Working slights and mental organization

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    Charles Cleland

    To start this off, I’m going to quote a response I made in another thread. The thought began with my troubles adjusting to a new quick release vise after using a standard vise for a long time, and developed from there.  It dovetails with a post I read somewhere recently about “mental organization” for a woodworker, and the habits and slights one develops over time. Can’t for the life of me remember where I read it, but I’ve been thinking on it quite a bit in the last few days.

    Andy Cleland: “It’s taking me a bit to adjust to having the quick release feature after working without one for some time, since installing this vise I often find myself turning the handle to close it rather than just pushing it in. Usually I remember when it’s about halfway closed and probably lose more time spinning the handle back to unlock it and then pushing it closed than I would had I just completed it the way I started   I figure if I make the self correction every time eventually I’ll rewire my brain to do it correctly the first time.  These little slights of working are so important, and for me can make the difference between a day that seems to flow in the shop versus one where it feels like I’m fighting my own current upstream.  Placing chisels, squares, and marking gauges the same way on the bench every time (left of the vise? right of the vise? in the tool well?), returning my pencil and oil rag can to their places, all those little things.  I must admit I’m about to drill some stopped 3/8″ holes in strategic places around my bench to stand that damn pencil in rather than setting it down randomly, I seem to spend more time looking for it than any other tool in the shop! I’m hoping the holes will also help with keeping it sharp longer as well, I seem to break the point twice as often dropping it on the floor or knocking it against a tool than I do actually marking wood.”

    So what things do you do consistently that help with your workflow?  I have fought being a disorganized sort of person my entire life, with limited success, and I am trying really hard to at least win the battle with my woodworking and shop habits.

    I’m hoping Paul and some of the other experienced folks we have on here will chime in (speaking of which, anyone know what happened to Gary Palmer? It’s been over a month since I’ve seen him on here after a very prodigious start.) Hearing someone else describe their habits could be very helpful to those of us just starting this hand tool journey, I think I recall hearing Paul calling these “patent’s of work”, which took my USA English speaking brain a few seconds to translate to “habits” the first time I heard it.

    Washington State, USA
    My own humble blog:

    Steve Follis

    Andy, I share your pain.

    I broke down and bought an apron with a pencil pocket, so I could keep up with the pencil.  I figured that would save me at least an hour a day spent looking for it.

    One self imposed rule that I have set in this constant effort to get and stay organized; if I have to move something out of my way to get to something else that I need more than 3 times, I stop what I am doing, and either find a permanant place for it or get rid of it.

    Memphis, Tennessee

    Ken Dart

    Hi Andy .I think that Paul said “patterns of work”which is the same as habits i guess.I have given up trying to find that pencil,I just make sure I have at least half a dozen pencils sharpened and ready to go near the bench.I think that it’s like everything ,if you do something  enough times your brain finally gets the message .Like most people I seem to be on the edge of chaos with tool organisation, I’m fighting it all the time trying to be better at placing tools in the same place so I don’t have to think about where to find them. “Practice makes perfect” they say!


    Hi Andy.

    Interesting topic. I also like to ‘think’ about things.

    If ‘practice makes perfect’ there’s a chance that you’ll rewire your brain to continue the bad habit – turn the handle halfway, spin it back to unlock , and then push it the second half. i.e. your brain will  remember to push the vise only after you’ve turned the handle halfway!

    That’s what would probably happen to me. I’ve also just fitted a York quick release vise, and doing the same as you in forgetting to push the vise back in. So I do practice just opening and closing the vise the right way.  I put a piece of wood in the vise, tighten it, release it, then push it back in. I do that five to ten times in succession, and it is starting to become more instinctive. I don’t know if that would work for you, – perhaps our brains  are not wired in the same way. 🙂


    Whew!  … I thought *_I_* was the only one!!!  🙂

    My make-shift bench (solid core door on saw horses) sits up against the wall of the two car garage.  I work on one half of the garage and, my car is on the other half.  So, I’m building a wall-hung tool rack to go on the wall in front of me.

    It will be similar to this one in Popular Woodworking Magazine.

    I’ll make a few modifications like putting the shelf above the sharp pointy chisels.  🙂  I’ll mount it on a French Cleat system I’ve already begun.  Including a small hanging pencil box!  🙂

    Hopefully, the tools I use the most frequently will have a place to live right in front of me as I work at the bench.  I’m thinking (as the article states), It will be flexible enough that I can re-arrange the tools on the rack to suit the particular project I’m currently working on.

    Next, I need to build a proper bench.  🙂



    Texas, USA


    Hey Andy,

    This should help with your pencil problem. :). I just couldn’t help myself 🙂



    🙂 Ear Ear 🙂

    Ron Harper

    I too am working on this. I have made the switch from power tool woodworking to hand tools. I power tool use, the setup of the tools dictates the pattern of work. Not so in a Hand tool shop. Paul sizes the stock, planes the stock with a smoother, does the joinery. If ornamentation is part of the project he adds it at different times and I have not figured out that logic. I will keep watching.



    It would probably still take at least 5 min.s to remember where ya put that $!&@ pencil.


    One thing I make sure to do is organize my tools at the end of a working wood session. That way I can get started on my project when I get back to the shop.

    West Virginia, USA

    Charles Cleland

    lmao @dave ken…Although I still think I’d spend time looking for it, probably more since it would never be visible!

    I went back and found the comment that inspired the thread, which was a response to one of Chris Schwarz’s blogs (located at  The comment was:

    shannonlove says:
    March 27, 2012 at 11:14 am
    Organization has nothing to do with how a workspace looks. It has to do with how much effort the person using the workspace must expend to find something at any particular point in time. A workspace is “organized” if the person using it doesn’t have to think much to find something but can instead focus on the work at hand.

    In other words, organization largely occurs in the mind of the worker. If workers mental model matches the current state of the workspace such that they can just reach out and find a tool or resource without moving the focus of their concentration off the actual work, then then the workspace is organized regardless of its appearance.

    We’ve all seen people with chaotic appearing desks, closets or workspaces who can nevertheless quickly lay hands on anything they need. I read a psychology study on this phenomena years ago and they concluded that “messy organizer” actually had a rather rigid set of rules for where they put things. It might seem random to an outside observer but it made intuitive sense to them. Since their mental map of their workspace matches the physical reality, they can find things without thinking.

    In a wood shop, such rules might be something like, “hammers are always set down to the right and screwdrivers to the left” or “drill bits are always set closer to the edge of the table than the drill.” By automatically and thoughtlessly following the rules they made up, “messy organizers” can actually have what is, from a functional viewpoint, a highly organized space.

    I think organization absolutely key to productive work and I think people we perceive as being both messy and productive aren’t really messy but just following their own system.”

    I of course would like to be both “mentally organized” AND tidy, but I’d settle for just mentally organized 🙂

    Washington State, USA
    My own humble blog:


    Just like my wallet or keys, I always need a deliberate and localized “place” or home for a tool or else I will spend too much time hunting. First I have to create the place (i.e.. an apron pocket, a tool rack with customized slots, or a tote or till for task specific tools), then practice makes perfect. This does not come easy for me, but hunting for a tool that I just had in my hand two minutes ago drives me batty.

    Hand-tool workflow, while somewhat related, is something I am still developing. I assume workflow gets easier with each project under one’s belt.

    -Scott Los Angeles

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