I was reading the most recent thread about messy shops. This is the
latest in a revered series of messy shop threads. Prolly the nastiest
one was started by O'Deen, when he had the balls to post a picture of
The shop is a tool. If you think of it as merely space in which to
store tools and do wooddorking, yer missing the boat.
It is a tool that you must either make or modify to suit your
I'm fortunate in having my current shop because I was able to build it
to suit my purposes but I have worked in plenty of places where I had
to utilize the space that was given to me and make it work as best as
Tricking out a shop space and figuring out how to keep everything
available is kind of like living aboard a small boat. If you aren't
faithful in putting things away, pretty soon you won't be able to do
anything that you came there to do. Everything will become a
The shop is a tool.
I had a buddy who made beautiful chairs. His shop looked like a shit
storm and he spent half his time looking for tools. Yet, he was a
fanatic about keeping his tools tuned up. His edges were always sharp
and his equipment was immaculately maintained. But he would lose his
sharp tools in the mess on the bench (another tool - not a horizontal
surface to pile crap on) and he would pile more tools on the equipment
when the bench piles were tottering.
I tried to tell him that the shop was a tool and that, if he thought
of it like he thought about his other tools, he could prolly get half
again as many chairs built in the same time. He would usually just
look around at his mess and say, "I can't find anything. Let's go get
We pretty much know that what a saw is supposed to do and we pretty
much know what a plane is supposed to do. What's a shop supposed to
I guess, at the most basic level, it's a place to work that's out of
the weather. We need to keep our work and our tools and equipment
safe from nature's desire to turn them into junk.
At a more interesting level, a shop is a tool that helps us to do our
work more efficiently.
If you begin thinking on an operational level, you'll need a place to
take in and store material, a place to do the basic sizing of the
material, a place to do joinery, a place to do assembly, a place to
sand and finish. These might all have to be the same physical space,
depending on your circumstances.
When I worked in a one car garage, I got into the habit of having all
of my "stationary tools" on rollers. Even though I now work in a
twelve hundred square foot shop, those tools are still on rollers so
that I can reconfigure the used floor space to suit the operation that
is being performed. The jointer, molder, bandsaw, shaper and boring
machine are kept in what I call "The Bullpen". The bullpen has wire
shelving screwed to the ceiling and that is where I hang doors and
panels during the finishing process. The tools come out of the
bullpen to do their work and then are moved to accommodate the
The chisels, planes, wrenches, etc. are stored in a roll around
Kennedy tool box and various wall hanging cabinets that are close to
the workbench (also on rollers) where they are likely to get used.
There are other wall hanging cabinets in the shop dedicated to router
and shaper stuff, sanding, pocket joinery and biscuit joinery, drills,
There is a ten by ten area that is the spray booth and storage area
for finishing supplies.
There is a big roll around clamp storage rack that holds all of my
There is another roll around that holds sheet goods.
I know, it kinda sounds like the Taj Mahal. When I was working in the
one car garage I used boxes to keep things together and one of my most
useful tools was a dolly to move the boxes around with (sometimes
things had to get moved out of the shop, especially when assembling
and finishing - but, because they were in boxes, according to purpose,
I was always able to find what I needed and, because I always worked
from design through finishing in an orderly manner, the space only had
to be reconfigured a limited number of times in order to get the
The shop is a tool.
And it is entitled to the same thoughtful maintenance as our other
tools. Just like your Momma tried to teach you, "A place for
everything and everything in its place."
You wouldn't let yer plane sit around with a nick in it and you
wouldn't let yer tablesaw turn into a rust bucket.
Well, don't let the maintenance go on the biggest tool that you'll
Clean the damned thing up and keep it that way.
Yer Momma would be proud.
Thomas J. Watson - Cabinetmaker
Gulph Mills, Pennsylvania
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Mon, Jul 14, 2003, 5:18pm snipped-for-privacy@CLUETOKEN.snip.net (Tom Watson)
<snip> figuring out how to keep everything available <snip> We need to
keep our work and our tools and equipment safe from nature's desire to
turn them into junk. <snip>
You sound like either a man with no kids, or who won't let them in
Let's just take it for granted you don't know what the Hell you're
Life just ain't life without good music. - JOAT
Web Page Update 13 Jul 2003. Some tunes I like.
The six year old boy has his own workbench and storage area in the
shop and, because the tools are on roll arounds and usually tucked
away when not being used, the six year old and the eleven year old can
make use of the swing that hangs in the assembly area (although that's
up in the rafters when I have something the size of a library out
Thomas J. Watson - Cabinetmaker
Gulph Mills, Pennsylvania
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Well put Tom.
The shop is in fact a tool. Actually, the most important tool. I
clean my shop each night
and put the tools in exactly the same place. This way I always
know where everything is
and can access whatever I need in seconds. I can not stand
spending time looking for a
tool. The ten minutes I spend each night cleaning is a fraction
of the time I would lose
during the week looking for tools in a messed up shop. When I
enter my shop each morning I
want to be inspired, not turned off by a mess. I enjoy the site
of my shop each and every
morning I enter it. It's what I look forward to when I am driving
Thanks for reminding me of what the shop is.
If you or anyone would like to visit my shop you can access it
from the below link
Take care and enjoy your shop tomorrow Tom.
Well said Tom.
Although I'll leave relevant tools out for the next days work, I try
to spend 15 minutes at the end of the day sharpening tools - ones that
I haven't use that day. I've been doing this for the last couple of
months and find that all my edges are really ready to go. It's also a
good opportunity to fight off rust on those infrequently used tools
Alright you smug bastard, it worked.
One corner has always just been a collection point for odd cutoffs and
sawdust, plus random bits of junk.
One of the largest sources of general clutter was my assortment of random
bits of various types of wood and metal. I had four boxes of small pine
boards and a 3' high stack of 3'x6"x1/2" 11-ply hardwood plywood (birch?)
bits that were eating up all my shelf space under the cabinet.
So I pulled all the crap out of the wasted corner, vacuumed up all the
sawdust, plastic dust, metal fragments (the horizontal bandsaw is over
there, and due to its requirement to be a certain distance from the back
wall in order to be useful, it makes that corner hard to do anything with),
cobwebs and carpenter ant shit, then put a big TV box in the corner. I
assembled all my various bits of scrap and tossed all the wood into the
box. All the metal (angle iron, bar stock, various bits of pipe and
fittings) went into a big drawer under my work bench.
Then I moved to the tool cabinet, which was a mess. I had two empty
toolboxes and a couple of little tote tray things full of junk, plus a
stack of shingles, some odd windchime chimes, a digital timer, a soldering
iron, some sanding belts and sundry other things under there. A can of
Bondo had opened and dumped part of its contents on some of the junk in one
of the tote things.
That one went in the trash, junk and all, except for the 100' dog chain I'm
keeping for some reason. Everything else got pulled out, gone though, and
sorted into piles. Since I had freed up shelf space by moving the boxes of
wood, I put most of my jigs onto the shelf, along with various other things
I can't quite remember. On the floor, I arranged the empty toolboxes to
take up less space, and put my socket set and a couple of other logical
things on top of the pile of shingles.
I left the treadmill belt sander where it was, against the back wall, but I
put a roll of vinyl flooring and various metal rods and assorted rocket
launching accoutrements behind it to better use the space. (I have a real
belt sander now, but I'm keeping the thing because I will surely find a use
for the motor and rollers some day.)
I moved to the cheapo shelf thing that holds my bench grinder. Pulled all
my drill press jigs and sundry bits out, vacuumed, dusted, and organized.
All the various wrenches for various tools went into the tray from one of
the toolboxes. All my windchime making jigs, drill press vises, fences,
and other attachments went onto one of the shelves. My Forstner bits and
my good wire drills went on top, since I almost never use the bench
grinder, and that keeps them close to the drill press.
Next I vacuumed all the shavings off the drill press and its base, waxed up
the column, quill, chuck, and table. Then I moved on to the workbench,
tossing wood scraps into the wood scrap box, metal scraps into the metal
scrap box, leaving my tape measure, marking pencils, and the components of
the project I'm working on on the main area of the workbench, with my bar
and angle iron stock neatly arranged toward the back.
I went through my little drawers and consolidated them, then I dumped
several boxes of nails and screws into drawers, arranged my soldering stuff
on top of the thing, and drilled some holes in one of the studs to make
places to stick my center punch and a couple of oddball drill bits. I made
a home for my de-barking (walking sticks) butcher knife, a container full
of pop rivets, my safety glasses, ear protectors, and bow saw. Then I put
my various ball pein and claw hammers back on the pegboard, put my tin
snips, high tension hack saw and a couple of crescent wrenches back up.
There are still some empty pegs because my box end wrench set has gone
missing, and I no longer remember what was supposed to go on some of the
Then I moved on to the laundry basket full of crap under the end of my work
bench. Worked through it, got all the shed stuff out to the new shed,
including the basket. I found shitloads of damage in that corner, so I
vacuumed up all the carpenter ant/termite shit, spider webs, spiders,
earwigs, and various dirt and dust, then I sprayed termite killer all over
that wall of the shed. (The people who built the thing did a bad job, and
it's going to rot and/or get eaten eventually. Nothing I can do but buy
time. Wood sitting on the ground is termite bait.)
Next I worked through the floor. Scraps to the appropriate scrap box, tools
in a pile. Some tools went to the cabinets, some to the pegboard above the
workbench, and my large collection of assorted random screwdrivers, knives,
pliers, and various other things from broken sets all went into one of the
tote things, under the workbench. All the miscellaneous bits of salvaged
hardware, left over hardware, and just generally potentially useful random
bits of crap went into the random bits of crap dishpan under the workbench.
My circular saw, two jigsaws, portable sander, and portable drill went onto
the shelf under the workbench. My heavy truck S-cam metal shaping doodad
went under the bench, and my small sledge hammer went onto the floor beside
one of the bench legs.
Then I vacuumed the workbench, scraped all the crud off my anvils (railroad
track and a small chunk of I-beam), scrubbed all the flux and solder and
lead crud from around my bench vise, and waxed the vise and anvils with
steel wool. I put the pop riveter, tenon marking doodad, rubber mallet and
sundry other things on the pegboard, then I went around everything with a
carpenter's pencil and drew outlines and wrote names on the wall.
Next I pulled out my router table and table saw, vacuumed under them,
sprayed termite killer, vacuumed out the corner, put my pipe clamps in
order, put my shop vac accessories in the corner, put the shop vac in the
corner, and vacuumed the rest of the floor. I decided to dump a lot of
random finishing nails, screws, and assorted other bits of useful but
difficult to pick up crap, and vacuumed until the floor was mostly clear of
Then I made places to hang my crucible (for pouring lead into Pinewood Derby
cars, mostly) my Coleman lantern, my roll of fishing line and rigged up a
way to hang my box fan.
Then I swept everything, and made a final pass, discovering that I still had
a flower pot and a set of mostly broken drill bits on the drill press
table. I found homes for all that stuff, then I put my bicycle back into
the shop, move the shop vac hose to the belt sander dust port, turned off
the lights, locked up the door and popped open a beer.
It took me ten hours to clean all that shit up. I hope you're happy! ;)
Michael McIntyre ---- Silvan < email@example.com>
Linux fanatic, and certified Geek; registered Linux user #243621
Do you have a website with pictures of your shop? I would love to get a
real view of how you organize everything. I think it would be instructive
to see in pictures what you've said in words here.
There are no stupid questions.
There are a LOT of inquisitive idiots.
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