Friday, September 12, 2008


Where does all the time go? In between travel and work and all the fun that summer can spontaneously throw in one's path I've been working on a few projects. Painting siding? Remodeling the kids' room? Well, not exactly. Something arguably more fun -- setting up shop in the garage. No, not a bike shop (that's located elsewhere), but a place to create sawdust. Years ago I set up my first shop on a tiny back porch and then another larger one in the basement of a bigger house we rented. However, a series of moves culminating in this most recent one to Minnesota 6 1/2 years ago necessitated that I stow all the tools and sell off some of my larger machines. It was sad to let that interest lay dormant for so long, but that is changing now.

I suppose I've always dabbled in woodworking. My dad was a carpenter (not to mention his skills with plumbing, electrical, cabinetmaking, trim work and so on). In his spare time he worked at carving, inlay work, reproduction gun making and engraving. From my earliest days I would follow him into the shop and onto the jobsite. I sustained my first good knife cut by the time I was 4 years old. I picked up scrap wood and held boards and cleaned nails from lumber. I still remember the first time my dad let me use his Skil saw. I remember, too, what a powerful, scary tool it was for a 10 yr old and to this day I have a healthy respect for safety when it comes to power tools.

Spare weekends and some evenings have been spent strategizing and building the new shop. It would be awesome to have a fancy hardwood bench, but considering cost and practicality I prefer to make my own. I needed two of different sizes for this layout -- a single stall in our 2-car garage -- which provides ample room but not so much that I can haphazardly waste space. Starting from the ground up presents a few challenges. It's nothing like moving furniture into a room and then arranging stuff. First everything must come out and then the benches must be built which takes several days -- finish time and all it took 3-4 days per bench. When you have the disordered contents of a garage pulled out for working little things like a rain shower can pose more than a slight nuisance. But the basics have all come together and the shop is starting to take shape.

"Daddy, why do you have so many clamps?" Sylvia loves to ask. Indeed that is a lot of clamps. Here they are being used to glue the top to the second miter saw bench.

And storage for all those clamps, out of the way but close at hand. Yep, I've been carting these and many other tools around from place to place and state to state for over 7 years. When I unpacked my shop boxes I examined the newspaper stuffed inside. It dated back to July 2001. Wow, time flies.

The previous owners of our house had done what most folks do with a garage I reckon -- they stuffed it with bikes and a canoe and cars and yard stuff and old wood scraps and all the other things that don't fit or belong in the house. The problem with that, in my humble opinion, is that you are left with a space that simply holds your shit -- and by shit I mean a lot of stuff that obviously doesn't mean that much to you or it wouldn't be piled in a heap, lining the corners and blocking floor space. I sure as hell can't say I'm spartan when it comes to accruing possessions, but I can say that I have a knack for organizing and storing things in such a way that utilizes space to a better than average degree of efficiency. The garage will be a workspace primarily but will also store canoes, paddling gear, bike trailers and yard equipment. It will also (and this has been a fun challenge) preserve space for parking the car in winter.

To put it bluntly (and this is the confession): I have been in anal-retentive organizational heaven. The house is overrun with other humans who don't share my innate love of organization, mind you, so why wouldn't I be overjoyed to have a space where I can impart order to my heart's desire AND reasonably expect that it will be maintained. I relish the sight of the garage each time I open the door now and I can see my little world free of rampant entropy -- a tiny 23ft by 22ft space that is free from the chaos of the world beyond. It's pretty damned ideal for someone wired like me.

What am I gonna build? Whatever I want. I've done some tables and shelf units as well as smaller things like jewelry boxes and picture frames in the past. I'm planning to embark on more furniture down the road. But for now it's great to have the tools accessible and an orderly place to work. Our house is nearing the century mark in age after all and I hope to invest time and energy toward keeping it going for another 100 years. Productivity is all well and good, but it's also great to have a place to open the doors, survey some little accomplishments, dream of grand new projects and drink a few beers.

Open the doors and windows. Smell the cool air and soak in the wonderful warmth of the sun. Plan a project. Drink a beer. Enjoy the early fall, folks.