Quick Update - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Quick Update

 In Arts & Mysteries Blog, Shop Blog, Woodworking Blogs

A hole in my editorial schedule has afforded me the time to catch up on my honey-do list. Like you, being handy with woodworking tools exposes me to a host of home renovation/repair/remodelling tasks. Also like you, my standards for interior woodwork (really any woodwork) are impractically high. I straighten studs with hand planes and hand cut miters.

I’m also the king of mission creep. A bad electric burner turned into a kitchen remodel. My wife’s desire to repaint our bedroom, untouched for more than 15 years, meant new trim, new doors, hardware and new electrics. The project was completed last Fall with a new bed and period correct textiles.

Not content with a beautiful bedroom and an ugly hallway, I extended the renovation down the second floor hall and into the bathroom. I did little to the bathroom proper save paint, trim (including crown molding) a new vanity and a hand cut cherry bathroom mirror.

My goal (and advice) is to be sure to finish such projects. A scarring episode of Oprah highlighted how annoyed some wives are with their husbands’ half finished projects. Its a sensitive subject with me since such jobs consume my very precious spare time.  I’d rather spend my spare time painting pictures or playing basketball with the kids.

Still, the transformation to my suburban New Jersey split level (read- horrible 1950’s architecture) has been fairly dramatic. And just a shout out- lighting always makes it pop.

Latest project (bedroom, hall, and bath was last Fall) once again involved mission creep. We hired a painter to paint the exterior of the house. He was fast, good, and inexpensive so we asked if he could paint the high ceilinged main living/dining room. A wet Spring delayed his start date presenting me with the opportunity to quickly retrim this space, bringing it up to the same standard as the upstairs.

With that done, the family room started to look a bit dingy. I originally intended this space to have a utilitarian Shaker theme. Years ago I fitted the laundry room with built-in pine cupboards and lined the walls with peg rails. Throughout this space I used simple 1×4 pine, adding a bead to the lower edge with a side bead plane, as crown molding. The molding houses Shaker pegs from LV.














A wierd niche at the end of the room between the back door and powder room cried out for built in closets. That’s where I am now. The electric is done- walls are closed up and the solid wood 6 panel doors are hung but not planed to perfectly fit. 2 closets side by side consist of 2 24″ doors each. I buy these as blanks and hang them. But the trim is all supposed to be very utilitarian and built-in looking.  Beside the closets a 2′ wide space remains.  My intention is to make something akin to a built in hutch- open shelves over a half door.

Frankly, I don’t care for this sort of work. My wife Maria really doesn’t care for the disruption and stress that largely I create. The stress stems from the fact that I don’t feel particularly good at this sort of work.  And I honestly don’t think I’m good at it. I have very little experience with power tools.  And this sort of work really requires them. So for this latest project I’ve sought a few power tools to help me pick up the pace.

I bought a Bosch cordless drill (my first) and it’s been awesome. A Bosch compound miter saw has been helpful, tho I’ve found it not to be a panacea. Houses are rarely square enough to simply miter stuff. I have a airnailer powered from a big Sears compressor I bought years ago when I was working on my old German cars. Airnailers can be great, especially for trim work involving ladders. But moving the tank isn’t fun in a split level.  And dragging black rubber hose around isn’t all that convenient.  A hammer is cordless. So despite access to a few modern power tools, I’ve been leaning heavily on old fashioned hand tools.

I consider this sort of work entirely separate from furniture making. For me, my work is always bounded by “context”. Its the reason I wear colonial clothes in my articles. Home remodel jobs are certainly out of 18th century context. I’ve often heard it said “I choose the best tool for the job, be it hand or power”.  I think this is code for “I use power tools but I own and can sharpen a block plane”.  The reality is, for someone to choose, they must have skill to use the alternative efficiently. Otherwise it’s not a choice. I guess I feel I’m in that camp, and while perhaps not uniquely, certainly rarely.

Case in point: I stopped to sharpen my hand saw last weekend.  I planed the door frame studs even with each other using a wooden jack plane in situ (i.e. planing a vertical surface). And I’m all that and a bag of chips with a chisel.  I just don’t know how many woodworkers have these sorts of alternatives.  Not sure how a commercial carpenter would do this sort of work.  So much of what I do, even to me, seems esoteric, bordering on irrelevant.  But these household projects have reminded me of what a huge advantage it is to be proficient (and maybe more than that) with hand tools.


Recent Posts
Showing 7 comments
  • dmac4870

    Hi Adam,

    Totally understand that mission creep thing….happens all the time. Good luck with that!

    I look forward to seeing pics….especially the bed, as I’m beginning to think on designing something for my toddler son….he’s beginning to outgrow the crib.


  • watermantra

    Adam, that post could have easily been written by me. One would think that our Mid-century Modern home remodel would leave little for hand tools to do, but I’ll find a way, and that way is simply faster for me. Hand mitered and coped corners, hand-planed window sills…I even cut the cork flooring upstairs (though it has a composite, click lock core) with my old panel saw and saw bench, because it’s easier and cleaner and quieter than lugging a chop saw upstairs. People who come over during the remodel always marvel that I’m doing it “by hand,” but they simply don’t understand that I’m doing it the most efficiently that I know how. The misconception that “by hand” equals “slow” is even pervasive amongst my friends who remodel and contract for a living.

    • Adam Cherubini
      Adam Cherubini

      (zen master) Slow, fast, no matter.

      (Adam) Given the choice, I still find myself leaning on hand tools just to produce woodwork that meets my acceptance criteria. Doors should have consistent and even gaps. They should lie all in one plane with the trim (these doors sit flush with the trim/wall). I guess I don’t know how to do this sort of work with machines (and/or don’t know what those machines are).

      When was the last time you saw new construction that impressed you?

      • watermantra

        Very true. Especially in Dallas with their McMansion philosophy, new construction is just blazing fast and as durable as pig #1’s straw home. One thing I need to learn to do like the pros…roofing. Jeez, are they fast. And fast in the Texas Heat is a plus. The good ones even use (gasp!) hammers for the roofing nails. Apparently, pneumatic nailers can punch through the asphalt shingles.

        Thanks for the write up. It’s great to know that there are others with similar sentiments about craftsmanship.

  • DeGauss

    Great post Adam, it reminded me of a post I recently read over at Joel’s Tools for Working Wood blog that is titled “A Nation that’s Losing Its Toolbox”. Sometimes we as woodworkers take for granted how even some basic tool skills help with everyday life. I was reminded of this recently when I was told that the going rate for hiring a handy man in our area was $75-$100 an hour, but what are you going to do if you not only don’t have tools but also don’t know how to use them. I also feel for your comment on straightening a 2×4, I would probably starve to death as a professional carpenter.


  • Adam Cherubini
    Adam Cherubini

    I’ll post some pictures next chance I get. Bedroom remodel included the construction of a pencil post bed. Owe you pics of that as well.

    • Jonathan Szczepanski

      Adam –
      You answered my question before I even asked it. I look forward to the pictures.


Start typing and press Enter to search