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One of my favorite things to do is rebuild or fix broken tools. There’s something about making an item useful again that appeals to me. When the crap-tastic handle on my cheapo hatchet broke a few weeks ago, in Toolmonger style I found some extra wood around the shop, designed a pattern, and fashioned a replacement from mesquite I had lying about.

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Last year around this time, Chuck and I built a set of Hungarian shelves at his place. This year, with lessons learned, I did the same at my place. I am decluttering the house and needed some overflow as well as a place where the other half could display pictures and knick knacks. An eight-foot system of nine shelves seemed to be the ticket. I learned a great deal from the last install and decided to change things up a little this time.

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It’s pretty easy to think that modern tools and techniques are the only way to reduce a piece of stock to size. In fact, methods handed down since edged tools existed are still extremely effective. One perfect example is riving — taking a chunk of log and reducing it to the rough size and shape for your project by using a stick and froe.

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It’s funny when you witness yourself becoming a supporter of the horse and buggy when you see an automobile go zipping by. When Makita sent us their LXOB01 18v cordless sander, I let it sit for a while because I “knew” it would be a dud. This was not the case.

The cordless sander does have limitations that a corded one doesn’t: it’s heavier, and the battery eventually runs down. What Makita rightly pointed out is that the drill also went through this process as well and seems to have come through stronger. In fact, more cordless drills are sold today than corded, and the palm sander has the advantage of better battery technology in third-gen Li-Ion packs. The press material claims anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes of sanding per battery charge, which we confirmed in our testing. It’s easy to quote figures, but in real project time, what does that 20 -40 mins mean? 

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The City Wheel is quite striking to look at. Part of the “Long Nights Big City Lights” exhibit produced by McNabb & Co., the wheel is sharp, vibrant to look at, and makes quite a statement even if you’re unsure of what it is. Look a little closer and it just gets more impressive. The wheel is made from over 60 blocks that have been carved into buildings and put back in the ring one at a time to form what you see here.

Each building was done by hand, and no two are exactly the same much in the same way buildings themselves are not the same. It’s a badass marriage of art, craftsmanship, and calculated design that, when massed together, is praiseworthy on several different levels. Once the math of the wedges had been figured out and the design was set, you’ve still got dozens of building to carve up.

Sure, once you’ve seen how it’s done, you could make a go of it, but the sheer time involved is nothing short of staggering. The artist certainly took the long-game approach when doing the wheel and the other pieces for the show –simply amazing.

The making of the wheel [YouTube]
The City Series: Wheel [McNabb & Co.]


When I was a kid, some smartass relative snuck a woodburning kit into my birthday presents — a kit of low quality and high difficulty combined with my complete lack of patience was not to bode well. Many might remember the kit: it came with a ton of little wood pieces and some leather you could burn on (which never worked out for me), and there was a child grinning on the cover of the box like he’d just been to Disneyland or something. This was my memory of what I later learned is called pyrography. And few weeks ago, I discovered that particular set from when I was a kid was to woodburning what a model-T is to a modern-day automobile.

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I work in wood a lot. I try to combine or create objects in a smart or new way all the time, and still this idea never occurred to me. Innovative architects Suzan Wines and Azin Valy took 200 shipping pallets and built a small house out of them as the rest of us wind up collectively smacking our foreheads.

For years I always felt bad about not doing something with pallets. You often see them thrown away, broken apart, or burned. I’ll admit I’ve had my share of breaking them up and using them as firewood, scrap, props, shims, and sawhorse materials, but never could I have thought this ambitiously.

They say in the video that, over the course of a year, just the throw-aways in the U.S. could house every refuge in Haiti. That’s powerful thinking and our hat is off to this creative group and their new building material!

The Pallet House [YouTube]


I’ve wanted an oscillating spindle sander ever since I came to understand how they make the curves in wood possible. I decided I wanted to start building my own recurve bows. You can replicate the effect with a drill press and a few attachments, but having the right tool for the job will speed things up a great deal. In this case, Central Machinery’s Model 95088 is much like that generic beer that shows up at parties. It is technically beer; it shares few properties with actual beer, but wow, was it cheap. In the world of benchtop spindle sanders, the $129 price tag this model carries would have it stacked right next to Keystone Light.

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People often over-complicate shop design, mostly because it’s fun to kick around the shop and build things. In this case, however, we needed to build an eight-foot bench with storage in a day. We could have gone any number of ways, but in the end speed, a few 2×4’s, and rough 3/8″ ply won out.

I love framing things in with 2×4’s and ply. The stock is all cut to size, and as long as you can picture in your head what you need, plans aren’t necessary. Build a box; make it work like you want it. I start by building the sides and nailing them together with an 18ga brad nailer and wood glue. Then use the Paslode framing nailer to stab a few 3-inch steel rods into each end of some 2×4’s for the base.

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Broken furniture of all kinds find their way to my shop for repair on a regular basis. Some of the most common I find are tables and chairs. The more elegant they are, the more prone they seem to be to dramatic fracturing or breakage. This 70-year-old pedestal table arrived a while back with a busted leg.

The most obvious thing about it was that one of the legs had come off. No big deal, really — a bit of careful scraper work and tad of sanding to remove the old glue would see the socket ready to mate up to its leg again.

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