Frugal Woodworking

Woodworking Tips for Affordable Woodworking

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Craigslist Tool Hunting Tip

When looking for tools, your local can be a good source.  You don’t have as much of the risk as you might with eBay because you can see the tool before your purchase it, and you don’t have to pay for shipping either.

However, if you are in the market for a chisel, you might have to check craigslist for a week or more before a chisel appears in the tool section.   Thankfully, you don’t have to keep checking back day after day to look for one.  You can use an RSS reader to check the RSS feed for that site and when something matches that search shows up, it will show up in your RSS reader.

Here is an example:

craigslist search

Type into the search box what you are looking for.

Then do the search.

No Chisels available for sale today, but what about in an hour from now, or tomorrow, or next week?

In this case, there was nothing that matches my search right now. However, I don’t want to have to come back every day to do the search.  If I click the “RSS” button in the lower right corner, I will get the RSS feed for this search.  Now I can have my RSS reader, check that feed for me.

Google RSS reader

If you use the Google Toolbar, Google will automatically ask you if you want to add teh rss feed to your reader, or to your iGoogle homepage.

Add it to whichever one you use, then when the “chisel” for under $20 shows up on craigslist, it will show up in your reader.  You’ll be able to click on the listing and stand a good shot at getting to it first.

igoogle craigslist tool reader

Here is what my iGoogle page looks like when a "plane" appears for my plane search on Craigslist.

TIP: A search can be narrowed by price, so if you are looking for a table saw but don’t want to spend over $400, you can set a $400 maximum.  That minimum will carry into your RSS feed too, so you won’t be notified when somebody posts a $500 Bosch or a $3000 Sawstop.

TIP: Every category on Craigslist has its own RSS feed.  So if you are not looking for a specific tool, but like to keep an eye on what’s available, just go to the tools category and scroll to the bottom of the page and you will find an RSS link there too.  Add it to your reader and you can see what appears continuously.


Bow Saw Hardware Tip

Frame saws are usually pretty inexpensive to build.  The hardware is typically the most expensive.  I’ve seen people use eye-bolts with a slot cut down the middle to hold and  position the blade, but this very clever use by Sean Hellman makes that even easier.  He uses a large cotter pin to hold the blade and allow the blade to be turned when tension is released.

Split pin frame saw blade holder

Sean Hellman’s Frame Saw with split pins


Frugal Doesn’t Mean Screw Somebody Else

Steve Ramsey from has a great set of video clips with a high energy and often tongue-in-cheek approach to woodworking. His tips are valuable and enjoyable.

However, he has also taken offense to woodworking plan scams  that sell existing published woodworking plans illegally. It is tempting for a frugal woodworker to buy into some of these scams but I agree with Steve, bad behavior should not be rewarded, regardless of the financial savings for the buyer. If you are in need of plans, visit his list of legitimate woodworking plan sites.


Blotch Control

Using less expensive wood to build a project is usually thought of as fine as long as the project is not meant to be attractive.  Many woodworkers love to use Poplar because it is relatively inexpensive and machines well with hand or power tools.  The problem is when it comes to finishing, it is prone to blotching and its green tinted heartwood makes people avoid using it.    Thanks to Charles Neil Precolor conditioner (aka Blotch Control), that is no longer a problem.

For the purchase of a $13 can of his Blotch Control, you can save much more than $13 by using poplar for your projects, even the ones you want to look good.  This stuff goes on first, and makes it so you can use a stain or dye to get a nice even color on poplar (or any other woods).

Here is the video of Charles Neil demonstrating all the different aspects and the results

Even if you are not using something fancier than poplar, this is still a frugal investment because it will keep blotching of the wood from ruining the project for you.


Tool Restoration

The Norsewoodsmith has a ton of great information on restoring and tuning old tools.  A great way to stay frugal by buying used tools and tuning them up

Norse Tool Restoration Tips


Butcher Block Bench Top

Woodworking workbench guru, Christopher Schwarz, from Popular Woodworking gives his thumbs up approval to using relatively inexpensive butcher block boards to create a solid and stable bench top.  Check with your restaurant supply stores in your area (the ones that actually cater to restaurants, not the ones that cater to home cooks with the illusion of being for chefs).

Build a 3″ bench top in one hour


One of the basic ideas behind being a frugal woodworker is to protect your investment in the tools you already have.  Oil on tools, paste wax on table saw tops, and now, plastic bags over calculators.

I have a calculator I keep in the shop and to keep sawdust and grimy hands from shortening its life, I follow this tip and put a small zip loc bag over it.  I can use it through the bag, but grime can’t get in to foul up the works.

Bag your shop calculator.


Surface Vice

This is an inexpensive upgrade to your existing handscrew clamps that makes them a lot more valuable for less than a dollar’s worth of dowel.

Handscrew Dogs are awesome!

Handscrew dogs - a simple modification


Handsaw Techniques

Most woodworking can be done with handsaws.  If you build a lot of pieces of furniture, you might need an electric saw.  There is a myth that only power saws (table saws in particular) can give you precision.  However, many of the best pieces of furniture in the world, never touched a table saw.  It can be done with handsaws.

Handsaws range in price from a few dollars at a garage sale to hundreds of dollars for some of the fancier saws.  It is possible that some of the less expensive saws cut as well as the more expensive ones (a tropical hardwood handle doesn’t give the blade with teeth any magical properties).  Whether you’ve invested $10 or $300 in a handsaw, one of the best ways to make good on that investment is to become better at using it.  Watching the video in this post can do that … even if you have to watch the 1 minute long introduction.

Handsawing Technique Tips


Wooden Plane Challenge

The use of purcahse of old existing tools can save a lot of money, unless they are known collectors items.   Many people shy away from the old wooden hand planes and so they can often be found inexpensively.   If they are in useable shape (no giant cracks or breaks) they can be put back into service and be as effective as their modern iron counterparts.

Here is a great blog post  tracking the refurbishing and using some old wooden planes

Taking The Wooden Plane Challenge