Working Efficiently in a Small Shop

It can be a challenge to work efficiently in a small shop, but I have arranged the equipment in the space of a 1-car garage to allow me to build with components up to five feet in length without having to rearrange. In fact, the only machine that is on wheels is my 13″ thickness planer.

Most of the things I build involve components not longer than five feet, so work goes very smoothly. Some machines have the capacity to work with stock greater than five feet as they sit and I sometimes take advantage of that, and other times I use a hand-held tool instead.

I have written an article for Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement Magazine that will appear in a future issue describing my layout, the benefits, and why it works well for me. If you work in a shop with limited space, I think that you’ll find the article interesting.

This time-lapse video was recorded during the Wall Shelf Build-Off, and illustrates my workflow in the shop, and how I use the limited space that I have. Duration: (10:18)

For more pictures of my shop, check out this post: Welcome to the New Shop.

Welcome to the New Shop

Since moving three months ago, I have settled nicely into the new shop that is a one-car garage.

Here are some panoramic pictures to give you a feel for the space. Click to view full-size.

Shop Panorama E

Looking East

Looking South

Looking South

Looking West

Looking West

Looking North

Looking North

All the machines are more or less permanently positioned, and the overhead door is not used (it was last opened to move in the machinery).

Most of my work is done in the triangle between my sliding table saw, drill press, and workbench. That area is the most well-lit, with light provided by two fluorescent light fixtures which, combined, have five of eight bulbs installed. If I need an assembly table, I set up a pair of saw horses and a table top as seen here.

North End of Shop

The dust collector usually lives in the corner behind the table saw, and a flexible hose is run between the table saw, bandsaw, jointer and planer as required. A switch to the left of the bandsaw turns on the dust collector.

South End of Shop

My routers, along with their bits and accessories, are stored in a rolling cabinet next to my drill press, and frequently used drill bits reside on top.

Router Cabinet

Most other tools are stored in the drawers under my split top workbench (the other bench slab is standing up on end in the north-east corner).

East Bench Area

Rarely used equipment, such as my bench grinder, is kept on a rolling cart under the table saw. This area can accommodate 8′ long material, and may become a wood storage location in the future.

Table Saw Area

Currently, I have the area behind the doors at the north end of the shop dedicated for wood storage, as well as the adjacent north-east corner, which accommodates long narrow material. The three doors open into a single space.

Wood Storage Area

And, yes, I reclaimed my shop stool.

New House, New Shop

At the end of February, I moved to a new place about 15 minutes from where I was previously. Of course, the shop moved as well and it is now living in a one-car garage (formerly about 450 sq ft – approximately the space of a two-car garage).

The day before the move, I installed the same anti-fatigue mats I had in my last shop to cover the garage’s floor.

By the end of the move, the entire floor was covered with cabinets (wood boxes), tool boxes (plastic and/or metal boxes), moving boxes (cardboard boxes) and unboxable tools and accessories (not in boxes) stacked wherever convenient for the movers.

Currently, I am working on hanging cabinets on the walls to clear floor space for the machinery. Four rolling cabinets with drawers store most of my frequently used hand and power tools.

A week after moving in, this is what the shop looks like.

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Now, one tool is finally plugged directly into the wall, so there will be less switching of power cords when I need to use a tool. Yes, this is exciting.

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The shop is lit by a 4-tube, 4-foot fluorescent light fixture which is missing two bulbs (photos were taken without additional lighting). Needless to say, I will be improving the lighting situation.

Once the floor is clear I will be able to bring in the larger machinery which includes my sliding table saw, band saw, jointer and planer.

Once everything is set up and I’m able to work without unpacking boxes simultaneously, I will start work on some furniture for the new home, including a couple of bar stools (so I can get my shop stool back!), a dining table, dining chairs, a side table or two, and a dresser.

Eastside Culture Crawl 2013

Come see me Saturday, November 16 between 11am and 6pm in the Straight Line Designs Inc. workshop on the second floor of Parker Street Studios, #260-1000 Parker Street, Vancouver.

What is the Eastside Culture Crawl?

The Eastside Culture Crawl is one of the biggest highlights of the year for lovers of art and craft. It’s an annual event and this year features over 400 artists in 84 buildings across East Vancouver. Over 15,000 people are expected to explore the Crawl.

Workshops and Studios, Not Galleries

These are not art galleries with artwork, but the actual workspaces of the artists that you’re able to explore and see their work. In some cases (such as The ARC at 1701 Powell Street), the space is also where they live.

Parker Street Studios (at 1000 Parker Street) is the biggest venue and during the Crawl, 125 artists open their doors to the public. Among them is Judson Beaumont of Straight Line Designs Inc. (floor 2, unit #260). He is graciously allowing me to set up a small display with my Anniversary Boxes in the middle of his shop.

The Eastside Culture Crawl website lists all the venues and artists participating in the Crawl, as well as much more information, including a map.

Links:

My Fastener Storage System

Last week, Tom Iovino featured my site on his blog, Tom’s Workbench.  This was part of his write-up about my work.

“Chris has a very skilled eye for design and incorporating bold, natural shapes in his woodworking projects.”

– Tom Iovino

He also included this picture of me in my workshop.

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Ben Strano (@sonicfedora) spotted my fasteners cabinet in the background and asked for some details, so here they are.

Above my workbench, fasteners and small hardware bits are stored in clear plastic divider boxes with self-locking lids that prevent spills.  (I also have another group of them near my drill press where they hold screwdriver bits, countersinks, pen parts and more.)

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The top shelf contains divider boxes with small box hardware, magnets, and 8-32 bolts for handles and knobs.  The next shelf has trim-head screws, boxes of nails, wooden plugs, and picture framing hardware.  I rarely access the contents of the top two shelves.

The boxes on the middle shelf hold round-head screws and the one below holds flat-head screws.  On the bottom row are boxes of 1/4-20 hardware.

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Whether working at my bench or elsewhere, I appreciate the unwillingness of the divider boxes to spill their contents regardless of whether their lids are open or closed.  Whenever working on something that requires assembly or disassembly, I grab an empty divider box to contain all the parts as well as screwdriver bits, drill bits, hex keys or other small bits.

I’ve been using these divider boxes for just over three years and have been really happy with the system.  They contain and organize my hardware, make it easy to sort, identify and select, and do not create any problems in doing so.  Which reminds me that I need to buy some more of those boxes…

January 2013 Machine Shop Tour

I recently sold my thickness sander because I rarely used it and it was taking up valuable space (it was bought for one specific project a few years ago).  I haven’t taken pictures of my machine shop since 2009 when it looked much different so I figured that now would be a good time.

These first two shots give you an idea of the space I have, which is about 22 x 10 feet, with a 97″ ceiling.

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Looking through the glass sliding door you can see my benchroom.  In the centre of the picture is my Laguna LT16-3000 bandsaw.  It is backed up against the glass door and six feet from the wall on the infeed side.  Behind it is my Steel City Midi-Lathe.  I have two folding workbenches hung on the wall over the lathe.

MachineShop1

Next to the folding workbenches are four cabinets mounted on the wall.  The bottoms of the cabinets are about an inch higher than the top of my head so I can’t bump my head (when there isn’t a stack of lumber below them).  Atop the stack of lumber is my Veritas Router Table Top and a shop-made fence.  The cardboard boxes contain firewood.  On the back wall is a sturdy shelf supporting short pieces of wood that are being stored/dried.

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On the right wall is my lumber rack supporting more lumber that is also being stored/dried and in front of that is my Grizzly G0623X sliding table saw (I haven’t written a review yet, surprisingly).  The saw, which is on casters, sits with five feet between the blade and back wall.  I have a yellow extension cord dangling from the ceiling; one end is strapped to the outrigger of the table saw and the other end is plugged into a wall outlet (no, I don’t have any ceiling outlets).  The extension cord supplies power to tools used in the middle of the shop.

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In front of the table saw is my DeWalt DW735 thickness planer with a Ridgid Oscillating Belt/Spindle Sander on top.  The planer is on a low stand because at one time, it used to be stored under one of the tables of my Delta DJ20 jointer, which is in the background.  Behind the jointer is a large window covered by a pull-down shade.  In front of the jointer is a garbage can and more wood.

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To the right of the jointer is a regular-sized door leading to the backyard buried behind long-handled garden tools in a cart on casters.  Adjacent to the little door is a pair of big doors that open South into the backyard.  In the summer months, I open these two doors and they provide enough light to allow me to work in the machine shop without turning on the overhead fluorescents.

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To the right of the big doors is another window and then we’re back to the glass sliding door leading to my benchroom.

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If you didn’t click the link at the top of the article, you should click it now.  You’ll be amazed at how much my shop has changed in two-and-a-half years.

Benchroom Tour and Comments

This is the fourth article in a series about reorganizing my benchroom (my shop is divided into two sides; my machinery resides in the other half).  You can read the first article HERE, the second article HERE and the third article HERE.

My benchroom is now fully operational once again.  Of course, the work is never completely done, but it’s done for now.  The following are pictures of the benchroom as it is currently arranged.

The two pocket doors at the left lead into an adjacent room that is used for many things, none of which are woodworking or wood storage.  In that room, I do my photography and if I need the room to shoot a really big item, I can open the doors and shoot from inside the shop.  Hung on the wall to the right of the doors are two projects from grade nine: a mirror and carved sign that reads “WONG”.  Just below the sign is a black power bar and below that, an improvised rack for my narrow scraps longer than 2′; the longest scraps double as a coat rack.  The yellow box on the bottom of the rack collects paper recycling.

On the adjacent wall, the brown door leads into the house.  To the right is a small bench equipped with a 5″ Record metalworking vise.  While the drawers contain a variety of hand tools and sharpening supplies, the bench top is reserved for metalworking and sharpening.  The magnifying lamp provides ample light for the bench as well as the drill press, which is just out of the frame.

Overhead, scraps of wood 1-2′ long are sorted by species.  Boards stacked upon each other mean that they are all the same species whereas boards stood up on end indicate a unique species.

By the way, the door is decorated with pictures from an old woodworking calendar as well as a self-adhesive measuring tape.  The white chart on the door illustrates some specialty bolts to save your bacon when you make a mistake like drill holes that don’t quite line up or countersink the wrong side.  The clipboard to the right is where I list what supplies I need to pick up on my next excursion.

Just to the right of the sharpening bench is my 17″ Steel City drill press.  In the corner is a shelf and power bar for charging batteries.  Below that is a shelf to hold drill bits at the ready and under that, my Festool CT26 dust extractor and Mirka CEROS random orbit sander hooked up and ready to be used.  Above the sander is a rack holding my supply of Abranet discs for the sander.  Above that are two rows of plastic divider boxes and a yellow toolbox holding drill bits and drilling accessories.  The 2′ aluminum stepladder is necessary to access the overhead lumber rack.

To the right, is my collection of card scrapers and hand planes.  The next two cabinets contain drawers for marking and measuring tools and assorted accessories.  Saws, a cabinet scraper and spokeshave hang from the wall behind the cabinets.  Just to the right of the Veritas Dovetail saw is a syringe rack holding five syringes labelled for different solvents and glues.  The open box to the right holds all things sticky – tapes and glues.  Up top is a cabinet to store less-often-used supplies, tools and accessories.

Behind the bench against the wall, is my black shooting board and a board with a notch cut in it for use with a fret saw.  At the right side of the frame, you can see my CD player, long straight edges and rules and breaker panel.

On the end of my bench you can see my beloved Tucker vise.  Behind the bench is a tall case holding dozens of plastic divider boxes full of fasteners.  The glass sliding door leads to the other half of my shop.  Above the door are most of my clamps and on the right side of the door frame I hang my safety equipment.

The tall cabinet houses finishing supplies, portable power tools and a microwave.  My four Krenov-style saw horses sit on the floor before the cabinet.  The shorter cabinet to the right is filled with lots of stuff.  I want it to ultimately be a catch area for parts of partially completed projects and more.  Atop the cabinet are boxes of hardwood shorts less than 1′ long.  In the corner I am storing dry lumber on end.  Long aluminum clamps are suspended from a wall-mounted rack.  On the floor is some stickered ash acclimatizing for an upcoming project.

Reorganizing my benchroom serves many purposes including improving efficiency and tidiness.  However, the greatest benefit from this reorganization is the open floor space.  After working with the bench in the middle of the shop for years, this expanse feels like a dance floor.

With this post, I’ve added an additional option to share this post – Google+ (the +1 icon).  You can find me at http://gplus.to/ChrisWong.

A Floor Covering is Easier on the Feet

This is the second article in a series about reorganizing my benchroom (my shop is divided into two sides; my machinery resides in the other half).  You can read the first article HERE.

It was fifteen months ago that I last reorganized my benchroom.  Before reading this article, you may want to review what it looked like back in March 2010.

This year, part of the upgrades I had planned for my benchroom included laying down anti-fatigue mats to cover the entire concrete floor.  I started by moving everything away from the far wall and laying down as many rows of mats as I could.  Then I moved as much as I could onto the mats and continued laying mats across the adjacent wall.

That was all I could do until the workbench was moved onto the mats.  To make it easier to move the bench by myself, I fastened a 2×4 to each end of the workbench.  Then I lifted one end at a time onto the mats.

Once I got the bench moved onto the mats against the wall, I proceeded to lay the rest of the mats.  To clear the floor I continued moving things from the concrete onto the already-laid mats, making for a very crowded-looking shop in the end.

Once the mats were laid, I sorted through the accumulation in front of my bench and temporarily arranged the various piles against the opposite wall.  This was just temporary to make everything accessible; I still needed to organize it.  At this point, I took a step back to assess how much stuff I had and how much-needed to stay.  Most of it needed to stay.  I looked at the sizes, volumes, and frequency of use of each grouping.  I knew that my scrap wood collection was too large and infrequently used to be taking up prime floorspace as it did before in the 5′ tall cabinet.

Though the reorganization was far from over, my shop was once again functional.  For now, I had access to everything in the shop and, most importantly, my bench.  I wanted to work with the open layout before taking the next step – assigning a home for everything to restore order and free up space in my benchroom.

The third article in this series discusses how I moved elements of the shop around to create a more open floorspace.

Bench Room Reorganization

I spend at least 75% of my time in the workshop in my bench room, the rest of my time either in the adjacent machine shop or outside in the yard either turning or power carving.

Of the time spend in my bench room, probably 90% of that time is spent in one area about 4′ x 2′. That space is in front of my Tucker vise. So it makes sense to have all my most frequently used hand tools central to that location. I recently spent a few days reorganizing my tools to give them all homes, make them more easily accessible, and in close proximity to the vise and workbench. To do that, I had to rethink my entire bench room. I had some stuff just being stored and it was eating up prime real estate, so it got moved further away to make more room.

I invite you to check out my shop and you gladly accept the offer. I open the door and turn on the lights. In the center of the room you see the massive bench that my dad built. It may not be pretty, but it’s rock solid and that’s the most important thing for a bench to be. At the back left corner is the sliding glass door which leads to my machine shop, where all the dust is generated. The clock on the wall straight ahead hasn’t worked for years.

You walk straight forward into the room and turn to your left and this is what you see. The breaker panel for the shop supplies 220V power to my big machines in the other room as well as a couple 110V circuits. Directly below that is my stereo system. I’ve wired the two speakers so that they each play mono. One speaker is atop the wall-mounted cabinets and the other is in the machine shop. Running the wire through the wall protects the unit from dust. To the right, I’ve built a set of plywood boxes to store plastic divider boxes (think Plano) and they mount on French cleats. These boxes are scattered around my shop. My Tucker vise is at the very left of the frame.

You turn a little more to your left to look at the most used area of my workshop. At the center, my Tucker vise is mounted to the bench. Behind it are my scrapers, hand planes, marking and measuring tools, joinery saws, glues, and other frequently used tools. Overhead, you’ll find project parts and supplies and some tools used less often. To the left, I’ve got my Taig lathe and Leigh dovetail jig stored on shelf brackets and a shelf which holds my battery chargers and my hide glue pot. Then there’s my drill press and a smaller bench with a metalworking vise on top. This bench is used for any metal work including sharpening. It’s next to the door you came in through and it takes a conscious effort on my part not to accumulate stuff on top of the bench. Above, I’ve rigged up a shelving unit suspended from the ceiling to hold long, narrow pieces of wood.

You continue walking around the big bench and look further to your left and see where I store wood that is acclimatizing to the indoor environment of my shop. Before making it inside, the materials would have sat, stickered on 7′-long, covered skids in my yard, then brought loaded onto the lumber rack in my machine shop to gradually lower the moisture content. The black-painted sign and mirror hanging on the wall are two projects I completed in grade 9 shop class. The pair of pocket doors lead to a guest bedroom, which would be used to store mass amounts of lumber and projects in progress if I had my way.

You finally make it all the way around the bench to the heart of the shop. You peer under the bench and see shorter off-cuts arranged by species. My cordless drill and impact driver sit on the upper shelf along with a staple gun which should have been put back but for some reason hasn’t.

I proudly pull out the chisel tray that I build under the bench top that holds my utility chisels, carving gouges, and paring chisels. It’s located close enough to the vise to be easily accessible, but far away enough that it’s not in the way.

I love my shop. It’s pretty organized, but there’s always more to do.