Mindfulness and the workshop

Circle around various corporate entities, and you’ll find the term “Mindfulness” cropping up more and more, as the latest trend takes increasing hold.

Now I say that in somewhat irreverent terms, but without any real intent.

I am not really on strong terms with mindfulness yet, there are many long courses all about it, but what strikes me early, is this concept of being in the moment.

Many of us drive to work each day, and yet can’t remember how we actually got there. We are walking around the house, put down our keys, and cannot remember for the life of us where they are a little later on.

These (and many others) are perfect examples of taking actions without being mindful.  Being in the moment, actually tasting the food we are eating, focusing on the activity, being particularly aware of what we are doing, not just going through the motions without concentration, without being mindful.

It got me thinking about the shed.  Some of what we do out there is without real thought – cleaning up for example, yet daydreaming (or just not concentrating).  Yet a lot of what we do, especially while working in the shed had better be very mindful, or you might find yourself fingerless, or worse.

To turn that around, I find that the shed activities really do focus the mind.  You cannot have random thoughts bubble up and become a distraction, and the activities really allow you to concentrate intensely on the task at hand.  It is like a form of meditation, and why I find I feel really refreshed after a good session out in the workshop.  Better than sitting around with your eyes closed, focusing on breathing and saying “Om”!

When I am shaping wood, solving design questions, cutting, planing, joining, gluing, polishing, there is no room for abstract thoughts, distracting thoughts, and problems at work and other stressors do not get a look in.

That is not always the case unfortunately. When having an unsuccessful day, it either allows an opportunity for these external pressures to creep in, or it is because those external pressures have been there all along, and not shut down enough to allow a successful day.

The next time I am having a bit of a bad shed day, I’m going to focus a bit more on why – am I being distracted by thoughts, or just me having a bad woodworking day.  Of course, like the golf saying goes, a bad day in the shed is still better than the best day at work!

Holy Quackin’ Duckfish – that is a workshop!

If you haven’t seen it before, check out Marc “The Wood Whisperer” Spagnuolo’s latest workshop. (Click for a larger view)

IMG_0977 IMG_1386

That is a killer workshop – size of a small football field, with an acre of space around each tool.  A glistening epoxy floor (or looks like), and Powermatic and Festool all the way (with a splash of Bessey for good measure).  Click here to head to Marc’s page on the workshop, including a full tool list, and links from them to the tools available through Amazon.  Don’t try adding it all up however, the value will floor you!

Don’t forget the obligatory drum kit at one end!

Link with the past

After reading my article on line shafts, Evan suggested I look at the following video on YouTube.

It is an excerpt from a 1981 documentary about a craftsman who is still using a water-powered (and line-shaft enabled) workshop from the 1840s.  It is 26 minutes long and does a pretty good job of documenting the creation of a project in this workshop.

The video starts with a bit of blacksmithing, which is interesting in its own right, but the majority of the video is about the creation of a large water trough for cattle, completed in a single day using techniques that are very similar to that a cooper would utilise to create a barrel. A very large barrel!

What I found fascinating, and really very invigorating and inspiring (used enough adjectives here?) is the machines in this workshop are practically no different from those in mine, and many others around the place.  We may utilise electricity rather than water power, but little else has changed.  We would be quite comfortable operating in a workshop of the 1840s, and in turn someone from that era would find ours very familiar as well.  Our links with our roots are not very long at all.

A tablesaw is still very recognisable as a tablesaw, as with the thicknesser, jointer, horizontal borer etc.  It seems the only really new technology in our workshops is the router, and even then it is quite possible the spindle moulder dates back far enough to be included in water powered workshops.  In 1925 they were still using flat-sided cutters, so that is something we can be grateful has improved over time! (Kickbacks would have been common, and incredibly violent).

So have a look at Ben Thresher’s mill, right out of the pages of history, and enjoy as I have, that we are still keeping these traditions alive in our own workshops.  The digital age of woodworking seems to be approaching, CNC, laser, 3D printing etc, so lets not allow our craft and skills to be lost in the way that digital photography has affected (what I call) chemical photography, and what computers and iTunes is slowly doing to music. (Had to end on a note of controversy!)

Preparing Timber – Resaw (part a)

Over the course of a number of posts (not necessarily consecutive), we will follow a piece of timber through a whole range of machining and processing steps, until it becomes a finished product.  You may not need all the steps – it depends on your particular source of timber for one.

Sourcing timber is always a bit problematic, and I will be looking further into the whole timber supplier thing later on.

Unless you have purchased a kitset (and even then in some cases), timber does not come in any sort of finished state, and particularly a dimensioned state ready for your project.  Even if it is sold as DAR (dressed all round), you can be pretty sure it will have twists, warps, cupping etc, even on a minor scale.  Perhaps difficult to pick up while shopping, but painfully obvious in the final project if not dressed properly before it is used.

However, first things first. If timber is too thick (or if you want bookmatched boards), the ability to resaw timber (which can be considered to be taking a board and splitting it into two thinner boards) is an incredibly liberating function.  You are not restricted to the thickness of boards you buy (or having to resort to wasting to sawdust good timber), or even if you are provided/manage to scavenge branches and sections of tree trunk, you have the ability to turn them into useable, rough-sawn boards ready for drying and processing.

The tool to achieve this is one of the most valuable in the woodworking workshop, and one of the most versatile: the bandsaw.

This is not what I’d call a (and apologies if anyone gets upset by this) toy bandsaw 8″- 10″ (and smaller) – you need something with a bit of power, and the capacity to take a reasonable blade, and they don’t start until you get into the 14″+ size.  There will be some who’d still call these toys until you hit at least 24″, but a 14″ bandsaw should be able to resaw a 12″ diameter log.

This does get into bandsaw sizing, and when you first come across the bandsaw, you’d think the size (8″, 12″, 14″ etc) refers to the resaw height – the depth of cut.  It actually refers to the diameter of the bandsaw wheel (at least on a 2 wheel bandsaw), which dictates the maximum throat depth.

Depth of Cut vs Depth of Throat

What I have found in the past, is (as a general rule) the smaller bandsaws have real tracking difficulties – not only in following a line, but also in simply keeping the blade running on the wheels.

A bandsaw blade needs a fair amount of tension to work properly, and the little bandsaws just cannot get the blade tight enough, which makes them worse than useless.  I’m sure if you pay good money that there will be small bandsaws that can do a good job, but if you are forking out $100 – $200 (or less!), then you might be better saving your money.

My current bandsaw is the 17″ one seen above.  I still have a 14″ Jet which I am still very fond of – with the 6″ riser block, the Jet is capable of resawing 12″, and still has a reasonable throat.  This 17″ one does pick up some things that make my life a lot easier.  The tension wheel is underneath the top wheel (hard to see in the photo), and is at a good working height to crank the tension on easily.  Both this, and the Jet have a quick tension release, and both can take a reasonable resaw blade.  3/4″ for the Jet, 1″ for the Carbatec.

Blade Comparison

A bandsaw may come with a single blade, but it most certainly should not be the only blade you own.  In fact you should be seriously considering changing blades for each job you do (assuming they are inherently different tasks).  A blade that may be suitable for cutting tight circles (such as the 1/4″ 10 TPI blade seen fitted here) is completely unsuitable for cutting through thick timber, where you have a much deeper depth-of-cut, or for resawing.  The other blade seen here is my primary resaw blade.  1″ across, 3 TPI, it will not leave anywhere near as smooth a finish as the small blade, it cannot go around a corner (well about as well as a bus can, compared to a mini!), but it can handle significant blade tension, will stay very straight during the cut (including not bowing, so the cut remains vertical, and flat!), and won’t result in burning as it has significant chip clearing capacity.

I’d suggest having 3-4 blades of different widths, and different teeth counts to cover the range of typical tasks.  The blade that came with the saw you can keep (put aside), and use it for jobs where you wouldn’t want to subject a good blade to, such as sand-encrusted timber, aluminium etc.  (Yes, cutting aluminium on a bandsaw is a perfectly reasonable task, as is plastic).

The bandsaw is, in my opinion one of the safest cutting tools in the workshop – certainly much safer than the tablesaw, SCMS, or router table.  You can still do significant damage to oneself if not careful, but it is a tool I’m more comfortable in using (standard guards and safety gear all still bought into play of course).  The cut direction is down, into the table so work is much less likely to be thrown at you, and if there is a failure (such as a broken blade), it doesn’t fly around the workshop and instead simply stops moving.

You can still cut yourself though – no tool can be used with impunity.  A bandsaw has teeth, and any tool with teeth is designed to eat.  If it has no trouble with hard timber, then your hand/arm/body will prove no problem if you happen to offer it up as a sacrifice.

So the bandsaw – one of my must-have workshop tools.  Whether it is for resawing


or scrollsawing,


circle cutting (as will be covered in the next edition of ManSpace magazine)

Circle Cutting

Circle Cutting

or anything in between, it is often going to prove to be the go-to-tool.  In this case, (for the purposes of this article), its ability to break down logs and resaw boards is invaluable in the workshop.

What is old is new again (and vise versa)

I found a phone the other day – sadly the owner had lost it, and it had subsequently been run over as well (not a happy phone!) To have a look at the contact list to find the owner, I had to dig up an old phone to put the SIM into and in my diggings I found my first digital mobile that I had while still in the Navy, and had last used in 1998.

(the AA battery I included for scale).

When I went to charge it, I was stunned to find that not only the phone still worked (that was pretty much expected), but that it still retained about 3/4 of its charge.  After 14 years!!!!

We retire these tools with scary regularity, to replace them with the latest and greatest.  The newest ones do have all sorts of amazing features, they are smaller, smarter, play more games, and have become mini-computers.  But what is a phone really for?

In my office at work, I still have an Apple ][e computer from 1984

It still works, and is (although tiring) capable of everything it was valued for when it was new.  Still capable of word processing, spreadsheets, and still has some great games.

What I am trying to show is although there are some things to gain from getting the latest and greatest of anything, the items that are left behind are still perfectly capable of doing what they were intended to do, even in a market a volatile as computing, or mobile telephony. (And I am as much an enthusiastic consumer of the latest and greatest techno-gadgets as anyone).

So what about in woodworking? Such a volatile market indeed, it is hard to keep up.  All those new hammers, tablesaws, and ruler technology.

Now there are advancements to be sure.  And as we equip our workshops, it is always interesting to source the best of these (as far as budgets stretch) to increase the capacity of our ‘shops.  Who doesn’t love a new tool (and hopefully there are a fair few sitting under trees around the world of Stu’s Shed readers!)

It is still worth remembering that despite all the ‘advancements’, very few reflect a real improvement, a true redesign rather than just a fad to generate sales.  We’ve seen a few: lasers on tools (even on handsaws ffs), magnesium casings, snake oil salesmen at wood shows, and all their wares.

Think back to how artisans of old managed to produce the most stunning of work, with the most basic of tools.  Some of what we buy is to fasttrack the process of being able to produce equivalent work without the days, months and years of practice, finessing the craft.   Some of what we buy turns out to be snake oil.

That is not to say there hasn’t been some inventions in recent times that have really added to the woodworking world.  Some of the things produced by Bridge City certainly would count, the SawStop and Incra both definitely rate, or going back a few years now, some of the stuff Teknatool came up with to revolutionise workholding on the lathe.

Others are redesigning and reworking existing products, such as Woodpeckers, and they are producing beautifully refined tools.

But there is still a group who are quite prepared to take a laser, stick it on a hammer (or a saw) in the hopes to deprive you of your hard-earned without actually providing a real benefit.

Back to the phone again, and what it made me think of when I saw it (and how functional it has remained).  It is worth having a look through your workshop, see what has been pushed aside because of upgrades, refinements, space constraints or whatever.  You may well (re)discover some treasures out there.  I found some tools recently I had completely forgotten I even owned.  Nothing wrong with the tool, or its functionality, or why it was purchased.  Just lost in time.  The benefit of buying quality: it remains a quality item for many years past when lesser examples have long fallen by the wayside.

So I hope that you find under your Christmas trees some new, functional, quality additions to your workshops.

But don’t forget you already have an awesome tool already, just waiting for you to pick it up and yield it: your existing shed, and all the tools contained therein.  Imagine an artisan of old walking in there and falling over in amazement at what we now have at our disposal, and what they could achieve with them.

And yes, I did track down the phone owner, from the number on the SIM card. Who wants that sort of hassle, especially at Christmas time?

Shuffling the Pack

Had a sudden urge to refine the layout of the shed – things were not working as I wanted after the last two additions out there, so I really wanted to get it back to properly functional out there.  My first thought was to relocate the Torque Workcentre into the 3mx3m shed which would really open things up again, but when I measured it, the small shed door was not simply wide enough (and I’d have to take the whole workcentre apart to get it in there – not something I’m really interested in doing every time I want to move the machine.

So I changed focus to what else I could do instead.

It was all heavy stuff – individual items weighing between 80 and 250kg (175lb – 550lb).  Each move then a slow, coordinated system of checks and balances (lots of balancing).

The shed is now a real mess, so once I get everything back into place I’ll snap a few new layout pics.  Feeling better about the layout now than I was with the compromises I was coming up with.

The Jet mini lathe was moved to the lower shed (storage) where it joins my Jet bandsaw.  I’m not anti-Jet at all, in fact if I had any negative opinions towards the two tools they’d be sold, not stored.  (Stored in the hopes that one day I’ll have a shed large enough to properly restore them to operation).  You might ask why I would want two bandsaws, or two lathes?  With the bandsaw, I’d like to have the Jet set up with finer blades, and the big one with resaw blades and not have to chop and change the blades for each job as much. The lathe is a combination of just liking the Jet, and it has a full length bed, and it is a good lathe for spindle work.

With the Jet lathe moved, and the drill press relocated there is then room for the Nova DVR down that end.  It then meant the planer could return to where I planned to be in an earlier iteration.

Finally, the workbench was rotated to fit into the corner as a better utilisation of space and to open up the floor space (floor space is an important tool in a workshop).

I still maintain infeed and outfeed space for the thicknesser and drum sander, and by rotating the planer it can feed significantly long work through it as well by opening shed door when necessary.  Same for the bandsaw – ok for smaller work, and much larger work can operate out the shed door as well.

SW09 – Risk Assessment

A really good first step when trying to improve your environment and practices to increase your overall safety, is to know just what you are trying to guard against, minimise, or eliminate.

So step 1 really is to conduct a Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment.

There are a number of different formulae for quantifying risk (threat), and the one that I prefer is one that takes into account the risk, the frequency of the risk and the degree of consequence.

In other words, if we look at the activity “standing outside without moving” what are the risks? (And no, this is not going to be comprehensive)

bird poo
falling whale (if you are a Hitchhikers fan) (or a Hancock fan!)
falling cow (if you are a Monty Python fan)
falling bus (if you are a Speed fan)
falling asleep

Next, what are the consequences (a scale that can be applied across all risks)

0 no short or consequence
1 minor inconvenience (little delay)
2 significant inconvenience (such as having to go back to Bunnings for more supplies)
3 limited damage (minor cut/abrasion)
4 moderate injury (stop work for running repairs)
5 significant injury (hospital/doctor attendance)
6 temporary disability / acute condition
7 permanent disability / chronic condition
8 dismemberment
9 death

Then a scale for likelihood of exposure to the risk

0 never
1 very unlikely
2 one to three times a year
3 monthly
4 weekly
5 daily
6 hourly
7 minutely (yeah I know that is not the right word, but the spell checker allowed it!)
8 continuous

And finally, a fudge factor – a user-applied modifier to allow common sense to be included in the calculation.  These numbers are then all multiplied together to provide a numerical risk value

Now I haven’t modified the above-numbers, but you may want to make the scales logarithmic.  So death has a factor of 1000 vs 100 for dismemberment for example.  Continuous risk is 100, vs weekly 10, or however you feel the balance is right.

So lets work through the above-scenarios.

risk consequence occurrence fudge result
sunburn 4 5 1 20
bird 1 3 1 3
whale/cow/bus 9 0 1 0
asleep 3 2 1 6

So now we have some numbers that we can use to assess the various perceived risks

We are more likely to suffer consequence from falling asleep when we get so bored standing around waiting to be hit by a flying whale, than suffering from a bird poo strike.  Neither are significant, so no further action is required.

However, sunburn is a real risk – it has moderate consequence (even higher if you get burned regularly, so that is where the fudge factor needs to be increased), and a likely occurence.  Stand around all day, and you will get burned if steps are not taken. (‘scuse the pun)

Now we have identified a risk, we need to deal with it.

There are 4 ways of dealing with a risk

1. avoidance (elimination)
2. reduction (mitigation)
3. transfer (outsource or insure)
4. retention (accept and budget)

In this case, we can
1. avoid (don’t stand around outside)
2. reduce (wear suntan lotion, sunproof clothing etc)
3. transfer (pay someone else to stand around outside)
4. retention (accept you are going to get burnt, so have some cream ready, and budget for skin cancer)

Hmm – guess if I need to be outside, and can’t avoid it, then suntan lotion and a shirt/hat etc is probably the best option.

Risk has been managed.

So now, we need to look inside our workshops, identify all the risks, and manage them.  There are a whole swag (you will be surprised) of risks, and how you choose to deal with them will make for whether you work in a safe environment or not.  I’m not proposing you wrap everything (and everyone) in cotton wool or bubble wrap, but getting into the habit of identifying and managing risk is a useful tool, especially when you can quantify it, and then determine where the budget is best spent.

For example, I’d look at each tool, and the risks associated.  I’d then separately look at the types of injuries and ensure that we have taken into account all the potential risk areas.  And finally, I would look at the shed as a whole, and pick up any that have slipped through.

Some things to factor in (and in no particular order, but these are all risks in my shed)

spiders (I have a number of redbacks (black widows))
dust (I generate a LOT of dust! Dust impacts on me both acutely (which causes snoring, which results in sleeping on the couch, which results in a sore neck…) and chronically (wood dust is regarded as a carcinogen in Australia)
mercury vapour if a fluro tube is broken
slips, trips, falls
cuts – sharp blades, knives, etc

and so on.

Remember too, that the risk is not only to you, but also family/visitors, pets, and neighbours (such as venting all your sawdust out of the shed (great transfer of risk, but not a great way to make friends with your neighbours!)

Give it a try, start small (as in don’t try to identify absolutely every single risk first up, just try a few main ones), and see what sort of figures you come up with.
You will find it interesting which risks actually pop to the top of the list. For example, in my shop I imagine that dust would be the number 1 risk, even though dismemberment by sawblade is a risk, it is a lot less likely if managed properly.

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