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A set of bench hooks made from two 12" scraps of 2 x 4.

Bench Hooks Inspired by Roy Underhill

The deeper I fall down the woodworking rabbit hole, the more I’m drawn to shop-made solutions. I discovered a video of Roy Underhill of the Woodwright’s Shop making something called a bench hook, and it was a real forehead-slapping moment for me. Woodworkers spend a ton of time and money on work-holding clamps and jigs. This video serves as a reminder that tons of forgotten knowledge exists  about how craftsmen did things before the dawn of the modern clamp. Fortunately folks like Roy feel a responsibility to pass down old but far from obsolete knowledge to schmucks like me who would otherwise solve their problems with an army of Bessy clamps.

A set of bench hooks made from two 12" scraps of 2 x 4.

A set of bench hooks made from two 12″ scraps of 2 x 4.

What The Heck is a Bench Hook?

A Bench Hook is a workbench accessory that uses the momentum of your own woodworking movement to limit your work’s ability to shift across the workbench. A traditional bench hook consists of three pieces of wood:

  1. One piece stretches partway across your workbench and your work rests on top of it.
  2. A second piece is fastened to the bottom of the first which will lock against the front of your workbench.
  3. A third piece is fastened to the top of the first, which will prevent your work from pushing across your bench as you saw, plane, or chisel.

Shown below is a video shot by Roy Underhill for Lie Nielson Toolworks on how to make a bench hook out of a single, foot-long piece of wood. I really like this design, and Roy conveniently offers dimensions such that you can make a bench hook out of scrap 2 x 4 if that’s your wish.  You can see in the picture above that that’s exactly what I did.  Using about 2 feet of scrap 2 x 4, I created a set of bench hooks that should work great, you know… once I finish building my work bench!

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.

Poor Man's Jointer

Poor Man’s Jointer

A jointer is one of the most indispensable tools you can put in your hobby wood shop, not because it can perform a large variety of tasks but because it does one common task incredibly well: making the edge of a board straight. But what if you don’t have the money or space for a jointer, or just prefer to use your resources on a tool does more, or is at least more exciting? Or maybe you’re like me: I learn to appreciate these modern toys by doing things the hard way.

I call this project the Poor Man’s Jointer. Basically I made a crude fence for a hand plane that mimics the 90 degree fence of a jointer. There are products on the market that do the same thing, but a similar jig is so easy to make, I’m not sure why you’d buy one.

Making the Fence

First you’ll need a pretty substantially-sized hand plane. It doesn’t need to be expensive: I picked up my Stanley #32 Transitional plane at a yard sale for $10 and spent about the same amount cleaning it up. I did, however, buy a Veritas blade, but after sharpening the original that was definitely unnecessary.

(Note: I’m intentionally not providing measurements because your plane will, undoubtedly, be different from mine.)

To make the fence you’ll need some straight and square scraps about the same length as the body of your plane. The first piece should be the length of the plane and about three times the height. The second piece should be the same length, and the height of the first piece minus the height of the plane’s body. Screw them together such that three edges line up perfectly, leaving a gap to the top the same height as your plane.

Rest the plane on the inner strip and mark where the throat of the plane comes into contact with it. Notch out the fence in this area so that, when the plane iron descends, it descends into the open notch. The whole point of the smaller strip is to eliminate the edge of the plane’s sole where the blade cannot come into contact with the work piece. Now as the fence glides along the edge of the work piece, the plane iron will be able to hit the entire surface of the edge you’re trying to joint.

Finally, use a couple of C-clamps to hold the fence to your plane and you’re in business!

Build a Sawhorse for Ripping Lumber with a Handsaw

Ripping a long board with a handsaw is no easy task. Take the amount of muscle required out of the equation and just consider the skill involved in cutting a perfectly straight line for more than a few inches, and you’ll understand why people rush to the table saw.  Yet somehow, before the days of power tools with long, straight fences woodworkers managed to make beautiful, precise masterpieces.

Enter the Ripping Sawhorse

A beautiful, precise masterpiece this project is not. It’s made out of scraps of 2×4 and plywood whereas the Fine Woodworking project on which it was modeled (and luthier who apparently had the same idea) is built from quality lumber. Personally I don’t see a point in spending a ton of money on something that is purely function, not form.

I took Tom Killen’s design and made one critical modification: I ripped the saddle down the center and reassembled it with 1/16″ filler strips at either end.  This created a top in which I could clamp my workpiece and easily saw through it lengthwise using the gap as a saw guide.

A Tip From a Tablesaw

Do you know why your table saws and circular saws all have a riving knife behind the blade (that you probably removed for convenience)? It’s to prevent the two sides of the workpiece from binding back together when they clear the back of the blade.  On a power took that binding can create a difficult situation. Binding happens using a hand saw too, but it’s more likely to just make sawing harder than it is to throw a board at your face.  To prevent binding put a nail or a shim in your saw kerf after you’ve worked far enough into the rip cut that it won’t interfere with your saw blade.

Cutting Lumber Perfectly Square with Hand Tools

Lately I’ve been getting more interested in working with hand tools.  When I first got into remodeling and then woodworking I purchased a bunch of power tools almost immediately because, with my limited knowledge, every cut seemed impossible unless I had just the right blade, on just the right tool, cutting at just the right height and angle.

Ironically just about any cut you can make with a circular saw, jigsaw, compound miter saw, table saw, band saw, planer, or jointer can also be made with just a couple of hand tools, some patience, and a little experience.

Making accurate cuts with hand saws is no exception.

Use a Knife for Marking

During my reading I came across some advice from a master woodworker named William Ng who recommended that laying be done with a marking knife for several reasons: a pencil line is thicker than a cut from a marking knife and thus less accurate, the cut separates the fibers on the outermost layer of wood which reduces tear-out, and finally because the tiny ridge made by the knife blade creates a guide for the saw blade.

I expanded on this advice and found a method for making accurate cuts.  I use a combination square and marking knife or utility knife to mark a perfectly rectangular line around my workpiece, I then cut in at an angle from the waste side of the cut, forming a wall the entire way around the work piece.  Finally I make the cut, allowing the saw to follow the path I made for it.  This method works just as well for cutting mitered angles, you’ll just need a t-bevel to mark your cut instead of the combination square.

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!

Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking, Book 1: Joinery

Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking: Joinery

I’ll admit it: I haven’t even finished the first book in the Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking
series yet. And I suppose halfway through a book is the wrong time to be writing reviews and making recommendations. But hell with conventions.

After 55 pages I feel like this is the manual that should have come with my wood shop. Danish craftsman, teacher, and author Tage Frid introduces us to the properties of wood as a building material and how it reacts to tooling, drying and other stresses.  He introduces us to basic hand tools including a variety of saws, hand planes, and measuring tools and explains in extremely simple terms when each is appropriate to use.  Ever the pragmatist, Frid covers essential power tools as well.

What I like about Tage Frid is that he approached woodworking from the position of a master craftsman who wasn’t threatened by modern technology. He focused on the finished product and saw no benefit in selling a “hand-crafted” piece of inferior quality instead of a high-quality piece made with power tools.

Even still, taking the journey through the first 50 pages of this book is incredibly humbling. Frid teaches us not only how to use hand tools to rip, crosscut, joint and plane stock but how to do it safely, and how to care for those tools as well.  Then he brings us full-circle back to performing the same operations on motor-driven equipment.

I’ve come to the conclusion that Tage Frid is Roy Underhill had Roy been molded by apprenticeship and the realities of industry rather than the luxury of intellectualism and idealism he enjoyed in a university atmosphere and a career driven by television.  Underhill continues to teach the woodworking craft as it existed before the invention of electricity. He’s still a hero of mine and I think the history and skills he passes down are important. Roy’s knowledge and philosophy will always have a place with those among us who crave a hobby that lets us feel closer to the natural world and more like the creatures that nature crafted us to be.

But every once in a while, someone just need a thing built and–as Frid says–“he can make it with his teeth or a machine, it is still the final product that counts.”

Stay tuned for part two when I actually finish the book!