“I do a lot of finish-sanding freehand, without a sandpaper block, so I can smooth edges and get into nooks and crannies. But the finer grits are usually bonded to thinner paper and, at least for me, the paper is too thin and ends up tearing long before the grit wears out. So I apply duct tape to the back of the sandpaper. The sandpaper is still flexible enough to sand a tight radius and it’s far more durable. You can use this super-strong sandpaper like a shoeshine rag.” — Chuck Merchant
A little different from the others, the Wood Shop is geared more towards the “self-helper.” Take the three-hour safety class, available every Saturday, to earn your qualification card. You can then utilize the shop to work on your own projects. A wonderful variety of wood working equipment is available for customer usage for a very reasonable fee. Be sure to check out the available classes where you can learn to make pens, boxes, decorative cutting boards and even rocking chairs. We also produce custom order items to include coin holders, specialized plaques and shadow boxes.
This is the one tool in the shop that provides the greatest opportunity to save money, if you are willing to purchase a well made, light duty machine, and take lighter cuts. In the past I have used General 14" planers that can hog off seri­ous cuts all day long. The problem is that these professional units cost over $5000, and they would crush my buddy as we haul them down the stairs (note: don’t be the guy on the bot­tom). After doing a fair amount of research, I purchased the Dewalt DW735 13" thick­ness planer. The unit came with a good manual, and was in a good state of tune. It is light enough for me to carry around the shop with­out excessive grunting, so that made it very simple to install. The planer has a sig­nificant internal fan-assisted chip ejection system. The chips are catapulted out of this planer, so have your dust collector running before you run stock through it. I now have to make more cuts at a lighter cut depth, but I saved about $4500, which makes my budget happy. The planer makes clean cuts, and has two speeds. I don’t see a reason for the two speeds for my type of work, but there is a faster feed rate should you choose to use it. Knife changing is simple and quick.
Hard to determine which stain you need in that bespattered collection of cans? An easy-to-make “stain index,” courtesy of reader Bob Jacek, solves the problem. Section off boards of your favorite woods into squares with masking tape, and apply the different stains across the width of each wood type (pine, oak, birch, etc.). When the stains are dry, brush on lengthwise your regular finishes—polyurethane, water-based polyurethane, oil, orange shellac, etc. You’ll be able to tell how each stain looks with each finish. Label each one. Use both sides of each board, and you’ll have a wooden encyclopedia of stain and finish combinations. Plus: How to stain wood evenly.
To make the most of your workshop oasis, look for a water dispenser that offers a choice between chilled and hot water. This will let you enjoy a cold, refreshing drink in the heat of summer rather than a lukewarm bottle that’s been sitting around gathering dust. You’ll also cut down on the amount of plastic your household goes through, which is a boon for the environment. In the winter, the hot water tap will also you to make a cup of tea or a mug of instant coffee on the spot. No matter what your taste, a versatile drink dispenser will keep you hydrated and happy while you work.
Tape measure: I know this isn’t a power tool, but it is the one tool that you should always have with you. It is a pet peeve of mine – if you are planning on building something, or you are actually building it, have a tape measure with you. If you are in the shop, on the job site, or even at Home Depot make sure you have a tape measure with you or at least one very handy (Home Depot probably isn’t the best example, since they have them widely available, but you get the point). Without a tape measure, not much beyond rough work can get done.
When I began to arrange my shop on paper and on the computer screen, I realized that, in a small shop, moving wood is easier than moving machines. So I ignored the idea of setting up the space for workflow—for example, creating adjacent, sequential zones for lumber storage, rough dimensioning, final dimensioning, joinery, and so on. That workflow concept is more appropriate for larger or commercial shops.

With these three power tools (and a few hand tools), I feel like I could make about 80% of the jobs that come through my shop on a daily basis. Obviously, some jobs will require more specialized power tools to complete, but these three probably find their way into almost all of my work. With that said, there are a few other tools that I couldn’t imagine being without and I feel need to be added to the list.

Natural Light. Natural light is best, so any windows that offer illumination to the space should be put to good use. If you have little sunlight in your shop, locate your workbench so that its work surface gets whatever there is. Even the best eyesight is made better by good light, so the close work to be done on a benchtop benefits from the natural light.
A great freestanding beverage cooler should come equipped with a thermostat that lets you control the temperature to your liking — the colder the better for carbonated drinks, which tend to taste best when served at a frosty 34 degrees. If you plan to store adult beverages in your cooler, look for a model with a lock to keep your drinks away from children and teens. You’ll also want a model that allows you to reverse the way the door swings when you set it up, as this will provide flexibility in your workshop layout to help maximize your space.
Chop saw (compound miter saw): I do a mix of woodworking from furniture to built-ins and even finish carpentry, and I find myself regularly using the chop saw. Even if used for nothing more than roughly cutting a long board into two shorter ones to fit in a car, this tool earns its keep. It is especially useful (with the help of an outfeed table) on long pieces that are precarious to push through a table saw. But, since a table saw with a jig can perform many of the same functions, this tool doesn’t make it to the essential list. With that said, I expect to have a chop saw wherever I am working, whether it be in the shop or at an install. If this was a post about on-site woodworking and trim carpentry, the chop saw might be the #1 tool.

I am often surprised at what tools woodworkers don’t use or own, especially when they are some of the few that I find essential. Sometimes it’s just the difference between hand tool and power tool guys, but sometimes it’s just from lack of experience or the fact that they haven’t given it too much thought. Most likely they just buy tools as they need them and never really considered what tools would give them the most bang for the buck.


When you design your workshop setup, climate control often gets ignored — and that’s a huge mistake! If your workshop or hobby room is in an unconditioned space like a garage or basement, you could find that it’s brutally uncomfortable to work in there during warm weather. You’ll be much happier with a solid fan — or several — to keep air moving for your comfort.


One of the challenges we all face is how to move machines into a home without damaging the home, the machinery, or yourself. I actually had to bring things through the front door, and across hardwood floors, and turn 90° to descend the stairs into the shop. To protect the floors, I laid down sheets of 1/2" MDF that I could use later. On the wooden stairs, I used three strips of softwood strap­ping, held with wood screws to the stairs. I mounted a 2x4 baton to the wall studs at the top of the stairs, with a 5/16-inch eye-bolt through it.
The beauty of a portable A/C unit is that you don’t have to heft it into a window and block off a valuable source of fresh air for keeping paint fumes at bay. Instead, choose a model with a low profile that you can tuck under a table or against a wall when not in use — a model with casters for maximum maneuverability is ideal. Choose a high-powered unit that will condition at least 400 square feet of space and move it where you need it for maximum comfort as you work.
KHIEM NGUYEN (Age 28, Austin, TX): Inspired by midcentury modern and Japanese design, Nguyen is a true craftsman. His passion for crafting began with photography and led to him becoming an open major in art school so he could "get (his) hands into everything." After college, Nguyen and his fiancée moved to Austin, where they began A & K Woodworking & Design, specializing in furniture and wood crafts.

When it comes to woodworking for beginners, there are 6 things that I think are essential to know for how to start woodworking. I’m going to discuss each of these tips in hopefully a really simple way to make it a breeze to understand, so you can get to the fun part of actually starting to woodwork! I wish when I started and was learning how to woodwork that I had a simple beginner tips guide like this one!
In most small shops, once the key machines are in place, others are arranged wherever there is room for them. There typically isn’t enough free space for these tools in the middle of the floor area, although sometimes you can tuck a machine into an unused space. For example, in a shop where the table saw is in the center, a shaper (or a router table or spindle sander) with a table the same height as the saw can be put on the outfeed side of the extension table (see the illustration). Also, building a router table directly into the table saw’s extension table is a great way to save space, as well as make use of the saw’s fence for routing operations.
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