Review: The Naked Woodworker

When you’re first getting into woodworking, things are…interesting. There’s a whole lot of information out there, but almost all of it revolved around power tools back in the day. Today, there’s a bit more about beginners using hand tools, but there’s really not an easy to digest way to know what to buy, what to look for, where to look for it, and how to use it.

That led me to ponder just how well Mike Siemsen’s The Naked Woodworker actually is.

In it, Siemsen starts off with an empty bucket at a tool show and goes from there to having a basic set of tools, a couple of saw benches, and a workbench.

However, I was curious how good a resource it really was. After all, a lot of information I come across really is about helping people transition from powered woodworking into hand tool use, which doesn’t do a whole hell of a lot to help the neophyte woodworker.

Would Siemsen’s effort be any different?

For the most part, I think he succeeded.

Part of that is from the basic premise. You see, Siemsen goes to the tool show to buy the necessary tools for building the workbench, which is the big project at the end. He picks up a couple of saws, a few planes, a brace, some chisels (actually he uses Narex chisels he got from Lee Valley. Go figure), and a few more odds and ends.

Next, he takes them home and makes them useable. This is just basic restoration and also sharpening the tools, but not much more than that.

After all the tools are ready to go–acquisition and restoration took about a good, long day according to Siemsen–the video then transitions to building two saw benches. Well, you only build one on the video, but you get the point. There’s even an interesting trick of using a couple of buckets and a 2×6 chunk.

For the record, his saw bench design has some complicated features, but it doesn’t look that hard to build. It’s probably an excellent project to start with.

Next, the video goes into building a Nicholson-style workbench, and it’s an interesting enough build with some good features I’ll definitely keep in mind.

Siemsen reports in the video that the saw benches and the workbench took a day as well, which it well may have.

So, this leads to a couple of question that I went into the video wanting answers to.

How Ideal Is This For Beginners?

On a scale from 1 to 10, I’m going rate it at about a 7.

Everything in this video is great for new woodworkers, but it’s not a complete guide. There are a few tips on technique, but I think a bit more emphasis could have been made on some basic functions like sawing at angles and things of that sort.

It’s not a deal breaker, though, because we live in the Google Age, so you can easily find that information. That may also be why it’s not there in the first place. Why try and reinvent the wheel?

Between Google, YouTube, and this video, you’ve got pretty much everything you need to start woodworking from scratch…or, in this case, naked.

As such, I think it’s an excellent resource for a new woodworker looking to build with hand tools.

What Kind of Cost Are We Talking About Here?

Cost is a big factor for woodworkers, let’s make no mistake. However, with The Naked Woodworker, you get a set of downloads that includes a PDF spreadsheet that shows precisely what Siemsen paid for every aspect of the build.

Now, this doesn’t mean you’ll pay the exact same thing if you’re starting from scratch. For one, what you can find at one tool show is very different from what you’ll see at the next. Siemsen goes into that just a bit, but it means that what he pays for tools might be high…or they might be low. You might be able to find better deals, though some of his were pretty good. He does try to give a bit of a range on what you can expect to spend, though, which may help.

All told, between materials for the project, tools, sharpening stuff, and other things for restoration, he gives the cost as being between $570 and $770.

A good chunk of that cost is for the bench grinder and stand he suggests everyone get. If you’re willing to just grind with sandpaper, something I’ve done, that’s going to knock $120 off that price.

Since the cost for project materials was a hair over $140, that leaves about $270 or so to get a serviceable toolkit. Further, if you can pick up some of the chisels at a tool meet that Siemsen passed up, you can knock another $40 off of that…assuming they’re available, of course.

In other words, this shows a pretty affordable way to get into the craft with really good quality tools.

Now, that said, I think the cost could be dropped a fair bit. You see, he spends $40 on a saw vice, which can be built pretty easily for a bit less, and he uses a jointer and a jack plane. Some argue you can use a jack for all of it if need be. Christopher Schwarz being a prime example.

In other words, as affordable as this is, it can be finagled down even lower if need be.

Of course, the flip side is that if you don’t have tool meetups nearby, you may well have to use resources like eBay. That means a lot of your savings can be eaten up by shipping costs.

If you consider that, it’s probably a bit of a wash on that front.

Still, it shows that you can build up a tool collection for not an exorbitant amount of money. While this kit is far from complete, it’s a good foundation for you to build from moving forward, which is awesome.

How Is The Video Overall?

I hate to say it, but the production value is kind of amateurish. Maybe I’m jaded by slickly produced YouTube videos, but there were a lot of edits that jump cut in the middle of Siemsen speaking,

It also features this cheezy, folksy music that some folks seem to think belongs in woodworking videos, like every video is the spiritual descendant of Roy Underhill or something.

There were also some sound quality issues, which may have been an artifact of being streaming (I’ll download the videos later and see if they’re still there).

Now, that said, the video is still incredibly watchable. Siemsen has this understated thing about him that makes you want to watch but isn’t boisterous or obnoxious like someone trying to have that thing. I don’t want to call it charisma, necessarily, but Siemsen is definitely watchable and glimpses of his personality shine through, telling me this is a guy I’d like to have a few drinks and talk wood with.

However, it’s my hope that if Lost Art Press is going to make a thing of video, they get a good production crew in or else learn more how to handle some of that. I’d hate to see people turned off on the video because of things like that.

That said, I haven’t watched any of their other videos just yet, so maybe they do. Here’s hoping.

Does Anyone Actually Need This?

Yes.

Plain and simple, I believe this falls into a need category.

Oh, I understand that a lot of people and do without this information, but if someone walked up to me and said they wanted to build stuff but only use hand tools and where should they start, I’d send them to The Naked Woodworker. I’d follow that up with a suggestion to take what they pick up here and slowly add to it until they’re somewhere in The Anarchist’s Tool Chest territory.

Of course, I’d also tell them to just pick up what they need to complete the project before them unless something was just a scary awesome deal and couldn’t wait.

Frankly, this is the first thing I’ve seen that I think takes a reasonable approach to building up a kit of tools for furniture building that a newbie can follow.

As much as I love The Anarchist’s Tool Chest, it provides a list of tools that is very complete, but not really essential when you’re first starting out.

Yet The Naked Woodworker uses pretty much every tool purchased in the workbench build. They’re almost all essential. I mean, I guess you could get away with just one chisel instead of a set, but that’s about it.

What About The Workbench?

The workbench built is a Nicholson-style workbench. In fact, it’s probably more traditional in appearance than the style Schwarz popularized years ago now. It’s pretty straightforward in design and construction.

One criticism I have to give is that while Siemsen did a great job of explaining why he was doing a lot of things, he never really explained why he used a carriage bolt on the apron and legs. To me, it just doesn’t make that much sense, all things considered.

But other than that, it’s an interesting design that’s become fairly popular. I’m not that interested in the central gap his design calls for, though, so I doubt I’ll be doing a faithful reproduction, but there are some good ideas in its construction for me to consider while planning on building my own.

Overall Conclusion

I just finished the video a short time ago, so I’m on a bit of a high, but you can already tell I highly recommend it.

If you’re an experienced hand tool woodworker, I don’t know how much you’ll get out of it. I just don’t.

But if you’re a newer woodworker, I rate this one as a must-have.

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