Hybrid Woodworking

I’m a huge fan of The Wood Whisperer Mark Spagnuolo.  Mark’s videos and podcasts are top-notch, he gives great advice, and–most importantly–he has impeccable taste in silly t-shirts. Mark is one of a handful of woodworking enthusiasts that have driven the hobby into the 21st century. He’s made woodworking knowledge accessible to anyone who wants it and proven that you don’t need a Peter Follansbee beard to do it (though seriously, that beard can’t hurt).

I’ve leached The Wood Whisperer’s free content for years, so when Mark published Hybrid Woodworking buying a copy was a no-brainer.  I was finally able to sit down and read it last week from the comfort of a hammock in the Outer Banks, and now that I’m home I’d like to tell you all about it.

Hybrid Woodworking is a Philosophy

Hybrid Woodworking is first and foremost a philosophy: more specifically it’s Mark’s philosophy of how to approach the woodworking craft in a way that maximizes your time, your budget, and your enjoyment.  The Hybrid Woodworking philosophy suggests that you use the tool that performs a particular job best: power tools for jobs that require removing a ton of material or require repeatable result, and hand tools for finesse (or as Mark calls it “sneaking up on” the proper fit and finish). A hybrid woodworker would never waste a day making rough-cut lumber S4S with hand tools, nor would he  risk trying to ease the fit of a tenon on a table saw, when a shoulder plane can remove material within thousands of an inch.

But It’s Still a Book Too, Silly!

Hybrid Woodworking the book is not a comprehensive woodworking course.  It’s not going to teach you everything you need to know about the craft (for that I recommend an oldie but a goodie, Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking), but it will help you get started in a way that makes a ton of sense.

Selecting Hybrid Woodworking Tools

The first half of the book talks all about which tools you need to get started working wood in the Hybrid Woodworking system. At first I was annoyed that I actually paid for a book that told me how to buy all of the stuff that I already have, but then I experienced a Family-Guy style flashback and realized how many mistakes I made along the way while setting up shop. (Also, there was a lemur in a nun outfit for some reason? The price of letting Seth McFarlane direct your flashbacks.)

I realized that Hybrid Woodworking could have eliminated a lot of costly mistakes that I’ve made along the way had it been written before I started down the woodworking path, but at least it can help others avoid those mistakes in the future.

Mark recommends a pretty modest number of power tools but they will set you back: They include a table saw, a jointer, a thickness planer, a router, a band saw, and a random orbit sander. He makes quite a few hand tool recommendations as well.  What I really came to appreciate about this section of the book is that Mark takes the time to break down the topic of hand planes in a way that will make sense to individuals who haven’t had the opportunity to compare or actually use a variety of planes and experience the difference between them. Do you really need every single variant of hand plane?  Hybrid Woodworking recommends surprisingly few, and explains which ones you truly need and which planes are made redundant by the functionality of other planes or by other tools in your shop.

Measuring? What’s Measuring?

One category of tools that’s conspicuously missing from Hybrid Woodworking are measuring tools.  Mark mentions marking gauges but says nothing about the tapes and squares that you’ll need almost immediately. I’m not sure if this is by design or by accidental omission, because I know Mark follows the philosophy that measuring introduces error which is itself an excellent idea to take to your shop! But you can’t eliminate all measuring and you won’t get far in your woodworking journey without a decent tape measure, try-square, combination square, and bevel gauge. These tools were featured in plenty of pictures throughout the book yet somehow it remains void of any mention. Something to keep in mind for the next addition?

The How-To Section

The second half of the book goes into details about how to use a combination of power and hand tools to get great, fast results on common woodworking problems.

Mark covers cutting rabbets, grooves, and dados using the hybrid methology. He discusses mortise and tenon joints in great detail and provides some options on how it can be done using the tools you already have in your shop.  He even discusses a modern solution to the problem: do away with an integral joint completely and use the Festool Domino Joiner system to join your work. Hybrid Woodworking also covers several variations on lap joints and, of course, dovetailing.

Final Thoughts

I have one final criticism of Hybrid Woodworking: Mark’s shop sports the best of the best in both power and hand tools, which may set some unrealistic performance expectations. While I’m thrilled for him that gambling on following his passion has worked out to the level that he can afford them, most hobbyists can’t justify buying Festool and Lie Nielson when they first start out.  And while a Lie Nielson plane is going to produce those gossamer shavings that get Mark all hot and bothered, the planes that most of us are going to be starting with will not produce them out of the box. Every single one of my planes, whether purchased used and restored or bought new, required some finessing of their own to produce the kind of quality Mark gets straight from the factory with his Lie Nielson planes. I feel like there ought to be at least a little bit of a conversation about tool quality and tuning, particularly when it comes to hand planes. (Secrectly I’m just jealous of Mark’s awesome toys.)

But don’t get caught up on this small criticism.  Hybrid Woodworking is a great introduction to the craft, and in the end can save you money by helping you purchase the tools you really need, when you need them. I highly recommend both Hybrid Woodworking as well as The Wood Whisperer website and videos.

Glue applicators cut from wood scrap.

Making Glue Applicators with Scrap Wood

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Are you a woodworker? Are you (like me) too cheep to buy high-end glue brushes but also adverse to applying glue with your fingers like some sort of filthy macaroni artist toddler?  Well do I have just the project for you: glue applicators made out of wood scrap.

What you need is a piece of scrap 6″ long or longer in the direction of the grain. Don’t make your applicators by cross-cutting (cutting perpendicular to the grain), and don’t use MDF or plywood scrap either. These materials will be too brittle at the thickness we’ll be cutting to be useful.

I cut the applicator by clamping a block of wood to my band saw about 1/8″ away from and parallel to the blade then repeatedly running the scrap through until I have a handful of 1/8″ thick strips. I suppose you could do this on a table saw too, but cutting strips this thin between the blade and the fence of a table saw is asking for either trouble or injury.

Once you’ve cut all of your pieces vacuum, air spray, or wipe them clean so you don’t get saw dust in your glue when you go to use them.

Tortilla Press with Homemade Tortillas

Wooden Tortilla Press

Tortilla Press with Homemade Tortillas

I used 2 x 4 scraps and some oak for the handle. The only thing I had to buy were the hinges. Total cost: $3.57

Today’s Edition of Brian Makes Crap out of Slightly Lesser Crap: A tortilla press made out of 2 x 4 scrap!t

I adapted instructions from another person’s video so I won’t bother to rewrite them here. If you want to make one, just check out his video and follow along.  All you really need to make one of these is some thick lumber and a table saw.  However I used my planer (to square up the 2×4 prior to glue-up), a router with a roundover bit to smooth the corners, a sander with 80, 120, 220, and 300 grit paper, and a band saw to curve the handle. The additional power tools certainly aren’t necessary, but they make the finished product a little nicer.

I made mine out of 2×4 scrap that I planed down to 1 1/4″ thickness and edge-glued the pieces together into 12″ wide squares.

I made the handle out of oak for extra strength, but that was made from scrap.  The only part of the project that cost me any money were the hinges, for a total cost of $3.57.

You can check out Steve Ramsey’s tortilla press video here.  Thanks for the inspiration!

Fixing the Roomie’s Bed Frame

Completed side rail

Completed side rail

(First off: I apologize for not getting pictures of the process.)

A week or so back one of my roommates texted me in the middle of the night apologizing for the noise I may or may not have heard above my bedroom.  I can only assume this is what was happening when his bed broke, but regardless of what nefarious things were going on above me I offered to repair the damage.

The Damage

If I had been motivated enough to take a “before” picture you’d see that a side rail split completely down the middle.  From the yellowish red color and grain of the lumber I’m pretty certain his bed was made from douglas fir.  I had some on hand (it was the same stuff my old floors were made from), but I concluded that none of the material I had on-hand would stand up to the rigors of modern bachelor life.

The Repair

I decided to make the new rail out of oak.  I knew  it was never going to be a perfect match, but hey–if the finish was going to get splashed with booze and seminal fluid on a regular basis anyway, why worry about a perfectly matched finish?

The rail is a little over 8″ wide with curved lifts at either end and an additional strip at the bottom notched for slats that run perpendicular and hold up the box springs.  I cut everything to size and glued and screwed the bottom strip.

The rail had a groove cut in the end grain to accept the metal hardware.  I’m not sure how the original was accomplished, but I did this cut as a bridle joint on my band saw and then cut and glued filler strips to close the ends back up at the top and bottom.

In order to create the curves on top of the side rail I traced the original on a piece of 1/4″ plywood and made a template.  I rough-cut the new pieces on the band saw and then completed the curve with a flush trim router bit.  I edge glued and clamped the curves to the main piece and left it cure.

Once the glue was dry I scraped both sides clean, then used a roman ogee bit to put a decorative edge on the new piece. It wasn’t an exact match for the curve on the old piece, but I didn’t feel like buying a new bit to match a piece that wasn’t going to match the original anyway.

I fail on matching the finish.  I was told the original finish was Old English which translated in my brain to Early Colonial which I had on hand.  Nope. Totally different. Sue me.

The metal hardware was pinned to the rail with metal dowel rod and unfortunately a few were missing, I bought a new piece of 1/4 metal dowel and made a jig to make it simple to cut off pins of a uniform 3/4″ length.  I softened the edge of the pins on my grinder and put everything together.