General Topics #2: Neighbors who aren't fans of woodworking

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Blog entry by Jeff posted 03-23-2007 08:37 AM 1768 reads 0 times favorited 28 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: Where's my blog content? Part 2 of General Topics series Part 3: Putting the shop back in order »

As I mentioned in my last entry, I got this great bonus, bought some equipment and set out to unload the stress monkey from my back. Everything was going great and then in two weeks, it all went south…

We live in a circa 1890 brownstone near downtown St. Paul. The setup is condo units with an upper and lower unit with a basement space for the owners. The basement, although it had a low ceiling, was a good space for a small shop. The bench was already there so I just had to set up the table saw, planer, jointer and miscellaneous other items. I had a real desire to use hand tools too as I see them as therapeutic (they are the antitheses of technology). Everything was going great. I would spend a little time 3 to 4 evenings in the shop during the week. I was making an outfeed table, some jigs, some brackets to go on the rack of my SUV to carry my canoe and the lumber I would be buying. I was a happy woodworker.

Then, one Wednesday evening in June, our neighbor Sunny (she is to sunshine and pleasant disposition as hand tools are to technology) came down to the basement, burst through the door and proceeded to go off on me. F-bombs, irrational comments, and general unneighborly behavior ensued.

In the interest of full disclosure, I did not ‘clear’ the usage of tools in the basement. I should not have to however, it is part of our property. There is already a workbench down there. And, none of the other neighbors (common walls or nearby units) had a problem with it. In fact they thought it pretty neat. They commended me on finding something productive as well as creative to help manage the stress. Comments such as “I love the smell of sawdust!” or “Hey, whatcha makin’ down there?” were what I had been hearing.

Anyway, she proceeded to go nuts for 20 minutes and I just listened to this unbelievable diatribe with the occasional opportunity to get a word of my own in. I finally reached my limit and told her she either needed to leave me alone or calm down and talk about this like an adult. I apologized for her inconvenience and asked why this was an issue all of the sudden. She responded with some lame comment that she thought I was just building some closets. I was astonished. Who buys this kind of equipment to build closets and then lets it sit there…?

I was able to at least get her calmed down enough to explain that I would gladly work out a schedule that worked around hers and also reduced noise but I had no intention of giving up my hobby. I threw out some suggestions. She agreed to give it some thought and get back to me then huffed off.

I stayed out of the basement for a week. I didn’t even go down there to do laundry… I never heard back from her either.

This all happened just before KT’s (my sweetie) birthday and I was smack in the middle of making a jewelry box for her. It was also my first attempt at anything of substance I felt I would be proud to say I made. The birthday was rapidly approaching and I had work to get done! I went back to the shop and was doing some stuff that only required a few trim cuts on the table saw, some drill usage and then some sanding. I even quit working an hour before I normally would just to demonstrate I was taking her issues into consideration. I had just put the tarp back on the saw when she again burst through the door… This time though she was completely over the top! She got right in my face and shouted, “F#$% you, Jeff! Get out of this basement!” She stormed out. Took two steps up up the steps then turned around and stormed back in. She shouted the same thing at me. Get this. She left and came back a THIRD time just to do it again! All this took place in a span of about 10 seconds and then she was gone.

I was so beside myself I couldn’t think. I locked up and then went up to our place to tell KT about the new drama. Apparently, yelling at me was not enough for the neighbor. By the time I got up to our place, she had already gone through her place and then up the stairwell to our front door and was banging on it and yelling at KT through the door.

Do not ask me why we didn’t call the police… I think we were in a state of shock and I honestly didn’t want to aggravate her further. KT was really scared by the door thing and we were both concerned about what she might do next. Never again will I make such a mistake. Hindsight makes me think she probably achieved her goal, in her mind, via intimidation. I wasn’t intimidated. I was damn mad though and was trying to have the ‘cooler head that would prevail’.

The next weeks would prove to be interesting, even ridiculous. Ultimately, she pulled the “I’ll sue” card on the Condo Association board. Funny thing is, she’s on that board.
Rather than listen to my proposal regarding sound abatement measures, the board took the easy route and told me I have to move the equipment by a unanimous vote. Fortunately, they did give me 45 days to try and find a new space. Otherwise I could simply remove the motors and call the equipment ‘stored’. What a bunch of crap.

I searched for some cheap warehouse space but could not find any. Fortunately, KT’s parents are the best and let me set up in some space they don’t use, rent free, on their farm. The problem is it’s 30 miles away. However, any time in the shop is better than no time in the shop. I owe them so much as I am allowed to come and go as I please. They will be receiving a nice set of Adirondack chairs for their summer cabin for starters.

-- Jeff, St. Paul, MN

28 comments so far

View MsDebbieP's profile


18616 posts in 4335 days

#1 posted 03-23-2007 12:13 PM

oh the joys, the joys.
My guess is that you doing woodworking was not the real issue. Underneath the explosive venting is something pretty traumatic for her—you just got to be the angel that provided the opportunity for change/self-awareness. She wasn’t/isn’t ready to meet learn her Life Lesson …
The Board’s “compromise” let her postpone her life lesson learning to another day.

And, although you don’t have the tools close by you still have access to a shop and that’s a good thing!! And I guess you can still use hand-tools in living room :)

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

View Ethan Sincox's profile

Ethan Sincox

767 posts in 4348 days

#2 posted 03-23-2007 01:04 PM


Man, that sucks. I’m sure it’s just the situation and normally that woman is a really nice gal, full of pleasantries and smiles. :)

One of the downsides to condo living. Of course, you COULD always go with Debbie’s advice and sell the power tools and turn into a full-fledged Galoot!

30 miles isn’t too bad a drive. I do most of that every day just going to work. But I can see where that would be a bit of an issue.

Good luck with the new shop!

-- Ethan,

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 4474 days

#3 posted 03-23-2007 01:26 PM

I’m sorry you had to be sidetracked away from your hobby. You’d think she’d been a little more considerate. After all, your saw can’t be on the whole time you’re in your shop.
Some people get irritable real easy I guess.
I had a neighbor who used to pick up all the Maple seeds that fell from my tree, & would throw a bucket full at a time over the fence back into my yard, but he never complained about my noisy tools.

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

View MsDebbieP's profile


18616 posts in 4335 days

#4 posted 03-23-2007 01:37 PM

aren’t people funny?? hehehe I can see him down on his hands and knees picking up all of the seeds….. lol
I can also see him standing at his window enjoying the beauty of the tree and its shade in the summer… but those seeds!! Darn them all..

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

View Jeff's profile


1010 posts in 4268 days

#5 posted 03-23-2007 02:26 PM

Those were my thoughts, Dick. I hadn’t done any routing to speak of and it was on the weekend when she was not not around. Just the use of the saw up to this point. I was really surprised that she thought that the way she behaved was going to make for a smooth resolution.

That seed guy – how odd. I like Debbie’s perspective. :-)

Yeah, Ethan, it’s not too far to travel and it could be much worse (no place to go). My positive rationale has been that it makes me a better planner. Shortly after this, I made my first technical drawing (in the basement, mind you). If I have to drive to the shop, I need to be at least a little prepared so I can maximize time.

-- Jeff, St. Paul, MN

View Jeff's profile


1010 posts in 4268 days

#6 posted 03-23-2007 02:28 PM

All I know is this weekend is the beginning of a new season. I’ll be at the shop getting things tuned up and setting up the new bandsaw I got a month ago. Woo hooo!! Can’t wait to roll around in the sawdust.

-- Jeff, St. Paul, MN

View Ethan Sincox's profile

Ethan Sincox

767 posts in 4348 days

#7 posted 03-23-2007 02:30 PM

By the way…

Is this some kind of “common grounds” basement? Or is this the basement to YOUR condominium and you pay property taxes on it and so on and so forth?

If the former, then you shouldn’t have had the tools down there in the first place for fear that someone else might get hurt on them or damage them.

If the latter, which I’m assuming is more likely the case, then the next time this woman comes into your residence uninvited in a confrontational manner, you simply pull out your cell phone (which you’ll always keep with you now, whenever you’re doing anything in the basement, right?), call 911, and inform them that someone has forcibly entered your residence and is confronting you in a harrassing manner which makes you feel threatened and that you would like this person arrested and removed from the premise.

Just because she’s on some stupid condo board doesn’t mean she has any legal right to enter your residence. A lot of cities and states are now adopting “Home Invasion” type laws. Depending upon how loosely those laws are interpreted, she could get into some really big trouble for doing something like that.

And you should make sure she does.

-- Ethan,

View Obi's profile


2213 posts in 4411 days

#8 posted 03-23-2007 03:11 PM

I think you all are overly nice. If I understand this correctly, you own the property?

View Ethan Sincox's profile

Ethan Sincox

767 posts in 4348 days

#9 posted 03-23-2007 04:06 PM

Well, condominiums have association by-laws that must be followed. When you buy the condo, you agree to follow them. It’s one of the few downfalls to living in a condo. I live in one right now, but I have my own attached garage, and a great association. But some of them can be real sticklers.

You do have a point, though… I’d be reading up on the association publications and find out exactly where they had issue with the woodworking tools in your own basement.

Just because a silly board of nits votes one way doesn’t mean a thing. If they have no legal standing for making you remove your power tools, then tell them to take you to court if they want. Even that might make them back down.

-- Ethan,

View Obi's profile


2213 posts in 4411 days

#10 posted 03-23-2007 04:22 PM

If the property belongs to you, and the Ass. Committee says it’s for your use, and you are using it during normal business hours… it sounds like they have given you written authority to run them tools.

View BassBully's profile


261 posts in 4271 days

#11 posted 03-23-2007 04:51 PM

This lady sounds like the kind of person that you want to hide your gouges and chisels from. You should’ve set up a camcorder to catch her outrage and then displayed it to the board but of course it’s too late now.

I feel for ya. Thirty minutes to your new location isn’t great but isn’t bad. When I was in college my wife and I made an end table for some friends of ours who were getting married. We had to drive to my uncle’s shop who lived 30 minutes away from us. It was kind of a pain but my wife and I got to take a romantic drive together and spend time together in the shop.

-- There are three types of people in the world, those who can count and those who can't!

View Chip's profile


1904 posts in 4267 days

#12 posted 03-23-2007 05:31 PM

Tough situation Jeff.

Many years ago when I just got out of college and before I was married, I rented a two bedroom apartment (in a high-rise!) and set up some ummm, low key tools in the second bedroom and thought I would be able to at least do some lite work now and then during the weekends.

I even put that sound proofing foam cone stuff all over the ceiling and extra carpeting on the floor to dampen noise. Never got a complaint but it just wasn’t worth it because I was a nervous wreck everytime I had to turn something on. It just took the relaxation part right out of the situation. I did hone some of my handtool abilities back then though, which I guess was a plus.

I feel for ya. Good luck.

-- Better to say nothing and be thought the fool... then to speak and erase all doubt!

View Karson's profile


35140 posts in 4575 days

#13 posted 03-23-2007 11:07 PM

Jeff sorry for the problems. You lose a lot of privacy and doing what you want to do in a condo.

You could probably push the issue but you might end up paying for it in closer oversight of other things.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia †

View Jeff's profile


1010 posts in 4268 days

#14 posted 03-24-2007 02:00 AM

Yeah, it is what it is… Sometimes you have to pick your battles and this battle was one we decided was not worth the emotional or potential monetary investment.

Ethan, the by-laws are where the rub is. They are very poorly worded and not explicit at all. Thus open to interpretation. When l reviewed them and found nothing conclusive in my mind, I consulted fire codes, city ordinances, and state laws. I found that I was in not truly breaking any laws (at least that I could fine). It would ultimately have come down to the definition of ‘nuisance’ if it were left to litigation and that is a slippery slope.

To answer your question regarding common space, yes, it is common. The association fees are decided based on domicile square footage. Here again, usage of common space is not truly defined and all four of the owners who share this space have belongings there.

Regarding the tools in the space and safety, I used locks on the switches, covered the tools when not in use, used metal trash cans for sweepings from the floor and lowered the TS blade when not in use. I did not monopolize the area, rather, I utilized it.

Our board is pretty non-productive with the exception of one individual. They are a lot of hot air and not much action in my assessment. I’m glad you are lucky enough to have a great association. We have certainly learned some life lessons. We are in the market for a home now as we have outgrown this living environment. It’s a good time to be a buyer. I just hope the gains we make on a buy can offset the loss we will likely take to unload the condo.

Oh well, spring is here, and I shall open up the shop tomorrow and start to make some dust for the Thorsen project. Thanks for your ear and kind words. Keep you fingers crossed that we don’t have one of those weird situations in MN where we get a 6 or 8 inch snow in the middle of April…

-- Jeff, St. Paul, MN

View scottb's profile


3648 posts in 4501 days

#15 posted 03-24-2007 04:21 AM

I’ll take solace that you’re not in your permanent digs.

may little miss sunshine wallow in her cummupence!

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

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