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by Steven D. Johnson
Racine, Wisconsin

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Off To The (Big Box) Store For Woodworking Supplies

Going to the mega-box discount retailer (you know who I am talking about) is, to me, roughly as enjoyable as a root canal, as rewarding as picking the wrong lottery numbers, and as efficient use of my time as shoe shopping with my spouse. Sometimes, though, it is simply unavoidable. We love the prices even though we loathe the service, the surly cashiers, the overall gestalt of the experience, and the often ridiculous sizes/quantities, but hey, what can you do?

One way to make the experience a bit more palatable is to focus on the woodshop while fighting through the crowds and searching for merchandise. Where are those two-quart twin-packs of shampoo, the six-packs of deodorant, the truck-size packages of paper towels, and the three-pound tubes of toothpaste?

Use your time wisely. While in the toiletries section, pick up some hand soap for the shop. Okay, so it is a gallon… you will use it (eventually). You know you need a toothbrush, and yes, it is a package of twelve, but take heart in the fact that your old one will be great in the shop for cleaning out small crevices in machinery or brushing the chips out of grooves and dados.

After a quarter-mile of cart-bashing aisle-weaving mayhem you are likely to stumble onto the paper goods department. If your truck or SUV will handle it, grab a 32-roll package of paper towel for the shop. You can clean up a lot of glue squeeze-out for a long time! A few aisles and a few cart jams away, grab some of those plastic storage bags with zipper closures. Get a few different sizes. They provide great dust-free storage for parts, hardware, and even instruction manuals and machine accessories. Ever the frugal woodworker, mine get used and reused. I even put stinky finishing rags and disposable brushes in used storage bags, squeeze out the air, and throw away the trash and the smells at the same time.

Somewhere in the same general vicinity, find the waxed paper. It will probably come as two rolls shrink-wrapped together, each roll being about three and a half miles long. So what? Stock up on this shop staple… I use large swaths of it under every glue-up and to protect clamps. It makes a great moisture-proof mask when finishing, protects the floor from drips and spills, and everyone knows you can crumple up wax paper and rub it on machinery for a little rust protection and lubrication.

Not far from the plastic storage bags and waxed paper, a whole section will likely be devoted to paper plates, bowls, and cups. Big on picnics, these mega mart shoppers must be! The saucer-sized plates, though, are excellent for keeping small parts, screws, and other hardware in one place and even make serviceable coasters when an ice-cold beverage is sweating on the workbench. The paper bowls are even more useful. Fill one with water and use it to rinse glue off sticky fingers or to rest your glue brush between assemblies. Dip one of those paper towels in the bowl to help clean up a mess. Strain finishes into a bowl for easy access when brushing or wiping on a finish. Fact is, I can’t even count all of the ways I use these down to earth dishes.

Somewhere between the laundry room paraphernalia and the small appliances, you will run across the home canning supplies. Be sure to grab a block of paraffin. Rubbing a bit on the sole of a plane makes the pushing easier. The same applies to stationary surfaces. I was ripping a bunch of thin strips on the table saw the other day and my GRRR-Ripper was slipping on the wood, so I rubbed some paraffin on the table saw table and fence, and the problem was resolved. Rub it on drawer runners, too, if things are a little too tight.

As long as you are in the home canning section, grab a box of jars and lids. If these things can preserve peach preserves, they can keep your liquid finishes fresh. Not far from the canning supplies are the rigid plastic storage containers. Some provide relatively air tight and secure storage. Find the right size, and they make great containers in which to soak and store sharpening stones. Don’t forget the lids.

Whiling away the hours in a mega mart can turn up some handy wood shop items even though they may be used only occasionally. I found a great pair of tweezers, stocked up on some antibiotic cream, small self adhesive bandages, and a tin of hand cream that promises to keep my hands soft and my cow's udders in fine fettle. I even grabbed a "hope I never use" item… a fire extinguisher.

Catering to all needs, there is an aisle of office supplies, and in it you might find other necessities. I picked up some oversize drawing paper, binder clips, sheet protectors, pencils, and other stuff. I was pleasantly surprised to find something else that I use constantly - chalk. It really is difficult to find plain old chalk. By the way, can anyone tell me why these stores carry adding machine tape? Does anyone still have an adding machine? Let alone one that uses paper tape?

The fact is, we use a lot of "stuff” in the shop other than wood and tools. We might as well save some money on these supplies so we have more for tools. Priorities, right? And if we have to go shopping anywhere other than our favorite woodworking store, we might as well make it as much fun as we can.


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