Shop Renovation – Tables and More Cabinets

My shop needed some organization.  I didn’t realize until now how hastily put together everything was.  I didn’t have any time to spend on the shop because I needed to get the house put together.  Now that the house is habitable and, dare I say, finished, it’s time to make some storage and organization out there.  I have so many homeless, orphan tools in boxes and I don’t even know where they are.  Several times I’ve bought a duplicate tool because I forgot I had it.  Well, now, maybe some places to put things so that they’re accessible, it’ll help.

As part of all this, I’m raising the heights of my side tables a bit, and to do that I’ll build some drawers to go on top of them.  I’ll get more storage space, and I’ll be able to use all the tables to support large pieces of wood when I’m cutting them.

It’s easy to install the drawer hardware if you do it before everything’s assembled.

Not sure if lasers make anything any easier, but it is more fun.

The drawers are pretty solid, and I made some partitions in front to help sort things out.  It’s a pain to do, but worth it in the end.

Now I’ve got a little Festool work station going on.  And when I put a piece of wood on that saw, it’s the same height as the tables over to the right, so I can cut large pieces and they’re fully supported.

A little paint along this wall made a big difference.

Every once in a while, I open an old cardboard box and find some torn up cardboard and a small pile of cat food.  A mouse was nesting in this box.  I think he was gathering cat food to have enough to survive a zombie apocalypse.

More cabinets went up over the router table.

Even more cabinets.  And no, I’m not done.  I still have about 22 square feet of wall space I can cover with more cabinets.

Yeah, I know, I get more excited about shop cabinets than most people do, or should.

Shop Renovation – Drawers and Cabinets

I’ve been badly in need of a new clamp rack.  Of course, I make the biggest, heaviest monster clamp rack that I can.  The top is 1″ thick solid oak and because I didn’t think that was strong enough I put some 1.5″ thick brackets underneath to reinforce them.

Unfortunately, no room for expansion. But that’s okay, there’s no room for another clamp rack in the shop.  Well, I’ll have a separate rack for small clamps.

So, I have this little side table along that back wall, you can see it here with the brackets underneath.  I’m reworking some storage and work surfaces in the shop and I wanted to raise that side table to the same height as the main bench.  I figured the best way to do that was to built some boxes on top of it.  And then I can make drawers!

So yeah, double plywood sheets for added strength, well bolted into the wall and reinforced by those brackets.  The drawers should be a nice size.

This will really help de-clutter the corner.  Of course, I’m just going to re-clutter it…

The drawers fit great.  I’ll put some oak drawer fronts on them at some point.

I partitioned one of the drawers, and now I’m wishing I did it to all of them.  It was a pain, but having little boxes to organize things is really nice.

Up next:  cabinets.

Big cabinets.  They’re going to go where that awful brown pegboard is now.  There will be under-cabinet lighting and doors that close and all sorts of fun stuff.  I like using pegboard for cabinet backs, especially for utility cabinets, as you can hang crap on that back wall if you need to.  Maximize your space.

No help whatsoever.


How I Make Posts

(Formerly titled “How Posts Are Made” but I have no Earthly idea what that is.  I don’t know how professional postmakers make their posts, and I don’t know what the correct postmaking techniques are or what the appropriate post-making tools are.  All I know is how I make posts.)


The only stock I had available was all milled to 3/4, so I had to join a bunch together to make that middle part.  See, I don’t even know what post parts are called.  Whatever that middle part is called, that’s what I made.  Oh, and I made some strips on the router, and they’ll go around the, um, the other post parts.  Whatever they’re called.


Laying out the joinery took some very careful planning.


This kind of joint is a lot stronger than just doing a simple mitered joint, and it fits together very squarely.  In fact, it’s hard to make it not square.  These will be for those things at the top and the bottom of the post.


Everything’s going together very nicely.


Just because there were a lot of pieces being glued, I used tape to hold them all together, then clamped them.  And then I remembered what happened the last time I left clamps on tape overnight (the glue from the tape pressed into the wood and made areas that didn’t take stain very well) so I had to remove all the clamps and take off the tape and put the clamps back on.  Live and learn, and forget, and re-learn.


It’s a clamp bonanza!  Not to mention a tripping hazard.


The top part thing (maybe it’s called the cap?) was a little more difficult than I wanted it to be.  Took a few tries to get it correct.  Plus, that wood’s just a bit too big for the saw, and there were cuts where the saw couldn’t cut all the way through.  The end result looks good, though.


In the end it all came together.  These are going on my stairs and they’ll support the handrail at the top and bottom.

secret compartment

There’s one block I didn’t glue on, and that’s so I could bolt it into place and affix it with a couple of pocket screws.  I’ve done this a couple times before on other projects, and it can get a little tricky to get them standing perfectly straight and tightly fitted to the floor.  I’ll have to be ready for anything.


Here’s our newest toy, something to keep us toasty warm when it gets cold out.  A pity I can’t use it in my shop, it would be lovely to have that kind of heat in there, but it’s an outdoor toy.

It’s a Great Day to Make Sawdust


It was a gray weekend outside.  Nothing but rain, and more rain, and when that was done, it rained again.  A nice day to get in the shop and make some sawdust.

puzzle pieces

All the pieces to make the kitchen cabinet extension are cut and ready to be put together.  Here they are posing for a picture.  Like a bunch of little jigsaw puzzle pieces.


These beams are going to hold the weight of a stone countertop, a portion of which will be cantilevered so we can put some stools there and have a new seating area.  I over-engineered them deliberately, wanting them to be very, very strong.


Oh yeah, that will be a strong joint.



I assembled the base cabinet upside down, it was a little easier that way since I had these support rails that had to stay nice and flat with the top of the cabinet.  In fact, I even made the joke “oh no, I glued it together upside down!”, acutely aware that no one else on Earth would get the humor but me.


And here it’s all fitted together.  So far this project is going very well.  I’ve screwed up very few things on it, and nothing I couldn’t fix, so I’m kind of anticipating some major catastrophe.


As much as I love Festool, it can be such a pain in the ass.  I have to find a bunch of scrap pieces of wood to support the piece I’m cutting, as well as other scrap to support the rail, and then I have to clamp down the rail, and sand-bag down the other side since a clamp won’t fit, and I have to cut it in three passes since it’s such an acute angle and the wood is so thick that it would bind and try to explode if I just made one pass.  And don’t even remind me about the stupid hose that keeps getting underfoot and trying to trip me.


But that’s what it takes to make brackets.  A nice bracket is a complicated piece of wood that takes about a dozen precision cuts.  When I have to make multiple brackets all the exact same shape, I make a template out of 1/4″ MDF so I can shape it and smooth it out on the router table.


I promised sawdust.  And sawdust there shall be.

all put together

Several hours later I finally have nice brackets made and installed, slender enough to not be an eyesore and sturdy enough to hold a crap-ton of weight.


Really happy with the way this project is coming along so far.  Well, I’m not happy with the pace, as this is taking forever and I still need to install hardware / make doors / make shelves / cut the back board / put on some trim pieces to conceal the plywood edges / find a way to carry this inside / hope it fits / install it / etc.  But the overall quality of the cabinet, I am very happy with.

Pocket Doors, Part 1

Happy New Year.  Let’s celebrate by making some sawdust.

Hole in the Wall

There are still a lot of things I need to do for the loft renovation.  One of them is to make pocket doors to access the little storage area in the eaves, since right now it’s just a hole in the wall that I’m getting sick of looking at.  The doors are not going to be very big but they are in a highly visible part of the room, so I want them to look nice.


Remember the Hobbit Door I made a couple months ago?  These are going to be made the same way:  2×6 frames, traditional joinery, and inset panels.


The lumber itself has been sitting out in the weather for a few weeks.  Wish I could let it sit out there longer but these will have to do.  I made sure to beat them up a bit too, to give them a real distressed look.


I made about 30 gallons of sawdust planing them down.


There are two storage areas and each one will have double pocket doors to maximize the size of the opening.  Makes it a little easier to get things in and out or to go looking for something.  The cut list for this project is pretty simple, as the doors are almost identical.


Once planed down they just need to be ripped to size.


Now that the boards are square, the router cuts a nice groove into it.




The tenoning jig is great when you need to cut the exact same tenon 48 times.


Construction lumber is rough and a little soft, but if you don’t want that Perfect look (which for this project, I do not) then it’s fairly forgiving.


It’s weird.  Everything fit together very well on the first try.  Usually I screw something up by now but so far so good.


Here they are, all assembled.  There’s a little hardware that needs to be installed but other than that they just need to be sanded and glued and stained and finished.  And installed.

Turn Your Machete Into A Pirate Sword

5 dollar machete

An ordinary $5 machete.  Cheap plastic handle, cheap cloth scabbard.  Poorly ground blade.


It all started when I said to myself that the handle was awful, and I bet I could make a better one out of scrap wood and duct tape.


Hey, instead of scrap wood, how about a tropical hardwood like cocobolo?  Oh, and it could use a hand guard, you know, like pirate swords have?


Yeah, that’ll do the trick.  And grind down the blade a bit.  Not too pretty, but at least give it a sharp edge and sand down the rough spots.


And make sure it’s heat treated!  Fire that thing up, and temper the edge.


And it needs a scabbard.  Leather.  Sewn up with copper wire.


Now that’s a beauty!


A steel pommel can bash the skulls of sea monsters, zombies and orcs alike.


Handle makes a great grip.


Please note that I am not addressing why you should make your machete into a pirate sword.  Such a topic would be beyond the scope of this essay.


Anyway, it’s perfectly obvious that pirate swords are awesome!

Pirate Sword

And of course, it still functions perfectly well as a machete.

Avast Ye Matey


Let’s Make A Screen Door


No point buying an air conditioner up here for the one month you might need it, but it is really nice to be able to leave the door open in the summer without every yellowjacket, bumblebee and winged carpenter ant flying inside looking for something to sting and bite.  Trust me, we are on Critter Island, and we are outnumbered.

Some Assembly Required


So, let’s make a screen door to let the outdoor air in and keep the critters out!  Yeah, you can buy a screen door.  But I’m a cheap bastard, and I like my things built correctly and made to last.  So I picked up some douglas fir and started making sawdust.

Cutting Tenons

This will all be mortise and tenon joinery.  This door will have three rails (the horizontal pieces of wood that go on the top, middle and bottom of the door) so it’s pretty much going to be as simple as it gets.  First I start cutting tenons for the rails.

Almost Clean

The tenons cut very clean.  My jig left just a tiny bit of work to do in the corner.

Nice Tool

My “Magic Chisel” makes short work of it.


I finish up the tenons with a hand saw, and again clean up the surface with a sharp chisel.

Dust Collection

I cut the mortises with a mortising machine, which takes a tedious job and does it adequately.  Once this thing is done, I’ll have some nice rectangular holes to fit the tenons into.  Note my fancy dust collection (the shop vac hose dangled over the paper towel holder).


The mortises are now cut and it’s time to dry fit everything.  I’m putting in some vertical slats to give it a bit of interest.  I’d say they help keep the raccoons out too but they won’t.

More Fitting

Here’s the slats fitted into the bottom and middle rails.

Even More Fitting

And here’s the dry fit.

Marked with Sharpie

When I’m working with pieces that need to be routed, I like to mark plainly the edge I need to rout away.  This prevents me from screwing up a piece by feeding it over the router bit the wrong way.  Oh, gosh, I’ve “never” done that before.

Ready to Assemble

After about 3 hours on the router working with dull, worn out bits, I finally carved out the area where the screen will fit.  Now it’s like a big jigsaw puzzle that just needs to be sanded and glued together.


This is literally all of the scrap wood left over from this project, stacked here Jenga style.  See if you can spot the two deer outside.


Now it’s all sanded, glued and sitting in my shop drying up.  I only needed three clamps to put this together, yay!  Most of my glue-ups take about twenty clamps so that was gratifying, at least.


The Actual Cost of a Salvage Door


Salvage Door:  $40, plus tax.

Ferry trip to get to the mainland and back with the door:  $58

Gas:  $8


Tool wear and tear:  $5


Fasteners and miscellaneous hardware:  $2.50

Doorknob and deadbolt:  Free, just use the existing crappy ones so all the keys still match.


1×6 Douglas Fir planks:  $112.  (For that price, next time I’ll just cut down a tree)

Dentist Pick

Labor:  Free, though in all fairness, in the time it took me to fix up this door I could have watched District 9, Gladiator, Season 6 of The Shield, the extended versions of all of the Lord of the Rings movies, Skyfall and Casino Royale.


Dowel:  Free, I got dozens lying around for scrap.

The correct size dowel that you don’t have lying around and have to go buy at the hardware store:  $4.35

Sanding Discs

22 Festool sanding discs:  $16.50



Stain, primer, paint, and about 24 feet of frog tape:  $54.67 (that frog tape is a little steep)


Cat in a sink:  Free.  Good luck washing your hands.


Solid brass hinges in Oil Rubbed Bronze (TM) that will never ever rust:  $75.


Amount of sleep I’ll lose because the door is asymmetrical:  0.0 hours.


Using the old door for thrown weapons practice:  Okay, that is priceless.


Even More Shop Work

One thing I’ve always wanted to do with my table saw is really seal up the interior so sawdust doesn’t get all over the place.  In my former shop, I used to have it boxed in and connected to a vacuum hose, but that was really ineffective and I kept tripping over the hose.  So now I basically have the housing all sealed up and I put a bucket underneath it.  It actually works really well, except that I never did seal up the backside.  That’s where the motor and the pulley pokes through making it difficult to really seal up.

Well, I finally got around to making a back plate that should cut down on the sawdust considerably and not interfere with the motor and pulley.  I was going to go with sheet metal but I didn’t want anything that could damage any moving parts.  I needed something soft, yet firm.  And cheap and easily accessible.  I ended up going with cardboard.


I marked everything really carefully so if I have to remake it (out of a different material if I so desire) it will be easy to do.  Cardboard is soft enough that it won’t damage anything should something go wrong, and firm enough to hold its shape.


There you can see it’s a tricky fit.  The holes are for the rods that hold the motor, and that slot on the right is where the pulley goes.  Everything is looking great, but I do wish I had something I could use to make it a little stronger, to help it withstand the rigors of a shop.

what to use

Hmm.  I wonder what I can use?

how about duck tape


Oh, I know!  Duck tape!


Handyman’s secret weapon!!  Oh yeah, now that thing is pretty much waterproof.  I’ll probably never have to replace it.  It might last longer than my table saw.


I am happy to report that I can now rip down a 2×4 and not cover my entire shop floor with a spray of fine yellow powder.  This contraption cut down on the dust piles by at least 75%.  Yeah, I still get some.  That’s okay.  Wouldn’t be a shop without sawdust all over everything.

Shop Work


This is the view from my shop.  This is what I see when I look up from whatever I’m working on.  Whenever I think this house is falling apart faster than I can fix it, whenever I despair that there’s so much wrong with it that I’ll never get it all done, this is a wonderful reminder of why we moved here and why we live here.  Today is the 2nd anniversary of when we bought the house, and as much of a challenge as it’s been, I have loved every day of it.

shopSo yeah, with a view like that, it’s no mystery that I like to spend a little time working on the shop itself.  It’s my base; it’s where I go to repair old work or create new things, and practice my craft.  Here, all things are possible.  Here, there is nothing I can’t do.

table legs

It makes sense to me that I want my shop as good as it can get.  That bench used to be on some old sawhorses I made two hundred years ago.  They were sturdy enough, but I like a bench that is the exact same height as the table saw.  This way, when I cut lumber on the saw it can just slide onto the table.  That’s called a Return Feed Table.  I’m happy that I have enough space for a big one like that.  Plus, I can now work on things without my lower back complaining from bending over all day.


Two years later, and I still have about 500 board feet of construction lumber up at the shed.  Some of it is exposed to the weather and it’s getting mossy and green, which I actually don’t mind.  I like the weathered look.  Today I decided to take down some 2×12’s and make them into brackets for a side table next to my bench.  Not only will this thing be nice and sturdy, but the brackets keep any table legs out of the way so I can keep things under it, and I can also clean back there a lot easier.


I really need to cut these as accurately as I can.  There’s two angled cuts there, and if they don’t make a precise 90 degree angle the table is not going to be flat.  I want my tables flat.  It’s the least I can ask of them.  Working with construction lumber can be like measuring with a micrometer, marking with chalk and cutting with an axe.  No matter how careful you are, the wood is a little bowed and knotty and not all the same thickness and the sides aren’t even really straight.  Yeah, I could put it all through the planer, but what’s the fun in that?


Now, here is what I really like about weathered wood.  The piece on the right is as I found it outside, and on the left is sanded.  I don’t sand it perfect, just enough to give it some smoothness and get most of the dirt and mold off it.  It comes out looking random and naturally distressed.  And it’s still a very, very strong beam.


So I got all the pieces cut and I think this week I’ll get a coat of finish on it and let it cure for a couple days before I affix it to the wall.  The shop is really coming up great, the workflow is good and there’s lots of space to spread out and get things done in there.  I’ll be ready to start making some kitchen cabinets real soon.

bruce lee

I’ve also added a lot of trim and shelves and hooks in the garage.  I’m just using rough cedar and leftover T-111 boards for the trim.  For a garage, they work great!  You may have noticed the punching bag that hangs in the corner from previous pictures.  It’s not just for looks.  About once a week, or every other week, I’m using it for a workout.  I spend some of the toughest 48 minutes of my life in front of that bag.  We use our garage for a lot of things.  I think it’s worth it to fix it up nice.