Shop Notes #1: A Perfect Shop or a Perfect Perspective?

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Blog entry by Dave Pearce posted 05-06-2011 05:18 PM 1482 reads 0 times favorited 2 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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6 years ago, when my interest in woodworking began to peak again, I realized the last time I had done a serious woodworking project was almost 20 years prior. Back then, we had high school woodshop classes with well defined goals and projects and a lot of machinery at our fingertips. But the years had gone by and many of those shop lessons had faded or were forgotten altogether. I barely remembered the basic safety instructions that had been hammered into our heads.

I really didn’t know where to start. I had handheld power tools and a few bench top tools, I knew how to use them, and they’d served me well with my home improvement endeavors. I didn’t realize they were hardly suited for any serious furniture project. Delving into some small projects, I learned a tough lesson. Proper tools are important. It doesn’t matter if you have the best materials and plans on the planet, if your tools don’t cut straight or chew up your materials like a wood chipper, your end product will be disappointing. So, I subscribed to a few woodworking magazines and started reading anything I could find on the Internet to learn what I needed. Immediately, I began dreaming of setting up the perfect shop. And then the nagging questions started. How do I afford all this equipment? How can I justify the expense when I have a young family? How would I protect my very young, very curious and very active children from the inherent dangers of high powered shop equipment? Where do I even put it all? I theorized I might have enough space to put up a shop in the back yard, but the prospect of building a noisy, dust-filled shop on a small residential city lot was far from ideal. Then I turned my attention to converting our two car garage into a shop. How would I get adequate power for all the machines? How can I make enough room for my wife’s car and all the tools? And still there remained the dust collection, noise, and safety issues.

This went on for about two years. I would work on fairly simple projects out of the garage with my less than adequate tools (weather and time permitting) and dream about what I could do if only I had a “real” shop.
Then a curious thing happened. I met a guy who did the majority of his woodworking with hand tools. His shop was in one corner of his basement, his dust collection was a shop vac and a broom, and the work he was turning out was enviable. I became enamored with the idea of a simple hands-on approach to the craft and I soon found out that I was walking into the middle of a hand tool revival. I began to acquire more hand tools, restoring what I needed from flea market finds or buying new what I couldn’t find used and along the way, learning how these tools were used. Since that time my woodworking has taken a new direction. I now focus on the process rather than the finished product. My “shop” fits into less than one half of my two car garage, doesn’t require much electricity, cleans up with a shop vac and a broom, and is safe enough for my kids to share time with me.

Is it the perfect shop? Probably not, but with the proper perspective it doesn’t have to be.


2 comments so far

View dbhost's profile


5777 posts in 3867 days

#1 posted 05-06-2011 05:50 PM

For what it’s worth, I have said this time and time again all over the place. It doesn’t matter if it’s hand tools, or power tools as long as the basics of any tool are solid, all it takes to make a cheap tool work well is typically better bits, or blades, and proper tuning. Unless you are using a brand spanking new Lie Nielsen, or Veritas hand plane, chances are REALLY good you had to tune your planes right? So that brings it right back to the old adage, a good craftsman doesn’t blame his tools, nor is he (or she) limited by their tools, but rather works around the limitations with the most valuable tool of all, their intellect and imagination…

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View Dan's profile


3653 posts in 3515 days

#2 posted 05-06-2011 06:47 PM

I can relate a lot to your situation. I did have space for a large shop but I didn’t have the money to fill it with what I thought I needed. I had NEVER once even considered buying hand tools and working with them but I had no other choice to use them for certain task in which I didn’t have the right power tool. At first I hated the idea of doing these things by hand but once I did it and once I learned how to sharpen I realized it was actually in many ways much easier and better then using a power tool. I got hooked right in and now I am always buying old tools, restoring them and using them in my shop.

-- Dan - "Collector of Hand Planes"

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