some workshop layout thoughts

In 1999 Mack Headley wrote an article for American Furniture about the layout, organization and setup of an 18th-century cabinetmaker’s shop He used documentary evidence, engravings, and archaeology as the basis for his findings, as well as things like the photos of the Dominy workshop in East Hampton Long Island before its contents were moved to the Winterthur Museum in Wilmington DE. [see Mack Headley, “Eighteenth-Century Cabinet Shops and the Furniture-Making Trades in Newport, Rhode Island” in American Furniture edited by Luke Beckerdite (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England for the Chipstone Foundation, 1999), pp. 17-37.]

I found Headley’s article inspiring, and sought to do something similar for the 17th-century joiners’ works. My article “Manuscripts, Marks, and Material Culture: Understanding the Joiner’s Trade in Seventeenth-Century America” in American Furniture, edited by Luke Beckerdite, (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England for the Chipstone Foundation, 2002), pp. 125-146 really concentrated on tools and tool evidence. The reason for this is that we know next to nothing about joiners’ shops – the physical space, the number of workmen, etc.

Nowadays, most woodworkers set up their shops in a pre-existing space, adapting it this way & that to fit the type of work they do. Like many, I started out in a basement workshop. Years later, I moved to the 2nd floor of an overgrown chicken coop. Then in 1994 I moved into the workshop I now use in the museum. Working in a living history museum means that my workspace is also a display space. 8 months out of the year, streams of visitors come through to see various craftspeople at work. This affects how I set up the shop. Unlike the cabinetmakers at colonial Williamsburg, I am not attempting to recreate a known workshop…. I work in a funny old carriage house, not in a recreated 17th-century wooden building.

Having my shop as a display space creates some challenges when setting up the benches, lathe and other fixtures. For instance, the windows are behind me, really a poor choice all around, but one that couldn’t be avoided.

overall view

 My bench is free-standing, running parallel to the railing from which museum visitors approach my workspace. I keep the bench back just far enough so that it’s out of reach,  but close enough for ease of viewing, and within reach of me handing them things to see up close. It also leaves space for me to scoot around and have closer contact with them…

 The building is brick, which makes hanging stuff tricky. Here and there are sections of boards that tools hang from; naturally the one right behind my bench holds stuff I use most often. Under this set is a workbench that I have used some this winter, but during the season it will really just be a place to pile things…tucked to the left is a rack for short boards (30″ and less) stored on edge.

hanging tools

 

Most of the work I do involves converting riven oak into boards. Lots of hatchet work and plane work, usually switching from one to the other again & again. I was taught to really keep track of the hatchet – at Country Workshops we always kept a leather guard on them when we put them down. There you have 8-12 students roaming around the workshop, and the chance for an errant bump against a hatchet left lying around was always a possibility. I have adapted that notion in my shop, and the hatchet is always either in my hand, or hanging on the wall behind me. Almost never anywhere else.

view of bench and hewing block

When I am done hewing and ready to plane this board, first thing is the hatchet goes back on the wall. Working in front of (sometimes thousands of) visitors each day, it’s easy to get distracted, so I have trained myself to always put the hatchet back. In these photos, I think you’ll be able to see the proximity of the workbench, the hewing stump/block and the spot on the wall where the hatchet hangs (see it right above my head in this photo) I think of the block, the bench and the wall rack like the “work triangle” of kitchen design…in my shop these are all within a step or two.

hatchet goes back

Other tools hang nearby as well.  

small gouges

And planes and marking tools are on a shelf under the bench. Yes, it collects dust and shavings. Every few months I pull them out & sweep under there. It’s not a big deal. The marking gauges and other small tools are stored in an open box; rulers, awls, chalklines – that sort of thing. then mallets and big stuff with no sharp edges.

under the bench

 

small tools storage

There’s really another whole section of my shop that has a lathe in it, and a whole lot of tool storage and projects hanging around. part storage, part display – other than turning it really isn’t part of my “work” space. But I’m glad I have it. Oh, and books too. and camera equipment. So I guess I use it, jut not actively. So that’s the bulk of how my shop is set up, essentially by default. I often think of my fantasy shop at home. First thing I’d add would be a framed ceiling to hang stuff from…that’s what I miss from the chicken coop, but not the cold and the mice.

If it’s eagles you came for, I don’t have them. Heather does – had them in her yard in southern Pennsylvania today. Go see http://hnartisan.wordpress.com/2011/03/14/this-ones-for-follansbee/

Heather's eagle

Another link I’ve been meaning to send is our friend Paula’s new site about baking in ovens she’s made herself, and who-knows-what-all. There’s oak in her pictures, but it’s on fire. I complained there were no birds, but she says there’s a turkey on the front page. I say that’s a technicality. It’s a website/blog combo, so take a look if you’re inclined. It’s good stuff. http://www.themagnificentleaven.com/Site/WELCOME.html

is that oak in there?
Advertisements

7 thoughts on “some workshop layout thoughts

  1. Peter,
    Today I saw Sandhill cranes flying north. Never seen them before this far east in Nebraska. Awesome site dont think I’ve ever seen that many birds in the sky. See a lot of geese around here but nothing like this.

  2. Thank you for this tour of your workshop. Long may you prosper and continue sharing your wisdom through this excellent blog.

    Rob, in the UK.

  3. Last summer I was lucky enough to visit your shop. It was very inspiring to watch you work. Your interaction with the visitors while you work seemed very natural. I work in a shop in Florida that builds things for theme parks and museums. Mostly we only get to work with plywood, MDF, fiberglass, etc. It’s great to see you working with real wood and hand tools. Thanks for talking to me in your shop and keep up the awesome work.

  4. Thanks for the detailed shop tour, Peter. The photos make it appear to be larger than it really is. It shows how little shop space one really needs when one doesn’t have to house a tablesaw, etc.

    A visit to Peter’s shop is highly recommended if anyone is ever up that way. You’ll learn a lot, and the potters right across from Peter are pretty nice too.

  5. Peter,

    Thank you for keeping the world updated on the beautiful work you do. If you have the time and inclination, I would like to learn from you about the bench in this workshop. I read a lot about the thickest, heaviest benches being the best, and your old bench at the Plymouth Plantation shop appears to be rather thin. I’d really appreciate learning about it. Thanks
    –Peter P.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s