When we sold our house in June I put the contents of my shop in a storage unit. We have finally found a new shop--I mean house--in the Portland, Oregon metropolitan area. A suitable house was difficult to find because I restricted our search to houses with a three car garage, a daylight basement or space for a shop building. It turned out to be a significant restriction but we were finally able to find one in our price range, a nice 30-year-old house that had been badly neglected.
Since the house has both a three car garage and a small daylight basement, I had a decision to make. Warm and cozy as the basement is, I decided on the garage for now, though that could change. A short-term practical problem is that there is no way I can get my nearly 400 pound bench into the basement until I make three stout friends here! The garage is more accessible, has a higher ceiling and is more isolated from the living area. I don't think winter temperatures will be a problem here but, if they turn out to be, I'll be migrating to the basement in a hurry. I also like the facts that there is an enclosed outdoor space next to the garage (former RV parking) and room to spread out as needed.
The next issue I had to address is how much of the space to dedicate to woodworking and I decided on one bay. Although some excellent hand tool woodworkers do very well with considerably less, 12'x22' is about the minimum I am comfortable with right now. My bench is 2'x8', I want a minimum of 3' all the way around it and I need about 2' on the sides for shelves, my tool chest, a sharpening station, etc. so 12' is a nice width. That leaves a space of about 8'x12' for my remaining power tools, most of which are on mobile bases stored against the wall, and storage. The Guild of Oregon Woodworkers has established a fantastic shop on a trial basis and, if it succeeds, my plan is to get rid of all of my stationery power tools except my bandsaw and drill press. Having used their 16" jointer and 20" planer for rough stock preparation this week, I am spoiled anyway.
I hate working on concrete floors. Besides being uncomfortable to stand on for long periods, I have not been able to avoid having tools fall on the floor occasionally and that's a potential disaster on concrete. While a good choice is to build a wooden floor on top of the concrete, I once again chose a more expedient option. The local ranch store sells heavy 4'x7' rubber mats that are 5/8" thick (made from recycled tires I think) and I bought 6 of them so the entire working area is covered. I wrote about these previously and cannot speak highly enough of this economical choice. They are comfortable to stand on for long periods and I have never had a tool damaged by falling on them. Finally, it will be easy to move them into the basement if I choose to relocate down there.
It feels great to be back in the shop, but there's a rub. This house needs a lot of work, some of which we are having done, but much of which I am going to do. That means a lot of my woodworking is going to have a much different character for the immediate future. Think "This Old House" instead of "The Woodwright's Shop." I have found something very interesting already though. I watch the carpenters and am really struck by the fact that they rarely use a hand tool. A lot of the time that makes sense but it is clear that in some cases their work suffers or they spend more time doing something than necessary. You'd think that they'd at least carry around a handsaw, a couple of chisels, even a jack plane. It is not my purpose here to criticize them. The whole direction of residential construction is to minimize the skill and time requirements of the carpenters working on site. Given the time pressure they are under, the carpenters did very good work.
I have found that a hand tool background is extremely useful for many of the carpentry projects I am doing. I am definitely using power tools but the hand tools prove their worth without any question. The biggest challenge I have found so far is that I'm unwilling to take them outside in the rain. I got a lot of exercise this week carrying work pieces back into the garage to work on them out of the rain but in good weather I'll be reverting to the hand tool practice of taking the tool to the work. I'm thinking that I need to collect a second, basic set of hand tools that I can use for carpentry. I have a good start anyway as I can't resist buying a vintage tool when I see them at a very good price.