After working with woodworkers all over the world for short periods of time and (in some cases) many years, I can say these four words that might make your woodworking easier: Clean up your crap.
I’m not a natural neatnik, but when it comes to working in the shop, every day ends up with me putting away the tools I’m not in the middle of using and sweeping up the mess. If the garbage truck is due the next day, I also empty the trash cans and chip collector bags.
I do this for a lot of reasons, but one of those reasons isn’t an obsessive-compulsive disorder.
If you read a lot of early accounts of workshop life, one of the first jobs of the apprentice was to sweep the shop, tend the fire and manage the glue. Cleanliness has always been important for busy shops and – in pre-industrial shops – it was a matter of burning down the shop or not burning down the shop.
When I visit the messy shop of a professional woodworker or I work with slovenly students, here’s what always happens: I watch them spend an awful lot of time looking for a wayward block plane, mallet, screwdriver or drill bit.
If you love to play “Where’s Workbench?” then by all means make that a fun part of your hobby or job. But if you would rather always know exactly where your No. 8 countersink bit is, then clean up your act.
When I teach a class, I encourage people to sweep up – and I sweep up a lot myself. And I explain the historical reasons why – I think it’s an important part of learning to be efficient in the shop and making every step a little bit stressful.
And shop cleanliness is the primary reason I hope to never work in a group shop again.
Slobs can thrive in a group shop by letting their mess spill over into the rest of the shop. They’ll borrow someone else’s well-organized tools and not put them back. Or they’ll fill the chip collectors until they are stuffed like a bratwurst.
The people who know how to work with others end up cleaning up after the slob until he gets yelled at or fired.
There’s one more advantage to cleaning up every day: It’s the only time I’ll let my mind wander (instead of being focused on the machine or hand-tool task at hand). And I’ve found that letting my frontal lobe off the leash results in small breakthroughs – whether in design or procedures.
I know there are those who say that slobs or more creative, productive or smarter. But I’ve found that to be 100 percent wrong and await to meet the exception.
— Christopher Schwarz