Oh, The Liminality

It seems that I’ll be moving again. Perhaps “liminal” is not the best term here because I seem to move on a fairly regular basis, but I want to use that word and there’s nothing you can do about it. Then again, this time will be different, so it might be warranted. Instead of needing to get everything packed and moved in one shot, I have the luxury of being able to hold on the current place while in the process of finding and preparing a new one. So, whereas I was without a shop for more than a year when we moved from California, I will (probably) have my shop available here until I have another space available.

Everything about this is vague at the moment. What I do know is that SWMBO will probably need to be somewhere near Princeton, NJ for at least half of the time. (That is, unless we decide that a different location is better. I said that it was vague, right?)

I’ve moved my woodworking shop three times already (four, if you count moving from the apartment where I started), so in theory, I’ve learned something about the process by now. I’m not so sure about that, but I will try to make notes here (and perhaps make a video or two) as I’m going about things.

The general mood and pre-loathing

I have mixed feelings about the prospect of moving again. On one hand, we really like our house in Maryland and also like where we live. We’ve gotten used to it. On the the other hand, there are a lot of pluses to the area where we may end up. The proximity to Philadelphia means a lot to me in particular. So even though there might be a natural tendency to be somewhat overwhelmed and depressed about having to do this (as I am wont to do), I should instead look ahead to the “new adventures” that await.

This is not to say that there hasn’t been loathing. For a while now, I’ve suspected that this might be coming. The unspoken prospect of another move has played an important role in how I have organized my work patterns and developed my shop during the time I’ve been here.

Learning from not upgrading the shop

When I first moved down into the current shop, I had grand plans. I had mostly bare walls and a framed-out partition that I used to form my main working area. My biggest desire was to frame out the rest of the walls and remove part of the partition. Being in a windowless basement, I wanted to put in some false windows to mimic north-facing windows. I wanted to put in a bunch of shelves to provide some long-desired storage. And I was contemplating running some 220V circuits for my bandsaw and dust collector.

So inviting.

None of that happened, and it’s probably worthwhile going through a few details on each bit:

The framing: I never found myself with the energy to push through on this. I knew that I’d probably want someone to help me with this, and then stuff happened. A certain global pandemic did not help: It drove up the prices of framing lumber and ensured that no one would be able to help. If I had a lot of experience in framing walls, I could have probably done this very quickly after moving into the shop, but that was not the case.

Removing part of the partition: This had to go along with the framing, as the partition would have otherwise blocked one of the walls.

The faux-windows: Aside from also going along with the framing, I had a crisis of terrible lighting early on in the shop and had to come up with a fix quickly.

The shelves: Also depended on the framing, but I actually did manage to get two shelves up on one wall.

220V circuits: I found that I didn’t need them. My bandsaw can run on 110V or 220V, and is rated for about the reasonable maximum current draw on a 110V 20A circuit. It’s never struggled with anything I’ve ever asked it to do. The dust collector (on a separate circuit) popped its breaker once and I’m not sure why, but it also doesn’t seem to have trouble. I don’t have a table saw or any of those other big power-hungry machines, and it’s unlikely that I’ll get any.

Actual upgrades

The first things I did after moving into the shop were to put up a couple of shelves up high on a wall that was actually framed up and hang some french cleats on the partition framing so that I could hang my tool cabinet, saw till, and a few other doo-dads up on there. I also cobbled together a place for my chisel rack (even though I dislike it). Then I did just a couple of things later on that I would call significant:

Lighting: I was dealing with bare bulbs in utility fixtures when I first started. It was awful. I went through three iterations of LED fixtures, from “I need something, fast,” to “let’s see how these fill in some of the shadows,” to finally researching some decent high-CRI fixtures to get everything covered. I was lucky because nothing of what I bought was wasted. I relocated the first set of lights to areas where I needed their flexibility and portability, and permanently installed the second set in dark places where they were sorely needed, such as above the slop sink and in the garage. I can also take the final set of lights with me if I like.

One piece of drywall: I put one piece of drywall on the framed-up partition behind the slop sink. It took me a while to realize that I wanted to do this. It was remarkable what a difference it made. In particular, due to the…

Sharpening station. The drywall allowed me to build some semi-permanent brackets for a sharpening station next to the slop sink. This low-rent project from some spare southern yellow pine and plywood cutoffs made life much easier. It is close to my work area, my stones are right there, ready to go, and it’s clear of any other junk. Just go over, sharpen a tool, and get back to work.

Lessons and aspirations

With this still said, what do I hope to accomplish for a new shop and what have I learned that will help me in that direction?

First, I believe that I’ll be trying to work on the idea of compact, flexible tool storage. After thinking about Team Tools-On-The-Wall vs. Team Work-Out-Of-A-Chest for many years, I’m guessing that I’m mostly in the latter camp. A lot of that sentiment might be from a desire to achieve “negative reinforcement.” For example, I’ve never been happy with my chisel storage solution. It’s just a rack on a wall, but it’s always felt inconvenient and never sat quite right in my mind.

In general, I just don’t like very much about this. The saw till is OK for the big saws. The marking gauge stuff is also OK, but only because they’re easy to get to. And the only tools that I find really comfortable here are the striking tools–the mallets and hammers. It is not a coincidence that they are the easiest to reach.

And then there’s this disaster:

Stating that my plane storage (“stick ’em on a shelf below the bench”) has been a sore point is an understatement. Dust is always falling down there so I have to clean them off constantly. This is sort of a convenient spot, but seriously, how often do I use half of these? In particular, I use only one of the smoothing planes more or less once per project. This needs to change.

Pivoting, for better or worse

I find myself in a position where I want to change up a bunch of things about the way I store tools and organize the shop, but also facing the prospect of moving the shop as well. Perhaps there is an opportunity here to do a few things at once.

I’ve now got some experience with a small version of a traditional tool chest (even though I don’t use it for tools). I’ve been impressed with it, and I believe that I can proceed as follows:

  • Continue to work on the current furniture project.
  • Build the “dutch tool chest” (DTC) to address the chisel/miscellaneous tool problem.
  • Build a base for the DTC to store bench planes and perhaps some other stuff.
  • Rework the space in this thing:

This cabinet, which holds some really frequently-used tools, is currently awkward to close, and so I leave it open most of the time. But a DTC could better house a lot of the blockers (such as the block plane), making this something that could live up to its potential as a dust-blocker.

Will it work?

All of this sounds like it might be clever, right down to the part where I mention that I have the wood that I need for the DTC base and probably have what I need for the DTC. But I don’t know if this whole scheme will be a success. It comes down to time and motivation.

We shall see. “Adventure awaits,” as they say.