Eric's Key Notes

Check back each week as Eric shares his key notes.

The Tools

How about a little show-and-tell?

One of the things I love about being at MASW is the exposure to tools. Sure, Marc has a lot of tools but what’s really exciting are the tools students bring to class. Everyone has a slightly different kit and I make it a point to nose around benches just to see what students are using. This gives me a great idea of what I like or don’t like about particular tools (what fits one person’s taste and hand doesn’t necessarily fit mine). And the creativity…some students find creative ways to make their tools stand out from others (not a bad idea when there are many similar in a class).

Check these out…

Sabine K. made a great design on her mallet to distinguish it from all the others that look just like it.
Putting a design on a handle is a great way to keep your favorite chisel from getting lost.

When I come across tools I like (or have little experience with) I conduct an impromptu review. Here are the questions I ask:

1. How long have you been using it?

2. What is your opinion?

3. Would you buy it again?

4. Can I try it?

Then I take a picture of it so that I can look it up later or add it to a wish list. If a tool has been customized in some way I ask about the story behind it. It’s fun to learn why a certain design was picked or how tools have been passed down through the family. And where there are tools there be tool storage. In just a few months, I’ve seen everything from a cardboard box to handmade beauties. Throughout history a tool box has been kind of like a rite of passage. Maybe it’s me but a tool chest has that treasure chest mystique about it that says what’s inside is precious. Here are a few that are a size which is good for travel.

Don C. uses a box that belonged to his father for his traveling kit.
The stand on this one folds up for transportation.
A smaller chest on stand helps keep your back from breaking.
Roy Underhill’s chest is iconic
Of course, being around all this fun stuff makes me want to build something nice for my tools (which are currently stored in an old dresser). Fortunately, we have a couple of classes coming up. I might have to do some creative bargaining and see if I can “assist” in one.

One Reason Why

Sometimes it’s not enough to simply do something. We have a desire to know and understand why we do it. What is it that propels us to work with our hands? With wood? The answer to those questions are probably different for everyone and there have been a few good books written to help us explore the topic. Even though I’ve read all the books it’s still a question I like to ask of myself and others. Occasionally, I’ll come across a good answer.

Recently in John Morgan’s class I caught a glimpse of a special moment. John is an automaton maker; mechanical models made of wood and gears. When I walked into the class on Monday I had no idea what automata was. But on his workbench was the most fabulous piece of work. It was called “A Firefly’s Revenge” (you can see a video of it here). He had brought a host of amazing stuff that wasn’t typical woodworking by any means.

Throughout the week students from other classes would slip in to take a look. On Tuesday, we had visitors for the cookout and presentations drop by. Every single person walked away amazed and smiling. Except one lady. She started out smiling and then tears began flowing. She wasn’t upset. She was so filled with joy that it brought tears to her eyes. For the first time I realized that what we do, when done well, has a much greater impact than we can imagine.


I honestly don’t know why you’ve chosen to work wood, but in that moment, I knew that one reason why I do is because it makes the world a happier place. We need that.

Layout Is Everything

Nearly the first thing Marc says in his joinery class is “Layout is everything.” And he’s been saying it for 25 years. It’s such a popular saying that they’ve put it on a t-shirt. It’s a phrase that is guaranteed to make you a better woodworker. At least it will if you use it.


The phrase is most often applied to joinery. If you can create a fine knife line and work back to that knife line the odds of your pieces fitting together increase dramatically. No one really argues this point because it makes sense. But this phrase applies to more than just joinery. It applies to all of woodworking especially when you’re in a class.

So here are a few tips that will make your class time more productive and enjoyable.

1. Keep track of your reference surfaces

To do good work you need to have a square face and edge. When you’ve decided what those surfaces are, put a mark on them. Some people use a triangle. Some use a series of lines. Some people use labels. You can use whatever you want (draw smiley faces if it makes you happy) as long as it helps you keep track of your reference surfaces. Michael Fortune recently recommended using a method he discovered in Fine Woodworking in 1977. You can look at it here.

2. Label Parts

I know it’s obvious, but have you ever heard the one about the doctor who amputated the wrong leg because of a lack of labels? When you’re working at home you may only have four legs to deal with but when you’re in a class of 16 people there would be 64 legs floating around. Labeling parts is a good habit to get into and will ensure that parts you picked go home with you.

3. Double check the set up against your layout

The machine setup in a class is done by a member of the staff. If you’re the first person in line, chances are good that your piece will be perfect. But if you’re the eighth person in line and the fourth person moved something or banged things around, the original setup may not be the same. If you have laid out your parts, it’s easy to double check a setup before you ruin your project. Even better the rest of the class will thank you. But what if the setup doesn’t match your layout lines? Get the attention of the instructor or staff and have them check things.

4. Develop a methodology and stick with it.

Unless, of course, the instructor is using a different one. Seriously, it is really good practice to develop a way to mark parts that is easy for you to remember and eliminates confusion. If you are consistent you can come back to an unfinished project later and still know what is going on. But when you are in class the instructor may specify a particular way of marking parts because it allows them to, at a glance, keep everyone on track.


The best part about marking, labeling, and laying out is that it eliminates confusion. If all your parts are in order you don’t have to second guess yourself while you’re trying to imagine how the pieces should fit. You’ll spend less time reworking parts and experience less frustration. And when you’re in class that means more time to hit the ice cream machine.


The New Guy

Hello MASW fans! Allow me to introduce myself; my name is Eric and I am one of the new guys on staff. How did I get this job? We’re pretty sure it was a lack of good judgment on Marc’s part. The truth is that I am an average woodworker—even after 20 years. But the good news is that I will be in a lot of classes this year. If you’ve taken classes at the school then you are aware of just how fast your skills can grow in a week. I’m hoping to grow as a woodworker and would like to take you with me as I learn new things, meet new people, and strive to become a better craftsperson. I’ll be posting regular content here so check back. If you have any questions or feel the need to throw a “wobbler” you can email me at or find me on Instagram by searching @eric.key.