Heirlooms vs. Peak Stuff 

A lot of us make furniture for our families because we care about quality and we want to make things that last. 

I often joke that my best tools are probably destined to hang — unloved, unused — on the wall of some Applebee’s in Minneapolis. What is in store for the furniture I make? 

An article in the Boston Globe says no one wants mom and dad’s heirlooms these days. What’s interesting is that the article isn’t talking about Ikea-made MDF. Maybe we have finally hit “peak stuff,” but my gut says that tastes are constantly changing and no one wants their lives run by things they own.

A great book about the history of consumerism shows that we’ve been at peak stuff since the 15th century. While the read is a slog at times, it’s full of great facts and figures of what constituted the household goods of your average pre-industrial Dutchman. When I read Empire of Things, I feel a lot better about the kids hanging my favorite gauge on the wall of a Krabby O’Mondays.

Why is Hide Glue on the Tool List?

You may be asking, why is hide glue on the tool list?  Is glue really a tool? And why is it on the first tool list?  Why can’t I just use some Elmer’s wood glue. A couple of reasons really.

First, we’re using hide glue because it is extremely workable, much more so than PVA glue. It takes a while to set up but if you don’t like the results of your glue up, you can take it apart with steam.  If you end up with glue all over your work, you can wipe it away with hot water.  When the bond is dry, the glue filters in to the fibers of the wood and you can’t break it with a hammer.  The bond it makes is ridiculously strong but, of course, the stuff has its drawbacks.

Let’s say you live in Florida or Louisiana and against all evolutionary sense, you hate climate control.  Hide glue will melt if the ambient temperature and humidity are high enough.  The British had trouble with their furniture in Africa and India during the colonial period for just this reason.

I put it on the list, because I make a lot of mistakes.  A LOT.  And its my go-to for fixing tear-out and splits in work that will be visible.

Case in point.  If you do this:


You can probably salvage your work like this:


Take that Rob Cosman!

Is glue a tool? Probably.  I mean, you can find it at the hardware store, which is good enough for me. And if banging jagged rocks around counts as using tools, I don’t see why using glue on wood wouldn’t be considered tool use.

Back to work!

Four Tools to Get Started

As we all know, Joshua T. Farnsworth spends a lot on facial moisturizer in a month.  But what does he spend even more money on?  Tools.  And let me tell you a secret…basically every woodworker in the world spends a fortune on tools.  But not us my fellow woodworkers!  My goal here is threefold:

  1. Get you a complete-ish set of hand tools in one year for less than you would spend on oil changes and a set of tires.
  2. Build something with the tools you have, not the tools you want.
  3. Fear-proof you from screwing up.  You’re going to screw up.  It’s going to be ok.

Your first four tools

That’s a grand total of $47.68!

I’ll bet you even have two out of the four of these hanging around a peg board in your garage. The assumption I’m making here is that you have nothing in your tool kit right now you can use to build something by hand.  That when you open up that rusty Craftsman toolbox that lives in the corner of your garage, the only thing inside is a rusty screwdriver, a broken mousetrap, and a couple of bent finishing nails.

Check out my high speed utility knife — it’s effin’ Pro-Grade (says so right on it)!


Of course, you probably need something a little fancier so that when you die your kids can hang it on the wall of the local Applebee’s.

Check out my high-speed, low-drag combination square!  Believe it or not, it’s actually square and that’s all that matters. If we were making rocket parts by hand, we’d shill out the extra 90 bucks for a Starrett combination square.  In the mean time, square is square. (if you need to check a combination square for square, drop a line or make a note in the comments and we’ll do that step-by-step with pictures).


Consider this me giving you permission to use what you have on hand and not feel bad about it.  When I started working with handtools, I thought that if I wanted to make a step stool for my kids, I needed $1200 worth of planes and saws.  I didn’t, and neither do you.

You know, we’ve spent less than $48 this month which means we have enough cash leftover for lumber for our first project — building a saw bench.

First blog post

I’m starting this blog as a response to woodworking blogs everywhere that make good craftsmanship look easy, that assume you have a thousand dollars to get started making things for your home and family, and that showcase obnoxiously perfect dovetails. I hope to focus on the work of woodwork, not the business of woodwork.

This is a blog for the office-job worker, weekend hobbyists who read Christopher Schwarz’s blog at Popular Woodworking regularly and can’t help but spot the humble brag in his acknowledgement of his shortcomings.  Look at that stool!  I mean, come on!  This is for anyone who has read Joshua T. Farnsworth’s Tool Buyer’s Guide and decided that buying 19 tools and making a Moravian workbench before STARTING to build any actual furniture for your 1950’s split-level is probably not in the household budget.  Of course he is a traditional woodworker — his name is Farnsworth for Christ’s sake!

After baby clothes and throw pillows, if you have, maybe, just MAYBE, $60 dollars a month left over for tools and materials then this blog is for you. Sorry Lie-Nielsen.  If you don’t have have the month of Saturdays necessary to build Tom Fidgen’s saw bench from plans, and you’re not going to spring for the $145 version he sells as a kit, we can be pals.

I hope to showcase some of my work on this site so that you can feel better about yours.  We can diagnose woodworking problems (drift when rip sawing, gaps in dovetails, mice in my tool drawer) and make each other feel better about using pine, poplar, and far fewer tools than Mr. Studley managed to fit into his chest.

My next post will be my tool buying guide to get you started working with hand tools for less than Joshua T. Farnsworth spends on facial moisturizer in a month.

With all that said, back to work!