We all think our shops are too small, but a young Victoria, BC native has some sage advice for the space-restricted amongst us: suck it up, and start planning.
Rarely have I come across a woodworker who didn’t hum and haw about his shop being small, and many a time I have heard grumbling that a few hundred square feet just isn’t enough. My answer to those is: it sure is! Suck it up, sissy pants, it just takes some careful planning!
My shop is an 8×12′ (96 sq. ft.) converted garden shed. It was once separated into an 8×8′ room with a 4×8′ extension for firewood. It had just one plug and one small light that was run off of a 14/3 extension cord to the house. I worked in it for two years. Then, two years ago, I finally did a little demo and framed a new back wall (giving me the current 8×12) and added a window (I found it on the side of the road one day while walking home from school), a fluorescent light, and a few more plugs, but I was still running from that 14/3 extension cord on one circuit. I used to blow that breaker at least a couple times a week.
Last summer I purchased a new lathe, which ran on 220V. I took over more room in the house electrical panel and upgraded to a 10/3 teck cable. I also added my own panel in the shop, and put in about eight more plugs. That made a world of a difference.
The floor is a rough concrete slab, which is as even as a stormy sea. This makes wheeling around machines a pain and once in position they usually have a tendency to rock a little but I’ve made do. To save my back, I have kids’ foam play mats on the floor around my machines and bench. I may eventually lay 2×4 sleepers and put down a tongue and groove plywood floor for a more permanent solution.
Just about every tool has a specific home, which helps keep things organized.
Villa’s space is quite compact, so having many of his larger tools on casters to keep them mobile allows him to adjust layout on the fly, according to the task at hand.
When working on longer stock, Villa takes advantage of the moderate coastal climate to expand his shop slightly; an open wall panel, covered with clamps on the inside, is swung open to give him room to breathe.
A small dust collector gets used mainly in the winter, but Villa collects the majority of shavings and chips with a broom and shovel. An air cleaner, face mask and open windows take care of the more harmful, airborne dust.
The Simple Life
Villa tends to opt out of electricity and reaches for a hand tool to complete a task. In addition to making less dust and noise, hand tools tend to take up less space and are often more versatile. The simple pleasure of creating a shaving by hand is the icing on the cake.
Using a shooting board
Turning is great for a small shop. Its compact size and quite operation make it appropriate for just about any space.
Just Big Enough
At 96 sq. ft Villa’s workshop could be described as tight, but after a few upgrades it’s working very well for his current needs. He still dreams of a larger space, but tries not to waste too much time doing anything but honing his skills and making projects.
Always on the move
I’m always hesitant to take pictures of my shop since it’s constantly changing from one day to the next, and I’ve always got something on the go. All my friends and family who frequently visit always comment on how it looks completely different every time they see it. I’m always changing something, whether it’s moving something to gain back a few inches of precious space or making custom tool holders (a personal obsession that fills my walls). I have never been a fan of pegboard; it’s too mediocre and uninspired. My shop is heated by a small space heater which keeps it at a comfortable temperature whenever I’m working. For dust collection I have a squirrel cage fan vented outside that I use in the warm months and a General Int. 1 HP dust collector with a canister filter. I bought it from the local used website; the gentlemen had been using it for cutting granite counter tops and it was a royal pain to clean out! For fine dust I have a portable microdust filter, which I tend to use in the cold months.
I find a broom and dustpan handle the majority of my dust collection needs. I only use the dust collector when I’m machining a lot of pieces. Even after roughing out a dozen bowls the snow shovel comes out and makes quick work of that mess. Anytime I’m making fine dust, either the fan or filter, or sometimes both, is on, and I’ve always got a face mask on.
There is a place for everything, and everything is in its place. The jointer, tablesaw, and planer are all on casters and get wheeled around and tucked back into their own little spaces when not in use. Any time I’m working with long stock, I just open the big 4’x8′ door (which also serves as my clamp rack) in the back wall of my shop.
All my longer stock is stored up in the ceiling, the short stuff on my shelves and all the green bowls and lumber in my old tree house. I fabricated an Alaska-type chainsaw mill and I mill as much of my lumber as I can get my hands on; I’ve got a secret little stash of apple and maple so far. If you noticed in the pictures, I actually don’t have a bandsaw in the shop. My 10″ Rockwell bandsaw is inside the house to save room in the shop. I have found that in the last six months I have made out just fine with a coping saw, drawknife, spokeshave, and axe in place of the bandsaw. I’m almost finished Matthias Wandel’s homemade 16″ bandsaw, which I’m working on at school. I hope to finish it soon and move it into the shop.
Quite rapidly I find myself going the way of the Schwarz and many others. My machines are slowly getting used less and less and are being replaced by the well-tuned quality hand tools. The lathe, bandsaw, and planer will most likely always have a place, though ultimately I am striving to become an anarchist in an unplugged workshop.
A different path
I’m quite the oddball of my generation; I grew up without cable TV and video games. At school the halls and classes are filled with kids talking about the latest and greatest video games and systems. Almost none of them have had the satisfaction of taking a shaving with a well-tuned hand plane. I just shake my head and walk past, usually with the latest Lee Valley catalogue or a woodworking book under my arm. Most teachers are surprised when I tell them what I’m reading.
Last year (grade 10), I started my carpentry apprenticeship though a secondary programme with a local construction company. The vast majority of my paychecks go to Lee Valley/Veritas. When I finish high school next year, I will have enough hours for my first year and most of my second year courses and will be able to have my red seal and will become a journeyman by 21. Then my plan is to specialize and move into furniture building, or something else involving wood.
Though I love my tiny shop, I’m just like all the rest. I probably spend far too many hours dreaming about a bigger shop when those hours should really be spent working wood. Hopefully one day soon I’ll build myself a massive 300 square foot shop.