Adjusting the guides on a bandsaw should not take three hours, but this time it did.
Have you ever bought a new tool and discovered that it came with a wrench that you knew you were just going to lose? Or perhaps you’ve got an important list of measurements that you can’t keep up with because your shop is small and you don’t have a good place to leave it. Maybe you keep losing your marker, or your push stick is never where you need it to be. These inconveniences all have a common solution: magnets.
Among the first power tools I bought was a 14” Grizzly bandsaw. The G0555LX - it sounded so official, so real, so industrial. I felt validated as a woodworker, and set out to do the serious work of making a pitiful bandsaw box with the stock blade. I assembled it as soon as I got it unpacked. Conveniently, it came with three different tools for adjustment - two Allen wrenches and a crescent wrench.
In my excitement, I assemble the bandsaw with little regard for the included tools. After all, I reason, those kinds of tools are cheap and I probably will buy better ones down the line. The problem, of course, is that at that point in time I was used to working in my dad’s well-equipped shop, and experience had taught me (wrongly) that if I lost the cheap tools, I could just get the nice ones out and continue. When I realized that I had misplaced the small tools, I instinctively went to grab the good ones before realizing - shoot! I don’t have any good tools yet. I started searching for the cheap ones. Are they on the bandsaw table? No. Under the base? No. Maybe they fell into the guard? Negative. This goes on for a solid three hours, progressing from “I’m sure it’s around here somewhere” to “oh, come on, it can’t be that hard to find” to “well I’ve already spent this long looking for it, I’m finding the dang thing,” until I finally think to check my pocket. I’m awash with my own stupidity.
It’s always the small things that cause me the biggest problems - when my bandsaw is useless, it’s not because the cast iron is cracked, it’s because I can’t find the stupid tools to adjust it. When I’m cutting on the table saw and need a push stick, it’s out of reach. One minute I’m making thundering progress, and the next the phrase “where did I put that cutlist” brings it all to a screaming halt. But small problems have small solutions, and can lead to big success
All of this is to say that a workshop has as many tools as it has tasks. Magnets are a solution to so many problems in a woodworking shop. Perhaps the time has come for you, my friend, to embrace the wonder that is the rare earth magnet. Here are just a few of the uses I’ve made of them in my own shop.
Push Stick Saver
Every time I need a push stick, it seems like it’s just out of reach. Though it’s not safe, I often find myself pushing a cut through with my fingers uncomfortably close to the blade, or using a scrap of wood as a makeshift push stick rather than the proper wooden push stick I made for my shop. Enter the rare earth magnet and super glue. By using a Forstner bit the same diameter as the magnet, my push stick now lives on the front face of my table saw and is always there when I need it.
In a place like a workshop, it is so easy to lose a sheet of paper. The shop notes we all use help keep up with cuts, dimensions, design ideas, job info, and calculations. This information can all be lost or damaged if we aren’t careful. Turn on a fan pointed toward your printed drawing on loose leaf paper and tell me I’m wrong. Certainly a notebook is a good place to keep them for longer-term storage, but when I have papers that need to be accessible, I want to have them where I can see them at a glance. Most exterior doors (including the door from a house into a garage) are magnetic. I have my important shop notes all on display, ready to consult at a moment’s notice. I also have used the magnets to hang a Renaissance-style portrait of Nick Offerman, scowling majestically. We all have our heroes.
Those pesky Allen wrenches and crescent wrenches that come with a tool, just like the ones that made me search for hours once upon a time, are so easy to keep up with if you just use a magnet. The very tools I found in my pocket are now permanently assigned to a magnet on the side of my bandsaw. Nothing is more convenient than just plucking an Allen off the side of a bandsaw like a grape off a vine, using it for a quick adjustment, and then watching it magically zoom back into place and stay put when I’m done with it.
Anyone who has a flip-top table is bound to know the feeling of defeat that strikes when you flip the top and hear a mysterious clunk, which is inevitably followed by a long search for whatever it was that fell off. I have such a table for my planer, which is a DeWalt DW735. This planer comes with a great T-handled star drive adjustment tool that drops into the top for convenient storage, but this storage is rendered far less useful when it gets flipped upside down and the tool drops out. Enter rare earth magnets. I used a Forstner bit to drill a magnet-sized hole in the rubber of the inside of the T-handle, and used super glue to attach another magnet to the corresponding spot inside the planer. It’s far enough from anything else metal that it is at no risk of causing problems, and it saves me from having to find somewhere else to stash the adjustment tool.
Oscillating spindle sanders have a lot of bits and bobs that go with them. Mine has five or six washers that are needed to change the diameter of the spindle, and the manufacturer designed the base with incredibly shallow slots in which to store the washers when they are not in use. These slots were so shallow that the tool’s vibration would disturb the washers and sometimes sent them rolling away. If you’ve read along this far, you know where I’m going with this: I opened up the bottom panel and found that there were no important mechanical parts close to the washer slots, so I used super glue to adhere a rare earth magnet to the inside of the base behind each washer slot. Now they are always where I need them to be.
A Game of Catch
My love of rare earth magnets has grown to the point that I even incorporate them into my furniture projects. I find that most premade cabinet door catches are ungraceful, unweildy, ugly things. By recessing two rare earth magnets - one into the edge of a cabinet door, the other into the corresponding face of the cabinet - a satisfying and subtle closing mechanism is created. For bonus points, recess the magnet and put a very thin veneer over it; your door catch will be truly invisible and will impress anyone who uses it.
Mark it Up
No tool seems to go missing more frequently than a pencil. Marking tools are used all over the shop, and are cheap enough to buy multiples of. In my shop, every spot where I may need a marking tool, I superglue a magnet nearby. Then I superglue a magnet to the body of a mechanical pencil, and suddenly there’s yet another gravity defying item in my shop.
These are just a few of the creative applications I've found for the humble rare earth magnet in my woodshop. Leave a comment if there are any more that you've found!