Friday, February 5, 2010

Story Of The Old Shop

Over the last couple of months since I posted photos of my old shop I have been asked several times " what happened to the old shop? " This is a great question so I figured I would make a post about it.

My old shop was 3,000 sf and located on the second floor of an old 1800's woolen mill in Grafton, WI. I was there for about six years not only as a tenant but as caretaker as well. This was a great location because I also rented the house across the street so I would just step out the door in the morning, take a few steps and be at the shop. Most of my work back then was cabinets, entertainment centers the typical projects you see in any wood shop. At that time I really didn't do much furniture work.

During the time of renting the house and shop Michele and I were married and started looking for a home. We came across the property in Mequon where we now live. It's a good sized property zoned B-5. Being zoned B-5 we can not only live on the property but have a business here as well. On the property is our home, garage and storage shed and we have enough room for another building so our plan was to build a separate building for a shop. In order to balance out our budget and buy the home I needed to give up the high rent shop in the mill and put most my equipment in storage and rent a smaller place while we plan to build a shop here. During the time of renting the smaller shop I set up a small studio here so I could work on our home and also work on a few client projects as well. It didn't take long before I was working more at home and less at the rental space. Also at this time I became more involved with hand tools and furniture work. We were talking with the city and making plans for the new shop, this process took over a year. Over that year my hand tool skills and tool collection grew and I found myself spending even less time at the second rental. Since I was paying rent on a space I barely used I decided to move everything here and store the equipment in the garage.

Our garage does not have adequate power to run shop equipment so everything was covered and I continued to work with hand tools building furniture. My thought was why spend the money on permits, labor and supplies to add power to the garage now when a shop is in the near future. We did get the approval from the city to build a separate 2,000 sf building for the wood shop. The plan was to start construction the next coming spring. While waiting for spring the type of work and the way I worked continued to change. I turned down cabinet jobs since I was not set up for this work and found more furniture work. The work I was doing and how I was working become so enjoyable my thoughts of having a shop with power equipment started to fade. Also the commercial design of the approved building no longer interested me so it was put on hold.

At this point the plan is to still build a separate studio. Notice I now say studio and not shop. Rather than a 2,000 stick framed structure on a slab I'm planning a timber framed structure of approximately 650 sf or so. My work now is primarily done with hand tools so I do not need the larger space. I enjoy my work so much more now, I have no interest in going back to a power tool dominate shop. Actually the only machines I still find a use for is a band saw and drill press. My interest in a timber framed is for a few reasons. First is because of the hand work that would be involved. Second is the beauty of a timber framed structure. Third is because if we ever decide to move the studio can be moved to a new location easily.

It still surprises me that years ago my desire was to have a big shop, big tools as well many tools, biscuit joiners, dovetail jigs, hinge boring machine etc and now I am at my most content with only what is needed.

I hope you enjoyed my short story. Forgive me if I passed over something or did not use correct structure in witting this post. My witting skills are very much lacking.


  1. Ahhh so thats what happened with it. handtools all the way. i mean i use machinery but only to do the grunt work.

    i hear you on the small "studio idea, 650 SqFt sounds like a cozy little spot to get work done.

  2. If I would go back to building more cabinets and armories and similar items I would opt for the machinery again. One of the things I enjoy about the way I work now is that I'm more connected to my work. At times I miss using the machinery but I have grown accustomed to the quiet I now have in the studio. When I do take on a regular cabinet job I go to a friends shop and do all the milling and cutting and assemble back here. I have nothing against the use of machinery and power tools I just enjoy my Japanese hand tools so much more.

  3. i dare you to re-saw some hard maple for a cabinet with hand saws

  4. I've done it a few times but my results were not that good. It was hard to keep a straight cut and very slow going. I'll need to try again soon for drawers. I'll use a larger more aggressive saw this time and see how it goes. I haven't needed thin stock for awhile so this should be interesting. If I fail it's another good reason for a 24" Agazzani.

  5. It sound a little bit like my story... I started wood working about 2years ago and didn't have space for power tools, so i went the hand tools route thinking as soon as i get a shop, I would get all the power tools I need... But in the meen time I discovered a love for hand tools and the shop, I still would like a bigger area than my 12x12 shop I have right now but it can wait. And I do everything with hand tools and love it... I can see my self hadding a good band saw when I have a larger space to work!

  6. A bandsaw is a great machine to have. I can do without a table saw.

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    Hand Tools