The Importance of Shop Routines

Routines are an important part of life. Sometimes they get a bad rep because they are associated with burn out or being "stuck in a rut" but in reality routines are important. They become a practiced way of carrying out the day so that things run smoothly and, very important in the shop, safely.

In the end, I've come to believe that routines are the stepping stones to the stage of work we'd like to call mastery.

I started thinking about this the other morning as I was getting into my shop. his time of year the first thing I do is fire up my little kerosene heater and the fan that circulates the heat around the shop. Then I work my way through a couple little housekeeping things I do every time.

I sweep in the morning, First thing every morning when I come to the shop. It isn't glamorous, and usually it certainly isn't photograph worthy, (though I do like watching the different colors of shavings from different species of wood mingle together) but its a necessity to my work in the shop.

I get more out of sweeping than just a cleaner shop floor. It's a simple way to pass a few minutes and start to get my head in the game. It's an activity that doesn't take a lot of concentration and I can begin to think my way through the order of things I plan to accomplish that day.

I work out of a tool chest during the day, when Chris Schwarz was starting to sell the idea of working out of a tool chest he shot a video titled "How To Use A Tool Chest" and you might think that unloading my bench planes, chisels, mallets and marking tools might be the next step for me, but its not.

I just don't like hauling out everything in the morning and putting it all away at the end of the day. As the day progresses I pull out the tools I need for a task, and when it's time to change tasks, I clean and put away those tools and pull out what's next. It makes my clean up at the end of the day quicker if I'm only cleaning up tools from one task and not the whole day.

One thing I'm not great at is planing my shop days by task. I have a project on the bench and an order of attack to finish it from start to end, but I'm weak on saying things like, "on day four I will dovetail the three drawers and glue them up." For me the process is a little more organic.

The problem with more organic is there are times where I will lose a detail from one day to another. So I will make my own to do list, especially as I approach the ending stages of a piece where all the little details that are juggling in the air have to come together in the right order and when I miss a detail, I tend to say bad words.

That way the next day in the shop, after I finish my sweeping, I can review my list and start making sawdust all over again.

Ratione et Passionis


  1. I really need to develop better shop discipline. I spent most of tonight cleaning my shop, from months of shavings and junk underfoot. And that was only the floor. I get so little time in the shop, I often skip clean up... But it makes for a messy shop, which means I lose things and cannot work effectively.


    1. Badger,
      I like to work almost right up until I am done in the shop so I preload my day with clean up, but I do try to do it every time so there is only a few minutes of work each time. I can't work in a messy shop, it has to be organized or I start to display facial tics and talk to myself in weird accents. I'm sure it comes from years of working in Operating Rooms where being unorganized can have dire circumstances.

      A little bit every time makes things easier.

  2. I really enjoy reading your blog. This one covers an idea that fits in my shop life.
    Routines are a benefit in woodworking and in life. Your work is excellent. I think finding ways to keep it pleasurable will keep you at it long after the fast money boys have left for the next big thing.
    I now have a small basement shop and sweeping up isn't a problem. Finding a place to put all the tools when I'm done with them is. Given time I will have the storage issues taken care of but for now I'm moving tools back and forth more than I'm working. Every day we improve just a little. Keeps us going to the next one.

    1. Shop organization is a long and ongoing process, I'm pretty sure for all of us. The precurser to putting things away, is having a place to put them, and those answers have to be tailored to you and your predilections. After years I recently re-organized my hardware storage and I'm still not completely happy with it. You are correct in saying it keeps us going.

      And between you and me. . . screw those "fast money boys" they don't know a thing.


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