I always look forward to reading “My Shop” in American Woodworker. I envy those guys who have woodshops the size of a five-car garage that look more like castles than workshops. Some are heated and air conditioned; others have windows with a spectacular view. My shop overlooks the hot water tank and laundry tubs, because it’s in my basement. Its grand entrance is a cellar door.
The splendid dream shops I see are always loaded with tools. I can imagine the owners calling the woodworking catalog company and saying “I’ll take one of everything from page 3 to 99.” I bought my tools the old fashioned way, one at a time. My dad and my wife taught me everything I needed to know about tool shopping: “If you buy good-quality tools and take care of them,” my dad said, “they’ll last a lifetime.” “Never pay full price,” my wife insists, “and use a coupon to save even more.” I’ve found many of my tools through classified ads or auctions; brand names, slightly used, but in very good condition. I consider them as treasures and treat them like members of the family.
All of those picturesque shops have sophisticated systems to control dust, with silver pipes zigzagging all around. My dust-control system is more modest: I do all my sanding and routing outside, weather permitting, where the sawdust is free to land where it pleases.
I’m always impressed with the spectacular lumber stored in those royal shops, hand selected and neatly stacked in racks. My lumber is hand-selected, too. On trash-collection days, I roam the neighborhood searching for discarded furniture and other wooden gems that I can disassemble, clean, and recycle into keepsake projects.
There’s never a speck of dust in those dream shops. I often wonder if anything is made in them, especially since the only wooden items on display are elegant European workbenches. My workbench is less awe-inspiring—a pair of sawhorses with a removable plywood top.
Most of those grand shops are in separate buildings, away from the house. I have to admit that’s the way it should be, because I have to run the vacuum in my shop every half hour, so I don’t track sawdust upstairs and across the living room carpet. (Stay-Out-of-the-Doghouse Marriage Tip #1: Maintain a clean shop floor.)
I do have a vision of my dream shop: a modest one-car garage nestled at the back of my property—just a few strides from my down-to-earth garden. Like other shops, mine will be neat, clean, and organized, with a wood-burning stove tucked in one corner to keep it cozy during those frigid winter months. But for now, I look forward every day to spending quality time in my down-to-earth shop. Well, not quite every day, because on Mondays, my wife claims the space for doing the laundry.