My next book: A hands-on guide to the handmade revolution

I just handed in the final chapter of my next book, called “Handmade: A Hands-On Guide,” and I wanted to give you all a taste. While my first book, “Build Stuff with Wood,” is all about…wood, 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.

Power.of.the.Net
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.

Screen Shot 2018-01-20 at 6.24.09 PM
It’s a Golden Age for makers of all stripes. Dozens of YouTube channels, blogs, and sites like Instructables.com will teach you how to DIY almost anything.
IMG_3693
Makerspaces are popping up in urban centers around the world, answering a new generation’s need for equipment, education, community, and a place to work. This is ADX in Portland, Oregon.
IMG_9692
Facilities like The Build Shop in Los Angeles offer affordable rental time on 3-D printers, laser engravers, and more, with expert help available.
IMG_3493
There are community workplaces of all kinds scattered around the country, like San Francisco Community Woodshop, which offers education and excellent equipment.

 

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,” coming out in fall 2018, 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.

IMG_0991
Ezra Cimino-Hurt builds boom boxes into vintage suitcases, with high-end components that put real soul back into your mp3s.
IMG_0234
Jed White made this steam-punk lamp with copper pipe, an Edison bulb, and a few simple electrical supplies.
IMG_1131
Geoff Franklin shows how easy leatherwork can be with elegantly simple items like this tabletop valet.
IMG_3371
Mike Warren, of Instructables.com, made this tabletop fireplace with concrete and plumbing pipe, and a super-simple casting method.
06
Mike’s fellow full-timer at Instructables, Jonathan Odom, designed and built a cardboard chair that is amazingly sturdy and comfy!
IMG_5385
This outdoor table, with 2×4 base and concrete top, is the brainchild of Brad Rodriguez of FixThisBuildThat.com.
IMG_6214
And Rob Leifheit made this awesome LED sign with an IKEA frame, a laser-cut mask, a few LED strips and a $10 LED controller that makes the colors dance.
Advertisements

Why everyone needs Forstner bits, and which ones to buy

I recently tested a pile of big drill bits for an article in Woodcraft magazine, coming out in the April/May issue (#82), and along the way I uncovered some amazing values in Forstner bits, which the magazine doesn’t mind me sharing with you. Here’s why this is big news: If you plan to do any woodworking at all, you can survive without Forstner bits for a while, but not long, not if you want to do really nice work.

Simply put, Forstners do everything that a normal drill bit does, but better, and they add a bag of magical tricks that no other bit can perform. Big holes with dead-flat bottoms? No problem. Drilling at an angle, or with the bit halfway off the wood? No sweat. Seriously. Forstners can do it all.

IMG_5208-2

No doubt you’ll start your career with a standard set of twist drills, with the usual V-shaped tips. Sick of those wandering off the mark, you’ll discover brad-point bits, with a sharp tip that keeps the bit on track, and cutting spurs at the edges that ensure a clean entry. Sometime soon after that, you’ll need to drill holes bigger than 1/2 in.–which is the biggest bit in most kits.

At that point, you’ll head for the home center and see what you can find. Spade bits work pretty well, but they dull fast in hardwoods, and they have a long center spur that makes it hard to drill stopped holes in most boards. Hole saws work OK, but are pricey, considering the fact that they can’t drill stopped holes, and can’t go through anything thicker than about 3/4 in.

Enter the almighty Forstner. They are one of the priciest bits, but their meaty build and unique cutting geometry makes them extremely durable in the toughest woods. And no other bits drills cleaner, in more ways, or with a flatter bottom on stopped holes.

Get a set, say up to 2 in. or so, and you’ll find amazing ways to use them: clean counterbores for bolt heads, overlapping holes for clearing out almost all the wood in a mortise, decorative cutouts, dog holes in bench tops, and too much more to mention here.

Drawer pull tight
Forsner bits make lovely decorative details, and drawer pulls like this one in a walnut nightstand I built.

By the way, ignore those folks who say Forstners can only be used in a drill press. They work just fine in handheld drills, as long as you start slowly and go in square. Save the angle and overlap tricks for the drill press.

IMG_6166
I tried almost every major brand of Forstner bit for the Woodcraft article, and there is good news for bit buyers.
06j8006s1-2
Lee Valley’s sawtooth-style Forstners were the best overall performer in my tests, beating out much pricier bits. They are made of high-speed steel, which holds an edge much longer than standard carbon steel.
147069-0.jpg
The WoodRiver bits from Woodcraft were the best performers for the buck. This 10-pc. set goes up to 1-1/2 in., and it’s a steal at $55.
IMG_5160-2
And here’s a bonus tip for happy drilling. The best bits will drill clean entry holes, but always back up your workpiece with some scrap wood. It will support the back of the hole, guaranteeing a clean exit too.
IMG_5180-2
This is the back side of the hole. Pretty darn clean.