Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the May 2008 issue of American Woodworker
I share my workshop with about 12,000 others. It’s the military woodshop at Offutt Air Force Base (AFB), in Nebraska. Military woodshops exist on large bases and posts around the world. They’re open to all military personnel (including dependents and retirees) on a pay-per-use basis.
Offutt AFB is home of the “Fightin’ 55th” combat wing and STRATCOM (Strategic Command). The Offutt woodshop occupies part of the basement in the “bomber building,” in which Martin B-17, B-26 and B-29 bombers were manufactured during WWII. In another building across the runway, the Enola Gay and Bockscar B-29 bombers were prepared for their historic missions over Japan.
The Offutt woodshop has spacious workstations and duplicates of every major stationary tool. Routers, sanders, and other portable tools can be signed out for use in the shop. The shop has a separate finishing room and an extensive library of woodworking books and magazines. Large stocks of lumber and plywood are maintained and offered for sale.
When my wife and I were first married, we couldn’t afford to buy any furniture. So as a young airman, I spent every evening at the base woodshop. We slept on the floor until I made a bed, sat on the floor until I made a couch and so on. We’ve been married for more than twenty-five years now, and I still build most of our furniture. I also volunteer as a teacher at the base woodshop.
The Offutt shop attracts many young airmen who are new to woodworking, so we offer classes on basic woodworking and tool use. Completing a shop safety class is required. More advanced classes include cabinet making and woodturning. Military items are popular projects, of course (plaques, ceremonial flag boxes, shadow boxes for retirements, squadron coin holders, etc.). The largest item built here was a houseboat, which almost didn’t make it through the wide-open bay door!
One certain thing about the military is that we move— often! And when we move, things get broken. When I was stationed in Germany, we offered furniture and antique repair through the woodshop, and it was a thriving business. We’re planning to add furniture repair to our services at Offutt in the near future, because making the woodshop monetarily self-sufficient is one of our primary goals. -Jeff Bruce