Popular Woodworking in America: An Interview With James Hamilton

James Hamilton, Stumpy NubsJames Hamilton is the man behind the popular Stumpy Nubs web site, which offers a range of online videos dedicated to woodworking and to outfitting your shop with homemade woodworking machines, jigs and tools. Hamilton is constantly seeking ways to organize, streamline and improve workshops – and strives to help others do the same. He will be teaching at Popular Woodworking in America at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center, September 16-18.


About this time last year you had a new book (“The Homemade Workshop”) out in addition to all your web site and online shows. What have you been up to this year? 

Oh my goodness, what a year it has been! Everything is different. For one thing, I’m an inch taller. Which may or may not have something to do with the new measuring tape I purchased. But the biggest change since Woodworking in America last fall is we launched a new digital woodworking publication, called “Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal”, with a mix of articles and embedded video. Many of our former web “shows” were transitioned into this new format. So, instead of our separate “Old-Timey Workshop” or “The Homemade Workshop” video series, we now have sections in the new e-magazine for the content that those shows used to cover. This has completely changed the way we do things, which has been a little frustrating for me at times, as we try to adapt to a new workflow. But it has greatly expanded the variety of content we produce, and given me more opportunities to teach new woodworking skills to our subscribers.

In the meantime, I’ve been attending more public events, including woodworking shows and retail store openings for some of our sponsors. This has given me an opportunity to meet a lot of our subscribers from all over the country. It’s been very rewarding, but also very exhausting!

Any new projects in the works?

Always! But they’re mostly top-secret. The sort of thing I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. I will say that we have designed a number of new jigs and homemade woodworking machines that we will be revealing over the coming months. If you press me harder I may reveal that we are working on refining a process for building Windsor chairs with little more than a table saw and a power drill- and that includes the spindle turnings! … But let’s keep that between us for now, eh?

Oh! Did I mention that I am writing two new books? They will be “Stumpy Nubs guides” to the workshop’s two most important machines. More on that later.

In addition to homemade woodworking machines and jigs, donuts seemed to be pretty high on your list of must-have shop accessories the last time we spoke. Do you have any recommended donut/wood parings to share with readers?

We’re serious about our donuts around here, so you would never see us eating them while handling wood. I mean, we’re not savages here! But as a confirmed fat guy, I’ll happily recommend a couple of my favorite donuts, and favorite woods to work with after pastries are consumed and fingers sucked clean:

1. I like a good cheese Danish because, well … cheese. And after I finish that light, flakey treat, I may work with an equally light, soft pine. Pine is an excellent material for small dovetailed projects because the joinery is very forgiving. You can intentionally cut the joint a little tight, and the compressing fibers will conceal minor imperfections upon assembly. Lately I have been fond of finishing my pine with bath in 50 percent water / 50 percent drain cleaner, followed by a colored wax to give it an old, mellow look. We made a video about the process in our March 2016 e-magazine issue.

2. I love chocolate frosted donuts of any kind. I don’t think that needs further explanation because everyone loves chocolate. I like them so much that I may follow them up with a nice black walnut, my favorite wood to work with. I love the smell, I love the color, I love everything about it except the premium price. So I have taken to resawing my walnut to make those board feet go farther. If a person doesn’t have a powerful enough bandsaw to do the job, a table saw can be used to divide boards as wide as eight or ten inches. Just cut as deeply as you can along both edges of the board, and then use a handsaw to remove the material in the center. The table-sawn kerfs will guide your saw, and the resulting surface can be cleaned up with a handplane or belt sander. Thin walnut stock is ideal for small boxes!

This is your second time presenting at PWIA. What’s different about it for you as a presenter from your previous time – and what are you hoping to share with attendees?

This time I hope to sweat less. I went through four pairs of underpants during last year’s class, and I don’t want a repeat of that nightmare! I’ve done my share of public speaking over the years, but something about teaching at Woodworking in America brings out the butterflies. This year I won’t be running a booth in the Marketplace, so that will take a lot of the pressure off and leave me free to concentrate solely on the classes. We cover a lot in these sessions, much more than a typical class. There will be lots of new jigs and tips to help the attendees get more out of their table saws and routers. And, since the classes will be so fast paced, I will be sending everyone home with a computer CD containing digital notes and build plans for many of the jigs. I want them to return to their shops equipped to turn bowls on their table saws, or cut tapered sliding dovetails on their router tables, or create complex crown mouldings from just a few common router bits. Actually, I’m exhausted just thinking about it, so I’m going to cut this interview short. See you in Cincinnati!

—Scott Francis

Don’t miss James Hamilton at Woodworking in America at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center, September 16-18.

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