Cool Tools (a crowdsourced review blog that’s part of Kevin Kelly's network of sites), I thought I’d share a solution I found that worked quite well.
It’s a workbench kit from 2x4basics that currently costs about $65. What you get is a box of sturdy plastic joints. What you add is your own lumber (2x4s and three panels of plywood or OSB). All told, I spent about $130. It only took about an hour to put together. What it is: a sturdy workbench that’s easy to customize to a size that fits in any workspace. It gives you a rock-steady three-tiered storage system, a shelf and a big flat work space. What it’s not: a carpentry bench. While it comes with some plastic clamps and hooks, they are not very useful. And the plastic corner pieces of the workbench prevent the installation of a fixed corner wood clamp because they aren't flush with the 2x4 frame. Still, it's an exceptional multipurpose surface with plenty of storage for wood and other odds and ends. Now I just need to build a carpentry bench to compliment it.
Speaking of woodworking, I've been spending a lot of time and energy lately building up a solid collection of hand tools. There's an impulse to head to a big box store and buy new stuff. But I submit the best place to start is with antique stores. You know the old yarn about how 'things were made better then?' I've found that this is generally true for hand tools, provided you find ones that were well cared for. I picked up a level and sliding square made in the 1930s for a grand total of around $60. Sure, it's more than I'd pay for an aluminum level and cheap sliding square, but these are beautiful. They're built to last. They are made of heavy gauge stainless steel. As an added benefit, these old tools have character.
Now that I have a fairly capable workshop in place, I'm ready to start building some shelves, cabinets, and furniture. While I have some experience, I would still classify myself as a noob. So I naturally headed to my Mac to seek out online and app solutions. No books for me. I'm happy to report that there's a lot available out there.
Sketchup design application. While I had installed this app a year or so ago to check it out, I didn't have a compelling use for it. Now I do. Carpentry. Here's an example of a detailed Trundle Bed design that gives you a sense of some of the amazing free plans that are out there. This tool rocks. I plan to use it to sketch out all of my larger projects in the future, ranging from wood projects to garden plans to landscaping to interior designs. First, though, I have to learn how to use it through Google's extensive documentation. As an aside, Sketchup would make a great iPad app. While I doubt we'll see that any time soon, wouldn't it be nice to see a company like OmniGroups create an iOS Sketchup-like tool ... perhaps an extension of OmniGraffle?
So Sketchup promises to be a very helpful design and planning tool, but what I really need to get going in terms of woodworking is a dose of regimented instruction paired with a community of fellow woodworking enthusiasts (for motivation and to share experiences). I first checked out what was available around my neighborhood. While there are some courses at my local community college, the costs for these courses are steep.
So I was happy to find a couple of really good sites to sign up for a low-cost online education. I haven't decided what I'm going to sign up for yet, but I've narrowed it down to two choices.
Guild hosted by 'The Wood Whisperer.' Membership is $149 a year (with lower cost options for six and three months). That's ridiculously affordable. I found this in a roundabout way by looking for woodworking podcasts, which lead me to an excellent series of instructional Wood Whisperer iOS videos. Based on what I've seen in these videos coupled with Guild user reviews, I'm pretty sure I'm going to try this out. Here's a sampling of what Guild membership entails: the opportunity to participate in three projects a year, videos and live demos to help you through said projects, access to all the archive projects (videos) should you want to try a former project, live interviews with leading industry pros to get answers to your questions, individual assistance with your projects, and a members-only forum to ask questions and share experiences with other Guild members. Sounds fantastic.
The Renaissance Woodworker,' hosted by a professional who specializes in hand tools. This site is offering the Hand Tool School, a series of classes that's a self-described 'new approach to the traditional apprenticeship system.' I like the idea of learning the fundamentals of woodworking with hand tools. It's similar to the idea behind learning how to hand code a website before using a WYSIWYG editor. This looks like a winner.
Of course, now that I'm diving into this head-first, I also checked for iOS apps that compliment the craft. Here's a round-up.
1. The Woodshop Widget. A two dollar app affiliated with the Wood Whisperer brand. Very helpful utilities including shellac mixing ratios, board foot calculations, tips, squareness testing, decimal to fraction conversions, and movement estimates for more than 230 wood types.
2. Woodworking with the Wood Whisperer. A free app that provides access to archived episodes, social integration, and access to the live Wood Talk Online Radio podcast from the Wood Whisperer.
3. I.D. Wood. A five dollar pocket guide to nearly 160 different types of wood with information ranging from origins to common uses to durability to hardness.
So I think I'm off to a good start. If you're interesting in this sort of thing, I hope this helps you get started as well.