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by Steven D. Johnson
Racine, Wisconsin


This month:

Holiday Season Quick Time-Saving Tips

The Language of Numbers

More On the Beard/Dust Mask Interface

A Dusty Yuletide Tale





Holiday Season Quick Time-Saving Tips

Feeling a bit frenzied right now, trying to finish up all those holiday projects? Relax...here are some hints that are quick to read, easy to do, and are guaranteed to save you time now and throughout the year. More time = more woodworking!


Get Mobile

Figure 1: PDF files make it easy
to read articles anytime, anywhere
Sometimes the volume of woodworking projects is daunting and time is short. Still, you want to read everything in the Highland Wood News Online. Break it up into smaller chunks, put it on your mobile device, and spend otherwise wasted time catching up on “Finishing Wood,” “Show Us Your Shop,” or “The Down To Earth Woodworker.” In the minute and a half before the hair stylist calls your name, standing in line at the DMV, or waiting for a glue-up to tack-up, you can catch-up on your reading.

Figure 2: My iBook library of PDFs
Making your favorite columns mobile is easy. In your web browser, click on the “Down To Earth Woodworker” column to open it, then click on “print.” In the print window, select the option to print to “PDF.” This will create a PDF file that you can then email to yourself. Then, wherever you are, simply open the PDF file on your smart phone or tablet and read your favorite column. If you happen to be an iPhone or iPad user, add the PDF to your iBooks library like I do, and it will be available any time.


Get Organized

Figure 3: Instruction manual, a
review, and the original receipt…
all in a clear plastic sheet
You know this feeling… you’ve been waiting all week to get into the shop and Saturday finally rolls around. It’s time to use that Super Fantasmagoric Whatchamacallit machine that you only use twice a year, but you cannot remember how to change the bit (or cutting depth, height… whatever). Suddenly your relaxing weekend has turned into a frenzied game of seek. The machine’s instructions are hiding somewhere.

Figure 4: Three-ring binders with
all my important shop paperwork
End that game forever with a little organization. Three-ring binder notebooks with clear sheet protectors are the trick. In my system, some binders are full of information for a single machine, some binders hold information about several. Everything goes into the sheet protectors – the original receipt, the warranty card, the instructions, online reviews, information about the accessories purchased for that tool or machine, etc. Each notebook is clearly labeled. Just in case I need it, I always write the serial number on the first page of the instruction manual.

This is hardly the time of the year for pessimism, but should something dreadful every happen that requires an insurance claim these notebooks will provide all the information you need to fill out the forms.

If you are as technologically adept as you are at woodworking, the NeatDesk or NeatReceipts scanners (about $400 and $200 respectively) will do an admirable job of digitizing a lot of your woodworking information. Those files can then be easily transferred to your tablet, smart phone, or other device. Files can be organized to your liking and are searchable, so you might never waste any more time looking for an instruction manual.


Keep a Log

Figure 5: When your logbook is full,
fill in the ending date and start another
Not the big heavy kind that you plan to saw into boards, but the kind where you record critical information for later use. If you are building another cabinet to match one you built a couple of years ago, a record of the finishing procedure used will help. It will save an inordinate amount of time if you write down the source and model number of the drawer slides and pulls you used. And if there was a particularly tricky step or process in the fabrication or assembly, having a record is like a set of directions you can look back to for guidance.


Keep a List

Figure 6: The iPhone “notes” app
is handy for keeping a list
There is little that is more frustrating or time killing than being in the middle of a project and realizing you need something. Sanding up through the grits is tough if you have only 80-grit and 220-grit sandpaper. Too short screws to assemble a project, not enough glue, dried-up finish, or a broken jigsaw blade can cost precious shop time.

I keep a running list of “consumable” products, adding items when I notice I am running low. A scrap of paper and a thumbtack in the wall works great. I’ve gone all “technical” though, and keep my list on my phone. It is quick, easy, and always with me. Keeping a list helps me make sure I am well stocked on everything I need.


Get the Blood Pumping

Figure 7: A little stretching will get the blood pumping
and help you work faster, smarter, more safely
Those of us of a certain age will remember the pictures and films of foreign manufacturing plant workers doing calisthenics prior to their shift. Most of us will also admit to a vague Orwellian queasiness when we saw those, but nevertheless, there is merit to a little additional oxygen and a mild uptick in the old ticker rate.It is certainly not something that I would want anyone to see, but I do a couple of stretching exercises, take a short brisk walk, and a push up or three before I start the day in my workshop. Not enough to get all sweaty, mind you… and not enough to make me so tired that a nap sounds better than woodworking… but just enough. With a clear head, a little additional energy, and a little less fuzziness around the edges, I get a quicker start, work smarter, safer, and with more creativity.


Get the Temperature Right

When I leave the shop at night or for any extended period of time, I turn the heat down, shooting for an “idle” temperature of about 50° F. I want to save energy and money, but I also want to protect finishes, tools, and other materials from wild temperature extremes. It takes a while for my shop to get up to a comfortable working temperature again, so the next morning, very first thing, before my first cup of coffee, before my shower, before my, well, before anything else, I run into the shop and crank the heat back up. By the time my morning ablutions are complete, the shop is warm and ready to go. Maybe next year I will install a programmable thermostat…


Get a Jump on Tomorrow

I am a bit of a neat-freak. “A place for everything and everything in its place” is as sacred to me as coffee, apple pie, mother, and country. I also have the very annoying (to some) habit of cleaning my shop at the end of every day, no matter how long the day or what else might be demanding my time. Tools back in their places, benches dusted, floor vacuumed, dust collector emptied… it is a ritual. But on a time-constrained two-day weekend of woodworking, I will actually add one more end-of-day task. I get a jump on tomorrow.

While mindlessly vacuuming I think through what I want to do first thing tomorrow morning. Then, before turning down the heat and off the lights, I get everything ready for that first morning task… the needed tools out, machinery in position, dust collection set up, materials in position. At the end of a day of woodworking, I am still “in the zone” and thinking through the next day’s first task is easy and quick. And the next morning, my first task goes smoothly, setting the stage for a great day in the shop!


To Thine Own Self Be True

Shakespeare, via Polonius, had it right. Plan your workday to take advantage of your personal preferences and style. A friend of mine is like a cat. He can spring up from deep sleep and dive right in to the heaviest, most daunting work. Conversely, I need a couple of hours of quiet, gradual wakening, bolstered by large quantities of coffee, and even with that slow start, I like to start my woodworking day gently and gradually.

A big complicated glue-up is a prescription for disaster early in my morning; better that I start with a little light sanding or maybe sharpening a chisel. You might be at your strongest in the morning, so chopping those mortises might be great for you. You might be most creative late in the day, so lay out those fancy cabriole legs last. Hit your peak at midday? Cut those dovetails then. Timing your work to match your particular productivity “highs” and “lows” will result in speedier, more accurate work and will ultimately save you time.

 

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