Canadian Woodworking

Trials of a Small Shop

Author: Don Wilkinson
Illustration: Mike Del Rizzo
Published: June 2012
Trials of a Small Shop
Trials of a Small Shop

Those of you who pay any kind of attention to what you read may have noticed that this issue is dedicated to the “small shop”.


Those of you who pay any kind of attention to what you read may have noticed that this issue is dedicated to the “small shop”. It might have been all the articles about small shops or the large headlines emblazoned across the cover that finally clued you in. Whatever it was, it should have sunk in long before you arrived at this column. It is the last page, after all. Personally, I like to think that the last page (and my column) is the very first thing you turn to. I know it is for me.

Like many home workshops, mine is small. In fact, it is very small. This has been very difficult to get used to since my first shop was large. Very, very large! The one I work in today would have fit into a single bin of the lumber rack in my former shop. The 4/4 walnut bin, in fact. I didn’t have much walnut, as I mostly used oak or birch. But if those bins had been empty, my shop could have fit in them as well. It was a large shop. Very large. Did I say that already?

As you might imagine, I’m having a difficult time getting used to working in such a small space. My Unisaw, with its attached sliding table, stretches the entire width of my shop and even intrudes across the entrance doorway. To enter, I have to duck down and scoot under the support legs or try to suck my stomach in enough to ease past. My own legs don’t like to support me upright, let alone while walking like a duck under a table saw.

I have so little room that when I need to rip a board any larger than a tongue depressor, I have to open the overhead garage doors. I’ve worked out a system so that whenever I return home with a load of lumber I just back my truck up to the door and offload my lumber directly into the whirling blade of my table saw, where it gets cut to the exact sizes I need as it enters the shop. It then goes directly from the outfeed table to the various work stations aligned across the back and down either side. That way, I have no need to provide valuable space for storage or to carry large pieces of wood outside just to turn it around.

There is one potential drawback to my method, however. If I ever have a kickback, it could do a bit of a number on the truck cab. Those windows can be expensive. I have planned for such an eventuality, and have become quite good friends with my insurance agent. It’s marvellous what a free cup of coffee and a doughnut can achieve.

My system of opening the garage doors just to feed the ravenous maw of my saw wouldn’t be possible in most areas of Canada, of course, but as I may have mentioned in previous columns, I recently moved to the Okanagan, where it was supposed to be warm and sunny all year round. It isn’t! In fact, we actually had snow one day and on one occasion the temperature even had the temerity to plunge below zero. Care to wager on whose shop isn’t heated? And as we all know, glue doesn’t work well in the cold. Neither do stains. Or my semi-arthritic fingers. Or the rest of me, for that matter. I clearly needed somewhere warm in which to assemble my projects so I decided to annex a corner of my basement. I installed a workbench and while I was at it, I moved in my chop saw as well. Just in case.

I quickly discovered that I needed some semblance of warmth to use my mortiser or cut dovetails and I had always suspected that my fingers would work the way they were designed to if they were kept warm. Once all my tools were firmly ensconced in the basement, I saw a need for shelves and cabinets to store them in, but to do all this I needed more room. A room currently occupied by my son. Something clearly needed to change. Something had to go.

Thankfully my son still comes to visit.

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