Catching Up with an Old Friend
After a visit to the AskTOH workshop in 2015, Kevin was excited to visit Nick’s shop. The outside is an unassuming building of corrugated metal panels, and it is surrounded by other small workshops housing various tradespeople and artisans.
It Starts with the Wood
As a hiker and general outdoorsman, Nick doesn’t like the thought of cutting down trees simply for the craft of woodworking. He works with suppliers up and down the West Coast to find trees that have either been felled naturally or need to be removed for construction projects. Before they become a beautiful tabletop, they are stored as large slabs. Nick has many different types of wood on the racks here including walnut, red eucalyptus, and a few varieties of maple.
Inside the Shop
Nick’s shop has been slowly added to over the last 16 years. The decorations on the walls all have meaning—from relics of Nick’s childhood on an Illinois farm to props from his role as Ron Swanson on NBC’s Parks and Recreation. A sturdy workbench and plenty of well-labeled drawers are set up with hand tool projects in mind.
Lathe and the Wall of Jigs
Nick finds the lathe to be a good starter woodworking power tool. While saws require you to move the wood through a spinning piece of steel, which can be dangerous, a lathe allows you to bring the steel to the wood and control the cut. Nick’s lathe is a Oneway 2436. Behind the lathe, various jigs and templates are stored for replicating everything from table legs to canoe paddles.
Respect the Classics
Nick is very fond of vintage power tools. His favorites were manufactured in America and are rock solid—made mostly of cast iron. The tools pictured here help prepare a rough cut piece of wood for finer applications. From left, an 18″ planer manufactured by Powermatic from 1983, a 1963 jointer manufactured by Northfield, and a newer Laguna 24 band saw from 2003. Behind these are a few various sanding machines.
Oldest Tool in the Shop
The oldest power tool in the shop is this drill press, which was built in 1943 by Delta. It was built so solidly that it hasn’t required any maintenance in the time Nick has owned it. The drill press has become such a part of the shop that it even has a name—Bill.
Nick also stresses the importance of safety in any shop—whether it’s the use of proper protective equipment like eye and hearing protection, or safe technology built into some of the newer tools. His shop includes a SawStop Table Saw, pictured in the foreground. It will detect if the blade comes in contact with human flesh and immediately drop the blade, preventing injury. A large workbench is built at the end of the table saw to also act as an outfeed table when running large pieces of stock through the saw.
Miter Saw Station
Another piece of newer equipment is the compound sliding miter saw, a Kapex, manufactured by Festool, which can make very precise cross cuts. The miter saw has 8 feet of outfeed support on both the left and right sides of the blade to accommodate very long boards. In a small shop, space is valuable, so the area above the saw is reserved for the storage of milled boards.
Never Enough Clamps
While it’s easy to joke about the number of clamps Tom Silva has on display in the AskTOH workshop, any woodworker knows that you can never have enough clamps! Here are Nick’s clamp racks, which include various styles and lengths to accommodate any project.
As part of the AskTOH visit, Nick offers some advice for woodworkers getting started. It can be as simple as cleaning up a small piece of maple with a hand saw, a block plane, and some sandpaper to make a cutting board. With the right prep work and a coat of oil, a basic project like this can be enough to hook somebody on woodworking. Nick offers even more advice on beginning woodworking in his book Good Clean Fun and on a special segment of Ask This Old House that will air in early 2017.