Special Guest on MakerCast

MakerCast is one of my favorite podcasts. I love hearing of the journey and background stories of other craftsmen and makers.

I think one of the great things about MakerCast, is that Jon Berard covers such a broad scope of craftsmen, so there is something for everyone. If you listen to just a few episodes, I think you will find that as different as everyone seems to be initially, there are so many common threads to us all as creatives. 


I am honored to be the guest on the most recent episode. I share my background, which seemingly has no relation with what I do now. But the reality is that I learned many lessons and principles in past experiences that help me with my current profession as a designer, craftsman, business owner, and artist. 

I hope listeners will realize that, whatever it is you are doing, you are learning things that can be taken from your current experience, and applied if you want to step out into your own business.

Be sure to give a listen, and subscribe to MakerCast.

Your friend in the shop,

Todd A. Clippinger

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Rediscovering the Joy of Woodworking

 I love woodworking and I actually make my living by working professionally from the shop. I had to give up remodeling due to health issues specifically connected to remodel activity and the things it exposes me to. So now, all of my projects are shop based.

Fortunately, I have years of connections and reputation behind me now, and that has led to continued work, strictly from the shop. I get all manner of projects, there are so many things that need to be built for companies and clients, way more than just cabinets. 

Even though I love the woodworking and the challenges I face as a professional, I lose some of the excitement for it because I do it everyday. I realized this as a recent project came through my shop for the local Audubon Society. They are building an interactive playground, and they needed a turtle for the kids to drum on. So I built a "drum turtle."

I take pride in my ability to design and build under pressure (that comes along with being a business) and to execute very technical projects to a high degree of professional quality. The drum turtle was clearly not a technical project nor anything that could be considered fine woodworking, and when I accepted it, I had the passing thought, "this could be kinda fun." In all honesty - I had a blast!

I was given a screenshot that the director found online, I have no idea from where, but I did not care for the design. Even though it is a simple concept and an outdoor project, the drum turtle in the image was just not a very good design so I came up with my own.

Most projects are very technical and I have to get very specific with the design and details. But for the drum turtle, I did not spend a lot of time on it.

I had a rough idea of size and that gave me all I needed to buy the materials. But I did not head into the project with any design details on paper at all. I simply started by building the basic body first, then I designed everything else on the fly just to fit the body. 

It was really liberating to just make it all up as I went along. After making the body, I knew that I had to glue up material to get it thick enough for the legs, the neck/head, and the tail. 

At the time I was gluing up the stock for the legs & neck, I did not have any idea of the details or shape that I would make them. But the designs started to flow as I started working on the pieces. I realized the goal was to just keep it general and as a graphic, to represent a turtle, rather than being caught up in creating a life-like sculpture. 

After gluing up the stock, I squared it up and attached it to the underside of the turtle. It was at that point I determined what the finished width and length should be without even knowing the detailed shape of the feet. 

As the legs were mounted on the body, it hit me just what the shape should be. So I created a template with some 1/4" hardboard and that way I could transfer it to each foot so they all would be the same. 

As the feet took shape, it really confirmed that it all should be kept very as a very general representation and stay away from being detailed.


I actually had to deliberately force this thought since I most often deal with lots of details. Once I began to loosen up from my normal thought process, I really started having fun! 

While I was working on the legs and feet, the tail naturally came to me. I didn't measure anything out, I just stuck the tail board on the turtle and made a mark to cut it at a length that just felt right then I cut out the form at the bandsaw and then sanded it out and routed over the edges. 

What I found interesting, was the way that my mind would naturally start working out the details of next piece while I was still finishing out the one I was one.

For instance, at the point that I was sanding and detailing out the tail, my mind was not needed for that task, so it had moved on to the next task. My physical actions were always just a step behind since it takes longer to perform the task than to think it out. 

By the time I got to the neck & head, I pretty well had it figured out. Once again, I did not really measure anything, I placed the stock on the turtle body and marked where I thought it should be cut. Actual numbers were meaningless, I just went by how it felt. 

I roughed out the head at the bandsaw and sanded it out into a smooth shape with my little Porter Cable "armadillo" sander. That has become one of my favorite sander. I used to handle the big sanders the same way, but PC really nailed it when they designed this little gem to be held in one hand. 

I finished the parts on all sides as I assembled it, this will provide for maximum protection. I found a certain relief to not worry about a flawless finish as I do with all of my higher-end projects. 

I have already been getting questions about the finish, so I will share for those that are wondering: I used Messmer's deck finish that is formulated for mahogany, ipe', and tropical hardwoods because the back of the turtle's shell is mahogany. It will work fine on the redwood as well. I put 2 coats on everything. 

Normally I push for Sikkens. With all the years of remodeling and decks I have done, it has been my observation that nothing holds up like Sikkens. But it is a hard sell at $80 per gallon, so I used Messmer's. On average, it is just OK as all the other products that major companies sell are, which are all still second to Sikkens from my experience. 

Here is the drum turtle front and rear views all finished. 

I have no doubt that you are wondering how it sounds so you can check out this clip. 

The director of the local Audubon Society was really excited and pleased with the results of the drum turtle when I delivered it.


The interactive playground is not ready to receive the drum turtle so it will stay on the patio of the Audubon center until it can be put in it's permanent location. Here the visiting school kids can start using it. 

In the end, I was happy with the results, I had a great time building it, and I learned something too: keep the fun in woodworking. 

Your friend in the shop,

Todd A. Clippinger

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A Trip To The Woodcraft Store

The Grunt and Scratch Fest

Over the Thanksgiving Holiday, Rita and I went to Boise, ID to spend time with her daughter's family. Boise and the surrounding metropolitan area is a good bit bigger than where I live in Billings, MT. This means that they have a lot more chain and franchise stores such as a few of my favorites like Woodcraft, an Apple store, and Chipotle restaurants. 

Woodcraft Store in Boise, Idaho

While Rita and her daughter did their shopping, I decided I would head to the Woodcraft store. This was only my second trip to Boise and I had not checked out the local Woodcraft on my first journey. 

Like most woodworkers, I love visiting a store such as Woodcraft, it is like walking into a live woodworking catalog. There are so many things you see in the catalogs and you wonder about them, but at the store you can check everything out in person. 

There is also quite an entertainment value to seeing guys in their primal stage, and Black Friday proved to be quite a grunt and scratch fest as all the woodworkers pored over the tools.

I Finally Have It All

Woodwork Magazine Issue 120 Winter 2013-14

Being awash in the woodworking supplies you may be surprised at what I purchased during my visit to the Woodcraft store, nothing but the latest copy of "Woodwork" - Issue 120. After wading through all the tools and checking out the woodworking whizzy wigs and doodads, I bought a magazine. 

It really sunk in that while I don't have every tool, I have every tool that I really need to build the types of projects that I build in my shop and on the job site. As one of my clients  (who is a very smart business man) pointed out, "You have a well appointed shop. It looks like you have just what you need to get the job done. It's efficient. I'm impressed."

While I don't have every woodworking tool available, I kinda feel like I have it all. My needs are well met, I use most everything I have enough to justify it's existence in my shop, and I appreciate working space enough that I don't have the urge to fill all of it with another tool or piece of equipment. 

How Many Tools Do You Need?

The answer to that question will vary by individual. You need to identify what types of projects that you want to build and this will determine what your needs are. 

We all end up being faced with the decisions of what tools should we buy. We are trying to strike the balance of budget versus features, and quality. And since each of us has various opinions on what those are and the way that we value our time, we all make different decisions. 

But here are some things to keep in mind:

-The stronger your skills, the less tools you will need. Time in the shop, with hands on tools, building projects is what builds skills. Doing this also helps you determine what tools you really need. Over time you may find that your skills make some tools obsolete and that is OK, it is part of the growth process. You can cash the tool out for a few bucks and put it towards something else you find that you really need, or just gain the extra space in the shop which is of great value for most of us. 

-When you do buy a tool, buy the best you can afford. As a professional I have discovered the old adage is true "You Get What You Pay For." A good tool will pay dividends in faithful and accurate service. A good tool is also worth repairing versus tossing and buying another. 

-Take action. Stop dreaming about what you can do with the tools you have bought and start building. Justify your purchase and build something. What you thought you needed may change if you are more active in the shop, your experience will define what your needs are. But you will only find this out by spending time in the shop building projects. 

That's all for now guys. The most important thing here today is spend time in the shop. It does not matter if your focus is on using hand tools, machines, or somewhere in between. If you're not working with your tools, you're just collecting them. 

Have fun and focus on getting those Christmas gifts built, time is short!

Your friend in the shop,

Todd A. Clippinger

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