Chris Schwarz's Blog

Video: My (Now Improved) Shop at Home

My first workshop was the
6′ x 10′ back porch of our Victorian home in Lexington, Ky. The floor
sloped dramatically thanks to termites, and the the whole place reeked
of rotting opossum after one of the marsupial buggers took a dirt nap
below the joists.

Let me tell you that it is dang hard to get rid
of opossum odor – something that is never covered in the fancy books on
setting up your workshop.

Every workshop I’ve had since then has
been a small improvement. And this summer I took a huge leap forward
when I resolved to finish out my current shop. It still had a raw
concrete floor, open stud walls and cinderblock foundation.

The
first order of business was to install a wooden floor. The contractor I
worked with recommended a white oak floor with only one coat of
water-based polyurethane on it. Putting on only one coat protects the
floor from moisture and minor spills but it doesn’t make the floor
slick. In fact, it is the grippiest floor I’ve ever used, which is ideal
for handwork.

I also hired some guys to put in drywall on one
wall (I flipping hate hanging drywall). I covered the rest of the shop
wall myself with oriented strand board (OSB) that I painted white. Then I
trimmed out all the windows and doors myself and painted everything.

The
other big change is that I got id of a lot of tools that I don’t use
anymore (which helped fund my shop improvements). I got rid of my
compound miter saw because I use a manual miter box for a lot of cuts. I
got rid of my router table because I use moulding planes a lot more
now. And I got rid of a ton of hand tools that I bought over the years
to review for the magazine or the blog.

The result is that my
shop is a much nicer place to work. The wooden floor is easy on my feet
and back. The white walls reflect lots of available light. And the extra
space I now have makes it easier to do just about everything.

The
only downside to the project is that I’ve been spending a lot more time
down there during nights and weekends, so I won’t be winning any
fatherhood or husbanding awards this year.

— Christopher Schwarz

Workshop Books I Recommend
• “The Workshop Book” (Tauton) by Scott Landis. Still the best one available.

• “Small Woodworking Shops: The Best of Fine Woodworking” (Taunton) A good compilation of articles from Fine Woodworking that focuses on the smaller shop.

• “Workshop Idea Book” by Andy Rae. A nice little book with a ton of good ideas for laying out your shop and improving it.

40 thoughts on “Video: My (Now Improved) Shop at Home

  1. Kevin Brown

    I for one would like to be trained in this strange art of "mess-less woodworking" that you seem to practice… if I’m in the middle of any project, there always shavings, sawdust, bits of scrap, un-finished parts lying all over the place… yet your shop is spotless in every photo. Show me the secret!

  2. me.yahoo.com/a/jL9BE78S15qt6Ld9dqGCKHRo5utHrmuL

    @Michael Brady

    I shouldn’t have been so specific about the dust question. I guess it’s a concern for both the makeup air and the cold air return. My furnace is a high efficiency unit as well, but I have a cold air return duct located in the basement. Seeing the basic dust collectors in use, as compared to a two stage cyclone with a canister filter, gives me some comfort and keeps me from spending money. Is this the first time someone said Chris kept them from spending money?

  3. Michael Brady

    To the poster who asked about the furnace in the shop, it appears that the furnace might be a high efficiency model that draws its cumbustion air from the outside using PVC piping. That is also known as a sealed cumbustion furnace, so the shop air will not mix with the air required by the furnace. You still have to check the filters more often as sawduct can migrate from the work area via the return air ducts.

  4. Anthony

    I think you need to write a blog entry, or maybe a magazine article regarding how you manage to get away with spending nights and weekends in your shop, and not with your wife and kids. That would be a pretty useful entry under "Required Reading".

  5. Christopher Schwarz

    As to dust getting into the furnace, I honestly have not had a problem. In the 10 years I’ve been in this hop I’ve only power sanded a couple projects. When I did that, I used good dust collection.

    I change the furnace filter quarterly and it is no dirtier than the filter from the other part of the house.

    So hand tools save the day here.

  6. Christopher Lindsay

    Thanks for the tour! I recently expanded my shop (creating a dedicated handtool room) and laying a hardwood floor in a similar fashion — it made a huge difference. The best part, as you say, is that I was able to take over a bank of north facing windows. I never leave the place now.

  7. me.yahoo.com/a/jL9BE78S15qt6Ld9dqGCKHRo5utHrmuL

    Hi Chris,
    My workshop shares space with a furnace as well. Did you have any concerns with wood dust getting into the furnace make-up air? I’m debating whether I need to partition the furnace off from the rest of the workshop. Is it mitigated by you mostly working with handtools these days? Can’t wait for some commentary on the tool chest! Or better yet, a feature in the magazine.

  8. Christopher Schwarz

    Pretty much all the concrete and cinderblock was covered in plastic sheeting before getting covered with the subfloor and beadboard. Nothing fancy, but then, I didn’t have much of a moisture problem to begin with.

  9. Lloyd Parker

    Christopher,

    Thanks for showing us your shop upgrades. The floor is beautiful and it answers a question for me of what to do with my shop floor. I understand your reticence to part with the Powermatic mortiser. As great as hand tools are I turn to the Jet version of your mortiser when I have a lot of mortises to cut.

    Lloyd

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