Safety, Inventory and a Thousand Decisions

steve_chopsawOnce again, thanks for choosing to build this table with me. All my life I’ve enjoyed teaching people to make good things happen with their hands. That’s why I’m excited for the chance to share my experience and know-how with you here. I hope you’re planning to build right along with me and try your hand at this woodworking adventure. But if you’re just reading along to learn something new and have fun, I’m glad you’re here too!

Tools You’ll Need

Naturally, there are certain tools you’ll need to build this table. More on detailed tool use and selection throughout this course. For now, here’s the list of tools I used when I built my table:

  • Table Saw: A basic, benchtop model will do fine. Nothing fancy required.
  • Jointer: You can get away without this tool if you’re using planed lumber, but a joiner is helpful to have.
  • Planer: You really only need this tool if you’re working from rough lumber.
  • Cordless Drill: Useful for boring holes and driving screws.
  • Hand-Held Sander: A 5″ random orbit sander works well; a 1/4-sheet finishing sander is fine, too.

Overall dimensions of the table as I designed it are 38″ tall x 39″ wide x 22″ deep, but my design is easy to customize to any size you want. Whether you make your table taller or shorter, wider or narrower, the hardware requirements are the same. Sometime during construction, you’ll want to pick up the hardware that connects table parts together. This hardware is one reason why this table is easy to build. You probably won’t find the table hardware you need at ordinary building centres,  but they’re very common at woodworking suppliers. If you’re unsure of exactly what to get, don’t panic. I explain it all in much more detail later. For now, here’s what you’ll eventually have to get:

  • Four (4) metal corner brackets (for joining the rails to the table legs).
  • Four (4) to six (6) Z clips (for securing the table top to the rails)
  • Eight (8) thread-in shelf pins
  • Wood glue
  • 80-, 120- and 180-grit abrasive pads or sandpaper

I buy most of my hardware and supplies online from Lee Valley Tools. I’ve bought from them for years, and they do a great job. I’m sure there are other good sources of specialty hardware, so feel free to look.

A Word About Safety

steve_in_shopFirst and foremost, I want you to stay safe and uninjured as you work with wood. That said, when it comes to workshop safety, there’s only so much I can do to protect you. I’ll give you basic advice here, but ultimately you are responsible for your own safety. The longest trip between a project begun and a job well done can involve a trip to the emergency room of a hospital. Highly avoidable accidents can certainly happen if you’re careless around the shop. Since I definitely don’t want you to join the millions of folks worldwide who make up a large percentage of emergency room visitors each year, here are a few tips to help keep yourself safe. They’re certainly not a complete safety course on their own, but they will get you started thinking about safety. When it comes right down to it, safety is really just part of what I call “the thousand decisions mindset”. Listen to my little audio sermon on this topic by clicking the window to the right here.


  1. A tidy work area is a safer work area

    • Keep your work space free of unnecessary clutter, debris, and tripping hazards like dangling cords.
    • Frequently sweep dust and debris from the floor to prevent accidental slips, trips, and fires.
    • A well organized storage space for your tools & hardware is a safer work area. By keeping frequently used tools at-hand, but out of the way, you can optimize your work flow while minimizing the clutter.
  2. Power tools require heightened awareness

    • Always make sure that power tools cannot start when you’re changing bits and blades. For cordless tools, this means removing the batteries. Corded tools must always be unplugged when changing bits and blades.
    • Be mindful of exposed blades, sharp bits and other exposed cutting surfaces in the tool shop. When you can, use appropriate storage and safety features to protect yourself and your work area from damage. Storing your bits, blades, and other tool fitments after use can save you headaches and bandages in the long run.
    • Always treat power tools as if they’re powered up and on when you’re not sure. Much like a loaded firearm, a circular saw doesn’t understand that your fingers are holding the blade guard open while you inspect it for wear. Tools aren’t smart enough to understand that you believed a situation to be safe.
  3. The best safety gear is the safety gear you use

    • It helps to have a dedicated place in your shop for safety equipment. I have a metal basket on the wall the holds a bunch of safety glasses and hearing protectors. Having several spare sets of essential safety gear is a great idea if you like to have people help out in your workshop. Your inventory of safety equipment should include the following:
      • Safety Glasses or Goggles: I prefer glasses, especially the ones sold on their own. They’re much better than the freebie glasses that come with power tools.
      • Hearing Protection: Most of the time I use ear muff-style protectors because they slip on and off easily. If I’ll be making noise for more than 15 minutes, I put in foam ear plugs.
      • Latex Gloves: I use these for finishing. Even if you’re using non-toxic stuff, it’s nice to keep your hands clean.
      • First Aid Kit: Mine is mounted on the wall and includes bandages, disinfectant and an eye wash station.
      • Fire Extinguisher: Dry wood and wood dust is flammable and a little thing can get them burning. If you don’t do enough woodworking to justify having a fire extinguisher, at least have a garden hose handy and ready to go in case of fire.
  4. The Right Tool for the job

    • There are cases where you can substitute a tool for a different approach and get a similar result through innovation or sometimes just grit and determination. A case in point: you can do a lot of things with a circular saw, but there is no question that a chop saw or table saw can make more precise and cleaner cuts, especially with larger materials.
    • Innovation is a gift, but there’s no substitute for the right tool.  Using a screwdriver as a lever where a prybar is called for can backfire in spectacular ways.
    • If you don’t know how to use a tool, ask someone to teach you. Find a local tool library or ask a friend, neighbor, or family member. There really isn’t a better way to share time with friends and family that working together to share our acquired skills.

winter_cabin_trailOne more thing . . . If you’re like anyone starting out in woodworking, there’s a lot you don’t know. That’s normal. You might even feel like you’re on a dark pathway, something like this photo I took during winter at our rural home. It’s one of my favourite images.

My hope is that this course will be a guiding light for you. Just like the light and warmth and safety of the cabin at the end of this winter pathway. So come on in, warm up, and get ready to make good things happen in your life. Woodworking is a wonderful hobby. You’re in for a treat.