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Setting Up Shop

Bruce Sharp is a woodworker, manual arts teacher, and Saturday morning worker at our Melbourne Carbatec shop. Bruce is on the verge of that big life change - retirement. He enlists the help of four of our books as he looks ahead to setting up his own workshop from home.  

Making stuff is fun and for five days a week, through most of my career as a teacher, I have made wooden stuff with teenagers. Imagine working with uninhibited creative minds and having the unfettered use of a well-equipped (semi-industrial) workshop. 

Access to a good workshop for more than thirty years has been a personal bonus; it has helped in many domestic projects. When I retire, however, a little shed is all I will have. How will I build toys for my grand children?! The fun to which I have become addicted is dependant on woodworking machinery. I need: table saw, bandsaw, docking saw, jointer, thicknesser, lathe, scroll saw, sander, extraction… and a bigger shed. Fortunately, I have not only been lucky in work. My wife is patient, loving, generous and also encouraging of my woodwork. 

My next major project will be a retired woodwork teacher’s workshop, mine.

I have set up brand new workshops that function for twenty-five students and multiple staff. Having done the job for others, I am aware of some of the pitfalls. This will be my last workshop; I want to get it right.  

A life in teaching has also taught me the value of research. Carbatec has the best collection of wood books I have ever seen in one place and this includes texts devoted to the subject of setting up workshops. 

Here are the four books I bought from our shelves and some thoughts about how they may relate to my plans for woodworking in the suburbs. 

Setting Up Shop - The practical guide to designing and building your dream shop, Taunton Press, Sandor Nagyszalanczy

Setting Up Shop begins with discussions about the pragmatic realities of achieving a space to do woodwork. Sandor Nagyszalanczy considers spaces for woodworking from their foundations to their ceilings. He covers: wall and floor treatments, heating and ventilation. His journey through construction ideals, as they relate to the work that is intended for a workshop, highlights efficiencies that can be achieved by simply planning for need. The opening chapters, especially, function as a reality check for potential workshop builders about the scale of the project they may be attempting. But, it is not all about building a grand space; half of the book is devoted to the nitty gritty of workshop layout, work areas, storage, dust collection and safety needs. Dust collection is explained in an eloquent précis that would be good for people who don’t want to be confused by the physics of air flow. Fluent text is well supported by photographs of real workshops. This book reflects my experience through decades of running school workshops; I’m glad to have had contact with Sandor, he has given me an insight to other woodies’ workshops, I am glad to have heard from him just before I set about work on my own space.

The Workshop Book - A craftsman’s guide to making the most of any work space, Taunton Press, Scott Landis

Landis offers a treatise on workshops. He is generous with detail. Travelling around America and exploring remarkable workshops, he reports on everything from enthusiastic backyard set ups to professional studios. After beginning with a short chapter where he puts workshops into their historical context, Landis describes the clever achievements of many woodworkers. He is clear and so well illustrated that it is easy to transport the ideas to my own purposes. A short section where he looked into small workspaces helped me see my needs from a different direction and I will exploit this new knowledge. The Workshop Book is just two years short of its twentieth birthday but remains highly relevant.

Your First Workshop - A practical guide to what you really need, Taunton Press, Aime Ontario Fraser

As the title suggests, this book is a guide for a beginner. Its advice is clear and without confusing detail. Fraser must be complimented for achieving a text of brevity but which does not ignore salient necessities. She grades her advice to reflect the stages of workshop development that many of us have gone through. If I’d had the patience to sit and read this forty years ago there is much that I’d have not had to learn the hard way. I will happily refer my students to this text for their research on the uses of tools. Even though I am probably on my tenth workshop, Your First Workshop, still contained discoveries that were fresh to me.

Workshop Idea Book- Andy Rae, Taunton Press

Here is a treasure trove! Hand made, recycled, clever, and useful ideas are collected into one hundred and seventy pages. It would be almost accurate to call this a picture book or a visual diary of a woodworker’s discovery trail. Andy Rae has been able to sticky beak into lots of woodies’ workshops and has committed his discoveries to print. He has given us enough detail to enable us to make any of the ideas our own. For me, I know I will be stuck for space, so the references to layout and storage were particularly interesting.

The books have taken me through a rich fantasy land. My head is jumping with enthusiasm. What happens when enthusiastic fantasy meets the double tyrannies of space and money? I will keep you informed.