As you might have guessed by now, I have been doing a lot of thinking about workshops. While some more glue dries out in the shop I wanted to talk about this idea for a bit.
My Dad was (is considering tool makers rarely identify as anything else) a tool and die maker for at least 40 years. Not the newer incarnation with calculators and a CNC predilection, but an old school craftsmen who learned his trade and spent much of his career using machines built in WWII or before. This is a special breed who rarely experienced an air conditioned workplace, remembered life before OSHA, and saw first hand what sharpened steel could do to the human body on a less than good day.
Growing up, I occasionally had the opportunity to visit him at work. It was then that I saw my first workshop and it left a profound impression on me. Even scaled down, Sargent Welsh or its many iterations seemed gigantic to me. The walk from the guards desk to his area was a sensory experience filled with noise, smells and sights that to a young boy were fantastic. Even as a teenager and already taking a formal high school wood shop class it was impressive.
Out of all the commotion of machines and forklifts, flashing safety lights and workers, we would arrive at his bench and it was like a different world. A highly organized and efficient space, spartan yet comfortable for its occupant. No clutter or waste of space was discernible and it was imbued with a seriousness of purpose that most people just don’t understand.
And in the middle was my dad, decked out in his heavy safety glasses and shop apron, looking like someone I only half knew. He was serious but at ease, fully immersed in his trade without the distraction of home life. And he was making things. Things that made other things.
He cracked a big smile that day I surprised him with my visit and took some time to walk me around and show me walls and walls of jigs he had made. Complex works of heavy steel as fine in their way as anything made by Norm or Sam or Roy.
Growing up, he and I spent much time together watching New Yankee Workshop, and This Old House. He loved when they visited other peoples workshops and has an encyclopedic knowledge of tools and their applications. He would frequently discourse on the culture of working people from early times to the modern Union shop. From this I learned to associate shops with the qualities of perfection, quality, hard work and physical toughness. And the rules were simple. Don’t goof around. Be a problem solver. Creativeness and a willingness to innovate are unique American values. And keep it real clean.
In high school I got my first taste of a dedicated wood shop, complete with huge industrial square benches, a separate finishing room and massive tables saws with 12 inch blades. Might have been an Oliver. Even sharing it with an entire class, the roominess was wonderful. We kept it clean, and built some great projects. But it wasn’t mine. Just a shared work space.
In the Army, I spent plenty of time around repair areas and storage cages. I became an admirer of mass built wooden structures, made quickly but very strongly with large expanses of exposed wooden boards all painted white.
While working for the Government I learned how soul crushing it can be to spend every day in lightness concrete spaces underground, at times not much different than boiler rooms and sewers. No creativity or inspiration lives in such places.
A stint at a municipal public works facility taught me that when you line every wall with heavy industrial shelving two and three feet deep, it does not make for much of a workshop, despite a large shop built bench and vices. More like a giant storage shed dedicated more to electrical repair than to woodworking.
So now it’s my turn, and there are so many choices and ways of doing things. I have scoured the internet and the library for inspiration and I think the smartest thing I have done to date is leave most of the walls blank until I figure out exactly what I want. This has led me to explore shop built mobile carts and racks for maximum flexibility. The walls will be covered eventually but I’m saving the space for lumber and jig storage. The big bench with the built in table saw and massive amounts of on board storage will be the center of the workshop, on six heavy duty casters to accommodate the car.
So its a huge amount of work, but little by little it’s coming together. I get wonderful morning light, and can just set up outside on the driveway in good weather. This effectively means my shop space in unlimited.
Tune in next week when I tackle the tool center.