Closing Shop

It has been bittersweet completing the final dismantling of my shop the last couple of days as I finish moving back home to Cincinnati. My wife and I had purchased our house in Providence, R.I., in 1999, and over the years, I had customized a full shop in the basement. The house was built in the 1920s and the basement is split down the center with a thick brick wall that runs the length of the building. This wall supported a large wooden beam that is half-lapped at 10′ intervals. The joists for the floors above span from the exterior side walls to the center of the house, so this brick wall is crucial for the houses’ structure. There is only one small doorway to get to the other side of the basement, so I stored my lumber on that side with all the shelves filled with things that have real intrinsic value, but not enough to share our living space upstairs…I’m thinking about the Royal typewriter, the Singer sewing machine with the veneered wood cover, the memory boxes for the kids from when they were small, storage containers filled with holiday decorations, etc.

Before we decided to move back home, I toyed with the idea of installing another doorway – maybe a nice archway linking my machines to the wood storage, but that would have taken away wall space that I used. It would have been cool, though.

I painted all the walls in the basement white and installed long banks of light fixtures. I ran new electrical lines spaced every 6′ or so on both sides of the shop – basically, each one of my machines had its own electrical box. Over the years, I had accumulated a host of tools from friends looking to downsize or get out of the business of making things, tools my father-in-law had given me when he retired back to Portugal, or close-outs from local stores. (I picked up my full-size, brand new Jet lathe for $180 when Woodworker’s Warehouse went out of business). Things like that enabled me to accumulate pretty quickly and fill a small space. I had all of the machines that produce dust hooked up to a collection system. The only thing that I hadn’t gotten around to buying was an overhead dust-collection system to clean the air. It was on my wish list, but the right opportunity hadn’t presented itself. If I were setting up a new basement shop now, it would be one of the first things that I would install.

If necessity is the mother of invention, a small shop will give a woodworker plenty of opportunity to be creative. When I needed a new tool, I had to first find it a home. Because the floor space was so small (500 square feet on each side), most of the wall space was covered with either peg board frames or magnetic bars holding tools. I did have some small shelves that I had made out of old wine boxes hanging near the windows with larger things, such as accessories for the lathe. I had my lathe positioned under a tall window with an extra-large magnetic bar under it holding all the turning chisels at arms reach. And because the first floor ceiling joists were all exposed, I utilized the spaces between the joists to either hold smaller clamps, or hang things off of a nail, including the face guard that I use when turning wood. It rested right above the lathe when I wasn’t using it. A lot of my machines were on some form of caster system, unless they were too awkward to move, such as my drill press, and the large sanders that were hooked up to the dust-collection system with rigid steel pipes. I had my planer positioned under the extension table of the table saw. My scroll saw rested under a workbench.

It was a great little shop that served me well. The only shortcoming was not the fault of the shop, but the stairway down to the shop. Any really large pieces would need to be assembled elsewhere, as the turn at the top of the stairs was sharp and the doorway was only 30″ wide. Even so, with a little planning, I was able to build pretty much anything I wanted to build. The scraps of wood that were deemed to be no longer useful were burnt in the fire pit in the backyard with a beer or a glass of wine in hand, depending on the company or the season. I sprinkled saw dust in the garden under the mulch.

I have fond memories of spending time down in the shop with my kids making holiday gifts, or listening to Yankee games on the radio as I worked on a project in the evenings during the summer and fall. (I spent my first 10 years living in New York City, so I claim dibs on the Bronx Bombers. I will miss listening to John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman with the play-by-play, though.) Baseball is a great sport to have on in a shop. The games generally have a slow pace, and with so many of them in the season, you really get to know the personalities of the announcers.

So now that I have access to a full shop at the magazine, the question begs, do I need to maintain one at home? I still need to ponder that one. I’m toying with the idea of keeping the essentials in the garage, like the drill press and the 12″ band saw. For the time being, though, I’m putting all of my tools into a storage unit until I close on my Providence house, and we find one that fits our needs in Cincinnati. After making such a big move, my wife and I realized how much our things own us, as I am guilty of owning enough tools to fill two shops. But I know that once I find a new place, my tools will start calling me to give them a new home while I listen to Marty with the play-by-play for the Reds.

— Ajax Alexandre

6 thoughts on “Closing Shop

  1. Nazair

    If you find yourself with tools to sell or give away please let me know. As recently disabled Army I’m unable to do the normal jobs in the world, but what I can do is build, finish, refinish and repair furniture, but lack of tools holds me back. If you hear of anyone that has tools to get rid of please point them my way. I’ll travel great distances across country to pick them up. I can trade homecrafted and brewed beer.

    Nazair

  2. Julius

    Alex, I thought you were describing my basement shop. Full basement with brick bearing wall fore and aft. 30 inch connecting door. Tools and benches on one side, boxes on the other with stair to first floor. Rewired with dedicated panel for tools, years of bargain tool purchases. Used high school woodworking bench and chem lab bench. Lathe under window, Bench tops on recycled (free) data processing cabinets.
    Dust collection cyclone, overhead air cleaner mounted with clamp storage tubes beside it. So far shop has been dedicated to old house restoration and too little furniture making.

  3. truett49

    I love a well told story and could smell your basement shop as I red your blog entry. Take your time in deciding on whether or not to set your own shop. My guess is you will miss the creativity that comes with time alone in your dusty chamber with familiar instruments. Welcome to the magazine. I look forward to more of your writing!

    Lloyd
    http://www.cabinwoodworks.com/

  4. tsstahl

    I think you are correct to at least set up the Cliff’s Notes version of your shop. Maybe you won’t be doing major woodworking projects at the house, but you will still have all those niggling homeowner tasks to do.

    Re-splining (is that even a word?) a screen is much easier to do on a clean raised surface like a work bench or saw top. Cutting doorway trim for one or two doors is easy to crank out on a table saw without going through the hassle of setting up the chop saw (mine is a 12″ beast). I’ve done these and many more in my “wood shop”.

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