The Little Shop That Chris Built
My shop is about as green as a shop can be. I cut down hemlock trees, dragged them out of the woods with my old Jeep, and sawed them up on the sawmill I made, cutting both the dimension lumber and sheathing. The only framing materials I purchased were the rafters, which I didn’t have enough large hemlock trees to produce. One of my neighbors had three pine trees cut, and kindly gave me the logs, which I sawed into the wood for the windows and trim, and even made a jig to cut clapboard siding. So except for the roof framing, the entire wood structure is made from hemlock trees from my own land, and three pines from my neighbors. I confess, I bought the insulation, sheetrock, and roofing from a local building supply.
I started populating the shop with tools somewhat before it was finished, so that I could make my own windows (among other things). Drawing on my experience in the trade, I designed outswing casement windows, which I glazed with insulated low-e glazing units assembled with warm edge spacer (an insulating rubber spacer at the edge separating the two panes, rather than the common metal spacer), which I ordered from a friend from my window making days. My shop has much nicer windows- better insulating and sealing- than my house. Other than digging the foundation and mixing the concrete, I did most of the work myself.
There were some exceptions. One was framing the roof and installing the metal roofing. My nephew kindly volunteered to help me, and we spent an exhausting two weeks getting it done. The Table That Ate NJ was a belated thank you to him for that.
Another was installing the windows. Two of my friends kindly spent one fine July 4th helping me do that.
And a third friend volunteered to help me hang the sheetrock, and then later act as my chop man while I nailed up the clapboards, which my older sister and her husband kindly painted for me.
Woodworking is potentially very dangerous. Most of the people I know who’ve been doing it professionally have hurt themselves to varying degrees over the years. And these are smart people who pay attention. The lesson to learn is that it is not a question of “if” you make a mistake, but “when.” One poor decision, or a moment’s inattention, can cost you dearly. I am very fond of my hands, and so set my shop up with their preservation in mind.
Crosscutting wood with a radial arm saw is responsible for the majority of lost digits, so I do not have one in my shop (I use a sliding crosscut miter saw that you push away from yourself to cut). Ripping wood on a table saw, and jointing it on a jointer account for most of the other injuries.
I bought a straight-line rip-saw not because of the high volume of work I expected to process, but because it rips wood- up to 4" thick- very safely. Ripping wood on a table saw can result in kickback. If your hand is in the wrong place when this happens, you will regret it. Anti-kickback pawls on the straight-line prevent this, and at no time does the operator move his/her hands toward the blade.
I bought a four sided planer in part because of its wonderful efficiency- every piece of wood needs to be planed on four sides (except for turning), so it is an area that makes great sense to mechanize- but also because it takes care of the jointing, without the operator ever putting his/her fingers near the cutters.
I bought a sliding table shaper in part to use as a single end tenoner, but also to replace most of the operations that many small shops do on a table saw. The shaper has a stock feeder, again protecting the operator's hands. The shaper also replaces most of the jobs done by a router. Whereas a router uses a small diameter cutter, and is fed by hand, a shaper uses a large diameter cutter and is fed by a stock feeder. This produces a far superior cut, which requires far less sanding, than that produced by a router. Cutting profiles with a shaper makes clean, crisp lines. With a router, your reward for all the tedious sanding its use entails is a surface that, on close inspection, looks somewhat mushed.
With all of these tools, you are never moving your hands towards a cutting tool. And that is the overall theme here- only on very rare occasions do I do anything that requires moving my hands in the direction of a cutting tool. So when I do make a mistake- and we all make mistakes- it may ruin a piece of wood, but not my fingers. As a bonus, these tools make quick work of some of the more mundane jobs of woodworking, so I can spend my time in more interesting pursuits.
THE WORK ENVIRONMENT
The south facing wall of the shop has six large windows per floor, to capitalize on solar gain. With windows on the other walls as well, there is a great deal of natural light. The high efficiency fluorescent fixtures with near daylight-color mercury free bulbs (LED bulbs didn’t exist for these at the time I set up the shop, I will move to LEDs when they need replacing) provide good light from every angle, making it easy to see what you’re doing, and pleasant to do so.
My house may not always be clean, but my shop usually is, because cleanliness in a woodshop is a safety issue, not an aesthetic one (not that I mind the clean aesthetic…). You must clean up your off-cuts and sweep up the sawdust at some point; if you do it before you slip or trip, you get to finish the day uninjured.
Artwork from family and friends- including a dedicated and signed Cal Schenkel original of the One Size Fits All album cover, and some movie stills (The Bride of Frankenstein) and TV promos (Secret Agent Man, Have Gun Will Travel) adorn the walls, as a pleasant reminder of why I make furniture in the first place: it’s nice to be surrounded by things that make you happy. (Wanted: a poster from The Prisoner!).