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. Mike O'Brien

    Chris, Thanks for the tour, I know you will enjoy your new shop greatly.
    One concern I have is that your furnace is in the same room. If it is a gas or oil type that requires an open pilot light or piezo electric spark igniter, I would be concerned about ambient dust in the air when powered saws etc were used. Even with a good dust collector, efficiency is not 100% and some dust will escape into the air.
    Just a concern I have for your safety, and if you have solved this issue if, indeed, there is one.
    Best wishes, Mike O’Brien, Valley Head,AL

  2. Chase

    Hello,

    I’m a young, penny-poor carpenter and aspiring woodworker form Lexington, Ky. I’ve been reading popular woodworking since i seriously got into the craft (not long at all) and was first drawn in by the roubou workbench; something i still dream of making for myself one day. I mostly tinker alone in my surprisingly large garage in Versaillles, Ky and make do with the tools i have and can afford. I started working wood with rough capentry tools and slowly made my way into the warm and inviting world hand tools (just got my first router plane, an old Stanley No. 71, but it only has one, handwelded, 1/2 straight blade…) and real craftsmanship.
    Anyway, the reason I’m writing this today is to ask you, Mr. Schwarz, if you still live in the Lexington area. I read the first sentence accompaning this video and was suprised to learn that you once lived the the town of my birth! I don’t know many woodworkers outside of the staff at woodcraft and even then most are only as advanced as I, or so caught up in power tools they have more Kreg jigs than dovetial saws.
    If you are willing, please send me an email@ ctblai2@gmail.com I am always looking for a little sage advice. I know there’s plenty out there but I can scant afford lumber for projects let alone expensive weekend tutorials; also, i work most weekends and am free most weekdays.
    Thanks for your time and for reading this very long post if, in fact, you do.
    Chase

  3. me.yahoo.com/a/IJsk3L0sp_wDM67RLXwwGLA.ENPI9lU-

    Hi Chris,

    This is Navy vet who emailed you several weeks ago about needing help in setting up a woodworking shop. Thanks for the additional help in your video…I’m envious…that’s what I’m shooting for more than anything is a man "woodworking" cave. As you said, shops are as different and varied as our spouses.

    In the process of prioritizing what needs to be done, looks like gutting the space is first and then electrical, then need a nice workbench…thanks for the video. See you later.

    Chief

  4. Christopher Schwarz

    As to finishing, I spray solvent-based lacquer outside (with a respirator — nasty stuff). Inside, I use a homemade wipe-on oil/varnish/low-odor mineral spirits blend.

    Chris

  5. Christopher Schwarz

    The water-base poly was on the recommendation of the flooring guy.

    1. Lower odor. There was no smell.

    2. The water-base has a real grippiness with one coat. He’s right.

    3. It was dry and ready to work on in four hours.

  6. John

    Thanks for sharing though I’ll have to admit to a bit of envy- I share part of an unfinished, unheated garage and it’s -8 as I type. Love the wood floor; metal hip and knees and concrete don’t go together so well. I was curious if you had considered Waterlox for the floor finish and if so, why the water poly preference?

  7. John

    Very nice. I have a dedicated shop that needs a floor and your idea of one coat of finish is great as I was wondering what to do about that.

    I left the ceiling studs open so I can hang things and also storage for some long stips and other things long. If I sell the house I will sheetrock the ceiling.

    Use it in good health and if you want I have a couple of aftermarket guards including an over head guard with a vacuum attachment that I am not using anymore – if you want them let me know and I will send them out to you.

  8. openid.aol.com/DominicGreco

    Chris,
    Love the wooden floor! I can only imagine how nice that feels to work on. However, the addition of the windows has to be what I most envious of. I’d have to do major renovations to my garage to pull off that.

    You know what surprised me the most? No LATHE! Then again, hand tools are enough of a slippery slope. You don’t need another!

  9. Christopher Schwarz

    I’ve taken the tool rack down a few times (it’s just four screws). It really doesn’t make that big a difference to me.

    But then my opthamologist says I’m legally blind without my glasses.

    Chris

  10. me.yahoo.com/a/4orURscfm4ftgFXBIujidj5HUEm8qTxThTh.rJZZR1lr

    Thanks for the tour, always nice to see what others have done with their work space. One question if I may. I noticed in your basement shop, as well as the magazine shop, you have a tendency to block a good deal of light coming in the window. Putting a tool rack there, is a handy place to have it, allowing convenient access to your tools, much more so than in a tool chest. Blocking the incoming light however, seems to defeat the reason for the window and the expense of installing a window.
    Am I missing something here?

    Jim

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