Frank's Workshop Annoyances

Frank's Top 10 WoodWorking Workshop Pet Peeves

Written by Frank McGill.

Everyone has a pet peeve that drives them crazy:  The toilet seat being left up, a carton of milk in the fridge with a 1/4 glass in it, cell phones with buttons sized for a 4 yr old child, losing a screwdriver you held in your hand 30 seconds ago. Unfortunately, life’s little problems aren’t limited to the household. They also exist in the workshop.  Obviously, it can drive you crazy when you cut parts wrong or if a router or planer tears out grain on a board you have no replacement for. But it’s the little things that can drive you nuts: Never finding a writing implement when you need it. Curled up sandpaper discs that won’t stay on your random-orbit sander. And what woodworker hasn’t gone totally ape crazy when tools or parts suddenly disappear, as if by some evil hokus pokus? (I swear it was right here just a second ago, dammit!)

We do not need to tolerate these things in the workshop, it is unnecessary.  Perhaps because they’re minor enough that we don’t spend the time to deal with them. But there are simple ways to make your workshop more pleasant and less stressful by tackling these little pieces one at a time. Here is my own top 10 workshop annoyances and the solutions employed to deal with them in my woodworking shop. As the list of woodworking stresses is without limit, this is only a beginning.

FRANK'S PEEVE #1: The tools and supplies you need are never located where you need them.
FRANK SAYS TO FIX IT: My idea to keep tools handy is to keep different sets of them in cheap portable carriers like you can buy in the home section of a hardware or variety store. Molded plastic carriers with built-in handles are made for organizing and keeping cleaning supplies and other household products. But they can be used for your woodworking workshop items as well. So, for example, when you are looking for your marking and layout tools (calipers, rulers, square's, tape measure, etc.) you simply go grab your “layout tool” carrier and take it right to your workbench. You’ll have all the tools you need in one easy to use carrier and are less likely to lose your woodworking tools, as each goes back into the carrier when you’re done. When you are working on household repairs or working remotely from your woodshop, it’s particularly useful to have all the woodworking tools you need at hand, so you don’t have to keep running back to the shop for tools you’ve forgotten. Tool carriers are also terrific for organizing screws and other nuts and bolts, glues and applicators and other shop supplies. Larg caddies or trays can be just what you need for keeping small parts together, especially when moving them around the workshop for different machining operations.

FRANK'S PEEVE #2: You can never find the right wrench when you need to tighten a chuck or change a blade.
FRANK SAYS TO FIX IT: Commit a dedicated wrench or screwdriver for your most common adjustments that you need, and keep it at the tool location at all times. For steel and iron tools, use a small magnet and attach it to the machine's base and then stick the wrench to it.  For tools or machines that are not magnetic, use a PSA-backed hook-and-loop fastener dots and use that to to attach the tool directly to the machine. Just make sure to position the magnet/fastener so that if the tool accidentally falls off, it will not go flying across the room!

FRANK'S PEEVE #3: You cut a part to the wrong dimensions because you’ve screwed up adding the measurements up.
FRANK SAYS TO FIX IT: Invest in a fractional calculator— it is just a calculator that lets you work with fractions instead of tenths, hundredths and thousands of an inch.  Perfect for those who fail at math but still want to do woodworking!  This kind of calculator lets you add up numbers and get the answer as a fraction.  Don't you wish you had that in math class?  Forget about trying to remember the decimal equivalents for fractional numbers (how many thousandths is 15/16"?) and then convert them back and forth, that's for amateurs — another source for measurement and calculation errors. You want to work like a pro, you need to act like a pro!  Sometimes sold as “builder’s calculators,” even the cheapest models allow you to add, subtract, multiply or divide fractions with mixed denominators(7/16 and 3/8, for example) and display the results as fractions, typically down to 64ths of an inch.

FRANK's PEEVE #4: You can't find the off switch and fumble about when you try to shutoff a bench top or stationary machine.
FRANK SAYS TO FIX IT: This can be a safety issue, so go and install a safety switch on the machine. This kind of electrical switch has regular push-button-type On and Off buttons, but with an oversized paddle that actuates the Off switch. Perfect for fat fingers.  You just hit the switch with your palm or fist to shut off the tool. I installed one of these on my router table recently, and I found it pretty easy to mount the switch with the Off paddle about 20" above the floor, so I can turn the router off with my knee, thus keeping my hands free and my attention focused on the tool. A safety switch is not only convenient, but could also save your butt if you need to turn a machine off in a hurry in the case that something goes awry.

FRANK'S PEEVE #5: Your sanding belts are all screwed up off track and your sandpaper sheets and discs keep curling up.
FRANK SAYS TO FIX IT: To prevent moisture from screwing up your sandpaper and putting your next woodworking project behind, store them in a sealable plastic container. Storage boxes and tubs come in a staggering array of styles and sizes; check the home section of your local walmart. If you store all your woodworking abrasive products in one of these sealed containers, it will help keep sandpaper sheets and discs flat and easier to mount and use. As an added plus, fabric-backed drums stay rounder and sanding belts kept dry will track more evenly. For those in a wet or or moist climate, get a container with a tight-fitting lid. To protect against high temperatures from affecting the lubricating coatings found on some sandpapers, store your container in a cool place during the summer.

FRANK'S PEEVE #6: You have a better time finding gold coins then you do finding a sharp pencil.
FRANK SAYS TO FIX IT: Attach a small retractable reel badge or key holder to your pencil: the kind used to hold security and event passes (available at office supply stores and online at ebay). You can find one with a belt clip that you can attach to your shirt or work apron (slipping a small rubber band over the shank of the pencil helps keep it in the holder’s plastic loop). When you need to use your pencil, just pull the pencil down and use it— the pencil always stays with you, since you can’t set it down.  If you try to put the pencil down, it will snap back to you!  Alternatively, buy a bunch of badge reels and attach them near your work areas, or even to specific tools (always in a safe location, where the pencil won’t get into the machine if the reel fails or the pencil falls off).

FRANK'S PEEVE #7: You keep drilling the wrong holes, either too big or too small, for dowels and fasteners.
FRANK SAYS TO FIX IT: Invest in an indexed set of #1-#80 numbered or A-Z lettered drill bits. A mainstay of any serious machinist’s tool cabinet, these twist bit sets include many bits that fall between standard fractional sizes.  Let's say you need to drill a hole for a hinge pin on a jewelry box. A standard 1/8" bit makes a hole that’s too tight for the pin, but a 9/64" hole’s just too big. But in a machinist drill bit set, the #29 and #30 size bits in a numbered bit set fall between 1/8" and 9/64", allowing you to drill a hole that’s just right for your hinge pin.

FRANK'S PEEVE #8: You are tired from breathing and tasting wood dust in your workshop, but wearing a mask fogs up your glasses.
FRANK SAYS TO FIX IT: Invest in filter masks that feature an exhalation valve. These masks allow the warm, moist breath to escape instead of creeping under the upper edge of the mask and fogging your safety and/or prescription glasses. Disposable masks with exhalation valves are cheap and comfortable to wear. To get the best lung protection, as well as prevent fogging, press the disposable mask’s nose piece down so that it conforms closely to the contour of your nose and cheekbone. Alternately, choose a rubber half-mask respirator that uses replaceable filter elements. For the best fit with a half mask, buy the size (small, medium, large) that fits your face best.

FRANK'S PEEVE #9: You don’t know if the can of finish of varnish you have on your shelf is too old to be good any more.
FRANK SAYS TO FIX IT: Here are two things you can do to prevent a stale finish from ruining your project: 1. Write the date on each can of finish the day you purchase it (TIP: don’t buy any “new” cans of finish that have a thick layer of dust on them; who knows how long they’ve been sitting on the store’s shelf). Some finishes, like shellac, may have a shelf life as short as six months, while others may last a year or two. When in doubt, try the finish on a scrap of wood, to make sure it applies and dries properly.
FRANK SAYS TO FIX IT ANOTHER WAY:You can keep finishes from skinning over and oxidizing by filling the empty space in an opened container with an inert gas, such as Bloxygen. But that is mostly for pro's.  The best way is to just keep track of when you buy it.

FRANK'S PEEVE #10: You try to keep a clean woodworking shop and you vacuum often.  But you keep sucking up screws, small tools and chunks of wood big enough to clog or damage the vacuum’s hose.
FRANK SAYS TO FIX IT: Attaching a metal screen over the end of the vac’s hose keeps larger items out while permitting sawdust and dirt to be sucked through. Cut out a square piece of metal screen or hardware cloth (available at hardware and home supply stores) that’s about two inches larger than the diameter of the vacuum hose. I found that screen with a1/2" x 1/2" mesh is about right to trap most things you want to keep, while not clogging up with sawdust too easily. Wearing thick work gloves, press the screen over the end of the hose nozzle so it covers it like a small cap. Then, trim off the excess and tape the screen in place with duct tape. Bam, you have a vacuum that sucks up saw dust, but not nails!

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2870 Ashwood Road
Columbia, TN, 38401