Highland Woodworking Wood News Online, No. 152, April 2018 Welcome to Highland Woodworking - Fine Tools & Education Learn more about Highland Woodworking View our current woodworking classes and seminars Woodworking articles and solutions Subscribe to Wood News
Studio Apartment Woodshop – A Study In Footprint
By Mark Miller
Waco, TX

Click on any picture to see a larger version.

The space I'm working with for my new studio shop

The question is, can a person live on one saw, one plane, and four chisels? For me, the question is purely rhetorical because I have absolutely no intention of ever testing it. But, I currently find myself in the chilling reality of living without a full shop.

I've taken a new job in the big city and have left my family (and shop) some 100 miles south until we sell our home in the summer. I've assumed temporary residence in a 500 square foot studio apartment. To give some perspective, my shop at home is about 600 square feet. I'll travel home on the weekends, of course, but that still leaves the weeknights open. I can only surf the internet so much before I start ordering antique trammel points from eBay.

I woke up last night wondering if the vibrations and sounds of a handsaw would resonate through apartment walls. Would the sound and vibrations of chisel chops transmit through the legs of a workmate and into the ceiling of my downstairs neighbors? What about gentle dovetail chopping with a really, really sharp chisel? Synthetic –vs- wooden mallet?

So, here's what I'm mulling over. The apartment has a front room and a back room with a bathroom in the middle. The back room is the bedroom which means the front room is... wait for it... my woodshop!

Don't get me wrong, it can't be a dedicated woodshop. My wife and children will visit and they'll need places to sit and eat, and I'll be using the saw bench and workmate for that! I want everything to fold up, box up, and fit in the one closet.

If you haven't guessed, I'm "mostly" a hand tool guy. I'm certainly not opposed to machines, but I really enjoy sharp and well-tuned hand tools. I often use a bandsaw for rips and a planer for thickness because both of these processes are darned hard work. But my new abode won't abide the dust or noise of either.


I've worked on the same bench since the early 90's. It followed me home from work when I was stationed at MCAS El Toro and we're good friends. I work on one end with a 9 inch side vise and a few irregularly spaced dog holes and generally stack junk on the other 4 feet so it's more fun to find a pencil. But it's too big to move by myself and too big for the tiny room I have in mind. Sorry 'ol friend, you can move with the rest of the house.

I'm thinking a Workmate with a good sized tarp to catch dust and shavings. I can't work on a table or on horses, I don't do that kind of work. I need a vise that will hold stuff vertically and some way to hold stuff horizontally. I got a workmate as a wedding gift 32 years ago. I left it in the backyard and the MDF tops swelled and warped in a rain. I've always been ashamed of that gross irresponsibility and think I might set something right in the universe by buying another workmate and treating it well this time.

Saw Bench

I built one of those knee-high benches with a forked tongue on one end. I mostly use it for sitting. But, if hand sawing proves too noisy, I could easily carry it downstairs and do my "loud cutting" in the parking lot.


I love my saws. I've been through several, and am left with only ones I like. In fact, the sawing tools are what initially drew me to hand tools so I don't look forward to leaving my 26" Disstons behind. But I will. I plan to deploy with a couple of panel saws and backed saws; a D-8, 7 fang filed rip and a D-7, 9 fang filed crosscut. I'll add one D-4 backed saw and my Lie-Nielsen Dovetail Saw. Toss in a coping saw and that's it … no more room.


Picking hand planes is not as easy as it sounds. A #4 Stanley? Duh. When choosing between a #5 and his bigger brother, I'll take the #5-1/2 every time. I fit tenons with a #71 router plane so it's gotta come, but will I need a scrub plane? Uh … yeah. My wife has ordered a stable full of crude milking stools (a la Paul Sellers) to gift as plant stands at Christmas. I make the "seats" from laminated 2x4 and really enjoy hogging off the surfaces with my ancient #40. A scrub plane is like Jell-O – there's always room for Jell-O.

I never liked block planes until I really learned to sharpen and now I can hardly pass one up. As a result, I have an eclectic collection to choose from. I'll let Karma pick a block plane and pack whatever catches my fancy.


I know, right? Crazy! When it comes to ripping, I'm lazy and will reach for a drawknife instead of a saw if the waste is skinny. Either way, I bring it down to the lines with a plane. I'm sure it's some kind of sin against Nicholson and the Mechanic's Companion, but it seems to be the right tool in my world. Also, I'll be shaping stool legs and there's nothing weird about using a drawknife for that.


I have to admit, I'm just not a chisel aficionado. I like 'em sharp, and that's about it. I started with a four-chisel, pre-Irwin set of Marples. They say Made in England, but who knows – or cares. I augmented that set with an Irwin 1/8 inch for skinny pin sockets, so a five chisel set. I later bought the full set of re-issued Stanley Socket Chisels as a reward to myself for something I don't remember. They don't seem to cut, sharpen, or hold an edge any better than the Irwins. I'll pack the Irwins so I don't have to break up the set of Stanley's and risk losing one.


I have several braces and I'll pack a Craftsman from my father – because he gave it to me. When I was a kid, he would give me that brace and bit and a stub of railroad tie to keep me out from under his feet in the garage. I have a complete frankenset of bits wrapped in an oily rag and I'll take the whole set. Whatever. They'll fit.

I have several hand drills to choose from and might pack a "middle sized one" and a small index of bits (or I might pack a DeWalt).


4 aluminum bar clamps, a medium parallel clamp, and a large parallel clamp should cover it. I have a number of the little "F" style clamps with the red handles. They're really handy so I'll pack a pair.

Layout Tools

I started this list and it just kept growing. Try it, list the layout/measuring/marking tools you can't live without. If the vise is the heart of my bench, the combination square is the mind. I've recently retired the Starrett inherited from my great grandfather and replaced it with MY Starrett. This will be a chance for us to imprint. I have a couple of different marking knives, not because I need something specific but because "two is one and one is none." Pencils and electric sharpener. Don't even ask. Yes, I use an electric pencil sharpener. I have a pair of office supply rules, but I seldom use (read find) the six inch. If my hand lands on it, I'll pack it.

Marking Gauges

I went through somewhat of a marking gauge thang. I was lured towards the rocks by the sweet siren song of the Stanley Sweetheart Mermaids. Long story short, I have plenty to choose from so I'll bring one of each. Marking, mortising, and wheel. And an Awl. I almost left this data point without packing a scratch awl. Without it, I drill like a blind wood beetle.

Gidgets and Gadgets (supporting tools and equipment)

This is the really hard one. Ignore it and you end up missing something irreplaceable. Give it too much thought and I'm transporting the kitchen sink. In other words, I don't want to miss something necessary to harmony and happiness, but I don't want to get carried away. Sharpening kit (diamond plates, strop, and honing guide). Can't live without it. Other than that, most of these things are kinda small and could fit in a little tray. Bench hook, dividers, compass, bevel gauge, glue knife (it's a pallet knife), and dovetail gauge. What have I missed?

Tool List

  • Bench
    • Workmate
    • Saw Bench
    • Tarp
  • Saws
    • Panel Saw, Rip
    • Panel Saw, Crosscut
    • Backsaw, Short
    • Dovetail Saw
    • Coping Saw
    • Saw Files
  • Planes
    • #4
    • #5-1/2
    • #71
    • #40
    • Block Plane (currently undecided)
  • Drawknife
  • Chisels
    • 1/4
    • 1/2
    • 3/4
    • 1
  • Chisel Hammer
  • Boring
    • Brace
    • Auger Bit
    • Medium Egg Beater
    • Twist Bits
  • Clamps
    • 4, 3ft Aluminum Bars
    • Medium Parallel
    • Large Parallel
  • Layout
    • Knife(s)
    • Pencils
    • Pencil Sharpener
    • Combination Square
    • Long Rule
    • Short Rule
    • Wheel Gauge
    • Mortise Gauge
    • Awl
    • Tape
  • Supporting Tools and Equipment
    • Sharpening Plates
    • Strop
    • Sharpening Jig
    • Shooting Board
    • Bench Hook
    • Dividers
    • Compass
    • Bevel Gauge
    • Glue Knife (it's a pallet knife)
    • Dovetail Gauge

I know some of you are thinking, "what about this and what about that and blah-b-blah-blah." I know that often when we hobbyists get good, I mean really accomplished, we start to believe that we know what we're doing. It's just one small step to thinking everyone else is an idiot. Me? I'm nowhere near accomplished enough to think I know anything. I truly welcome your input, your suggestions, and if you've ever "hand worked" without disturbing the neighbors, your experienced guidance.

Finally, I'll remind us all that Rome was built on a wooden bench. The greatest empire in the history of the world was built on a knee-high, wooden bench. When I feel myself getting tool-struck, start looking like a sawapotamus, or a Planasaurus Rex, find myself saying, "if I just had…", I remember the Romans.

You can email Mark at leathermech@yahoo.com.

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