Thursday, July 2, 2015

About me

Hello and welcome to my new woodworking blog!

Since this is my first post here I thought I would start out with some background about me and maybe a bit about what's to be in this blog. At some point most of this might end up in the "about me" thing but I thought it would be appropriate as a first post. So, let's get on to it...

I grew up in a very rural small town Ohio outside Dayton, we had a KMart and a McDonalds, a couple pizza joints, a couple drive-thru's, maybe 2 gas stations, several bars and perhaps 2 dozen churches. My high school graduating class was small at 85 people and about the only thing I wanted to do after high school was get out of that small town.

My father was (and is) in computers so I was exposed to them at a very early age, and by early I mean punch cards that led to 8" floppies, CP/M and early UNIX. My mom grew up on my great grandparents farm, grandpa ran a greenhouse and sold fresh fruits & veggies to local markets and right out of his barn. This was of course "organic" but it wasn't called that then, it just was. As a result I have one foot firmly planted (hah) in the old ways of farming and the other stuck right in technology. I'm glad I had both, I am still quite fond of the smell of manure but also love the smell of a freshly printed circuit board and solder.

Neither of my parents were woodworkers, my first hammer came from my great grandfather and he's probably the one that got me started pounding nails. I still have that hammer, when I find it I need to build a shadow box to put it in for safer keeping. The first woodworking experience that I can actually remember was building forts with my brother and friends out of wood we found laying around, they weren't great by any means but they stopped the bullets when we had "wars"!

I started playing guitar around 13 which is what led to my first "real" woodworking experience. I had a Strat like guitar and being the 80's I HAD to have a humbucker in it. Two would have been better, but one was (and still is) the minimum to rock with. I remember mom taking me to Sears where I bought a Craftsman router, that was still the time when Sears was THE place to go. I of course had no idea how to use the router, so I threw good sense to the wind and proceeded to route a hole for that 'bucker.

Well, it's a good thing it wasn't a real Strat 'cause I messed it up pretty good. I traded something for another body, managed to figure out how to make a template from another Strat at a music store and routed the next one. I don't remember how I figured that part out, we certainly had no Internet then, I must have gone to one of those "library" things and read one of those "books"? But son of a ... It actually worked! I took all of that electronics theory my dad somehow passed into my brain and soldered in the new pickup. Rock on.

Fast forward a few years, after no woodworking, to where I bought my first house, I don't know the style the house was, but I do know it was built in 1918. You know what a 2x4 was in 1918? An ACTUAL 2"x4" piece of wood! Not this 3 1/2" x 1 1/2" stuff we have today, but 2"x4". Oh.. And not only that, after sitting around for 80 years they're a real bear to get a nail into. At that point I set up shop in the basement, jumped head first into woodworking, and started to fix that old house up. I started out with lower end tools in that shop, a Delta bench saw, benchtop drill press, a small bandsaw and a really cheap miter saw. Despite all being lower end gear I did some decent work but this was around 2000 when Internet based shopping started becoming "the thing". I was soon exposed to stores like Rockler, Penn State and Lee Valley which taught me what decent tools actually were.

Unfortunately I lost pretty much that entire shop to unemployment, divorce, foreclosure and bankruptcy, everything except for the Delta bench saw and the drill press. This set of circumstances and setbacks forced me into a long woodworking vacation. Eventually I landed a really good job, met a new girl, got remarried, had a beautiful daughter and started a now defunct business. None of which were conducive to a hobby, especially woodworking. A decade went by and eventually the bills were paid down, the daughter grew up and we were able to buy a house. No sooner than we moved in and I got the itch: I had to make shavings and dust... I invaded the 2.5 car garage and started shopping for tools.

The first order of business was a decent miter (chop) saw and having learned a thing or two perviously, I bought a decent DeWalt. I dug out the old Delta bench saw and drill press and built stands for both of them. The next order of business was another shop necessity, a workbench. It's sort of a catch 22 though isn't it? You really need a workbench to build one right? I turned some 1x10's into saw horses, 2x4's on top with some plywood and badda-bing: temporary workbench! I must say, the one I built isn't the greatest workbench but it works. You know I said it would be "temporary" until I built another one right? And you know what happens with the word "temporary"? Yep, it's been in the shop nearly 3 years now. I should have known better, really, I've learned there's no such thing as temporary in a shop.

As you follow this blog in the future you'll hear me say one thing over and over about tool purchases, buy the best you can afford but don't overbuy, do it based on your skill level. At the time I started woodworking in the 90's, that Delta bench saw was at my skill level. It probably cost under $100 back then and I was able to turn out some decent projects with it. When I began setting up my current shop I started with that now 17 year old Delta bench saw but I quickly outgrew it.

In June of 2014 I was cutting dados for a plywood cabinet that would go under the drill press and all of them were chipping out. I had a decent dado set (Craftsman) but not matter what I did they'd chip out. When I first bought that saw I didn't cut rabbets or dados much and when I did I was probably ok with a bit of chip out. I've gotten pickier and more demanding as I've grown older, I want things to look good now, not just be functional. I was getting better at cutting dados so it comes down to this: my skill level had outgrown the tool. After searching the Internet and reading reviews, I settled in on a Craftsman 10" contractors saw, model # 21833. It met my general rule: the best tool for what I could afford and not above my skill level. I'd probably love a Powermatic cabinet saw but let's face it, I'm not good enough to warrant a $2-4k table saw. I might be in 5 years, I guess we'll see. I have been using the Craftsman saw for a year now, I love it and would recommend it to anyone looking for an affordable quality table saw.

About the only thing left to mention is that woodworking is still a hobby for me, my day gig is for the University of Chicago, Booth School of Business in the IT department. I started there in 2003 as a UNIX sysadmin, was promoted to System Architect in 2007 and have just recently taken over the CTO role for the school. I have been a professional computer hacker/geek for around 25 years now and given the number of hours I've put in, by all other tradecraft measures, I would be considered a "master". But have I mastered the craft? I generally think so.

Well, that's it for this post and I hope you've learned a little something about me. With this out of the way I can move on to REAL posts about woodworking.

Peace, love and sawdust!


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