Chris Schwarz's Blog

European Dreaming: A Visit to Kent Adkins’s Shop

In May, Senior Editor Glen D. Huey and I went to visit Kent Adkins’s new shop in St. Louis. Kent, an avid woodworker and surgical urologist, has spent the last few years building a custom shop from the ground up and filling it with best and safest machines he could find. Finger safety is particularly important to surgeons.

The shop is, in a word, fantastic. And I’m jaded.

I wrote a story about our visit for the February 2011 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine, but you can get a taste of the European awesomeness by watching this brief slideshow.

— Christopher Schwarz

42 thoughts on “European Dreaming: A Visit to Kent Adkins’s Shop

  1. thernly

    Since Kent went to the trouble of researching alternatives in great detail before building his shop, I for one would love to know more about the choices he made and why: Design and layout, size, lumber and tools and supplies storage, dust collection, hvac, insulation, floor materials, doors and windows, access, electric service, compressed air service, smaller tools he chose, where and how he does finishing work, bench and vise choices, assembly tables, veneering setup, what would he do differently if he were starting today, etc. Most of us can’t afford Martin equipment but I’m sure there are many lessons we CAN learn from Kent’s painstaking research and experience.

    Sorry about the folks who resent Kent’s success. They either can’t comprehend or don’t care how hard he has had to work. The process of becoming a surgeon requires more years of torturous, grueling apprentice (slave) work than I could endure. And I wouldn’t wish it on my own children. There are certainly easier routes to earning a good living. But since Kent is one of that rare breed who can focus like a hawk on a subject for eons, and he has applied his talent to the study of woodworking shops, please tell us much more about what he has learned!

    Could you ask the good doctor himself to contribute an article or blog entry about this? He can rest assured the vast, silent majority among us will be most grateful for his contribution to our hobby.

  2. www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawn9-CeRjJtj0_S9zBVJYbO4jCoNRxBlAWQ

    I’ve been subscribing to Popular Woodworking for about a year now, having purchased an issue here-and-there for the past several. I attempted a career in woodworking starting with the academic end after high school, but I just never made it to the destination. So, for me, my interest of late in the craft is resurgent, having spent the last 30-some years in the real estate business, and next-to-none on woodworking (although reading is a beautiful thing – it allows many to experience the craft vicariously). I thoroughly enjoy each issue of Popular Woodworking, the works of Lost Arts Press, and the sincere efforts the editors, writers and staff put into preserving hand and machine work. It’s obvious they have a passion for both the subject and the craft. I’ve never paid much heed to blogs – actually this is my first post to any blog. Chris Schwarz makes an excellent point about knowing the person; others about spending the fruits of one’s labor as they see fit. But here is what I see as the crucial flaw of blogging (forgive me if that’s a misnomer): The detail provided gives only a foretaste of what is to come in the full article, which can lead to misconceptions, "jading" one’s opinion if you will. So perhaps we are better off just sitting tight and waiting for the next issue to arrive. I’ll bet that most of the audience to this blog, are already fine woodworkers, and subscribers to Popular Woodworking. So, is the crux of blogging to increase interest in the next issue, or to open intelligent dialogue on the subject matter, or both? I would likely never set up my shop like Kent Adkins, but I sure do like the equipment, and would love the opportunity to visit, and to actually meet the man responsible for this fine wood shop. And, please forgive my jading – but anyone who fails to author their work, shouldn’t be posting. Anonymous content is watery gruel at best, and often childish diatribe. ~ Don Mueller

  3. mvflaim

    Man o man people can get jealous can’t they? Being a surgeon I’m sure he has helped hundreds, if not thousands of people to live better lives. He’s probably even saved a life or two. His nice shop is a small token of reward for his profession.

  4. www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawlcp5rijo0qv57zIGUQvXxZf0iqyJNQSSM

    I don’t really relate at all to these type of shops. I think if money were not an issue , I still would go for something more everyday. These type of shops always focus on the machines and not enough on the projects that are made. Thats what really interests me.

    Also it baffles me how a senior-editor of a woodworking magazine can be so unsafe with the jointer. Was the jointer actually running ? No eye-safety, no push blocks ?Leaning over the cutting blades . Really ?

    Ron

  5. Mark

    Whoa…hold on now. I hope my comment above didn’t instigate some of the negative comments posted since. I was only putting forth my opinion that it seemed a bit out of place in Popular Woodworking and that it probably doesn’t reflect anything near reality to most of us. I checked some of the prices on some of those machines and several of them cost more than all of the tools and machinery in my own shop put together; and I have a decent shop. Having said that, we need to remember that Dr. Adkins is free to spend his money any way he likes and his choice in machinery and shop setting have only a peripheral bearing on whatever his talent and skills can produce…and that chest of drawers looks pretty good to me. I think Chris is right in that we need to see the whole story in February to see what this shop and its master have to teach and then take what we can from that. I can continue to hold fellow woodworkers in high esteem who can make their own tools, fashion finished pieces from a log and bring 18th and 19th century techniques into the 21rst century and still learn what a well made, high end piece of machinery can do for me. Glen Huey is a machine guy and I had the good fortune to be able to sit in on some of his talks at WWIA. It’s all different approaches to the same goals and it’s nice to have some choices.

  6. Harold Pomeroy

    The machinery looks industrial, the shop looks like a waiting room in a bank. The place has no soul. The neighbor’s kid in his Mom’s basement making mandolins could teach the doctor some life lessons.

  7. Lawrence Richards

    What a wonderful looking shop which appears to be filled with not just an amazing range of tools but also a craftsman that is obviously skilled at both his trade and his hobby. From the posts of the people that have actually met the man it also appears that he creates friendships that make those that know him rush to his defense. The fact that they have had to do so embarrasses me somewhat as I like to think of woodworkers as the type of men and women that scorn jealousy, defend skill, praise earned success, and only say on a keyboard that which they would say face to face. It saddens me to think how many craftsmen we do not get to know in our online communities because comments like some of those displayed here compel them to remain private.

    Thank you Dr Adkins for opening your shop so that we can drool, examine, and admire your place of solace and justifiable pride– I hope it serves you as well as it appears it should.
    Lawrence Richards

  8. monsieur-antoine.myopenid.com

    I actually find this a bit sad when I think of my fellows young woodworkers struggling to start a business/career with way less means, while a hobbyist can put together such a workshop that will certainly not be used to the fullest of its capabilities.

    Surgery is an honorable pursuit, so is woodworking. The pay difference saddens me. So does this article…

  9. Darryl McDermid

    What dreams are made of especially when money is no object. Well done, I trust you have many, many hours of safe, enjoyable creativity. I am just a little green with envy….

    Darryl in France

  10. Paul

    Man, when he retires as a surgeon, he can open up a cabinet shop with the equipment he has there! Some top notch machinery there. But that blue stool seat; that’s a little hard on the eyes. Paul

  11. Bill Signorini

    For the second time in a row I can not see the pictures of the shop being featured. I can see other pictures on the blog but not the shop. Guess I will have to wait for pictures in the magazine.

  12. Scott

    I was at Kent’s shop opening party, as you may have noticed his shop is amazing. But the most amazing thing about Kent is his ability to create beautifully crafted furniture. Chris Schwarz was equally impressed with Kent’s work and noted this in the article. Kent is a very busy doctor with a family and I am blown away with what he can do with his limited time and superior skills.

    For those who said his shop was too clean, first of all this was party not a woodworking demonstration. Since when is having a messy dusty shop a sign of a fine woodworker? Having clean floors and a dust free environment is much safer for your lungs as well as reducing the risk of slipping on wood chips. Thanks to Chris and Kent for allowing us to see his beautiful shop!

    Scott

  13. Robert Nease

    I personally love the shop. Am designing a similar building now, using Sketchup skills I acquired from Mr. Lang and others. My power equipment will never reach those standards as it is a steadily changing duke’s mixture of old and new. I trust I will enjoy mine as much as Kent enjoys his. Can’t wait for the Feb issue to arrive.

  14. Stephen

    I guess it’s a point of view. Nice gear with great potential! But to me the whole point in having a shop and that great equipment is to create a little bit of heaven that you live in.
    Again great equipment but I thought that it was for creating all that beauty and grace that we can’t seem to find so we build.
    Yep can’t argue, good gear, good space make that more doable but it’s what comes out that makes me make sawdust not the kit.
    Still being a power tool guy. WHAT A NICE SHOP!!!

  15. www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawlznKq4S37ZA8pZLV68VRObdiu7tkWoeYI

    I think it is a tremendous success. The beauty of this craft is each of us can take the path of our choosing and to most it is becoming more and more of a Hybrid approach, leaning on machinery to do the heavy lifting and then the delicate serenity of hand tooling. As for the negative comments – Really? Jealousy is probably the most recognizable of the seven deadly – we are woodworkers and way above the "Jersey Shore" drama of our disappointing society.
    GREAT SHOP Dr. Adkins!

  16. www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawmX_IUKUMVZ77oXHyYbFtot26Nj39IQkaM

    I love tours of these special shops. Kent is going to be into a new career before his full retirement! I’ll bet he is developing systems for work flow and thinking ahead to more and finer cabinetry for storage. My favorite picture here, though, is the exterior shot. What a dream that building is! Love the bifold exterior doors and open, light sourced design. Working with the architect on that must have been really exciting. Thanks for showing this.

  17. Doug

    Beautiful shop and thanks for the tour! Two things:

    1) Glen definitely needs to set a better safety example by using push pads on that jointer, and….

    2) If the "good doctor" is into finger safety why isn’t there a SawStop tablesaw shown in that shop?

    Doug

  18. Gregory Little

    This is a good shop. If a person is passionate about their woodworking they should build and equip the best possible shop they can afford.
    I built my dream shop a few years ago and even though it is not nearly as fancy and well equippred as this one, it allows me to enjoy my woodworking in a way i couldn’t do in my previously small and cramped shop.
    We only live once and life is too short to not go all out for what we truly enjoy

  19. Rune

    Hi,
    A really nice shop! Besides for the lack of dust and scratches on the floor it is very much like many of the shops here in Norway with the Martin woodworking machines. I feel I have seen the shop before.
    It’s interesting to see that there are shops with these machines in the US as well as in Europe.
    From Oslo, Norway
    Rune

  20. Keith Cheveralls

    If I had the time and resources I’d probably replicate Kent’s extraordinary shop. That’s gotta be heaven on earth!
    For now though, I’ll stick with my hand tools only in my 12×14 basement shop and keep dreaming.
    keith

  21. Dan Swartz

    Great shop. From a basement shop guy I really like the ground level open shop of Kent’s. What I really liked was all the new machinery with electronics surrounding what looks to be a Unisaw of an older vintage. Gotta love that old arn.

    Running a short, relatively thin piece of wood through the jointer with your fingers, not such a good idea.
    ____
    Dan

  22. grbmds

    Really nice shop, but it seems like he’s gone to the other extreme. It would be nice to have an organized shop, but a shop that looks like it isn’t used wouldn’t seem comfortable and would probably discourage me from using it. I have enough interferences in my schedule to prevent me from using my shop.

  23. Al Navas

    What a fantastic shop! Ken Adkins has done a job that many of us have only thought about having, and maybe even had dreams about building. Enjoy, Dr. Adkins!!!

    Al

  24. Mark McKay

    I have to admit that weather I work a part by hand or through a machine, the final part will have the same beauty, look, feel and smell.

    My complements on Mr. Adkin’s shop and may he have many years of creative enjoyment…

    Rabbit

  25. Christopher Schwarz

    I’d like to note that Kent is very much into hand craftsmanship and is attacking the topic of carving now like a demon. His passion for every aspect of the craft cannot be overstated, and this slideshow shows the shop cleaned up for guests.

    The story in the issue of the magazine paints a more complete picture — this is just a few snapshots.

    So I wouldn’t needle Kent about having a nice shop unless you’ve been there and know the man.

    Chris

  26. Mark McKay

    What would Mr. Underhill have to say?
    Did he design the shop …. use reclaimed lumber for the floor?

    Love my wood chips,
    Rabbit "Wood Boatbuilder"

  27. Rob Porcaro

    Cool, so when the airplane delivers lumber it can use the jointer bed as a runway for landing.

    What, no CNC?

    Oh well . . . I guess envy is not a healthy thing.

    Hey, enjoy it, Kent!

  28. Mark

    ummmm….okay….errr…interesting, I guess. No disrespect intended to Mr. Adkin’s or the PW staff but I’m not sure what this kind of shop has to do with "Popular" woodworking, especially on a blog that celebrates craftsmanship and hand craft. Maybe I missed it but didn’t see a bit of saw dust anywhere. Perhaps the cleaning lady was by that morning. Besides, this shop is very reminiscent of a certain shop popularized on PBS by a guy wearing a flannel shirt, no?

  29. Rick E

    Holy crap! That looks like an assembly line. Do you just drop the rough lumber at one corner of the shop and push a button and the dovetailed dresser pops out the other side? Tell Glen to wipe the drool off his chin before taking the picture next time. I personally like the handplane on the jointer approach. Never thought of that before – it’s gotta be flatter than my bench. I do wonder though, how much woodworking enjoyment is taken away with a shop like that.

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