After The War

I was hesitant as I unlocked the door and stepped inside my shop yesterday morning. I could almost imagine what was waiting for me. I wasn't disappointed.

Last Saturday I spent in the neighborhood of twelve hours busily making sawdust in a flurry. I was participating in a one day shop stool build off and I was losing. The clock hit 2230, I had just finished drawbore pegging all the mortise and tenon joints contained in my stool concept, and I felt it hit me. The big wave of exhaustion. 

I knew in my heart of hearts if I pushed myself further and did the shaping of the seat I planned for there was an increasing probability I would damage the work I had already done, or worse, damage myself. My gut was telling me it was time to pack it in and I have spent my thirties learning I should listen to my gut more than I do. The deal was to build the stool completely in a day and I had fallen short of the mark. It was time to concede. 

(The end result, I'm calling it the "Plate 11 Shop Stool", for it's foundations in the Roubo workbench. I will finish the work up on it soon, but for now it's back into the queue)

I kicked off the shop furnace, gathered the stool, my camera, sketchbook, and other errata. Hit the lights. Locked the door. And headed inside for warmth, ibuprofen, and bourbon. I didn't pick up or put away a single thing. 

Fast forward back to yesterday morning, on the tails of an unusually long work week at the hospital, I opened the door to my haven of sanity, hoping some shoemaker's elves had shown up with the polar vortex and everything in the shop would be neat and orderly, the way I usually keep it. It was a long shot to believe something so miraculous could happen. I took a deep breath and looked around.

I guess I would be alone in righting the devastation.

It started just inside the door and the big pile of sawdust on the floor and around my bandsaw.

Along the floor in front of the workbench didn't look too bad, but there was a lot more dust than shavings. I'm used to seeing more shavings.

On top the bench was everything I had been working with at the end. I realized I had also left my tool chest open, one of my cardinal no-no's. Cleaning the dust from inside there would take a while.

In my focus, I just didn't realize how much dust I was creating. I leaned a little more power tool than hand tool on this project, particularly to cut time and effort. You can follow my work in the scuff marks on the floor. Like Prince Humperdinck dissecting the sword fight between the Dread Pirate Roberts and Inigo Montoya by their footprints in the sand.

I've never worried that much about dust collection in the shop. Nine months out of the year I work with the side door and the garage door wide open and a breeze blowing through the shop. I also focus more on my hand tools because I enjoy that process more. The sawdust created by my hand tools has a different quality than that made by my machines. It's heavier, spends less time in the air and gets up my nose even less. I don't have anything scientific to back up those observations, so don't ask.

But lately, I have been using my powered friends a little more than before. In late 2009 early 2010 I started a hand tool sabbatical, wanting to learn how to work in an unplugged capacity. No lie, there was a big learning curve, I mangled some wood and I learned a lot to where I am now. Master by no means, I'd call it reasonably competent. Now that my power tools are creeping back into the workflow at appropriate times, I find the way I use them has changed.

I used to approach them from a very production like mentality. "I'm going to cut all the boards for this part of the project to these dimensions and I won't move the fence until complete." It's become a lot more intuitive now. I look at measurements less because I know the cut I'm expecting to get from saw. I've almost completely given up crosscutting on my tablesaw and I haven't cut much joinery, a tenon or rabbet, on it in forever.

Dammit, I even left my chisels out. 

But the thing I have to ponder now is my dust collection. If I continue using my power tools, even as much as 25% of the time, I should improve this part of my shop. If for no other reason than to improve the safety and enjoyability of the time I spend out there. This will take some significant planning and thought, but I'm coming around to the idea that something more than my two brooms and a dust pan strategy is required.

After the war is over, the dust settles down and you get to see what you have left to work with.

Ratione et Passionis


  1. We all have different levels of acceptable disarray. Your shop falls well inside my definition of good enough. A little dusty perhaps but you can see 75% of the bench top.
    It is a pain that you left the top open on your tool box. Chests have so many layers that digging out all the tools will fill that bench top pretty quickly.
    I had the old shop set up with everything in drawers so dust wasn't a big issue. Now I keep the machines in the garage and the hand tools in the basement shop. I haven't set up the dust collector in the garage since I moved to Richland. The machines are for large projects which are few and far between now.
    The old house was built in 1891. With that and the farm buildings I did a lot of major construction projects. I collected an array of large machines that made chips and dust like it was going out of style.
    New house is a ranch style built in the 60's. Paint and landscaping have been the major redo's. I did get a chance to rebuild the little storage barn in the back yard. Current projects are more along the line of picture frames and boxes. I retired in October of last year. If summer ever arrives I intend to set up the garage shop with more access to the equipment. Right now everything is piled up on the bench and jammed against the back wall.
    After all this rambling I have to say the stool looks great and in my mind the clutter it created is well worth the result.

    1. I will admit, my personal level of workshop OCD may be a little higher than some and markedly higher than others. I suppose 15 years of handling, organizing, and setting up surgical instrumentation for procedures is to blame

      My shop is obviously in a garage, but there is enough land next to the garage that I could easily build on a sizable addition and have a real and dedicated shop with big windows, wood floors, dedicated sub panel, and some climate control. If I were to do this I would move my hand tool operations and a few power tools into there and leave a few of the louder and dustier ones out in the old space.

      Now I guess I have to start buying lottery tickets.

      In honesty I like the process of setting up a shop in a new space, I like to see processes and workflow come together. I hope you find some enjoyment organizing the garage/shop.

      And thanks for the kind words about the shop stool, I have to get those refinements in before I make up my mind on how much I like it. You are right though, the mess was worth meeting the challenge of 16 M&T joints in a day (no Dominos here)


  2. Derek, you and I are on similar paths, though you are furtheralong than I am. I started my hand tool experimentation back in the late 80's. But when I left the SCA I lost the muse and set them aside until recently. I never used dust collecfion on my machines either. That is until I began to have bronchial issues from the dust. Now that I am doing most of my work by hand again, dust collection isn't a huge thing. But, for the two power tools I still use, I upgraded from a shop vac to a single stage 1hp collector (Rikon). It's on casters, so I can move it around, which works as it really isn't strong enough to power a shop wide system with lots of pipes along the walls. I just plug it in to whatever machine I am going tk be using, and it merrily pulls in all the fine dust that used to coat my lungs. Whatever solution you choose, as long as it does what you need, it's good. Thanks for maintaining the blog, it has been inspirational


Post a Comment

Popular Posts