artisanal goods. Makerspaces and community workshops are popping up all over. School systems are learning that STEM doesn’t stick as well without hands-on experience, and shop classes are making a comeback under hip new titles like “Engineering.”
Whether they call themselves makers, woodworkers, leather crafters, inventors, hackers, or just people having fun, there is a common thread: the desire to build something rather than buy it.
This new maker movement is way more about creativity than perfection, about using whatever, tools, skills, and supplies you have to make something cool. And the old boundaries just don’t matter. Want to mash up micro-controllers with wood and metal parts, do it. Want to dive deeply into a traditional craft, that’s great too.
“Handmade,” out now on Amazon, is for everyone on the outside looking in, enticing them with a wide range of projects anyone can do with simple tools and supplies. Better yet, you’ll be making practical items that will become part of your life. Here is just a small taste.