Downsizing the workbench

My workshop is in a single car garage that actually shares it space with a large car so everything has to be against the walls and out of the way each night.

I’ve got room for a proper workbench and have had one for years but the problem is the light and power are all over on the opposite end of the space so I always end up working over there on my portable bench instead.

This means the main bench ends up as a collection place for everything I can’t be bothered to put away properly and is generally a mess. It’s also been getting progressively worse to use when I do happen to work on it thanks to the construction timber I used warping and my rough joinery skills when I first built it.

I’m trying to optimise the space I’m using for my workshop to make it easier to get the car in and out and also to make setup and pull down time when I work quicker so decided to pull the old bench apart and upgrade the folding bench instead.

Over the years this bench has had a few upgrades and downgrades as needed, most recently it’s had a piece of plywood clamped onto it to serve as a false benchtop.

I had some spare MDF from another project so decided to give it a proper top. First I glued two sheets together and cut them to size then screwed a battern underneath to fit in the gap between the vice jaws


I added a piece underneath so when the vice jaws are closed it locks in place and can’t lift


I couldn’t mount my large vice as it would be too heavy on one side but I had this little vice that just screws on sitting around from when it used to be the end vice on my bench so added it to the new top.


I turned the top over and tested it out. The whole thing rocked forward when I used it because one of the vice jaws isn’t fixed. I decided to screw the whole thing in place permanently instead so turned it over and did that.


This was the end result. It still folds up but the top added enough weight that it’s probably as sturdy as my full sized bench was. I can also use it for my z-vice too which I couldn’t do with the other bench which should come in handy for some carving work I want to do.


Making a Mobile Mitre Saw Stand (Part 2)

The previous weekend I’d finished with the stand having a frame, top and bottom. I’d always planned for this to have wheels to the next step was to put them on. Having learnt my lesson about placement when I totally screwed up the casters on the drill press stand I carefully marked the location so the holes wouldn’t end up trying to share the same space as the frame uprights!


What I hadn’t learnt yet was that nails into MDF just don’t work. I flipped the stand over and the entire bottom just fell off. A slight detour to drive screws in solve the issue and then I was able to finish adding the wheels. Then I gave the parts that would be visible a coat of linseed oil to seal them. I didn’t do the bottom or back panels but may do those later on if I get time.

I also realised that there was a lot of spare height so added a frame and a shelf giving me somewhere to put cut pieces or my safety gear when not in use.


The next step was to line up and mount the actual saw to the stand. I set the depth so it can comfortably sit against the wall and used the fence line as a guide for making sure it was straight. I underdrilled the holes to begin with so had to fix that before I could bolt it in place with washers on either side.


I knew before I added the shelf that my shop vacuum wouldn’t fit unless I took the wheels and the posts they were on from off the bottom so did that using my trusty portable bench and a cutoff wheel in my Dremel.


Once this was done I put the vac into place and clamped my support stands to the side to see how things would look when it’s completed. The plan is to mount them properly to the sides so they are always there if needed but in a way that I can lift them off for longer cuts.


I locked the brake on two of the wheels and did some test cuts. It’s nice and stable and exactly the right height for me since I actually remembered to factor in the bottom panel and wheel height.

There’s still a little work left to do but I’m very happy with the result so far.

Making a Mobile Mitre Saw Stand (Part 1)

Back in 2011 just after I started woodworking I was driving back from the library and saw a sign for a garage sale.  In those days I thought I needed every tool that existed and so stopped in to see what they had. It was late in the afternoon and the seller was just packing up, but when I said I was looking for tools they showed me what was left.

I ended up walking away with an old GMC mitre saw for $20 and it’s been in constant use since that time. The problem is that it’s never had a proper home, instead being dumped onto whatever surface was clear when I needed to use it. I decided recently to change that as I’ve been trying to get the workshop more organised and thought a combined stand for the saw and my old vacuum would be nice.

The stand I made for my drill press (in the back corner of the below photo) has held up really well so decided to use the same style for this one. I started with a piece of 1200mm x 450mm MDF from the local hardware store and placed the mitre saw on it to get a feel for how wide the stand should be. I decided that even though the saw is only around 400mm wide, I’d just halve the sheet and make the stand a little wider both for stability and to make the build easier. This also gives me some room underneath for more storage.


The lengths of timber I’d bought for the sides of the frame were also 1200mm so I just marked the cut halfway after checking that they were actually the right length and not over or under.


I’m finding blue masking tape very useful around the workshop for bundling parts together. This helps me to keep the cut pieces together until I’m ready to assemble and also to make sure they are all the same size. It also helps to stop me picking up one of them and thinking it’s spare stock and using it to cut another piece from – this has happened!


Once I’d cut everything to size and bundled it together I was ready to start assembling


I did a test fit of all the parts so I could make sure everything fit before I did anything else, just in case, but it all looked good.


The MDF got cut to start with. I couldn’t be bothered setting up sawhorses for one cut so did it this way, which actually was a lot more stable than I expected and worked just fine


I pre-drilled and countersunk everything to make assembly easier.


Then I assembled and squared the side frames, using glue and screws to make it nice and solid


Once the side frames were done it was easy to put the cross pieces in, using corner clamps to make it square as well.


It was getting late in the day but I wanted to get the top and bottom in place before finishing up so just nailed them in place. The uprights are a bit thin but I plan to put a shelf in and a back on so this won’t be an issue when finished.


Turning trash into a Chip Carving Knife

I blame Derek Cohen for inspiring this project. He’s a woodworker that I admire a lot but if I hadn’t stumbled across this post on his website I wouldn’t have thought that I could easily take an old plane blade and turn it into a chip carving knife.

Turns out the easy bit wasn’t quite correct but I did manage it!

I started with an old blade. I’ve bought and been given and got rid of more planes than I can count so there’s a few blades sitting around unused. This didn’t have a brand on it but a quick test on the grinder showed the steel was good.


I marked up the blade shapes I wanted. I wanted a pair of knives for chip carving so one is the chip knife and the other a stab knife.


I tried to cut then out with a hacksaw fitted with a hard steel cutting blade but it would barely touch the blade


Instead I ended up using a cutoff wheel in my dremel rotary tool. The wheel was a lot larger when I started than finished!


I got one blade free of the original blade


Then the second. Cutting a curve with a dremel is quite hard


They had a lot of rough edges so I put them in a little model making vice that belonged to my dad and using a combination of files and a grinding wheel in the dremel got them to a decent shape.


They cleaned up quite well, and I also roughed in a bevel for the chip knife. It still has a small hump on the back of the blade in this shot, I removed it with a course file before the next step.


I tried to cut a slot in a single piece of Tasmainain oak to fit the blade but couldn’t get a tight enough fit so ended up using two pieces of what is probably Meranti to form the body of the knife. I used a router plane to cut out the spot for the blade and glued the whole thing together with a glue called Weldbond which is meant to glue anything to anything and so far has done as claimed.


Once the body was glued up I drilled two holes through the blade to put pins through. The first drill bit I tried just wouldn’t go through the steel, this one I used is called a viper bit and went through it without effort.


Then I traced one of my existing knives as a pattern for the body


and glued and hammered two Tassie Oak dowels through the body and blade to hold it in place


Using a small flush cut saw I trimmer them to the same level as the body


and using a carving knife and rasps started shaping the body


You can see it get progressively closer to the final shape


then it’s finished and sanded.


I gave it a couple of coats of shellac with a stain in it and finished with beeswax.


While I wish I’d found a nice wood for the handle this was the only thing I had in the right size around the workshop and it feels fine in use. I’ve only begun chip carving so I’m not getting perfect results but I am pretty happy with the result. I’ll finish the other knife later on and post a picture showing them in use.

It’s not easy being green

I was horrified a few weeks ago to hear about Kermit the frog and Miss Piggy breaking up. That was until my lovely wife pointed out it’s happened multiple times and they always end up back together.

Unlike the muppets, I like to try new things occasionally. In the past year I’ve learnt to carve with both knife and gouges, started making boxes, learnt to cut dovetails and learnt to turn wood on my drill press.

The problem I’ve found is the amount of effort to get square stock round. It didn’t make a lot of sense to me, why take something that was round, make it square then have to work to make it round again?

I decided to try and find a branch that was already round to start with to see how it would turn on the drill press. The gum trees in the garden yielded a likely branch and I cut it to the size I needed and stripped off all the bark with a knife.


Then I put it on the drill press. I decided to use a nail instead of the live center I usually use as it’s a bit soft and might come loose.


I started turning it but rasps seemed to bounce off so I tried a microplane with much better results. I got long thin shavings from it and it turned easily.


I may or may not finish this at some point but the idea was just to see what green wood would do when turned on a non-traditional lathe like a drill press. It was fun to do though and saved a lot of time compared to working with prepared stock.

Wood you like to be more organised?

Do you feel like you could be buried in a timber avalanche every time you try and get something out of your wood pile?

Do you feel like the piles of wood in the dark corners of your workshop are growing when you’re not around, slowly building up their numbers until there’s an offcut army ready to attack?

If so, never fear because there’s an easy way to get on top of your woodpile before it gets on top of you. This is post #2 in my “Is your workshop a mess?” series.

This is what my wood pile looked like before I started. In reality it’s about three piles – one in this corner that consists of sheet goods and long boards (and apparently old saws!)


This bucket for thin but long stock


and finally this one underneath my grinder stand that contains all the short stock


Forgive me the terrible pun in the title and let’s get going. If you read the first article in this series you already know the drill

1) Prepare an area to sort things onto. Sawhorses work well and since we have a stack of sheet material we need to sort let’s use those as the tables.

2) Find a couple of empty boxes and a bin. One is for small pieces you want to keep, one for scrap that isn’t worth keeping but can be used in the BBQ/Fireplace and the bin for anything that can’t be saved or burnt like treated or painted wood.

2) Grab every bit of timber you can see and put it onto the sorting area grouping the same type of timber where possible, and sizes/thickness when it’s not


3) Discard anything that is obviously too small or damaged to be used. Put anything that is safe to burn into the burn box and the rest into the bin. I don’t have a fireplace but one of my neighbour’s parents do so they are more than happy to take a box of kindling off my hands a couple of times a year.

4) Put anything that is small and too good to throw out into the third box. We’ll go through this again at the end to make sure we’re not hanging onto anything that really doesn’t need to be kept.


5) Allocate whatever remains to projects if possible. I’ve written about this step previously here and highly recommend doing it as it really focuses you on what is worth keeping and what isn’t.

6) Move the material you are keeping back into wherever it fits best. If you have a dedicated rack or area that’s great, for me they went back to where they started but a lot neater now and with about 30% of the material I’ll never be able to use removed.



While I’ve covered some of this ground in a previous post I thought it was worth going over it again and on a larger scale as that post only really dealt with step #5.

Next time – the taming of the screw!

Is your workshop a mess?

Mine was a total disaster until I learnt these tricks for keeping it tidy. I had rusty tools piled everywhere, stacks of timber falling over every time I tried to get to the piece I wanted and barely any room to get my car parked at night.

Now my neighbours walk past and comment on how organised it is, my wife is much happier about it and I can actually get work done without struggling to find tools or clear bench space.

This is post #1 in my ‘Is your workshop a mess?” series.

#1 – You don’t need 70 chisels


I knew I had a chisel problem as there was always a few lying on every available surface but it wasn’t until I laid them all out like this that I saw the extent of the problem. I was absolutely astonished to find out I had 70 chisels.

After working out what I actually used most of the time I realised I’d be keeping two of them – a 1″ Irwin and a 1/8 Titan. I wasn’t ready to go to that extreme so I narrowed it down to the ones you see below, plus the small carving set which has it’s own rack.

I kept a set of Irwin blue chip’s as my bash around bench chisels, my father’s set of Toledo’s as they have sentimental value besides being great to use, a couple of actual paring chisels, a smaller and more useful range of the Titan’s for when I do occasionally make mortises, some carving gouges and a butt chisel for when I need something shorter.


It’s far easier to store and maintain this many compared to what I had before, plus I had a more cash for timber after selling the rest of them off.

This is the method I used and it can be applied to all types of tools

1) Prepare an area to work on


2) Lay out all the tools of the same type in this area so you can see what you have


3) Group like items together and keep only the best of anything that is duplicated


4) Go through whatever is left and get rid of anything that is rarely used.

5) Store what you are keeping in a way that they are protected and accessible for when you need to use them.


6) Put them back as soon as you have used them, don’t just set them down and think ‘I’ll put them away later’

If you have time, sharpen them all before putting them into their new home so they are ready the next time you need them.

Next time we’ll tackle something that I think we all struggle with – the ever expanding woodpile. Stay tuned!

Turning a Camphor Laurel Bottle

After the success of the bud vase that I turned on the drill press I wanted to have another go. I had a small piece of Camphor Laurel that I’d not found a use for and decided to try turning it into another bud vase. I got the basic shape done then decided it could be something a little more interesting.

I used a small file to cut a deep groove in the top so I had a lid and a body, then shaped it some more so that the lid had a bead on it.


Once this was shaped and sanded I cut the lid off, drilled out the body and the lid and sanded it a bit more.



The outside got a coat of orange oil and beeswax and I filled it with more of the camphor laurel shavings. The lid already had a hole from the nail I’d used to hold it in the drill press so instead of sealing it I shaped it a bit bigger.



Fitted together it looked like this



The final result is a small bottle that you can sniff when you have a cold to get the camphor smell. Now that the beeswax smell is fading the bottle itself has the nice smell too.


Can you turn wood on the drill press?

Did you know that you can turn wood on the drill press?

I recently read an article in Fine Woodworking magazine on how to turn drawer knobs on a drill press so thought I’d give it a go. The original article doesn’t seem to be available online but there’s an even better video version here that I wish I’d seen earlier.

In the article they used a tenon cutter to make a round stub on the end of their square stock to put into the drill chuck but I don’t have one so decided to start with something that was already round. I put a thin piece of dowel into the chuck and using files tried to shape it but all I ended up with was chunks missing on one half of the dowel. What was I doing wrong? It looked so easy in the article

I went away for a week disapointed that it hadn’t worked but couldn’t stop thinking about it. A bit more more research found that people had better results when they supported the piece they were turning with a nail or rod to simulate the dead center on a real lathe so the next weekend I stuck a nail in the drill press and used a file to smooth the tip of it so it was conical rather than pyramid shaped, drove it into a bit of scrap and clamped that to the drill press table. I also drove a nail into the top of the  next dowel I wanted to work with and used it to hold it in the chuck instead of putting the actual wood in as this dowel was too big.

Because this was already round there was no work to do before I could start shaping it. I’ve got no shortage of files and rasps and microplanes in the workshop as I use them a lot for other projects and found they work just as well here. I held the rasp behind the workpiece with one gloved hand holding the handle and the other the tip to support it. It worked a lot better this time and shaping this little took handle took only a few minutes.


I still had some time left so wanted to try a bigger project so grabbed a square bit of maple from the wood pile and cut it to a short length.


All the advice I could find said to take as much of the square shape of the wood as possible before trying to turn it so I used my bench knife to do that.


I’ve got an old farrier’s rasp that I’d found somewhere that has always been too coarse for spoonmaking but turned out to be perfect for roughing this into a cylinder.


I wasn’t actually trying to turn this into anything, I just wanted to practice using the tools and seeing if I could get the technique right. I was using a smaller half round rasp here.


When it got to this shape I decided it looked like either a torpedo or a bud vase, and I figured that my wife might have more use for a bud vase than a wooden torpedo so decided to go in that direction. The same half round rasp was still doing the work though I did swap to the flat side for some of it.


I was happy with the basic shape so switched to a vixon file to smooth it. These are the files that have the teeth that look like a smile and are mostly used for cleaning up car body filler but can give great results on wood. You can see the difference between the rasp and it here. I also tried a mircoplane and found they work really well too and leave a great surface.


I have some mini files and decided to try adding some detail. I wasn’t sure that they would hold up to the force but there was no trouble at all.


I finished with a few grades of sandpaper to get it smooth then gave it a coat of shellac while still on the drill press so the grain would be raised and I could sand it smooth again easily.


I took it of the drill press, drilled out the center and widened the opening with a file and finished it with a couple more coats of shellac then beeswax. For a practise piece I think it turned out well.


I’m really liking turning stuff this way. I was a bit worried about safety at first but now that I’ve used it a few times I’m comfortable with it. I was also worried about damaging the drill press but there’s been no sign of problems and I’m using less force on it than I would when using a sanding drum so we’ll see how it goes. If it shows issues I’ll stop doing it but until then I’m having fun working in the round. I’ve got a lot of scrap that I have ideas for now.

Trying to make a mobile phone stand

Trying being the right word here.

Sometimes mistakes happen in the workshop. As long as the only thing injured is your pride it’s OK though as they can be a great learning experiance. For instance, I wanted a nice wooden stand to hold my phone at work because apart from it helping to keep my desk tidy I like the idea of adding some wood to that world of plastic and steel.

I’d seen a few pictures of ones that are basically two bits of wood with a slot in each that fit together and decided to try and make one of those. I had some likely wood around, I think it’s pacific maple or meranti so not the best timber but it has a decent grain and should come up nice. Plus, it fits into my ‘don’t bring in any timber until I’ve used what I have’ plan

I don’t tend to do a lot of actual joinery work because I struggle to get things right and so I’m trying hard to pick projects that will make me overcome this. While this project is quite simple, it requires a couple of slots to be cut to fit it together so I get to practise a number of things – accurate marking, sawing to a line and chiselling out waste.

I started with the below piece of timber. It’s already dressed so I can start right away


I cut it to size. This is a lot easier now I have my hand mitre box built. I don’t think I’ve shown you pictures of that yet but I’ll get to it soon


You can see in the previous picture I’ve started marking up where I want to create a cutout. This next picture shows both pieces marked and a knife line put in. I’ve also marked which bit is waste and which is to be kept and it’s important to remember to do this otherwise you can end up making mistakes with it.


I put the shorter piece into the vice and cut both lines. I managed to miss the first line a little but can clean that up later. I should have been using a backsaw here because I’m not quite practised enough with the pullsaw to get the line. It’s just another opportunity to practise though so that’s fine.


I cut the slot out of the other piece the same way, hitting the lines a bit better this time


You can see below that while I actually got closer to the line on the second lot of cuts I still didn’t get it quite right. I’ll try and practise that some more.


I clamped the first piece to the bench ready to chisel it out. I should have used a benchhook but my benchtop is just MDF so a few marks don’t matter.


I removed the waster with a narrow chisel, taking small bites and working back towards my baseline.


I was actually pretty happy with the results, the slot was just about right


I repeated the steps for the small piece


so I finished with two bits, slots cut and ready to put together


This is where the ‘trying’ part of the title comes into play. I decided to test fit the two pieces and they were very close to perfect, and went 3/4 of the way together without an issue. I thought to myself that all it needed was a light tap with a rubber mallet and they would friction fit, I might not even need glue

Apparently the timber had other ideas and even with the lightest tap both pieces split across the grain and fell apart. This was the moment when I looked at the bench, looked at the clock and realised I’d just spent the better part of an hour making kindling.

Obviously I was disappointed but I’ve learnt to step away when this sort of thing happens and to grab a cup of coffee and let myself think about what went wrong and what I can do to fix it. I actually ended up making the stand again from the leftover bits and using glue instead, but that’s not the most important thing I took away here. I realised that I’d got in plenty of practise that will make me better next time I do similar work and even though this didn’t turn out the way I wanted it definitely wasn’t time wasted.

I could have pretended this project never took place but I decided to write about it instead in hopes that it will help someone else realise that even though things may not tun out the way you wanted, it’s still worth having a go at it.