Category Archives: Workshop Wisdom

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!

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.