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by Steven D. Johnson
Racine, Wisconsin

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Shop Overhaul

Click on any picture to see a larger version.

Every month this column and my videos generate e-mails and comments complimenting the cleanliness and neatness of my shop, and these comments, while greatly appreciated, are also wholly justified. Modesty is really overrated!

All kidding aside, of course my shop gets messy, especially in the middle of a long day's work. But when I call it a day and before I head to the house, everything gets cleaned, straightened, and organized. It is such a pleasure to turn on the lights the next morning and go to work in a clean shop! But this fantasy has a dark side… and the dark side is upstairs.

In my rush to get the shop finished, move in, get set up and start making furniture again, I never really finished the upstairs, or loft, of my shop. Oh, I have dabbled here and there… I've slowly added insulation, covered the walls, installed some shelves, replaced a really bad window, built in an exhaust fan (also works like an attic fan on warm days), and painted a little here and there, but it is still a mess and still not quite "right."

It occurred to me while noodling through the design considerations for the mobile sanding center that I typically put a lot of care and forethought into designing a worktable, cabinet, or shop fixture, yet I have taken a haphazard, patchwork approach to my loft space that is truly embarrassing. So, it is time to make amends.

The first step, I guess, is to admit to the problem, so… for the world to see… here is my embarrassing upstairs mess. The walls (or should I call it the ceiling?) need to be painted. The lights are hung in a temporary fashion, the floor is full of empty boxes (why am I saving those?), there are tubs of electrical, painting and drywall supplies, small stepladders, scraps of construction lumber, assorted doodads and thingamajigs, and junky plastic sawhorses that have no place in my woodworking shop.

I like to keep my woodworking shop "pure." Yet this winter I managed to clutter my shop loft with trim boards being painted for a project in the basement, plumbing supplies for a bathroom remodel, and all manner of off-site job site tools… does a rotary concrete breaker belong in a woodworking shop? I think not! Nor does a framing nailer, a tile saw, or half-dozen cans of leftover paint.

Rehabilitation for the messy and disorganized loft space should start by defining the design criteria (my wish list), just like I would do with any other shop project. What exactly do I want to achieve?

  1. The loft space should be "pure" and dedicated to woodworking
  2. The loft space will be limited to five primary purposes:
    1. Tool/blade sharpening and all that entails, plus other tool maintenance chores
    2. Storage of woodworking (only) tools and supplies used less frequently than those kept downstairs
    3. Storage of "mechanic's" tools, used even less frequently (but often enough I don't want to take a hike in the snow when I need a socket wrench)
    4. Overflow space for project subassemblies and finishing work
    5. A nice warm place to sit, sketch, think, and gaze out the windows (heat rises, so the upstairs is always toasty warm in the winter) – maybe even two chairs, so I can have company
  3. The juncture of wall (ceiling) and floor is an angle, not conducive to storage, so special arrangements need to be made to utilize that space effectively and without crawling on hands and knees to retrieve something
  4. The walls are also the roof, so other than the gable ends, there is no vertical wall space for hanging tools – need an innovative solution

There are two old storage barns on my property. One I cleaned up, wired up, shooed away the critters, plugged holes, added gutters and downspouts, painted, added a lock and even installed a branch circuit to the shop burglar alarm system. That barn is where all my wood is stored. Like so many other projects, achieving nirvana in my shop loft space will lead to, or result from, a cascade of other projects, each dependent upon the other, and barn number two figures into the equation. It will need the same extreme makeover as my other barn so that I can safely and securely store all those job-site tools and construction supplies.

This is going to be a bit of an adventure, so I better get to work.

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