Opposite Ends of the Spectrum

While reading the profile of my long time friend and fellow Lost Art Press author Joshua Klein I was reminded of his small (tiny?) workshop when I visited him for the first time many years ago.  This in turn caused me to continue my reflection on the blessings of my own work space where I have a generous space for virtually each of my undertakings, roughly 6500-7000 s.f available to me.  AS I wrote recently, there will come a time when life in the hinterlands will likely become too challenging for us as we eventually approach our dotage, and the cabin and barn will be in the rear view mirror.

Though I pray that day is still long over the horizon I remain cognizant of the need to one day be constrained in my shop footprint.  When we eventually build our geezer-friendly final home I expect my shop space will be limited to a 10×15 shed, perhaps with a four-foot wide lean-to storage shed on three sides.  As I ruminate on that distant eventuality I find myself looking to see what other folks are doing with tiny spaces for shops.

I stumbled across this shop tour recently.  To say it is the opposite end of the spectrum from my current locale would be a gross understatement, but I found it immensely engaging nonetheless.

Solving A Black Hole

While I appreciate the spatial efficiency and construction elegance of large tool chests, I know myself well enough to realize they are not suited for my temperament nor work habits.  As the renowned classical philosopher Harry Callahan remarked, “A man has to know his limitations.”

I prefer my tools to generally be in open storage at torso height whenever practicable (not always possible but still the goal), such as my habit of festooning the shop with machinists’ tool chests and hinged cabinets chest-high around the perimeter of the space, and my always handy rack of drawknives.

For the past few years I utilized a vintage tool chest for storing my molding and joinery planes next to my FORP Roubo bench.  Unfortunately for me the reality of my untidy habits comes to the fore and the chest is almost always under a crap-load of stuff, some of it valuable and some of it less so.  Thus I spent more time devising “work arounds” to avoid accessing those tools than using them.  I decided that the tool chest had to go.  Exactly where it would go has yet to be determined but had to go it did.

At the same time with some shop rearranging I had a surplus but crude shelving unit that fit the spot perfectly.  Coincidentally it held all of the planes that were formerly stored in the black hole of the big black tool chest.

Problem solved.

In the weeks since I made the switch I have used the now-easily-accessible planes more than in the years they were languishing in said Black Hole.

I Don’t Do Windows (often enough)


For some reason I recently had to wipe something off of one of the windows in the shop and was astounded at the resultant change.  So I picked up a wetted sponge and placed a drop of detergent on it and scrubbed the whole thing.  Wow!  I’m guessing you can discern which of the four windows this was.

I immediately asked myself, “Self, when did you clean the windows last?”  So I answered, “Self, I am pretty sure  they were cleaned when Craig and I built the frames and installed the glass back in 2008.”  Further self-interrogation did not reveal any window housekeeping during the intervening decade.

Another thing goes on my “Do/Make/Buy” list hanging in the shop.  One window down, 67 to go.

Workbench Wednesday – A Detour

Before I move forward to discuss the next workbench in my inventory let me be diverted to discuss the retro-fitting of a previous bench, my Smithsonian Roubo, such that its location, role and function in the studio are completely new and immensely more valued.  Over time the bench had come to occupy the end of the classroom space, primarily because it was the only bench I had that could fit there.  It was not really large enough to suffice as a student bench for workshops so instead I employed it primarily for metal-working type projects including saw making and sharpening, hardware mounting, parts fabrication, etc.  (sorry for the lousy picture; I had already removed the leg vise for another bench, replacing it here with a Record 53)

When I recently removed the generic end vise and mounted instead the ~125 lb.  Emmert Universal Vise in its place, one piece of a convoluted equation began to take shape.  I knew the vise needed a robust platform and this little-used bench performs the function perfectly.

A second element in this equation was expanding the work space on the side of the barn housing my shop; I reorganized it so that my own shop would extend an additional nine feet to include the full footprint of the 14′ x 36′ bay in the timber frame.  (Of course that meant that I needed more workbenches there.  Stay tuned on that one.)

A third component in the equation was a beloved niece-in-law had expressed an interest in learning woodworking (actually I have four beloved nieces-in-law, but this is one in particular).  The odds are pretty good the second of the petite Roubos I built originally for my Handworks booth would eventually end up in their apartment.  So, I removed it from the critical space it occupied adjacent to my third child before it became too disruptive to do so.  I moved that little bench down into the newly opened space, for the time being.

Since nature abhors a vacuum something needed to go into that space previously occupied by the petite Roubo.  Hmm, I really did like having a metalworking-ish bench in the middle of my herd of woodworking benches…  Palm, meet forehead.  Soon I had the old, almost extraneous Roubo bench relocated, revived and recommissioned, sitting where it will be used daily.  I removed the second vise and stocked the space underneath with a lot of my mechanicky tools.

I have additional plans for this bench which I will chronicle when they unfold.

Here is a gallery of the Emmert Universal Vise showing off its moves.


Recently I was back in Mordor and had the chance to visit with my old pal Tom.  I first met Tom at a community flea market, he was selling tools and I was looking.  I waited too long to get what I wanted from his table, but in our subsequent conversation he indicated he had another one and I could have it in exchange for some lessons in lathe-work.  That started a decade-long tradition of my spending Wednesday evenings in his spacious and well-equipped shop.  It seems even more spacious now since my projects are no longer there taking up space.

Mrs. Barn would occasionally ask on my return from these Wednesday evenings, “How’s Tom and his family?  What did you talk about?”

My reply was generally something like, “Sweetie, we are guys.  We didn’t talk about anything but woodworking.”   Wednesday nights were often dedicated to building workbenches and sharpening tools.

Since I moved to Shangri-la Tom has built some new workbenches (I was really impressed with both his Roubo-esque bench and a terrific little Nicholson) and has started some new projects, but going there was a welcome homecoming of sorts.  He visits me here with some regularity, at least a couple times a year, and he like so many others was crucial in the completion of the barn.  He has his own bench here, autographed by The Schwarz.

While driving to Tom’s shop I did notice that a regal oak tree along the driveway had come down.  It was at least 25-feet in girth.  For scale of the picture, imagine me standing next to this wreckage with my hand straight over my head.  It would have not reached the top of the horizontal trunk.  As you can tell, the tree was a mere shell of itself by the time it came down, with the core hollowed out by disease and rot.

We spent most of the afternoon going to our favorite local sawmill where I placed an order for 300 b.f. of clear southern yellow pine, just to add to the inventory.  The price has jumped since I last bought some clear SYP eight years ago, skyrocketing 33% to 60 cents a board foot!  I’ll pick up the order in three weeks and it will be ready to use next spring.

While we were chatting in the shop, Tom said, “In all the years you have been coming here you have only indicated one of my tools you would like to have, so I got you one.”  He had, and I was very appreciative of it.  It is an absolute treasure an immediately assumed a place of prominance in the shop

Stay tuned.

Heating Upgrade


After much consideration I decided to upgrade the heating in the barn studio.  While my existing system of a premium wood/coal stove in the basement combined with a kerosene heater in the studio provided plenty of heat, two problems needed addressing.

For starters, the kerosene heater consumed about 1-1/4 gallons of kerosene for a full day’s heat, at a cost (last winter) of about $5/day.  Not a killer, but not irrelevant.

Second, and more significant, was that I have never perfected the knack of keeping the wood/coal stove in the basement burning all night. Thus even though the shop space is super-insulated, every morning when I arrived in the shop, given the usual howling winds here its temperature would be close to the outside ambient temperature.  This meant that a great many mornings the shop was in the single digits, and it took a very long time for the stove and heater to get the space and its mass of contents up to an acceptable temperature.  My late afternoons were cozy and comfortable, toasty even, but the mornings were mighty brisk.

With that in mind I selected a heavy duty Empire three-panel radiant heater, fueled by propane.  It was installed last week, and on its test run made the space uncomfortably hot in short order.  The propane service fellow (actually a good friend of mine named Brad) thinks that given the volume of the space and the super insulated walls and ceiling, I should be able to make through the entire winter on a single 80-gallon fuel tank, or about $175 worth of fuel.  This works out to about $1.25 a day.  My strategy is to keep the propane heater set at about 40 degrees, just enough to keep the space warmer than freezing and much easier to heat up with the wood/coal stove in the morning.

I’ve also purchased a bunch of transparent shower liner curtains to close off one end of my shop, a space where I do not need immediate access most days.  Reducing the volume of air being heated by 25% should have a beneficial impact on the micro climate.

Since the heating season in the mountains will begin in about a month, I should be able to report back on the efficacy of the new arrangement soon.

Stay tuned.