Time is the greatest of gifts. None of us knows how much of it we will have over our lifetime, and once it’s gone we can never get it back. That’s why I’m not much bothered by the prospect of spending the next few weeks at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Nobody in our family is sick, but my university will probably move our courses online for the next few weeks, and the kids’ activities outside the house are being curtailed.) The pandemic is giving me something I rarely get, especially at this time of year: extra time at home.
The question, though, is what to do with the extra time? It would be so easy to squander it by binging TV shows or surfing the internet–which is what I’m afraid a lot of people will do with their extra time at home this month. I intend to spend more time playing outdoors with my kids and going on long walks with my wife, but I’ll also be spending some extra time at the workbench.
If you’re a woodworker and find yourself stuck at home this month and next, here are some ideas for making the best of your extra time in the shop during the next few weeks:
1. Clean Up
Let’s start with the obvious one. If you’re anything like me, you probably have scraps to be sorted, hardware to be put away, garbage to be taken out, and nooks to be swept out. But I’m going to make a counterintuitive suggestion here: don’t spend all your extra shop time cleaning, unless your shop has just become completely dysfunctional. Use at least some of your extra shop time to actually make something, too.
2. Finish Something
Most of us have half-finished or almost-completed projects sitting around the shop, just waiting for us to muster the willpower to get them done. Pick one of your incomplete projects and get it completed.
3. Replace “Temporary” Storage and Fixtures
You know that makeshift lumber and/or tool storage you slapped together–gosh, how many years ago was that now? Or maybe you put together a “temporary” workbench one time, and you’ve been fighting its limitations ever since? And how about that inadequate lighting over your workstations? Your eyesight isn’t getting any better, you know. Now is a good time to put your workshop right: tear out the makeshift, temporary fixtures and replace them with something truly permanent–something you will actually enjoy working with for the next few decades.
4. Use Those Shorts
Practically every woodworker I know has a pile of offcuts that are too short for most projects but too nice to just throw away. We always think, “This would make a nice box.” Okay, great. Make some boxes or other small objects out of the offcuts you’ve been saving. Or make some wooden spoons or spatulas out of the hardwood offcuts–which is what I do with practically all of mine.
5. Do That Special Project
While you’re going through your lumber stash, you will likely come across that extra-nice piece of wood that you’ve been “saving for a special project.” Perhaps now is the time to figure out what that special project is going to be so the wood you’ve been saving can finally see the light of day.
6. Catch up on Deferred Maintenance
Most of the tools we use require some regular maintenance, but often we put it off because we (rightly) prefer building things to maintaining our tools. But maintenance can only be put off so long before our negligence beings to affect the quality of our work. Whether it’s replacing worn parts (how are those bandsaw tires?), lubricating moving parts, or resharpening blades (how are those jointer/planer blades?), or whether it’s just cleaning the accumulated sawdust out of all the nooks and crannies, you could probably spend a whole day just tuning up your tools.
7. Practice a New Skill
Most of us have joints that we avoid putting into our pieces because we haven’t yet learned to cut them with confidence. Pick a joint–half-blind dovetails, mortise and tenon–and practice it on some scraps. Or pick a basic technique like four-squaring a board or sawing consistently to a line. Do two or three a day for the next three weeks, and you’ll be amazed at how much your skills will improve.
8. Teach Someone
If you’ve been meaning to bring a family member into your workspace and show him or her how to work wood, take a little time to do that. One of the biggest impediments to teaching someone the trade is time–you have to set aside shop time for the teaching, and you have to be patient while the other person practices. So if you don’t have to hurry through a lesson or through practice, you can not only pass on your skills, but you can also enjoy spending time together.