Working Efficiently in a Small Shop

It can be a challenge to work efficiently in a small shop, but I have arranged the equipment in the space of a 1-car garage to allow me to build with components up to five feet in length without having to rearrange. In fact, the only machine that is on wheels is my 13″ thickness planer.

Most of the things I build involve components not longer than five feet, so work goes very smoothly. Some machines have the capacity to work with stock greater than five feet as they sit and I sometimes take advantage of that, and other times I use a hand-held tool instead.

I have written an article for Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement Magazine that will appear in a future issue describing my layout, the benefits, and why it works well for me. If you work in a shop with limited space, I think that you’ll find the article interesting.

This time-lapse video was recorded during the Wall Shelf Build-Off, and illustrates my workflow in the shop, and how I use the limited space that I have. Duration: (10:18)

For more pictures of my shop, check out this post: Welcome to the New Shop.

Simpler Edge Joints

Quite often, I need a wider board than what I have available. Usually, that means gluing up two or more boards edge to edge.

Since, in this situation, I am usually making a highly visible part such as a table top or cabinet side, I am very careful to match not only the grain pattern of the neighbouring boards, but the exact colour shading as well.

The surface of this box is comprised of between 8 and 20 strips edge-glued together. I honestly don’t remember how many strips were used, and they were assembled in such a way that the seams aren’t distinguishable.

It’s a very time consuming process, as I need to flip, rotate, slide and shuffle the boards every possible way to get the best match possible. In some cases, I need to trim boards narrower or taper them to get a better match.

Jigsaw Puzzle Table1

With two boards, it’s not too slow of a process (there are only 16 different ways to match them if you don’t count sliding), but each additional board adds more combinations.

Once I have the boards arranged best, I draw a cabinetmaker’s triangle across them to clearly indicate the optimum alignment. Then I joint the edges, testing the fit as I go, until I have a light-tight joint ready for glue-up.

While I haven’t actually timed these processes, it seems as if I spend more time preparing the joint as I do arranging boards. This means that putting together a 5-piece table top can take upwards of 3 hours.

Some woodworkers simply accept that fine work takes time, and are content to keep doing things the same way. I, on the other hand, am always looking for better and more efficient ways to get work done. It came to me that, with the right tools, I could drastically reduce the amount of time required to prepare edges for gluing.

This video walks you through my thought process, the tools and techniques I use, and why they work. Duration: 8:02

Routing the Puzzle Pieces for Puzzle Table

After gluing up the four sides, my next step was to rout in the puzzle pieces.

I used three combination squares referenced off of each edge to lay out a grid, which represented the size and location of the puzzle pieces.

Puzzle Table10

Pencil can be difficult to see on black walnut, but I found that roughing up the planed surface with 120-grit sandpaper made the lines easier to see.

Puzzle Table11

I routed the jigsaw puzzle design with a 1/8″ spiral bit, doing one line at a time.

Puzzle Table12 It was very gratifying to see one surface completed.

Puzzle Table13

Next, I rolled the cube and continued routing puzzle pieces into the other faces.

Puzzle Table14

One-Step Joinery

No matter how much time I have, there never seems to be enough. For that reason, I make many of my decisions based on efficiency. My decision to use a hand tool or a power tool for a given task is dependent on what I feel is more efficient for the task at hand.

In my effort to be more efficient, I also examine the processes that I’ve learned along the way and assess whether or not steps can be eliminated to save time. I encourage you to do the same, and if you think of any shortcuts, please share them here in the comments section.

In this video (duration: 10:41), I talk more about my thought process and explain my one-step joinery procedure which saves a lot of unnecessary time laying out, cutting, and fitting dovetail joints.

Cutting a 3D Jigsaw Puzzle

18-Piece Puzzles

18-Piece Puzzles

People have always been fascinated by my 3D wooden jigsaw puzzles. “Wow! Is that ever cool?” they marvel. “How on Earth did you make this?”

“They are little gems.  I dared to unlock a few pieces from one puzzle and was pleasantly surprised to find that they are unexpectedly puzzling!  Devilish and nicely done!”

– Jonathan, a recent buyer

Well, I decided to turn on the video camera to record the process of cutting one while making puzzles for Port Moody Art Centre’s current exhibition, Winter Treasures. The process basically involved making a series of cuts, rotating each segment on edge, making another series of cuts, then rotating each segment again to make the final series of cuts. Cutting these puzzles took a fair amount of hand strength, dexterity, stamina and patience. I also needed to be able to put the pieces back together when I was done cutting!

The result was somewhat of a hypnotizing video. The soundtrack I chose was Colin James’ Far Away Like a Radio, one of my favourite tunes to get me in the groove for cutting puzzles. Enjoy. (Duration – 4:27)

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How to Make Furniture that Sells

When I had the chance to make a living as a furniture maker, it was a dream come true. However, I soon realized that my chosen path was a very difficult one and found that I needed to adapt my designs to appeal to consumers.

In this video, I share some of my best tips for making furniture that, in my experience, people really like and are willing to buy. (Duration – 12:09)

Here is a link to the two templates I use. You can download them for free for your own personal use here. Download templates.

 

Model Delivery Trike for Shift

Last summer, Shift, a Vancouver company, asked me to make a model of the cargo delivery trikes they use. Although this isn’t the type of project which I would normally build, the challenge of making a working model intrigued me, so I agreed to build it.

Using photographs of their trikes, I established some dimensions for the model and built a prototype for approval. The client liked what I did and asked me to go ahead with the working model. This is what I built.

Delivery Trike Front

Delivery Trike Back Delivery Trike Open This video shows the working details of the trike.  (Duration – 2:09)

Recently, Shift contacted me requesting another one and I was happy to oblige. Interestingly, the order was completed exactly three months and twenty invoices after the first.

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Celebrate 5 Years of Flair with an Anniversary Box!

November 1st marks the five-year anniversary of my business and I think that’s an excellent reason to celebrate.

For the first time, I am offering boxes of this design which I developed.

Anniversary Box Closed


As with everything I offer, I make the entire product in my own shop. I really love the design and hope that you do too.

I expect to have the boxes complete by the end of November so they will arrive in plenty of time for Christmas. Whether a gift for someone special, or for yourself, this little box is guaranteed to create wonder and draw attention.

Since I want everybody to be able to experience my work first-hand, I’m going to make the decision to get one really easy. For the entire month of November, you can pre-order an Anniversary Box at a special introductory price of just $50 – including shipping within North America! (Contact me for shipping rates for other continents.)

On a more personal note, my father’s birthday is in November. He passed away from cancer twenty years ago, so I am going to donate $5 from each box sold to the Canadian Cancer Society.

Thank you for reading and for supporting me.  The first five years have been amazing and I can’t wait to see what the next five bring!

Chris Wong

Anniversary Box Open

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Fun with Sliding Dovetails

I have put Insanity 2 on hold to work on some small boxes of a design I came up with many years ago.

The double-ended box relies on a pair of sliding dovetails perpendicular to each other to open.  While functional, it is also a lot of fun to handle – similar to twiddling your thumbs, but much more fun.  How much fun?  This much fun.  (Video – 0:48)