I recently have moved to a temporary shop because my wife and I are between houses at the moment, living in an apartment. Moving to a new shop really gave me the chance to compare two very different shop spaces and how they function, as well as how I feel when I am working in them. I have come upon some interesting findings and would like to share them with y’all and see if you agree or disagree and if you have anything you would like to add. As a disclaimer, I was in no way educated in space planning, interior design, urban design, architecture, or any other field where the spacial environment was studied. In fact, I come from a construction background, so I am architects’ worst enemy. ;).
1. Lighting affects us consciously and subconsciously.
In my first shop, I had great artificial lighting, but poor natural lighting. As a result of this, I found that in my old shop I would say to myself “man the lighting in here is great”, but I often felt I was sort of in an assembly line atmosphere while working. In my current shop, I have poor artificial lighting, but good natural lighting. In this shop, I sort of mutter about the lighting being poor, but I feel more like I am at home in a tranquil place. I think the lighting plays a large factor in these feelings. My conclusion here is that artificial lighting is very functional on a surface level and does aid in our ability to work accurately. That said, I think natural lighting is more encouraging on a deeper level and keeps the mood up as wells as making a workspace feel more relaxing and tranquil. I think the perfect storm in a shop is a place with as many windows as possible to keep up the mood, and a good amount of artificial lighting for practical accuracy reasons.
2. High quality machines and tools make us more willing and more excited to get to work in the shop.
Now first off, I understand that not everyone can afford all of the tools they want. Neither can I. I have a good setup toolwise, probably a little above average compared to other LJs. Nowhere near what I would like to have in the end. Now onto the deep part. How many times have we all said to ourselves “Oh Boy! I can’t wait to go use my crappy planer that jams all the time and trips the breaker and has blunt knives to plane all of the this hard maple! The tearout will be marvelous! I’ll get to sand for hours! Let’s hop to it!” Never. None of us ever say that. In fact, we say the opposite: “That @#$^% planer. I know I need to get that stuff milled, but I would rather clip my toenails than send anything thru that planer. Screw it. I’ll just watch the food network.” That’s more like it, right? Poorly performing machines drive us all nuts, and whether we like to admit it or not, keep us out of the shop. So, my conclusions here are numerous. First, tune up your tools so that they perform as well as possible. Second, keep your blades sharp (oops). And third, save up and buy sweet tools. I truly believe that top-notch tools make woodworking easier, more fun, and give better results. This is why helical heads are on my list.
3. Good shop layout and planning saves us time and frustration.
I haven’t had the opportunity yet to set my “stationary” tools in stationary places. I have thousands of pounds of machinery on casters because it is what I have to do. I also have a roll around dust collector and one 220 outlet that I have to run 4 220 machines off of. Lots of unplugging and moving hoses around. My bet would be that 90% of us don’t have tools in stationary places. It’s not too practical for many hobbyists. So, if it must roll, make it easy. My old shop allowed me to roll my tools into the driveway and get working in about 2 minutes. In my current shop, it takes at least 10 minutes to take apart the puzzle of junk and roll my tools out and get to work. Now, that isn’t too bad unless you work in hourlong increments like many of us. I’ll gladly go set up the tools if I can work for an hour and only be cleaning up and moving around tools for 10 or 15 minutes of the hour. On the other hand, if I know I will be moving around junk for half of the work time I have, I ain’t gonna do it. The conclusion here is make your mobile tools easy to get into working position. We want to spend time working wood, not moving stuff. Oh, and if you ever get the room, make the tools stationary, permanently wired and ducted. That is a long term goal for most of us though.
I guess that is about it for now. Our shops are a challenge. Working with spouses, vehicles, lawn mowers, Christmas decorations, etc. isn’t easy. I think dedicating time and money into making the shop a positive place to work is totally worth the investment. I honestly believe good light, good tools, and good layout are half the battle when it comes to enjoying shop time. Believe me when I say I have in no way mastered the points above, but I do think they are something to strive for. I look forward to hearing your comments. Until then, there is a stellar episode of barefoot contessa on the food network right now, and I really need to clip my toenails.
-- The Wood Is Your Oyster