In the pre-industrial age, it was fairly common to have your workshop inside your home. In fact, in many early American houses, rooms served several purposes and could be converted to another function by rearranging the furniture.
These days, most of us have dedicated shops. We surveyed our readers in 2005 on this question and found that 96 percent had a dedicated workshop space. Of those of us with shops:
– 42 percent have a garage shop
– 32 percent have a separate outbuilding (that’s not a garage)
– 28 percent have a basement shop
– 5 percent have one in an “other location”
– 2 percent use a spare room in the house.
Note that the numbers add up to more than 100 percent because there is some overlap here (a basement garage shop, for example).
Recently, however, I’ve been getting a fair number of e-mail from readers who are woodworking without a dedicated shop space. Their solutions to the problem are novel and would seem familiar to an 18th-century woodworker. Let’s take a look.
The Kitchen Shop
Jameel Alsalam lives in a one-room basement apartment with his girlfriend in Washington, D.C., and figured out how to make a functional workbench that also doubled as a dining table.
The dining bench is made from three 4″ x 10″ x 8′ slabs of poplar he got free from his uncle. And while the top was fairly straightforward, the base was tricky. It had to support his workpieces and still be able to allow chairs to scoot in all around.
His solution was to use two stretchers down the middle of the top instead of stretchers along the long edges of the benchtop. The stretchers are joined with mortise-and-tenon joints and bench bolts.
“The end result is a dining table burly enough for Vikings to eat at, and it’s rock solid for planing,” Alsalam writes. “I think keeping the top flush with the side is gonna be tricky, but the main goal is accomplished: I can do woodworking, and my girlfriend hasn’t left me.”
The other key to Alsalam’s success with this set-up is that he uses only hand tools at home. When he needs power equipment, he heads to the local adult education center.
“One time I made the mistake of trying a power sander, and suddenly I was wiping the sawdust off everything in my house,” he writes. With hand tools, all I have to sweep up the shavings (I’m lucky to have a tile floor).”
A Blog for the Shopless
Kenneth Woodruff lives in a condo in the San Francisco area that has no space for storage or a shop. So for a year, Woodruff researched the craft to figure out a way to make things work in his condo.
And as he’s gotten cranked up, he’s found there are a lot of people out there just like him. So he started a blog that documents his efforts called Rough Wood. Visit the blog at http://roughwood.kennethwoodruff.com.
“Many people around the web are clamoring for ways around some basic issues: a reasonable bench, boring accurate holes without a drill press, hand planing on a tiny surface, not using a router in a tiny apartment,” he writes. “Being shopless instills a need to innovate and overcome challenges that are often not present when you have a garage full of tools , and a father who introduced you to woodworking at a young age.”
Some of the projects are definitely worth investigating, including a knockdown workbench that lives underneath his bed. Now he’s working on a tool cabinet that will look as good as a piece of furniture.
We’re planning another survey of our readers real soon, but until that comes around, take this quick poll about your shop.
– Christopher Schwarz