If you are not sure what to buy for your favorite woodworker or just your idiot husband, I am here to help. I have put together a list of gifts that I would be glad to receive and assume that other woodworkers and idiots alike would enjoy. I have included name brands where I think they are necessary to keep a good gift from becoming a flop. They are in no particular order and if you do the math there are probably more than ten.
• Clamps. Woodworkers will tell you that they can never have too many clamps. While this is true, they can have too many bad clamps. Even if you just buy one pair of clamps, make them good ones. QuickGrips are excellent one-handed clamps and are great to have around the shop. I recommend the 12″ length. For flat panel glue-ups parallel clamps are the best. I prefer Bessey because they were the original, but others work well, like Jorgenson. F-style clamps are also handy. Again, Bessey is a top name along with Jorgenson. I would stay away from pipe clamps. I don’t like the way they work and they don’t seem very fancy for a christmas gift.
• Impact Driver. Not long ago impact drivers weren’t so widely used. I remember thinking that they didn’t seem like an improvement over a regular drill for driving screws. I was wrong, wrong, wrong. If you know someone who uses power tools and doesn’t already have one, the impact driver is a no-brainer. They are on the higher end of the price scale, but worth it. I haven’t met an impact driver that was bad. The difference in price is usually the quality of the battery. Cheaper tools have batteries that don’t last very long. I use Dewalt, but other guys I work with use Makita, Hitachi, Milwaukee, and Ridgid with no complaints.
• Hand Planes. Good hand tools are always appreciated. Start with a block plane. If they already have a block plane step up in size to a bench plane. If they already have a bench plane step up to a bigger bench plane until you run out of money or options. Lie Nielsen is a name that woodworkers aspire to have. If you have a never-ending supply of money and can wait until next Christmas, look at a Sauer & Steiner.
• Bosch Jigsaw. A good jigsaw is a blessing after using lesser quality tools. I am a fan of Bosch, again the first and still the best. A jigsaw is used more for installations and on-site work, but is also useful in the shop on a regular basis.
• Oscillating saw. Along the same lines as the jigsaw, it is used for a lot of on-site work, but otherwise it is its own class of tool. It is not used on every job, so it wouldn’t be my first pick for a gift, but it is a great choice for the woodworker that loves power tools and has every other tool. There are lots of attachments available that make this a very versatile tool.
• Porter Cable Router. Routers are used on almost every job in my shop. They can be used for making parts, doing joinery, or fancying up an edge. The most common size is 1-3/4 horsepower and is a good all around pick. Porter Cable has an array of choices in routers and accessories and is the go-to brand for most shops.
• Premium Saw blade. There is nothing like a new sharp saw blade to make woodworking more enjoyable. For a christmas gift, go the extra mile and buy a premium blade. Forrest Woodworker II saw blades have a great reputation and produce great results. For the 10″ table saw, a 40 tooth combination ATB (alternating top bevel) is a great choice.
• FatMax Tape Measure. I always used cheap tape measures or whatever was within easy reach until I used a Stanley FatMax. Now, I will walk past any other tape measure and to the other end of the shop or even out to my truck to get to the FatMax. That is saying something since my shop is 200 ft. long. They are accurate, durable and have a long reach. Christmas is a great time to splurge and by the expensive tape measure. The first FatMax I bought was $25 and worth it. They are less expensive now.
• Combination square. This is one of the key layout tools in my shop. For a gift, splurge and get a good one. An accurate combination square will be used on every project. Look for a cast iron tool as compared to aluminum. Starrett is the most coveted.
• Nippers. Nippers are great for lots of applications. They work like a pair of pliers to help remove nails. Whether it’s pulling an errant brad in new woodwork or nails out of an old piece of trim, nippers get a lot of use. Nippers are more for on-site installation type of work, but I use them in the shop too. Mine are Channellock brand.
• Premium Paint Brush. Like clamps you can never have enough paint brushes, but you sure can have too many bad ones. Go crazy this holiday season and give a $15 paint brush. I recommend a 2-1/2″ angled sash brush. There is nothing like a brand-new premium paint brush.
• Drill Doctor Drill Bit Sharpener. Every woodworker and do-it-yourselfer has a box with drill bits in it that are dull. They are still good, but dull. Even guys that love to sharpen their tools have dull drill bits. Fix this wrong in the world and save the drill bits. The Drill Doctor is fast and works great, plus a lot of woodworkers don’t have one.
• Small/Quiet Air Compressor. Many woodworking tools use compressed air. And like routers, it is fine (in some states required) to have more than one air compressor. For a gift, try the Senco PC 1010. I own one and love it. It is tiny, but will run a brad nailer and many other nail guns. It is super portable and ultra quiet. Do not, I repeat do not, purchase a Porter Cable pancake model. It is cheap and works fine, but it is the loudest tool in the entire world. I know guys that own one and they have extra long hoses so they can get the compressor as far away as possible, usually outside.
• Note Pad & Pencils. I am a bit of a pencil snob. The best pencil for woodworking is a Dixon Laddie. It is a fatter pencil that won’t easily break, and it can be sharpened to a fine point or can make a bold line when needed.
• Utility knife. Everyone can use a utility knife. Put cheap ones in the stocking or buy a good one and give it as a stand-alone gift. Folding versions can be carried at all times and fit easily in your pocket.
Before you answer that question, let’s discuss.
Everything I read regarding safety in the shop says don’t wear gloves when operating machinery. Gloves can get caught in moving parts and suck you in. It makes sense. Don’t wear loose clothing, tie back your hair and don’t wear gloves. But, I am not one to just let things go unquestioned. Are gloves in the shop really that dangerous?
I almost always wear gloves in the shop, even while operating machinery. They are tight-fitting cloth gloves with nitrile-dipped palms from Home Depot. I like them because they are inexpensive, fit great, aren’t too hot, and give me excellent grip. I especially like to wear them when I am using the jointer, but I find the grip to be helpful any time that I am pushing smooth-planed wood through a tool like the table saw.
I use the jointer (mine is 12″ wide) to flatten the wide face of all of my lumber before it goes through the thickness planer, leaving it flat and straight. On wider, longer and heavier boards it takes a lot of force to move them across the jointer. Often, I am really leaning into it and the gloves are the only way that I can get enough grip. I know push blocks are recommended, but they are slow and very cumbersome to use when you are faced with several days of jointing rough lumber.
On the table saw and router table, the enemy is smooth wood. I constantly envision myself losing my grip and pushing my hand right into the action. Guards, of course, would help, but we all know that there isn’t one on my table saw and there probably isn’t one on yours either. On the router table it is easier to cover the cutter and be productive, but I still want a good grip, so that I don’t jam my hand into the bit. I think gloves are the answer.
So, why are gloves dangerous? They are dangerous because if you accidentally touch that table saw blade, instead of just getting cut, you will get cut, sucked in, and cut some more. To that, I say, “Well, don’t touch the blade.” I have been doing this a long time and I still get a little nervous when my hand is getting in the vicinity of the blade. I pay attention, think about what could go wrong and try to avoid it. I always picture myself at my college bakery job at 3 a.m. making donuts. I am tired, the floor is covered with grease, my knees are locked and I am leaning forward over a boiling vat of death. But, no matter how tired I was, I knew that if I lost my balance and fell forward, I was going to catch myself on the side of the fryer and not in the bottom of the hot oil. The thought of my hand frying like a donut goes a long way to making me focus and so does the idea of sticking my hand in the table saw. Gloves aren’t an issue if you keep your hands out of the saw.
Now that I have tempted fate and thrown it out to the universe, let’s say my hand does go into the proverbial “fryer”. If I am wearing a glove, is my result guaranteed to be worse because of it? I have heard stories from friends of friends and distant acquaintances on the internet about how things were bad because of a glove. But, what about the times that an accident was averted because of gloves? It is certainly possible. Nobody is going to tell a story of how they didn’t put their hand in the saw because they had a firm grip and everything went smoothly. There is no gore there, no tale of doom to pass down from generation to generation.
With this in mind, I tried to be more scientific and find studies about gloves in the workplace. The one that I found to be the most relevant only asked questions of people who were injured on the job and whether they were wearing gloves or not. They really needed to ask glove wearers about specific times when the gloves either made their outcomes better or worse. But again, worse outcomes are going to get more airtime because you can’t identify when things went better or nothing went wrong.
For now, I am still wearing my gloves. They make me feel confident when I am close to the tools, and I think that goes a long way towards safety. In the meantime, I hope to find more scientific data and plan to do some tests by sticking gloves in the tools to see how things go. I just need to find some volunteers.
Let me know your thoughts and if you have any first-hand accounts.
Now that I have the new shop/lumber store up and running in St. Charles, I am getting new customers that don’t know me yet. I tell them about milling local trees, building wine cellars, the story of how I ended up in St. Charles and the fire that prompted my move. For those of you that haven’t heard it, here is the “long version” of my fire story.
My shop, since I have been woodworking full-time, was always in a building behind our house in Hazelwood. While we lived in that house I always paid to rent other property for the sawmill. The shop and the sawmill were always in separate locations (I now recommend this). In August of 2010, we moved to St. Charles to a house that didn’t have room for a shop, so I decided to move my shop to the sawmill property. The building that I moved into wasn’t great, but I worked on it when I could, and I made it into a feasible shop.
I set up and used my sawmill in front of the shop. Between the two was my scrap pile. This setup worked great. Sawmill scrap and shop scrap would meet in the middle, easily chucked into a pile that I would move with the Bobcat when necessary.
Just before the fire, I was working on the “Augusta Project”, milling a lot of cedar. My Bobcat was out in Augusta so the scrap pile didn’t get moved. Cedar is really lightweight, so I was able to heave the scraps up higher than normal, and the pile grew. I impressed myself with how much wood I cut and how high the stack got. On both ends of the mill I had lumber stacked with sticks in between each row to allow air movement for drying and, as the firemen pointed out, for burning. They said it was nice how I had a little wood, then a little air, then a little wood, then a little more air, and then more and more wood.
The day of the fire was a Saturday that I had set aside to repair my sawmill. I met my ex-neighbor Alan at his house and he welded some new parts for me early in the morning, then I headed to the mill to install them. Everything went great and I had the new parts installed in no time. I had some extra time and thought to myself, “Boy, that went well, why not try to make the new parts look just a little better and do a little grinding and painting before I leave?” (I didn’t say anything to myself about burning down the place.)
I grabbed my grinder and started cleaning up the welds. They were looking good, but then something caught my attention. A couple of spots in the sawdust surrounding the sawmill were smoldering and not going out. It had been dry for a while and the wind was strong that day. Normally the sawdust and scrap pile would be wet from being on the ground and being sawn from wet wood, and they wouldn’t even think about catching on fire. The bonus, in this case, was that cedar is a very dry wood and burns like it has gas in it.
As soon as I saw smoldering sawdust I stopped grinding. After all, everything I was doing was cosmetic, I didn’t have to grind anything. First, I stepped on the smoldering spots to put them out, which may have been my most costly move. Then, I reconsidered and decided to shovel out the sawdust and spread it on the driveway, away from danger. I would have doused the whole place with water, but I don’t have running water at the sawmill, so that wasn’t possible. I did have a water jug with me, that I poured on the questionable areas, but it must have just angered the fire gods (should I capitalize that?). I continued shoveling the sawdust and looking for smoke. After finding no more signs of fire, I cleaned up and put away my tools, checked again for signs of fire, and started to leave.
I got up the road a bit and realized that I didn’t really have anywhere to be and that it made sense for me to go back and make sure the place wasn’t going to burn down. Understand, that this was a big move for me. I am normally very cavalier about such things, but I thought I had better check, just to make sure. I told myself that I was going to stay until I didn’t see any signs of fire for at least one hour, which I did.
After one hour of doing odd cleaning jobs and checking in on the potential fire area, I left. I don’t know exactly what time I got home, but I know it was before lunch at 12:30 p.m. The fire department was called by the neighbors that night at midnight, about twelve hours after I left. I wasn’t there when the fire started, but my best guess is that one of those first couple of sparks that I tried to snuff out with my shoes got buried, smoldered quietly all day, and then finally made it to the surface where it flamed up. Since it was late and the building was well hidden from the road, the fire had a chance to really get going before the fire trucks arrived. The firemen said they could see the flames above the trees about a mile away (literally). Needless to say, the building and everything inside was completely destroyed.
Leading up to the fire plenty of visitors to the sawmill joked about lighting that pile of scrap and how great it would burn. Looking back, I should have taken it as a serious warning.
This afternoon I got a call from a friend that lives near my sawmill/shop and he asked if I had been up there today. Well, the rest pretty much writes itelf.
We went up to check out the damage and maybe see if we could salvage anything, but the salvaging didn’t take long. Everything was vaporized, except the heavy iron, which is still pretty dead. I was amazed at how my tool boxes, which had drawers so full that you couldn’t close them, had almost nothing in them. I have saved a couple “C” clamps and a carpenter’s square so far, but that may be it. It was raining (about 12 hours too late), so we just left. Will find out more soon.