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Here's My Workshop!

Shawn Nystrom
Windsor, VA

Click on any picture to see a larger version.

The day I walked into Mr. Bright's 7th grade industrial arts classroom in 1965 and smelled the pine shavings and saw the big cast iron machinery, I was hooked! That began a lifelong love affair with tools and woodworking.

Me at 16 cutting a lamp part on the band saw in school shop. I designed and built a contemporary
prototype swag light and then sold copies from the school bookstore to teachers and staff.

Although the first chapter of my adulthood was raising 5 girls and 2 boys, at around 50 I began a serious quest to design and build a real shop and learn as much as I could from the masters. I took classes with Ed Hobbs, Mike Dunbar, Marc Adams, Mary May and many others to hone my basic skills. I had lost my wife in an accident a few years earlier and 4 years later married my high school "crush" whom I had not seen in 30 years. Thank you Classmates.com!

She quickly took an interest in woodworking and soon had an Ulmia workbench next to mine and a growing collection of carving chisels. She has learned marquetry, inlay, carving ball and claw legs, and cuts all her own mortise and tenon joints by hand. In fact, I am a little nervous that she will overtake me in skill and technique! I have friends that brag about not letting their wives in the shop and I think, what a waste! A hidden benefit of working alongside my wife is that it is much easier to get "permission" to buy more tools!

We have a wonderful spirit of camaraderie and competition that draws us together. We worked in the shop until 2:00 am recently on our chairs and although we were tired, the passion we have gives us energy. We are both fans of all things from the craftsman era, especially Stickley and Greene and Greene. We designed our bench area with Craftsman style cabinets out of quartersawn white oak and molding and trim details from that era. She did a decal on the wall above the area that says, "The lyf so short, the craft so long to lern", a phrase originally attributed to Hippocrates.

I started out as a machinery guy but have been slowly gravitating towards hand tools for the past few years. I much prefer the whoosh of a hand plane to the loud whine of my 16" jointer! Part of the process was learning to sharpen tool edges. Dull tools are an exercise in futility and will quickly dull your interest in woodworking. Once I saw what I could do with razor sharp tools the hand tool light went on!

I'll be the first to admit that I have gone overboard and spent a considerable amount of time and money on woodworking but the rewards outweigh the efforts. I see woodworkers that trade in a 60K pick up every two or three years that they spend 6 hours a week in and work 30 hours a week in a poorly equipped shop. My advice is to drive that truck 10 years and go spend 50K at Highland Woodworking on your dream shop!

Like everyone else I am proud of my shop to be. Started 3 years ago, it is complete on the outside but the interior is not yet fitted out to my satisfaction. Admittedly I am more than a little anal retentive and way too much of a perfectionist for my own good. But I enjoy the journey towards perceived perfection and as retirement nears from our family HVAC business I am excited about spending 40 hours a week (or more) in the shop.

Here are some statistics about my shop:

  • 60x100 first floor with 10' ceiling and 20x100 upstairs.
  • Construction: agricultural type pole shelter with insulated concrete floor.
  • Woodworking area is 60x40 with a 20x10 bench area bump out overlooking a 600 acre lake.
  • 400 amp electrical service with a 20HP shop made rotary converter feeding a 100A 3 phase panel.
  • Radiant heat in the concrete floor with 6 zones and a gas fired condensing boiler.
  • Geothermal heat pump for cooling and a commercial dehumidification unit.
  • Dust collection is a Penn state 3.5 hp cyclone with piping in the floor.
  • Compressed air is in the floor piped with schedule 80 PVC fed by a 5 HP commercial Emglo compressor with a refrigerated drier. An electric solenoid shuts off the airflow to the shop when not in use for fire safety.
  • Lighting is 36 eight-foot fluorescent strips with 6500K daylight lamps in eight zones.
  • Full bath with shower, 10x10 office, 10x10 supply room with rolling library ladder accessing storage.
  • Bench area has 2 (his and hers) Ulmia German made benches with wrap around built ins and a 55" plasma TV with complete sound system including blue ray, sub woofers and multiple speaker circuits.
  • We have hundreds of instructional and project DVD's that we watch as we work.
  • Equipment includes: 20" planer, 16" jointer, and 6' jointer all with segmented cutters. 24" Powermatic tools include a 20HP wide bent sander, panel saw with scoring blade, 18" band saw and 14" band saw, and variable speed lathe.
  • Logosol 4 head moulder with 35 sets of cutters. There are also misc router tables, oscillating sanders, scroll saws, etc.

Yes, without a doubt I did go overboard but I see people spend 300K on a motor home or boat and seldom use them. I am in my shop nearly every day.

My wife Angie also works with me in the shop and carves and does stained glass and marquetry. She has a studio adjacent to mine that is 20x40 with a small kitchen with a sink, microwave and compact fridge. We built a large custom work table with a repurposed plan storage cabinet for veneer and tool storage. She has a large stock of glass and glass supplies as well as the wet saws, grinders, etc required for glass panels. We are looking forward to attending a class at David Marks' school of woodworking this fall taught by a very accomplished inlay expert. The class will focus on inlaying mother of pearl, abalone and other material.

My woodworking interest lies in period furniture reproduction and Greene and Greene era arts and crafts reproductions. We recently completed a half round Norfolk game table in the federal style. It has graceful tapered legs with bellflowers and string inlay. It is solid mahogany with poplar brick laid carcass. Incomplete projects include a Federal 4-drawer Portsmouth chest, a heavily veneered tall case clock, and the Pennsylvania spice chest on last August's Popular Woodworking magazine cover.

I have a lumber inventory of over 20K board feet of walnut, tiger maple, poplar, maple, quartered white and red oak and cherry in a separate building.

Hurricane Isabel took down hundreds of trees on the farm, some of which were over a hundred years old. We did our best to salvage what we could and air dried it.

Exterior of the incomplete shop looking away from the lake. The bump out is the bench area overlooking the water. The lake is full of bass but my interest is in wood!

Bench area before completion of cabinets.

Bench area with Angie working. The Eagles are rocking on the screen and the federal game table with the bellflowers not yet inlaid is visible in the front. The wrap around cabinets are now complete.

It looks all a jumble but I do have a master plan for organization. I keep starting new projects that stall that process.


Planer and jointer with new lumber storage shelves not yet stocked completely.

Sawing and stacking lumber after the hurricane.

Angie's carving chisels stored in the newly completed cabinets in the bench area.

Here's a closer look at the game table.

Mahogany keepsake box I made for my daughter's high school graduation.





You can email Shawn at shutterbug53@mac.com.

Want to see more shops? Check out our Shops Gallery, featuring many of the shops that we have featured in previous editions of Wood News.

Would you like for your shop to appear in this column? We invite you to SEND US PHOTOS of your woodworking shop along with captions and a brief history and description of your woodworking. (Email photos at 800x600 resolution.) Receive a $50 store credit redeemable towards merchandise if we show your shop in a future issue.

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