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by Steven D. Johnson
Racine, Wisconsin

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Saving Space, Ears, and Money

With nine drawers to assemble for my new shop desk/workbench/assembly table and clamps, and space enough to glue up only one or two drawers at a time, I had some "tween" time in the shop and a chance to check off some small "to do" list items.

When converting the garage and building the down to earth woodworking shop, the stairs to the second level were built with a ninety-degree turn and landing, partly to save space and partly so the last step at the top would land at the highest point under the ceiling. The space under the mid-point landing was designated to house a shop vacuum and air compressor.

Shortly after moving in, I was able to plumb air through the wall and affix a vacuum hose fitting as you can see in the picture. Both the vacuum and the air compressor are plugged into switched circuits under the landing, so I can turn either on or off from convenient wall switches. But without a door on the landing "cubbyhole," the noise from the shop vacuum was no different than before. The reduction of noise was to be a primary benefit of sequestering two of the noisiest machines in the shop.

The "Hobbit" door on the stairway cubbyhole.
Finally, with spare time and scraps of wood, I made a standard 1-1/4" thick door, albeit much shorter – sort of a Hobbit door. It is essentially a hollow-core door, a sandwich of plywood with expanded foam as the meat of the sandwich. Regular door hinges were set into hand-cut mortises. Instead of a doorknob, which would have been overkill, I used a butterfly catch and a drawer pull handle that matches the drawer pulls on all the other cabinets in my shop.

Prior to installing the shop vacuum in its cubbyhole, the beast emitted a high-pitched 81 dB of sound. Now, safely ensconced underneath the landing, a mere 68 dB of sound is measured from the same distance (for a primer on shop noise abatement, see the article ([click here] "Sound Safety Tips"). The air compressor, which literally "rocked the shop" before, is also significantly quieter.

Now, I can hook up a hose anytime I need the vacuum or compressor, and hide the hose away when not in use. Neither machine is taking up valuable floor space. I use disposable filter bags in the vacuum, and when full, it is quite simple to roll the vacuum out from under the landing, replace the bag, and roll it back in. All in all, the set-up is working pretty well.

Most woodworkers agree there is always a driving desire to use every nook and cranny in a shop wisely – space is always at a premium. The small space under the short lower section of stairs was just such a space, so in a matter of minutes, I cut a piece of 1/4" plywood, added boards around the sides to make a sort of "lipped" tray, and attached five casters to the underside.

The fifth caster was put in the middle of the tray to prevent sagging. This little rolling cart now holds my "go-bag" tools – the bag I grab when neighbors and friends have emergencies and need help. There is also room for my "electrical go-bag," a coil of air hose, and shop vacuum attachments. When I need something, the rolling tray is easy to access. At all other times, this stuff is out of the way.

Upstairs the shop is far from pretty, but it is getting better. Bit by bit I am adding insulation and covering the walls and ceiling. My old store-bought and modified workbench has found its seventh life now as a sharpening station.

Installing the insulation is pretty easy, but attaching the OSB (the cheapest thing I could think of) to the roof rafters is a very difficult one-person job… at least for this one person. I started with the gable-end walls – insulation, OSB, and paint. That was not too difficult. But then I started on the east-side rafters. Holding a sheet of OSB overhead at an angle while fastening it is really a job for four or more hands. And yes, I ran out of paint, so I only painted the section above the bench. Still, it helps with the lighting.

There is still a ways to go. One of my original goals was to have a shop so tight, so well insulated, that I could heat it with my coffee mug warmer and a candle. I’m not quite there yet, but with the sub-freezing temps here, I am pleased at how little additional heat I have to inject. So far (fingers crossed and knocking on wood) my utility bills are half what they were last year in my old shop. Finishing the upstairs insulation is a high priority based on this early success.

Stick around for 2012. It is going to be an exciting year with new projects, techniques, and tools. And thanks, everyone, for all your support. Woodworkers rule! Happy New Year!

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Steven Johnson is retired from an almost 30-year career selling medical equipment and supplies, and now enjoys improving his shop, his skills, and his designs on a full time basis (although he says home improvement projects and furniture building have been hobbies for most of his adult life).

Steven can be reached directly via email at sjohnson13@mac.com.

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