I spent some time this past weekend starting the process of cleaning up the workshop. I say starting because there is still a ways to go!
I don’t want to give you the impression that the shop was a total mess or anything. It had the usual areas of clutter and things that did not find their rightful homes after they were last used. Some dust and chips were still on the shop floor that needed to get swept up and some wood scraps left here and there from the times that I used the shop for quick projects over the summer. Oh, and there is that Table project that I alluded to in this post that is waiting for a final sanding and some finish. Really, nothing out of the ordinary though.
I spent some of the day Saturday and a bit of Sunday tidying up and getting some things put away and there is still a bit more of that to do. However, as I worked, it seemed that every step I took I saw another opportunity for improvement. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, there are some improvements to the shop that I’d like to make this year – maybe even some layout changes. Many of these involve making better use of space and organizing some of the miscellaneous hand and bench top tools that I have (i.e. hand drills, oscillating spindle sander, small scroll saw etc.)
My workshop is in the basement of my home and though not tiny, it is not expansive either. I need to make every square foot count so that I can maneuver with lumber and projects while they are being built. So, there are some simple things I think I can do in the next couple of weeks to make the space more efficient and functional. I say simple because I don’t want to get too caught up in this because there are furniture projects that I want to get on too soon.
While I was working on the cleanup I was joined by my son for a short time because we had a small task to cut and sand some new handrails for the stairway that leads down to the basement. While we were at this, we naturally went over to the workbench and used it to clamp and hold these pieces as we worked on them. Not that we were doing anything substantial with these pieces but, as I stood there watching my son sand the ends of the hand rails to break the sharp edges I thought about just how important a tool my workbench really is. I think back to the previous plywood bench I had with no vice or dog holes and time and effort that it took to build what I have today. Thinking back on how much I work at that bench each and every day I’m in the shop and what a pleasure it is to use, I can definitely say that it was worth all the time and effort. The picture is one of the bench just after I had completed building it.
I spent a lot of time considering what style bench I wanted to build and eventually bit the bullet on the hybrid design you see in the picture (it’s based on a plan from Veritas found here) and it has served me well. I think that the advice you often hear about building workbenches is true – do some basic research but don’t get too caught up in analyzing how/or what to build, just build one and use it. The reason is that no matter what you build, it’s likely to be better than a makeshift setup (like what I started with) and you won’t know what you want to change until you’ve used it for a while.
There are many potential designs for workbenches. One older resource that I found very valuable when building mine was The Workbench Book by Scott Landis but, there are others. Lately, Chris Schwartz at Popular Woodworking & Wodworking Magazine has been researching and building many workbench designs. In the latest issue of Woodworking Magazine he has an article about this process and he also is about to release a new book on the subject.
In summary I am just offering some praise to the workbench. I feel that it is the heart of the shop (no, not the table saw, the workbench!). If you are new to woodworking or do not have a solid workbench with a good vice or other holding capabilities you may want to consider building one. I can’t think of a better first project with a higher payoff to you in the end.