Worst. (Woodworking) Workshop. Ever.

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Blog entry by JustJoe posted 09-17-2013 06:22 PM 3353 reads 0 times favorited 19 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I was going to call this “Worst. Workshop. Ever.” but decided that wasn’t being fair because I have to admit that it is a decent little space for puttering around or hiding from the family, even if it is worthless for getting a project done. And I am a bit of a tool snob. But still….

I’m talking about the little space my Dad carved out of the garage. He took the 1-car part of a 3-car garage and paid $1100 to have a wall put in and some electrical lines run. When I first saw it I was appalled at what I saw, but I think I understand now that it wasn’t really built with the intent of doing woodworking, it’s just that at this stage of his life people expect him to have a hobby like woodworking, and I’m into woodworking, so he had to make a little effort. He built this shop and made a list of the tools he needed to stock it with and then went out to see if he could, using garage sales and harbor freight, stock that workshop for under $100 bucks. I think he probably came close.

Dad’s workbench is not usable for woodworking. It sits up a bit high and is covered with stuff – odds and ends, nuts and bolts, a small drill press and a “miter box” (I use ”” when I’m being sarcastic, like when you say your boss is “special” and you make those little quotes with your fingers.) There is room for putting a cup of coffee down if you are very careful. But it’s a good bench for non-woodworking stuff. He bought it at HF and it’s got big steel frame under a thick wooden top. Something like this:

The only tools on the bench are this drill press:

This DP was my first clue that dad wasn’t really into woodworking (actually the total lack of completed projects was the first clue, but I digress.) When I first saw this drill it wouldn’t drill a straight hole 1” deep. Every single nut/bolt that could be loose, was loose. I tightened up what I could but the chuck still has so much runout you can see the end of the drill bit wobble. Not that you’d want to use any of his drill bits. His bit storage consists of a wooden bin in a drawer in the toolbox with “small” bits in one bin, “medium” in another, and “large” bits in a third. I tried half a dozen bits and every single one was too dull to put a hole in balsa wood. Which was a shock because on a shelf above the bench was this:

HF sells this sharpener for $40+. I know my Dad, and he wouldn’t spend $40 for something smaller than a softball so he must have grabbed it at a garage sale. It’s made to sharpen drill bits, and chisels. I tried it on a chisel but as soon as I touched the metal to the stone it stopped turning, and the plastic is just slightly thicker than saran wrap so there wasn’t any consistency. Then again, now I can see why his drill bits were so dull.

Now somehow my Dad actually ended up with a nice little 14” bandsaw. His is a PC, but it’s the same style as every other 14” bandsaw made in the last 10 years.

It should be able to do all sorts of nifty tricks.
It can’t. He mentioned last time he visited me that he’d cut his hand trying to shove something through the bandsaw. So I ran my finger over the blade and it is no exaggeration to say that it was so dull it wouldn’t cut styrofoam. I actually had to look closer to make sure he hadn’t put it on backwards. He had three blades hanging on the wall and two were just as dull. All I can figure is that someone threw them in a dumpster and he just happened to walk by and grabbed them. I told him about Highland Hardware in Atlanta but since he might never actually use it again I didn’t order him any of their blades.

When he visited me he also mentioned that he wanted to make some inserts for his tablesaw. Of course this tricked me into believing that he actually had a real tablesaw! So imagine my surprise when I ran into this stamped piece of tinfoil sitting in the middle of the room:

It’s got a neat little universal motor so when your neighbor pisses you off you can crank it up and drive him out of the house. Other than that, it’s a waste of electricity. The “insert” is a piece of thin metal, no way to make a zero-clearance one out of wood. The fence rattled even when tightened down, and there is no guard to protect you when, not if, it eventually disintegrates into a million shards of plastic and tin while making a cut. I made him a quick little crosscut sled for small things so they wouldn’t fall in the 1” gap next to the blade, but when I tried it out I saw that my “square” cuts were about 85 degrees, not 90. Turns out he’s had it that way forever. I tried to adjust to 90, but it wouldn’t go. It’s basically a circular saw mounted under a sheet of thin metal and when I tried to go to 90 it banged against the bottom of the table. I was able to push real hard and get it to about 88 degrees but if I’d gone any farther I would have pushed a bow into the table itself. He also had a nice assortement of dull 1960’s non-carbide blades in a variety of sizes too small, just right, and too large to fit the saw, all hanging proudly on the wall. Skil – you should be ashamed of yourself for putting such trash out there for unsuspecting people like my Dad. Oh, you see that little bit of blue in the bottom right of the pic? That is the world’s cheapest extension cord. I think it’s from a Thomas the Train toy set. If the house burns down, that should be the first place the investigators look.

And so it went with every single tool, big or small. I think now there are four grades of tools:
1. Professional cabinetmaker tools. Big, strong, silent and accurate. You throw a board in one end and a perfect project comes out the other.
2. Contractor Tools – a bit more portable, but with power. Slight loss of accuracy but you can get-er-done even working out of a trailer on the jobsite.
3. Home-maker, hobbyist machines. They look good in the store and with the proper color scheme they can impress the neghbor. But you’ll be doing a lot of fiddling/tweaking to get any real work done.
4. (About 27 notches below #3). The [email protected] my Dad bought. These are tools we donated to 3rd world countries, and they saved up all their pennies to send it right back to us.

Remember that “miter” box I mentioned above? Well there wasn’t (thankfully) any saw to go with it but it looked like this:

And the last thing was so bad, I couldn’t even take a picture of it. (it’s hiding in another pic above, look closely behind the DP.) I needed a level to hang some quilt racks. He pulled out this piece of metal 12” long that weighed about 1/100th of an ounce. It’s what he had so I gave it a go. I leveled a 20” cleat with the level, then looked at it and the ceiling and noticed that it was off by a good 1” on one end. So I flipped the level around and tried again. Now the bubble was crammed so far to one side it was trying to get out of the vial. Fipped around, now it says level. ??? So I step down off the ladder and take a closer look at this “level.” It was a piece of lightweight metal, it was twisted, and the three yellow plastic vials were held on by two rivets each. And all six rivets were loose! But wait, it gets better. I showed him how bad this level was and how it belonged in a trash can. The next morning I went out to the Worst. (Woodworking) Workshop. Ever. And there it was, that little dollar-store level, sitting proudly on the pegboard above the bench.

I’m going back next year around spring/early summer. If I can find a decent tablesaw that will fit the allotted 12” x 18” that he’s got for one, I’ll try and pick one up. I thought about that Ridgid 4512 some of you seem to like so much but I hate to pour so much money into something he might only use two times a year, and it looked like the rails would be too long for the space he’s got.

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19 comments so far

View helluvawreck's profile


32122 posts in 3744 days

#1 posted 09-17-2013 06:39 PM

If your father likes it then all is well.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View palaswood's profile


1061 posts in 2629 days

#2 posted 09-17-2013 06:47 PM

Wow you really are a tool snob. But that level has GOT TO GO.

I have that very same “miter box” by the way. I bought the saw it came with for 12 bucks at HD. I have never used it once. Don’t trust it, but it holds the saw nicely, I guess.

Its tough out there on craigslist, so much crap – I bought a table saw (old craftsman, pretty decent table) but the motor went out after 2 weeks, and the replacement I bought crapped out after a month. At least the HF lathe works ok still.

Great post Joe

-- Joseph, Irvine CA, @palas_woodcraft on Instagram

View Handtooler's profile


1628 posts in 3010 days

#3 posted 09-17-2013 06:54 PM

Such a shame, Joe! First acquire him a “very good” (that’s contractor grade per your catagory) band saw blade set it up correctly for him and demonstrate what that machine is capable of. Then encourage him to UPGRADE his shop a little at a time to something useful with your sound guidence, IF HE WANTS TO EXPERIENCE THE FUN of our interest. He might also like to read the forum topics and blogs on LJ and some woodworking magazines.

-- Russell Pitner Hixson, TN 37343 [email protected]

View WayneC's profile


14359 posts in 4975 days

#4 posted 09-17-2013 07:01 PM

Worst woodworking shop is one that does not exist. :)

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View dschlic1's profile


489 posts in 2847 days

#5 posted 09-17-2013 07:01 PM

My workshop is not even half of a two car garage! I wish I had that much space. Even so I was able to make a very nice looking entertainment center.

View JustJoe's profile


1554 posts in 2916 days

#6 posted 09-17-2013 07:03 PM

When it comes to reading/planning my Dad is tops. He’s got over 500 back issues of magazines and a few hundred woodworking books. I heard a lot of “I’m gonna” but I don’t really see it happening. He mentioned my Mom wants a new table and chairs and that he thought he’d build the table and buy the chairs. I don’t really see how he could build the table. He does also have a scrollsaw and he says he likes that, but I haven’t seen many projects. I think now that the grand-kids are about to graduate high-school he might move on to his other hobbies (gardening, and planning – but never building – a garden scale train set.)

His scrap bins really scared me – three big boxes of consisting of little pieces smaller than a stick of butter and all are, without exception –
1: pine from 2x or 1x material
2: MDF, plain or with a plastic piece on one side
3: pressure treated scraps of 2×6
4. Plywood scraps.
And I’m not exaggerating – 99% the size of a stick of butter and a couple of short (under 10”) pressure treated 2×6 scraps.
I gave him one of my chisels sets (blue-handled marples) when he visited last year because he said he needed them. I had a set that I’d gotten used at a garage sale and they needed sharpening. When I found them in his workshop they were just as dull, never had been touched. And he’s got a chart from the local hardware store hanging on his bulletin board with a list of prices for the tools they sharpen!? I ended up bringing them back home with me. I’ll run them through the worksharp and then mail them back.

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View GrandpaLen's profile


1652 posts in 3150 days

#7 posted 09-17-2013 07:36 PM


The Woodworking adornments that your father has assembled are but a ruse to accommodate his quest for the solitude of his Man Cave.

Rather that outing him for the quality of his equipment, just buy him a nice little Flat Screen TV with a decent set of Headphones so he can listen to his favorite program or game with that table saw running in the background, to keep SWMBO from interupting his ‘me’ time.

For concealing the TV you might send him a big yellow Dewalt banner so it’s not as conspicuous if she visits the Woodworking Shop in his absence.

“Honey, I’ll be in the Shop, call me if you need me.” ;-)

Best Regards. – Grandpa Len

Work Safely and have Fun.

-- Mother Nature should be proud of what you've done with her tree. - Len ...just north of a stone's throw from the oHIo, river that is, in So. Indiana.

View Sanding2day's profile


1016 posts in 2724 days

#8 posted 09-17-2013 07:59 PM

Great posting and certainly made me smile… Actually a little envious of your father’s purchasing abilities. Although I am certainly not in favor of dull blades I have the same PC and find it fully capable. Also have the same “miter box” but rarely use it in favor of the “miter saw” Either way, hope that your father is happy with what he has/improves i.e. new blade for bs and tossing the non functional level. Should make an inexpensive Christmas/Bday gift.. Thanks for the laugh…

-- Dan

View Denco's profile


39 posts in 2697 days

#9 posted 09-17-2013 08:08 PM

GrandpaLen, +1

-- Cut wood or cut weeds today.....well, 6ft weeds can go another week.

View JustJoe's profile


1554 posts in 2916 days

#10 posted 09-17-2013 08:09 PM

Thanks for the laugh…
While I like to inject a bit of humor into my writing, this one was entirely straight-forward (but if it brightened your day then that’s good too!). I think I was just overwhelmed by the totality of it. Every single tool I picked up was either junk, misaligned/misassembled/abused/neglected etc. What could have been good tools with very little work (like the bandsaw) were done in by dull blades – and my standards for sharp don’t include shaving hairs so when I say dull I mean DULL. I may suggest to him instead that if he’s not really into woodworking he should sell it all and that would give him room for a train set. I know he’s into trains and if he had the room in the garage maybe he’d be motivated to build a large layout instead of just reading about it.
I know he wants to sell all the woodworking magazines and books. I would have listed them on my website if I hadn’t have closed down this month.

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View stefang's profile


17040 posts in 4212 days

#11 posted 09-17-2013 09:15 PM

Maybe he doesn’t really like woodworking because he hasn’t got any decent tools to work with, and the ones he does have incapable of good work. I used to deny myself good tools because I didn’t feel I could afford them (old habits die hard). Maybe he just needs to learn more about the difference between good and poor quality tools to encourage him to buy stuff that actually works well. A sharpening course might help too.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View firefighterontheside's profile


21222 posts in 2734 days

#12 posted 09-17-2013 10:16 PM

I used to have a coworker that had a garage full of the best tools money could buy. He sold his 1974 corvette pace car for $17,000 and bought a great cabinet saw. We would talk woodworking. He read and read. I hadn’t seen him in five years until a few weeks ago. I asked I’m if he’d been building anything. He told me that since I’d seen him he built a book case out of pine because he wasn’t ready to use anything more expensive. Some people just aren’t into woodworking even though they try to get into it. Having the tools, cheap or the best, doesn’t matter. The thing is though, if they are happy with themselves, I say let them be. My friend and I can still talk woodworking, me because I do it and him because he reads about it.

-- Bill M. "People change, walnut doesn't" by Gene.

View juniorjock's profile


1930 posts in 4643 days

#13 posted 09-17-2013 11:46 PM

JustJoe, you are a very lucky man. Enjoy every minute you can with your Dad.

View woodbutcherbynight's profile


6271 posts in 3287 days

#14 posted 09-18-2013 03:28 AM

+1 juniorjock.
JustJoe My Father taught me alot about woodworking when I was growing up but he got into another hobby and that has idled his woodworking for many years. Still in his head are all those tricks, and cool ideas how to work around problems. Nothing can beat having him over and we just hang out in my woodshop and throw ideas and stories out all night. For years he has said he is going to set up his shop, if he ever starts I will be at his place helping, until then I enjoy what matters the most, my Dad. So what the axe rusted out in the corner. (laughing)

-- Live to tell the stories, they sound better that way.

View redryder's profile


2393 posts in 3980 days

#15 posted 09-18-2013 05:14 AM

Nice post Joe.

If my dad were still alive he wouldn’t know what any of those tools were for.
He would think Harbor Freight was where you tied up your boat.
The nice thing about your dad is that at Christmas time you can get him that Door Buster set of 150 screw driver bits. He would think he hit the jackpot…........................

-- mike...............

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