Pictured at left are some of the products I've made, although not in this workshop. My old place was smaller and much of the work was done in the living room with hand tools. I could have made these more easily in this new compact shop. From the left: a Celtic harp, a medieval psaltery, a mountain dulcimer and a Renaissance lute. The flying bird soundhole is a trademark of mine.
Hand planes are another need in the small shop. They don't all have to be the best, but some should be. My 14" jack plane is an "el cheapo". My 10" x 3" smoother is an expensive one. An expensive skewed angle plane substitutes for a far more expensive (and space-consuming) jointer. A couple of rough-hewn wooden planes with their blades reshaped as "scrub planes" can take away the gross material when planing to thickness. Then the cheap jack plane, then the good smoother. I won't get into block planes other than to say that you need one good low angle block plane with a fine adjustment.
Another compromise, I need sharp well-shaped tools for my wood turning. I had a nice bench grinder with an expensive Sorby gouge shaping jig. It is in the attic of the new place, awaiting an appropriate home. I find the slow-speed wet grinder a pain in the butt when reshaping a tool as it is too slow, but it is a gem at resharpening once the shape is established. A bit of common sense, and the making of jigs out of scrap wood, can let you do the heavy grinding on a cheap belt/disc sander combination. Better to take the extra time and not ruin expensive tools. It takes me about ten hours to reshape and grind a skew chisel this way, and it would be ten minutes on the bench grinder – but once done it is a clean shape and easily resharpened. Patience is another requirement in the very small shop.
Dust collection is a problem in the small shop. The mobile dust collector you see in my photos is quite practical in the way I have it set up. It is a bit underpowered, only 650 cfm, but I got it on sale some years back for $100. There are similar devices at about $200 or more that pull 850 cfm. I'd go with one of them if I were restarting. But the key to the use of the portable is to make it versatile. By mounting a Y connector on the 4" input, and then using blast gates on each wing of the Y, I can direct the draw of the collector. One wing is set for a 2 1/2" hose, the other for a 4" - each with a pluggable connector. On the lathe I sometimes want to draw dust from the back, and sometimes from the front, and sometimes both. It depends on the way I'm cutting the workpiece. I can hook up the mobile collector and open the appropriate blast gates for the process, and then use the relatively quiet (compared to the shop vac) dust collector to vacuum the lathe area by shutting down the fixed 4" hose. The shop vac is there in the corner by the workbench with a long hose for cleaning up when I really get ambitious. You will see fixed connections on the bandsaw for the mobile dust collector, a 4" and a 2-1/2", and I've got a small magnetic "hood" for the drill press, although I find that it is generally easier to just drill away and immediately use the shop vac as the chips don't fly far.
And that brings up another matter – the mobility of the workman as it relates to the noise of the tools. In a shop that is in an apartment, and more so in a bedroom of an apartment, there is a major noise issue. My dust collector is relatively quiet on a "through-the-walls basis," although I can't hear my TV when it is running. As I'm less mobile than most, having one prosthetic leg, I do like to have immediate control of the dust collector without moving. I spent the inordinate sum of about $40 to have a remote control for the collector – I can be turning on the lathe or cutting on the bandsaw and shut down the collector without moving from my bar stool. I have my shop vac connected through an on/off foot switch that is on a long enough cord that I can have it close to where I'm cleaning up. I have a "dead man's" foot switch for the table saw so I can chop the power as soon as the cut is made. That is both a safety and noise consideration.
The conventional wisdom, and properly so, is that one should use one's tools while standing up. One has better control when using the full body movement rather than small hand and arm movements. I agree, but I have to break the rules. The bar stool I have in my shop is not because I'm lazy. It's just that I sit as much as I can because the pressure on the prosthetic leg can be a bit annoying, and counter-productive when it becomes painful. So my small shop needs extra room for my bar stool. If any of you have a similar problem, let me suggest that you do the gross work sitting down, but stand up to the machine when doing sensitive, precise work.
My wet sharpener is set too high for the optimum, but the cabinet it rests on provides me storage – I can adjust my use of the tool to compensate for the extra height. This type of wet grinder (of which the premium make is the Tormek – I have the Jet knock-off) is awkward to use if one can't access it from both sides. In a cramped space one has to be able to turn them around. Easy enough to make a rotating mount from a couple of pieces of wood and a TV turntable, and set positive stops.
My choice of tools will not be yours. Each of us does different work, and there's more than one way to skin a cat. In a small shop, compromise your choice of power tools to have the best for your main work, and then do a lot of hand work for the rest. Ensure that you have the space for the common activities. For instance, my bandsaw table is well above the lathe and the table saw, and so is the drill press table. I have space for longer pieces to pass above the lathe and table saw, but in extremis I can move any of the tools out of the way with one hand. One must plan ahead for projects to save setup time, but one can fit a lot of stuff in a small space.
Jon Murphy, 73, of Englishtown, NJ can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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