Shop Improvements

Every shop is a work in progress.  There is a constant flow of background tasks, dedicated to keeping the place clean and organized.  Dust is a hazard to breathe, and can cause fires.  Clamps, glue, drill bits, blades, hand tools -- things end up all over the place at the end of the day, making it hard to find what you need the next morning.  These improvements are a key part of the life of a workshop, as they enable one to make things faster, cleaner, and ultimately, better.  

Every shop I've ever worked in has had bursts of self-improvement from time to time.  When I made cabinets, I built some insulated doors to the bench room, to keep in the heat from the pellet stove so the concrete countertops wouldn't freeze at night.  In Alabama, I built a shed for the garden tools.  The last couple of weeks, I've been doing a lot of shop improvements at both ReBuild Foundation and the ReBuilding Exchange.  

At the ReBuild Foundation, I built a four-tier, 5' x 16' x 10' tall lumber rack for all the salvaged treasures they have down there.  It was a scrapful effort, patched together out of old 2" x 4"s, pallets, and bits of plywood.  When a piece wasn't long enough, I scabbed two together.  It felt good to be wielding a nailgun again, shooting something together. 
The lumber racket.  Ladder included, no extra charge.  

At RX, there was an urgent need for a new metal chop saw table and cart for the welding equipment.  I spent a day putting some things together in the same scrappy fashion, using whatever bits and pieces I could get my hands on.  

Over the last few months, I've interviewed around town, met a number of architects, and chatted with designers of all kinds.  When I mention that I have a degree in architecture, but I'm working in a wood shop, I've gotten kindly smiles and a whisper of condescension.  Sometimes, I don't think people realize that I am solving design problems every day.  These little shop improvements I made this past week certainly aren't going to win any beauty contests, but each one started with a pile of trash and ending up with something durable, functional, and useful.  Each engages a range of issues that are the same ones we encounter in architecture: ergonomics and interaction with the human body; structural considerations, as that rack I made at ReBuild probably holds a ton or more of lumber; some, however limited, visual appeal; and material considerations.  I love that I walk into work in the morning, look at a problem, and walk out eight hours later with something solid to show for my efforts, something that will make someone's life easier.  This condescension to physical work denies the intellectual engagement that such work requires, a topic covered in greater detail and with greater eloquence by Matthew Crawford in his book Shop Class as Soulcraft.  

Following are a series of photos illustrating a day in the life at RX.  

The metal chop saw set-up.  The saw itself is not level with the table, leading to jury-rigged workpiece support.  Also, there is very little infeed and outfeed space, and the clamps that keep the saw from moving interfere with cutting.

All cleaned up.
The future table: a discarded oak-veneer built-in desk from somewhere, currently destined for the garbage.  All the decent salvageable lumber had already been pulled out of it.  

I'm not a paid tool endorser or anything, but this nightmarish-looking Stanley wrecking bar/hammer/pry bar/chisel phenomenon was great for stripping all the bits and pieces off of the bottom of the desk.  

I cut it in half and slid the halves apart, leaving a gap the exact width of the saw.  A framework of old
2" x 4"s is held below the surface of the top the exact thickness of the base of the chop saw.


This cleat allows the saw to "click" into place, holding it securely without having clamps all over the place, getting in the way.  


Ready for action.

The sides of the new welding cart.  

Wheels are always a bucket of fun.


There's a nice compartment for the gas tanks in the back, a shelf for the welder so you don't have to stoop to turn it on, and a pegboard on the back for hanging the welding masks.