How I Overcame My Small Shop Challenges and Other Thoughts.
Updated: Oct 7, 2020
When I retired from the U.S. Army, I never would have imagined that I would be living in an apartment for the next four years. It seemed to me that I could not follow my passion for woodworking due to not having a dedicated area to set up a shop. However, one day I decided that if I was going to live in an apartment, I must learn new ways to go about woodworking.
First, I had to discover what space I had available to me, in which to do any woodworking. My only option open to me in my small apartment was the eat-in-kitchen/dining room. My next obstacle was what tools could I use in such an environment. This led me to learn more about unplugged woodworking and the various hand tools and techniques available to me.
I want to pass on something I learned very quickly. When you are searching for hand tools to begin this type of woodworking learn what is good and what is not before going shopping. Secondly, do not buy every tool you see, unless you are a collector, only buy the tools you need to accomplish each project as it arises. Now you may ask, why would I not want to just buy all of the good quality tools I have found. The reason is why spend hard-earned money on tools that you may never use. I have multiple different types of planes and other types of hand tools that I may never actually need.
I jumped headlong into this new way of doing woodworking and bought everything I thought I may need at some point to complete a project with no power tools. However, once I began to look for mentors to aid me on my newfound journey into unplugged woodworking, I realized that there were none anywhere near where I lived. I started looking for online inspiration and mentorship, there are many good sources for hand tool woodworking available online. Some of the most enlightening I have found include Paul Sellers, James Wright who has a YouTube channel called Wood by Wright, and the many books that are available from Lost Art Press.
If you can hold yourself from buying all of the tools right away, I would recommend starting with a book. Sometimes books can be one of the best tools that you can buy. Start with The Anarchists Tool Chest by Christopher Schwarz, for one you cannot do any serious hand tool work without a workbench and two his thoughts on tools and his approach will stick with you long after you put the book down. I wish I had read his book before starting my journey, but I am happy where I ended up.
Before that tangent, I was talking about setting up my small space. As I alluded to in the previous paragraph, it is all but impossible to do significant hand tool woodworking without a workbench. I tried to build a small clamp on workbench that I could use on my dining room table. I quickly realized without something more substantial I would not even be able to build that. That began my search for what makes a great hand tool workbench. I will not get into all of those finer details here, as there are numerous resources and much conflicting information about the best design, proper height, how much it should weight and so much more.
My workbench design was not entirely typical in size, height, or weight and you should design yours based on your needs. My workbench needed to not only be a workbench but also a dining table for me and my kids. So, I built my workbench and bought all sorts of hand tools, I am all ready to get started on projects, or so I thought. As I stated earlier buy tools based on project needs. I had spent more money than I care to think about on tools that have greatly helped me but did not buy the tools I really needed.
I also made the mistake of thinking that if I am not using power tools then I do not have to worry about dust getting everywhere. Why I was thinking that is beyond me. Thus, I invested yet more money on dust collection that would not be in the way of daily life, and storage for all of the tools I now had. You can have all of the tools you will ever need, but if they are not organized and easy to get to you might as well not have them. With proper organization and storage, it becomes more of a joy to use the tools you need than a chore.
I spent a full year learning the new tools and building project for my family. Then I decided I wanted to pursue creating a business selling custom woodworking. I was still using only hand tools so no matter how well I marketed myself I was not able to have many clients since any project takes considerably longer. I did not give up on my dream though, and while I did not have many clients during the next year, I finally had the opportunity to buy my own place.
I continued to follow my dream of owning my own business and created Three Monkey’s Woodworking this year in June of 2020. I have been blessed with a very positive response to my business and more clients than I thought I would have any time soon. I now use power tools to aid my business wherever possible, but much of the fine details are done with hand tools. While I know there are methods to do many of those details with power tools, I love the experience and feeling that hand tools gives each project.
If you have made it thus far into this blog/tangent, I would like to thank you for reading it. I was not planning on writing about this topic but once it started flowing out, I decided to let it run. Hope to hear your thoughts or opinions about anything I have written about today.
Below is a picture of a convertible chair/stepstool I made for my daughter in my apartment workshop.