Cleaning up the shop is shop time too

My time in the shop is precious. When I'm occupied doing other things, I often dream about getting back in the shop and doing some woodworking. But sometimes, I spend a few hours in the shop not woodworking, but cleaning. But isn't that just plain boring? In many ways it is, but in many other ways, it is a chance to rejuvenate my energies and focus on my next projects.

Now, I'm not the type that minds a bit of clutter (in fact, I often tolerate obscene amounts of it on just about every horizontal surface). I like the pile of shavings that grow while I'm in the heat of working on dimensions of doing joinery. But when starting something new, stumbling over old cutoffs and shavings from the last project just feels like an energy drag. Getting those cleaned up and out of the way not only clears away the physical barriers of the last project, but the psychological baggage of it as well.

And cleaning is also great for getting back in touch with how the shop is set up. Getting a good flow going is essential to making good progress while woodworking; moving from task to task, shifting from one operation to another without having to stop and think "ok, now how the hell am I going to move things around to do this?" is paramount. So I find that during the between project clean up a good time to tweak and adjust those things that I put off because I was too busy in the middle of something.

For example, when I replaced my powered miter saw with my hand powered miter box last year, I set the level of the miter box's deck just a hair too low compared to the two countertops on either side that support longer stock. That meant that sometimes when I was at the bottom of a cut, the blade would start to bind as the two pieces pushed in on it. It wasn't bad enough to get me to fix it before, but today, when I was placing it back after cleaning around it, I took the time to set the level correctly. Shop improved. In another case, I had screwed on a holder for storing the 4" dust collector hose that serves my bandsaw and jointer, but I'd used short 3/8" screws, and of course, one day they pulled out. The holder had been sitting on a nearby shelf useless for a couple of months. During this cleaning, I took the time to re-attach it with deeper screws. Etc etc. Not earth shaking, but anything that improves my flow during a project means that much more time of focus on the woodworking, and less on fussing around with some little shop annoyance.

So, finally after a few hours of sweeping, vacuuming, dusting, sorting, storing, labeling, adjusting, moving, and clearing, the shop is back, and ready for new projects.

Still a garage sometimes

Its been a little quiet here recently. Despite having made some good progress on a few small projects (posts on those to come), and the large wardrobe project, this past December, the arctic blast has forced my shop to revert to garage mode. While the insulated shop can be quite comfortable in cold weather (If I want to pay for the heating costs), it was time to let the car back in. Hopefully I can get back to "shop" configuration in a few weeks.


Working on a large project, like my current wardrobe project, takes a lot of time. And large projects go faster when I can get large blocks of time to work on them (so, that's weekends). When I have only an hour or so here & there, I find it hard to "get into" a large project, knowing that I'll soon have to stop.

Instead, I often use that time for little detours like cleaning the shop, organizing stuff, sharpening, tool maintenance, or even little side projects. And even though I'm not making progress on anything big, I'm still having fun in my shop. Here's a few detours that I went on recently.

Saw Support

I cleverly (not) built myself only ONE saw bench a while ago. I works great, but when working on a long board, I have nothing to support the other end with - there's nothing around that is the right height. But I don't actually need a whole second saw bench, so instead, I but one of these saw support/work support/work stand things. It has two "levels"; one the height of my saw bench, and the other the height of my work bench. I used some scrap red & white oak for material, and mortise & through tenons to join it, with wedges for the bottom through tenons. I finished it with boiled linseed oil. It's already proven handy.

Moving Fillister Plane

I tossed a bid into an eBay auction a few weeks ago, and happened to win it. It's a cool old wooden moving fillister plane. It's nothing fancy, but it's in good shape, except for the missing nicker iron. I took a little time to knock off the rust, clean it up, and sharpen the iron. It works great. A future detour will be to find some tool steel for the iron, cut & shape it, and then harden & temper it (something I haven't tried yet, but am inspired to do so by blacksmith Peter Ross).

Band Saw Maintenance

When my band saw blade started drifting, on even the simplest cut, I knew something was screwy. Especially since I'd recently put on a new Woodslicer blade about three weeks ago. A little investigation later, and damn it if the bottom thrust bearing hadn't seized up. Amazing how that makes such a difference -- you'd think the blade could still just slide along it. Oh well, a phone call to service, and in a few minutes I had the part on order. But that means no band sawing for a while.