Getting started in handwork doesn’t have to be expensive or difficult. For many years, woodworker Mike Siemsen has been teaching new woodworkers how to get up and running with a basic set of tools, sawbenches and a workbench that can be built in just two days.
We are huge fans of Mike and his no-bullpucky approach to the craft.
So this winter, John Hoffman and I traveled to Minnesota to film our first full-length DVD for Lost Art Press. It is, I think, unlike anything out there. Here are basics.
It starts with a 5-gallon bucket and roll of $20 bills. We took that bucket to a regional tool-swap meet of the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association and bought almost every tool you need to get started. I filmed Mike as he picked through the piles of tools and he discussed what he looks for when buying these key tools. I also filmed him haggling with the dealers – fun stuff.
Once we bought the tools and put them in the bucket, we drove to Mike’s shop and started making the tools usable. Mike demonstrated how to sharpen and tune the chisels, planes and saws with dirt-cheap equipment. And we also tuned up the braces, hand drills and layout tools so everything was nice.
The next morning, Mike built a sawbench using the tools, wood from the home center and two 5-gallon buckets that worked as proto-sawbenches. After lunch, Mike built a Nicholson-style workbench using home-center wood and five doses of cleverness. No machines. No difficult joinery. It’s a great bench, and it is designed to work without any metal vises.
The DVD documents the entire process, from sorting through rust piles of tools to boring the final holdfast holes in the bench and putting it to use.
What is most amazing about the project is how you can get started for little money. Mike kept careful track of every purchase of tools and wood and has documented them in a spreadsheet (which will be included with the DVD, as well as a detailed SketchUp model of the workbench). This spreadsheet shows how you can collect the necessary tools and build the sawbench and workbench for a little more than $571.
That number includes everything, including the glue, screws and bolts.
I am editing the digital video now and we expect this DVD to be released in July.
In the next few days, I’m going to turn over the discussion of this project to Mike, who will tell you a bit about the theory behind the workbench and discuss how to buy the user-grade hand tools you need.
Oh, and why is the DVD called “The Naked Woodworker?” Because it’s about how to get get started in woodworking if you have nothing (yup, a pair of pants is included in Mike’s spreadsheet).
There is no nudity on the DVD – thank goodness.
— Christopher Schwarz