A Messy Bench: Sign of a Superior Intelligence

A messy bench is the sign of a superior intelligence.

This is an axiom that I have been working on for some time now. Born out of necessity really as the mess came first. One job gets started. A slew of tools emerges to help with this task and then more come for another task. The first set stays, gets pushed aside, oh there’s my notebook, the new tools get used. Chips and shavings pile up. Progress gets made. Clamps hang from the edge of the bench. I have to use my spoke shave now. Oh and a file. I need to draw a little bit here in order to make a decision so out comes my drawing board, pencils, French curves, ruler. I sit to imagine. I walk away for coffee as I place down my pencil and I come back and it is now adrift in a sea of flotsam and jetsam and if I stand still long enough it will all stop bobbing about and I will find what it is I am looking for. In time.

Another axiom appears. Neatness is the mother of necessity. Or maybe invention. One of those. But I accumulate enough on my bench until the poor camel’s back breaks. I can take no more. I need my life returned to me and I commence to clean. It is such a satisfying act that I begin filling my bench immediately no doubt in anticipation of cleaning it once.  And fill it does. Since this is its most constant state, I have given up complaint and aver that since it is most usually a mess, then this constant state must be its natural one. It is my superior intelligence that wills it so and so it must be.

Or I’m an idiot and I need to clean my bench again so I can try to get some work done. One of those. Good luck with yours.

Drawers help me with this task.

Drawers: Building & Fitting, July 21-23. Join the cleaning revolution.

Messy bench



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Pete Dexter in his book Deadwood, “He liked having a drawer, it was a neatness you could see just sliding it open.”

There’s something about drawers that appeals to me. I say to myself, I don’t need another drawer, and as soon as I build one for the shop, I fill it up. These compartments, these hideaways, these boxes hold our our tools, our treasures, our nuts and bolts in a way that gives us order, a sense of security, completeness. All attributes that I treasure in the shop.

Building drawers requires a mix of planning, patience and precision. Join us July 21-23rd for a three day class on making drawers. You will learn a bunch about joinery, both router and hand cut. You’ll learn about drawer building and fitting. Finally you’ll learn some stuff about your own need for neatness in this crazy world.


1-1-Shop drawers



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My Way

Why do we trust what we read on this internet as if every orifice is an oracle? Listen to me, I’ve done this once before. Or I saw it on the internet, it must be true. Are we so trusting? Do we believe everything that we’re told here? Perhaps it’s the power of the written word. Why would anyone go to so much trouble only to lie to me?

No matter. What I’m about to tell you is the truth. Believe me.

Pay attention to what I say or write with a bucket of salt close by.

It is drivel, the ramblings of a self-absorbed maniacal woodworker. What I write is filled with half-truths, opinions, and conclusions based on my own scant experiences of forty years. It is slanted to favor my biases and proclivities. It has nothing to do with your own work, stance at the bench, or tooling. If I give you dictums, ignore them. They may not work for you. If I sound like I’m preaching, forget me, you’re different. Should I say that this is my way, it is not The Way.

I have my methods. They work for me. I can tell you what they are but it may not be right for you. That’s okay. On the other hand, you may learn something from me that helps you along your path. Decide for yourself. But please don’t think that my way is the only way. It’s one of many.

1-Stool perspective dwg



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Hand Planes

It is incomprehensible to me how someone can work wood without using a hand plane. Not just because they’re quieter, slower, and give better feedback to the user, but also because when they’re sharp, they are unequaled at making accurate cuts. My opinion is that each woodworker needs five of them, but I know many people disagree with this statement. They are the folks who have 20 or 30 hand planes close by.

Join us July 7-9 for an introduction to these amazing tools. Hand Planes, Spoke Shaves, and Scrapers is a 3 day workshop where you’ll learn how to choose, sharpen, tune, and use these amazing tools. Once you have them in your kit, you will wonder how you ever worked wood before.

1-Bedrock plane-002


Bedrock in use w hands


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Open the Doors

Join us Friday, May 6th from 5-7PM at the Studio, 1002 SE 8th Ave. It’s our Spring Open House to celebrate the WIN program and the accomplishments of its high school woodworkers.

This is our first year working with Portland area students from Aloha and Franklin High Schools. We continued our relationship with South Albany and Crescent Valley High Schools from the Albany/ Corvallis area as well. The work these students are doing will impress you. What they’re learning being in the shop and at the bench is also something to note. There is focus, desire to do well, and commitment. Not always easy to say about high school students. But you can see it in the work these workers put into their pieces.


Come see the Studio, check out the student work, watch the big band saw at work. There will be refreshments and beer from Base Camp Brewing as always.






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Tools & Materials

You think you know something. You think you have it finally all put into place and then you tweak one little item like scale and everything changes. Take tools and materials for instance.

This will be our first workshop in our Carpentry/ Building tiny series of workshops: Tools & Materials. What’s to learn? I know tools, right? I know materials, right? But this is all for furniture making. Where the focus really is tiny. But when we start building a house, tiny or no, the needs change. Now we build for weather proofing, for space saving, for ease of sheathing, roofing, and fenestrations/ windows. For all these things, the rules change. The talk is about more than precision, it is about fluidity, about ease of use, accuracy, and speed.

Join us April 9 and 10 for this workshop as Brooks Nelson wows you with his insights on carpentry. This workshop will be about the tools that a carpenter needs, not a furniture maker. The tools that make life at the sawhorse go smooth. It’s a different set of skills a carpenter needs. Come and get some for your toolbox.

1-Top 10 Carpentry tools



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Why tiny?

You may not have noticed, but while you were asleep, the world changed. It looks suspiciously the same but it’s not the same as yesterday, last week, five years ago. It keeps changing, it doesn’t ask for our permission, and we are forced to change with it. Populations keep growing, the good watering holes get noticed and fill up, and Less is More isn’t just a catch phrase, it simply makes good sense.

The Studio is starting to run tiny House workshops on building. These are carpentry courses on tools and materials, framing a wall, making a folding chair, doors and windows. Basic essential classes that give folks interested in building tiny homes, a resource, a way to get started. Our first is April 9th. Check our site for more details in the Workshops section. We’ve done carpentry classes in the past but never directed towards tiny Houses. Why tiny?

I am not suggesting that everyone live in a tiny House. But there’s something about living a bit easier on the earth that has always seemed right to me. If we can help folks figure out a way to do this and, with an exclamation, do it using good design and solid construction principles, then I’m not just for it. I want to help lead the way.

Tiny Houses give us a chance to try out some big design ideas on a small scale. They give us the chance to design an environment where every construction detail is considered and done well. It’s an opportunity to create for our lives a sense of place that most everyone can relate to.

The world changed and it did not get simpler to live in. Building tiny is our way of making a part of it simpler again.

1-tiH framing wall 2015


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I had a neighbor who built furniture. He made a piece with this great set of doors filled with lines and ribbons of color. I asked him how did you make all this inlay? He said, Oh that’s not inlay, it’s paint. Oh, I replied.

Don’t get me wrong, paint is wonderful. But if you make furniture and you get a chance to put in some inlay, don’t hesitate. Take the plunge, learn to cut inlay and ground. It’s more fun that laying down ribbons of masking tape, I can tell you that.

SAB Detail Inlay


Inlay Secrets lecture Wednesday, March 2, 6-8pm. Join us. No paint.


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It appears to be so simple. A drawer. Everyone knows them, uses them daily, forgets what’s hidden inside them on a regular basis. Drawers, you know, the thing with the corners, and there’s space and they open or actually slide. How hard is it to make a drawer? What’s the big deal?

The deal is simply that drawer construction is box construction which is as sloppy or precise as you want to make it. But one thing, the drawer box, has to fit into another to make the agreement work.

3 Drawer Case class this week at the Studio.




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The Power of Repetition

How do we learn? How do  things stick in our head so that we can repeat them with accuracy? It is a well known and often ignored truth. Repetition. Trying, practicing, and trying again.

Your brain is no doubt larger than mine, but to get something in my head like French or into my hands like carving, I have to practice. Not much, not all day, not until I’m bored and tired of it. But I do need to practice with regularity and purpose. For an hour or more each day or a bit more if I can find the right groove. Sometimes less. I need to have the tools in my hand so that it feels right. The grip in my hands so it becomes familiar. The accent gets put in the right place so that it makes sense. The vocabulary  groomed once more. And again. L to Legacy shots 017

The power of repetition.









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