Highland Woodworking Wood News Online, No. 182, October 2020Welcome 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
Here's My Workshop!
By Karen Wortman
Bigfork, MN


As a newer woodworker, my shop isn't like most that are featured in this column. And, while I know I am not unique in the woodworking arena, I thought it would be nice to show what a shop owned by a woman over 50 looks like. Women think differently, learn differently, and like our workspace to reflect us. While I am considered "crafty" by most people that know me, working with wood is new to me. I do believe in continually learning to do new things so the chance to work in a new area really captured my imagination.


I started carving a little over a year ago. My sister had been sending us these beautiful hand carved spoons at Christmas time and I thought I'd give it a try. With the purchase of a spoon carving kit from Highland Woodworking and some junk wood from our fire pile, I carved out my first spoon. I keep a rather large box of bandaids on my work table as an indicator that learning to carve can be a bloody adventure at first; at least for me. Once the first spoon was complete, I was hooked.


My shop is approximately 11 x 13'. It is inside of our home in what would be considered a large bedroom with lots of windows and a hardwood floor. Living in Northern Minnesota means very long and very cold winters and I wanted an area where I could work regardless of the weather. Since I do not use any power tools, having the shop inside of our home doesn't contribute to much dust or dirt although I do find wood shavings sometimes follow me throughout the house.

My workbench is made from all recycled lumber that my husband and I picked up while cleaning out an older house for a client. My husband, who is a talented woodworker, made the bench for me...I'm not at the point in my skill level to achieve such a fine piece. I did the painting on the bench because I wanted something that looked like a piece of furniture rather than a woodworkers bench. The bench is large enough for the things I create and has a storage area on the back so I don't have chisels and such falling on the floor. With a wall of windows, I have plenty of natural light and it is a pleasure to work in the room. Some of my tools are from my husband's collection and others I have purchased as my skills have grown. Still, I am able to complete my projects with just a few hand tools; some old ones that have been refurbished. I truly enjoy working with an old tool that has been brought back to its glory days.


I have a large working table where I can lay things out, draw my patterns, and anything else that requires more space. The work table was easy for me to build with a few shelves that were purchased and an old door that I simply painted and attached. The height of the table means I can either stand and work or use a stool. There is plenty of storage in the cubbies. I also have recycled drawers from an old desk that provide some additional wall storage, plus they help to give me that creative edge in my workspace.


My wood is stored in milk crates in the corner. Since I am working with smaller pieces, storage is easy. Wood shavings and chips are swept up and kept in a 5 gallon bucket which I later use in my chicken coop, garden, compost, or are a great way to get the woodstove going. I like to keep my workspace as organized as possible so every tool has a place and they are all within easy reach when I am working.


After watching an episode of The Highland Woodworker where Don Weber was interviewed, I decided to try my hand at building a pole lathe. Mr. Weber demonstrated his lathe that is not run by a machine which always intrigues me. My project for this winter is to take an old Singer Sewing Machine treadle and convert it to a treadle powered lathe. I'll let you know how that goes!


I've graduated from spoons now and have just completed my first bowl. Learning how to handle an axe, learning more about the different types of woods, and learning to combine my love of basket making with my love of carving are just a few of the things I am working on. I am fortunate to have 20+ acres of woods in Northern Minnesota so I have an endless supply of wood for my projects. My encouragement for other ladies is to give it a try. Start small, don't over invest in tools until you know you like what you're doing, and have some fun.



Karen can be reached directly via email at Hello@beyondthegrainstudio.com.
You can also visit her website at Beyond the Grain Studio.

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