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Inspiration for those with small shops

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Blog entry by TomFran posted 2492 days ago 2489 reads 0 times favorited 33 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I have to confess that I’ve been guilty more than a few times of complaining about my small shop. But, I have also found that there are many great woodworkers who had small shops. The size of one’s shop may impact the size of your projects, but it doesn’t necessarily have to affect the quality of your projects.

Several years ago I was working in a man’s basement who was a woodworker. He had wood hanging from the ceiling everywhere. He had a tiny table saw, a tiny lathe, and several hand tools. Nothing amazing as far as equipment, but he was a master woodworker. In fact, he made violins! His daughter, who was a concert violinist, used one that he had made, and he’d made several for other people. Most of his work was small projects, but very intricate. And, he had fun doing it being a retired mechanical engineer from General Electric.

I often find myself looking back to that occasion, and reminding myself that a small shop doesn’t mean you can’t produce nice projects, although you may not be able to make a lot of big pieces conveniently. Even Don, our expert box maker admits that his shop is small, which limits the size of his work. But that’s OK, because a lot of us are hobbyists anyway, and so we’re doing this because we find enjoyment in it.

I just read this great article from Popular Woodworking where the author visits the shop of a master woodworker, who had a small one car garage that he shares with his car. I found it to be somewhat inspirational to me, because the author mentions how he is able to work efficiently with “such a small shop.” One of the things he mentions is that it is highly organized. In other words, everything has it’s place. That is something that I’m trying to work toward.

If you are a woodworker who is challenged with a small shop, I invite you to read this short article and be encouraged by how this fellow has found a way to be a master in woodworking in a one car garage.

-- Tom, Surfside Beach, SC - Romans 8:28



33 comments so far

View mot's profile

mot

4911 posts in 2661 days


#1 posted 2492 days ago

It was cool to see his tablesaw, rarely used, hanging on a wall. That was a good article. I’m not so challenged by my shop dimensions as by my obsession with filling it with tools. LOL

-- You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. (Plato)

View TomFran's profile

TomFran

2942 posts in 2619 days


#2 posted 2492 days ago

I hear you, Tom! Me too! I keep filling up all those empty spots with more stuff.

I just need to get busy and start making some things. But that’s coming. I have been gearing up for some projects, and hopefully, now that the weather is turning cooler, I’ll be out in the shop more.

That’s another thing, this guy didn’t have heat or air conditioning in his shop. Wow, what a role model for me ;^D

-- Tom, Surfside Beach, SC - Romans 8:28

View WayneC's profile

WayneC

12260 posts in 2722 days


#3 posted 2492 days ago

Also interesting is his use of hand tools.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View TomFran's profile

TomFran

2942 posts in 2619 days


#4 posted 2492 days ago

Wayne,

Yes, that is interesting. I’m always thinking that someday I’ll get good at this, when I just get all the great power tools I need. But, having all the great power tools doesn’t make you a master woodworker.

That was one of the things that amazed me about that violin maker – he didn’t have a lot of expensive equipment. But, he was very good with his hand tools.

-- Tom, Surfside Beach, SC - Romans 8:28

View WayneC's profile

WayneC

12260 posts in 2722 days


#5 posted 2492 days ago

In many cases hand tools can be quicker, quieter and cleaner than machines….. I think this ties back to the question about woodworks losing their woodworking ways....

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View TomFran's profile

TomFran

2942 posts in 2619 days


#6 posted 2492 days ago

Wayne, You speak the truth!

That is so true. When you fire up those machines, it scatters dust and chips everywhere. When you work with hand tools, the mess is much more limited – and controlled.

Maybe, one of our problems is that we subscribe to woodworking magazines that are always fueling our lusts for new and better tools, instead of just getting more proficient with the ones we already have. I know I have a problem there. That blog entry you linked to seems to be making that point.

The problem isn’t always that we need a bigger shop or more tools, we just need to get busy and start using the tools we have to their fullest potential.

-- Tom, Surfside Beach, SC - Romans 8:28

View Betsy's profile

Betsy

2913 posts in 2521 days


#7 posted 2492 days ago

Tom – this was a great article. They’ve been running a series on different shops and it’s amazing how much can get done in a small space.

I am like others, the more tools I have the better I must be getting. Yeah right! My only small shop story is when I had a one car garage (just barely) and a friend was going through a rough split up. She told me she had no bedroom furniture——most folks need at least that much. I was really just getting started into serious woodworking and I was making my way through some of those 2×4 furniture books. (By the way – this is not such a bad way to get a basic start on things.) Anyway, I made an amoire, footboard, headboard and two bedside tables by cutting the wood in my garage and then bringing it all into my kitchen to assemble and finish. I ate a lot of pizza while I was doing this. That was almost 10 years ago and when I last saw my friend about a year ago she still was using the furniture. It wasn’t the best stuff but apparently, my small shop did ok.

As an aside – I did learn when finishing drawers not to put finish on the sides—- they have a tendency to get stuck. After about three months I had to rescue one drawer——couldn’t get to it really because I used a dust cover. Ended up having to get creative and used a metal spatula to pry it up then grab the top with a small pry bar. My tolerance was a bit to close and combine that with finish it was a disaster waiting to happen.

-- Like a bad penny, I keep coming back!

View TomFran's profile

TomFran

2942 posts in 2619 days


#8 posted 2492 days ago

Betsy,

I have sometimes said that maybe one of the best things for America would be an economic slowdown, because we have just gotten caught up in this frenzy of wanting more stuff all the time. My father had half the shop I have, but he was very content with it and made a lot of serviceable projects for the household.

That’s why I found this Popular Woodworking article so inspirational was because here’s this guy who has become famous for his outstanding woodwork, and he’s got this tiny shop. That speaks volumes to me.

You built a bunch of furniture for someone, and did it very inexpensively – and their still using it today! And, you did it in a small shop with only a few tools compared to what you now possess. Great story!

-- Tom, Surfside Beach, SC - Romans 8:28

View Dan'um Style's profile

Dan'um Style

12909 posts in 2608 days


#9 posted 2492 days ago

I too have a small shop. Half a basement in a modest home. Some of my tools are in the garage and the back porch too. Always dreamed of having a really huge place to work on my projects. Maybe someday !

-- keeping myself entertained ... Humor and fun lubricate the brain

View RobS's profile

RobS

1334 posts in 2931 days


#10 posted 2492 days ago

Ha, I’ve got the small shop, now I just need to find a master woodworker…

-- Rob (A) Waxahachie,TX

View TomFran's profile

TomFran

2942 posts in 2619 days


#11 posted 2492 days ago

Dan,

Your work is inspirational as well, and…you have a small shop! This is an encouragement to me.

Like Mot said on the other thread, what we need is some skill sharing, so that we can do more with what we already have.

-- Tom, Surfside Beach, SC - Romans 8:28

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6646 posts in 2605 days


#12 posted 2492 days ago

Hi Tom;

Just one more example of size doesn’t matter!

I worked for a long time in my basement. (or actually, part of my basement).

Being in a larger shop also has it’s drawbacks. You end up spending a fair amount of time walking back and forth.

The need to fill it with tools can get expensive too!

Lee

-- by Lee A. Jesberger http://www.prowoodworkingtips.com http://www.ezee-feed.com

View TomFran's profile

TomFran

2942 posts in 2619 days


#13 posted 2492 days ago

Robs,

OK, you’ve got the small shop, and now you/we just need to start developing skills.

That’s another thing that the article said about Robert Millard:

“And did I mention that Millard has never taken a woodworking class? All his work, from veneer to inlay to finishing, is self-taught.”

How about that – he’s never had the good fortune to attend a woodworking class of any kind. He is self-taught. That means that we too can develop skills by reading books and talking to others who do woodwork. That is inspirational, isn’t it?

-- Tom, Surfside Beach, SC - Romans 8:28

View TomFran's profile

TomFran

2942 posts in 2619 days


#14 posted 2492 days ago

Lee,

Thanks again for your always wise comments. I love to hear stories like these. Not that I think I’ll ever achieve the level of perfection that guys like you and Mark DeCou have attained, but as you have said – you used to work in a small shop in half of your basement.

Right now, if I never bought another tool or machine, I have enough equipment to make a lot of nice projects. I even have enough room in my small shop.

And, as you have said, Lee, all that space could be a problem, because you have so much room to fill it with more equipment. I’ve got to say, that I never would have thought of that situation!

-- Tom, Surfside Beach, SC - Romans 8:28

View TomFran's profile

TomFran

2942 posts in 2619 days


#15 posted 2492 days ago

Not bad for working out of his one car garage!

Click here to see some of his other projects.

-- Tom, Surfside Beach, SC - Romans 8:28

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