Canadian Woodworking

Top 10 ways to make better use of your shop time

Make the most of what little you have. 

Lead Photo: Dreamstime

1. Schedule shop time regularly

and stick to it as much as possible. Try not to be overly optimistic or you may start missing scheduled times and get frustrated. Family and friends will start to get used to your schedule and will be more likely to work with you, as opposed to against you, as long as it’s reasonable.

2. Have a place for everything

and put everything back in its place. A lot of time can be spent looking for tools or tripping over them if they’re on the floor. To make the best of the time, you have do your best to keep everything organized. Besides, storage cabinets, tool chests and shelving units are great projects for practicing some new skills.

3. Don’t clean up after each and every session

Unless the shop is overly messy, just leave things where they are, ready for the next session. The tools you were using today will likely be the tools you will need next time. Besides, leaving things as they are may jog your memory regarding where you were in a project and what the next step is.

4. Don’t let your shop get too dirty

Time spent searching for tools under 6″ of sawdust is time wasted. And it isn’t safe, either. If you trip over a hidden tool, you can break it, or worse, injure yourself. Sometimes spending even five minutes cleaning up will result in tools being found and clutter being eliminated. Both of those are nice feelings.

5. Design the piece you are working on before going into the shop

Not only will you end up with a better looking piece of furniture that is very functional, you will waste much less time and materials if you have a very good idea of what you’re building before you start making sawdust. Some people need very detailed drawings and accurate cut lists, while others just need a decent sketch and some overall dimensions. Know what you need and do it before you start to build your project.

6. Make good use of jigs and fixtures

Time spent making jigs and fixtures is time well spent. Make them to last, with quality materials and add in some flexibility if possible. Jigs and fixtures will assist you in making accurate, repeatable cuts for years to come, so don’t fret about the time it takes to construct them.

7. Understand how to use your machinery and use these machines whenever it’s appropriate.

Machines are accurate and fast when used properly, but if you don’t fully understand how to use the machine, you can ruin a project very quickly. You can also hurt yourself just as quickly.

8. Understand how to use your hand tools and use them when it’s appropriate

Hand tools can be very flexible and can be much faster than using machines in some situations, especially when making custom furniture, but only if you know how to use them properly. Also take the time to sharpen chisels, plane irons and the like before they get dull and become a hazard.

9. Use quality materials

If you make something with decent materials you will not have to over-engineer a project, making it complicated and visually cluttered. Use solid wood that has been properly dried and man-made boards that are not cheap. After spending time on a project, you don’t want to see it fall apart because you skimped on the materials.

10. Have a community to ask questions

Clubs, forums, teachers, books and magazines are valuable resources that you can learn a lot from. Rather than waste time and materials experimenting, get good advice then proceed accordingly. Often it’s a clarification of the specifics that’s required, and most people really enjoy helping. Sometimes it’s the question that you didn’t know you had that you learn the most from.

Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement. Instagram at @RobBrownTeaches

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