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Hand Tool Fine Woodworking for Absolute Beginners, part 1

The last thing a beginning woodworker needs is a shop full of machines. Table saw, bandsaw, jointer, thickness planer, drill press, track saw, sliding miter saws, power routers and shapers, dust collection…you’re looking at thousands of dollars, noise, mess, danger, and possibly expensive electrical upgrades.

After you acquire and set up machines, after spending all that money and effort, you learn that they limit what you can do. The majority of Woodsmith projects are jigs, shop and tool modifications, and safety hacks. They’re useful, but I think it’s a lot of time and work that could be avoided by using a few basic hand tools, and developing a few basic skills. Most of the time hand tools are more efficient than machines. One example: it drives me nuts when a lesson is about cutting a couple of small pieces with table saw. By the time you build or find your jig and set it up you could have cut a dozen pieces with a hand saw, safely.

I became interested in hand tools when I was researching workbench designs. I used to build a basic mechanic’s workbench, which is a 24″ x 96″ bench with a lower shelf and a mechanic’s iron vise. This is a good general-purpose design, but for fine woodworking there are better designs, and especially better vises. This led me to The English Woodworker, Lost Art Press, and Paul Sellers. (Yes, I used to watch Roy Underhill’s The Woodwright’s Shop, but for whatever reason it was more entertainment than teaching to me.)

Basic workbench built with construction lumber, 2×4 studs and 3/4″ plywood. The workbench has a short retainer at the back to keep items from falling off, and three nice drawers with metal pulls.

The English Woodworker, Lost Art Press, and Paul Sellers are my absolute favorite hand tool woodworking teachers. They’re all woodworkers who make a living from fine woodworking. None of them accept sponsorships. You will find a lot of woodworking gurus who rely on sponsorships. They’re good teachers, but you know the old saying, “The one who pays the piper calls the tune.” Or the golden rule, the one with the gold makes the rules.

I like the peace and quiet, not needing a large space to house equipment, and especially not needing a big expensive dust collection system. Power equipment kicks a huge amount of high-speed sawdust particles into the air, and these particles are bad for our lungs. When I’m geared up with eye, hearing, and breathing protection I’m uncomfortable and isolated. More than half of people wear glasses, yet it is still hard to find safety gear that takes glasses into account.

I’ve always been good with my hands, so the idea of developing hand tool skills instead of trying to make machines do what I want was appealing. I like having more space for projects and materials rather than machines. It is tremendously satisfying in a way that the machines never were.

What Makes Hand Tool Woodworking Fun?

The big secret to having a satisfying experience with hand tool woodworking is sharpness. The most essential skill is learning to keep your tools sharp. Forget everything you see about sharpening, all the expensive machines and crazy complicated stuff. All you need are a few sharpening stones and bit of practice.

Basic Hand Tool Kit

Where do you start with hand tool fine woodworking? That depends on what you want to make. It is easy to get sucked into wanting the best tools because you appreciate good tools, and you think the best tools will make you a better woodworker. I am a total tool nerd. I love good tools for themselves, even though I have no practical use for them. Stay focused on what you want to make, and then you will make wiser tool purchases.

There are different types of woodworking, so let’s take a quick look at those.

Carpentry, Carving, Furniture, Cabinets, Arty Stuff

The tools and machines, and the lumber and building materials you see at the big box stores are meant for the building industry, such as fencing, houses, decks, and outbuildings. Carpentry is a skilled profession, and it is different from fine woodworking. Tolerances are more generous, for example when you’re framing a house you don’t need extreme precision. You can be off by as much as a quarter inch in any dimension and usually it won’t matter. When you open a wall or floor don’t be surprised by what you find, such as shims and crude repairs. They work. Drywall, door and window trim, and baseboard trim hide a multitude of gaps and mis-matches.

Wood carving is awesome fun. Wood carving requires its own set of specialized tools, though you can do a lot with a couple of basic knives.

Building furniture, cabinetry, and smaller doodads like boxes, step stools, drink coasters, lamps, and whatever cool creative items you dream up can all be built from a similar set of basic tools.

Now What?

Come back for Part 2 to learn about basic kits for the different types of woodworking.

Losing Weight with Noom, an Honest Review

I had to say “An honest review”, because that is how so many bot-generated product reviews start. I always wonder when someone says “Honestly, (foo blah)”. That implies they are dishonest by default. Integrity Plumbing, Patriot Gun Sales, Trustworthy Auto Sales. Me, I walk away fast.

A meme in two panels. The top panel shows a family gathered around the dinner table, holding hands and saying "Thanks Jesus for this food."

The bottom panel is a Hispanic man picking red onions, replaying "De nada".

Digressions aside, let us now proceed to My Honest Noom Review. Noom is a psychology-based weight loss program. It is not a diet. It is a series of lessons that teach you to understand yourself better, why you eat the way you do, and how to change your mindset. I think of it as “Train the brain, and the body will follow”. No foods are off-limit, they don’t sell scammy supplements, or packaged foods, or weird gadgets, or any of the usual miracle weight loss crud.

The short story: good program, vexing app.

Color-Coded Food

Noom provides a simplified nutrition guide by color-coding foods according to their calorie density. Green foods are low-calorie and dense in nutrients. Yellow foods are more calorie-dense, and orange foods are the most calorie-dense. There are no good or bad foods. Noom recommends you eat the following daily calorie proportions in each category:
Green 30%. This includes fruit, vegetables, non-fat dairy, and certain whole grains.
Yellow 45% Lean beef, fish, poultry, tofu, pasta, low-fat dairy.
Orange 25% Oils, nuts, seeds, full-fat dairy, fattier cuts of beef, pork, desserts, dried fruit.

Unless you have special needs, this should feed you well and provide all the nutrients you need.

Trapped in Interrogation

When you first visit, you are immediately corralled into an intrusive survey. They don’t want to provide any real information, but instead learn about you. It is difficult to browse the site and get information without giving up a bunch of personal information. The only link I found on the site, to read articles instead of dodging sales pitches, is in the bottom left navigation bar. Under “Individuals” click “Lose Weight” to read useful articles.

If you want to try Noom you have two options. One, sign up online. You get a two-week free trial. Two, buy their book “The Noom Mindset: Learn the Science, Lose the Weight” instead of enrolling in the online course. I enrolled in the online course and bought a 10-month subscription for about $175. Buying a subscription is like buying a vehicle from Trustworthy Auto Sales, the more you play hard-to-get the the more the price drops. Don’t take their first offer.

You pay for the whole subscription at once. If you have a change of heart after the trial period you don’t get a refund, because they consider your entire subscription as a single billing period.

The Online Course

The online course is delivered in a phone app, Android or iOS. There is no Linux, Windows, or Mac option. Before I reveal my opinion of the app, you get my experience with the course.

Before you enroll you have to answer a long series of questions about your weight, height, activity level, health, and many other questions. Give the most accurate information you can, because Noom uses this to calculate your weight loss calorie range, and a target date for your weight loss goal. If you don’t answer accurately you’re just sabotaging yourself. My daily calorie range is 1360-2090. The app adjusts this periodically according to my progress.

The course is solid. You get daily lessons, and are encouraged to weigh in daily and record your weight in the app, and log everything you eat and drink. The Noom Communities are a collection of user forums, and you can join or form your own private groups. The peer support is valuable.

The Noom program is successful in proportion to how much time and effort you invest. No matter how together you think you are, I guarantee you will find at least some of the lessons surprising and useful. Food and weight are very emotional, and carry tons of emotional baggage. If you don’t track your weight and food you’re wasting your money. The goal is to unlearn old bad habits, and form new habits and skills that last your lifetime. Anyone can drop a ton of weight, usually in a not healthy way. Keeping it off, and learning how to maintain a healthy lifestyle takes work.

Noom doesn’t expect you to learn everything at once. Each lesson builds on the previous lessons, and you go at your own pace. A succession of small changes works better than occasional heroic efforts. Have patience and take the long view.


If you are already used to shopping, storing, and preparing your food, Noom will be easier for you. If you’re not, you’ll have a longer learning curve. You should know how to do these things anyway, for your own benefit. American factory-made and restaurant foods are not all that good for us.

The biggest downside for me is the app. I call it the crapp. Everything about it annoys me. (Your mileage may vary; I have worked in tech for a long time, and I hate 95% of it. It’s shoddy, it’s spyware, and they never learn a blessed thing.) When you log your meals, you can use the built-in food database with portions and calorie counts. However. It is not maintained, and it contains a lot of inaccurate crowd-sourced entries. This is the source of many many many complaints.

The weight loss graph is not resizable. In fact, nothing in the app is resizable, so if you need something enlarged too bad for you. Some, but not all of the lessons have an audio version. I guess I should be used to our innovation heroes the techbros to be hostile to accessibility. The community forums are run on some kind of broken forum software that mangles images and makes it impossible to tag a particular person, because it does not differentiate between multiple people with the same name. You can’t follow or block anyone.

Going back in time is a real pain. If you want to review a week in your past, you have to scroll manually week by week. This is also how to revisit past lessons, unless you bookmark them.

The food logger is cumbersome, and you cannot see your whole day in one screen, but only individual meals. There is supposed to be a personal recipe feature, but I’ve never seen it. Instead I have a button that shows me previous meals, to select one to re-log.


The program works. I can deal with the crapp as long as I can whine through the basic functions without too much struggle. This is for keeps, I am making long-term lifestyle changes. I have dropped 20 pounds since I joined Noom, averaging a little more than a pound per week. I eat near the top of my calorie range, averaging ~1800 per day. I eat 4x per day, and most of the time I’m not hungry, it’s not difficult to stay on my plan.

I also work out regularly, I do some kind of cardio every day for at least 30 minutes, in addition to ranch chores and out-and-abouting. Really, it’s no secret- move more, eat less.

Back at the beginning, it was a bit of a shock to see how much I was really eating every day. Now my energy level is up, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose are down. I need new clothes. Smaller!


I don’t have the challenges that a lot of Noomers are struggling with, like unsupportive spouses, icky families, stressful jobs (because I quit my terrible toxic job, ha! Take that, losers!), and I don’t have the emotional pain that a lot of people have to deal with, the self-loathing and self-sabotage. Anyone who has deeper issues to resolve will have to work harder. Noom teaches to not see yourself as a failure when you have trouble sticking to your plan, but rather as someone who is trying. I think that is the most valuable lesson of all.

The Joy of De-Stuffing

There is a lot of activity here at the farm. I decided I really really really dislike the climate here and want to move. Wife says OK. So we’re prepping the place to look pretty for selling.

This doesn’t change our existing plans much. We’re already neck-deep in projects we were going to do anyway. The two biggest projects are done: put a concrete floor in the barn, insulate it, and add a bunch of electrical outlets and lights. I’m using it for my woodworking shop. There is plenty of room for critters, we added an extension that doubled its size. We use the extension for hay storage and mule shelter. Plenty of room for everyone.

Then we converted the garage to a posh grrl cave. It is soooo pretty now! We use it for music and workouts. The first improvement we made after we moved in was a three-bay carport attached to the garage, so fear not, the vehicles have a house too.

View From the Kitchen

I can’t find photos of anything actually relevant to this article, so enjoy this winter view from the kitchen window. Roxy the dog is in the foreground, gazing down the hill at the mules and horses because we are mean and don’t let her run loose to chase them.

Black dog gazes through a fence made of red corral panels. It is snowy winter day. Down the hill there is a red barn and several mules and horses standing outside in the weather.

The Plague of Stuff

I really did not want to move again after we bought this place. Have you ever moved a whole farm? ZOMG it’s no wonder farmers stay planted in one place for generations. Equipment, animals, tools…it’s a nightmare. I figured we would stay here until we croaked.

But. Climate. This is a lovely area, with four real seasons. But it’s inland, and my dream has always been to live near saltwater. I had one of those milestone birthdays this year, and I decided that is one dream I want to fulfill.

So. Stuff. Originally I had a long timeline and wasn’t too worried about Stuff. I have a ton of hoarded fencing and building materials. My wife has a ton of hoarded tack and equine supplies. It makes sense to keep that sort of Stuff if you have room. It’s not worth moving, so we’re selling what we can and junking the rest.

We’ve also accumulated quite a junk pile. It’s easy to be casual about building a junkpile when you have acreage. The junkpile is now doomed, and destined for the dump when we unload the hay from our big trailer.

Of course there is always more Stuff, no matter how hard we think we are trying to not bring it home. Cookware, CDs, DVDs, books, neglected hobbies, ancient work clothes long overdue for trashing, gifts from people we have told a million billion times don’t give us gifts…Stuff is eternal.