Northwest Triple-room Shop
Dale Faulstich goes through woodworking shops the way some go through cars. "This is the fifth shop I've had in my life," says the renowned carver of Northwest Native American totem poles, like the twin posts , and other artwork. But just like the vehicle you customize to a T, he's found his keeper.
SIZE: 30×40' (1,200-sq-ft) space, divided into three sections: 168-sq-ft office/design studio; 672-sq-ft carve/paint studio; and 360-sq-ft millwork/fabrication room.
CONSTRUCTION: 2×4 and 2×6 frame with cedar siding.
HEATING: Woodstove, plus ceiling-hung forced-air propane heater.
ELECTRICAL: 200-amp service panel.
LIGHTING: 10 dual full-spectrum fluorescent fixtures in the carve/paint studio; six in the millwork/fabrication ("sawdust") room; as well as spotlight incandescents above tools.
DUST COLLECTION: Portable shop vacuum in machinery room, connected to various tools as needed.
AIR COMPRESSOR: 5-hp upright compressor with
He's learned from each previous shop's deficiencies and applied those lessons to the next. Each one evolved in design and efficiency. Along the way, he's acquired new tools and replaced others. However, his radial-arm saw—the first power tool he ever bought—is left over from his first dedicated shop, in the carriage house of a rented two-story Victorian. That was about 10 miles from where he lives today, on five acres in rural Sequim, Washington, on the Olympic Peninsula northwest of Seattle.
In this wooded area, he's built a shop designed for his work: carving masks, sculptures, and furniture pieces. "The shop is designed specifically for what I do," he acknowledges. "But I think that every carver and woodworker could take advantage of some of the things I've done here."
That includes plenty of elbow room. "I've just got to have it," Dale says. He constructed his split-level unattached building with a 15'-tall cathedral ceiling so he wouldn't worry about smacking lumber and finished pieces into light fixtures. Most walls are 8' tall. The walls in the millwork / fabrication room, where he keeps most of his power tools—Dale calls it the "sawdust room"—are taller because it's on a lower level. "I made that room level with the outside so I could drive a vehicle into the room, if necessary," he says. A crawl space underneath the various rooms provides storage, plus a home for the wiring of his 200-amp panel.
The exterior is clad with low-maintenance unfinished cedar siding. The 8' interior walls are 5⁄8 " drywall painted white for brightness.
Dale built the shop in 1984; by today's standards, the building isn't insulated well. Windows are single-paned. "It was the early '80s, when energy conservation wasn't as important as it is today," Dale points out, "and the mild Northwest Coast climate doesn't demand heavy insulation. However, I would be more energy-conscious if I were to build today."
Dale built his fifth shop in the early '80s, when he had established himself as a carver, although not yet of totem poles. He divided the 30×40' area into three main sections (clockwise from top): a millwork/fabrication room that he calls the "sawdust room;" carve/paint studio; and office/design studio. A sliding door separates the millwork area from the carve/paint studio, keeping dust away from finished pieces.
For heat, Dale used to rely solely on a woodstove (below); he's added a forced-air burner that hangs from the ceiling of the carve/paint studio, one of three working areas. He installed a plywood floor instead of opting for much more convenient but uncomfortable concrete.
"My previous shop, in the first property I owned, had concrete," Dale recalls. "It was the last concrete floor I wanted. It might be easy to install, but it's cold and hard on the legs, especially if you stand for quite a long time. So the 3⁄4 " plywood floor works a lot better." Dale places 5⁄8 "-thick foam antifatigue mats in front of any place where he spends a lot of time standing.
Taking it outside
Dale did install a concrete floor in the sawdust room (see above), accessed from a sliding door. Woodworking machinery, all on casters, lines the wall. This is where he cuts large pieces that eventually become masks, boxes, furniture, and totem poles up to 20' tall. (He and a crew carve the more complex 45' poles in an off-site commercial facility.)
The board on the wall is Dale's shop easel. The 4×8' sheet of plywood, with simple framing on its back side, is hinged to the wall so Dale can adjust it to any angle. Magnets hold drawings to the galvanized metal surface.
Dale also rips workpieces to make totem pole wings, and he uses his 16" bandsaw to make initial cuts on a mask. To drill holes that follow the contours of masks, Dale relies on a radial drill press—it adjusts to any angle and moves in and out.
He takes advantage of the mild temperatures in the Northwest. "All my tools are on wheels," he relates, "so I can just roll them outdoors when it's a pleasant summer day."
Dale's educational work is done inside, however. In the carving studio, where he conducts classes in Native American art, he has installed student-size workbenches. A single-panel sliding door made from pine separates his carve/paint studio from the sawdust room.
"I close the door for quiet, to keep dust out of my office, and to keep sawdust away from pieces that are drying," he says. "If you're a hobbyist, it's probably not necessary to be that elaborate. But I have multiple projects going at once. One of those may be a finished piece that's got paint drying; I might be joining boards in another; and I might be carving in a third."
Specialized spaces for special tasks
Doing mostly carving, Dale doesn't perform a lot of tasks that kick up plenty of dust. For that reason, he has put off investing in a central dust-collection system, instead using a portable shop vacuum.
What is essential, however, is a microwave oven he uses to dry pieces quickly. "The recipe is microwave a piece on high for 2 minutes, let it cool for 10 minutes, and put it back in for 2 minutes, weighing it at each stage," he says. "When the weight stabilizes, all the water is out of it. A typical mask can lose from 8 to 16 ounces of water."
As with other objects he crafts, Dale carves from the native hardwood on his property. So an essential for his carving studio is a place to hollow out the logs, as well as shelves to set them upon to dry.
Everything begins in Dale's office, which he purposefully built into his shop layout. "I've learned over the years that it's essential to invest however many hours it takes to create a good design for each project," Dale says. "If you start with a good design, even if you cheat on the craftsmanship, the finished product will still be good. But if you start with a poor design, no matter how good your craftsmanship, the finished product will be poor. So, I spend many hours sitting there."
Dale's woodworking has come a long way since the first room he devoted to his craft after moving to Washington state in 1973: the living room of a house he rented. "I had no garage or basement, so I moved all the furniture out of the living room and put my tools there," he remembers.
Having relocated to the Northwest and established himself as a carver, Dale and his wife, Heather, built a house, complete with workshop, in 1979. A desire to stay put led to the acreage where they've lived for 30 years.
Dale didn't build his current shop simply to make it bigger. "I built it so I could have space for higher-quality tools, which I could afford because I was making a better living," he explains. "One of the things I learned is that if you're going to upgrade, have a purpose to it."
Dale's space suits him perfectly. And it's a keeper.
Projects and Ideas
For limited space, these small benches, which Dale's students use during his classes, are near-perfect solutions. Placing casters on one end only, he can move each bench like a wheelbarrow, "yet, they're rock-solid," says Dale. He used alder for the sides, exterior-grade pigmented ¾" medium-density overlay (MDO) for the carcase, and construction-salvage oak 2×4s for the benchtop (but recommends any hardwood). "The 2×4s make the top more stable than a solid slab," Dale says.
Just out of the Coast Guard in 1972, Dale Faulstich put his artistry to good use, doing commercial work for the Jamestown S'Klallam Native American community, located in Sequim, Washington. "I did various signs, carved doors for the tribal administration building, and vehicle lettering, using native motifs in carving," Dale recalls. "The more I did, the more fascinated I was with their art. So I learned more about it and eventually carved totem poles as a hobby."
In 1993, the tribe was ready to open a casino and approached Dale to provide 10 totem poles for that enterprise. Tribal officials liked Dale's 6'-diameter, 49'-high efforts so much, they asked him to do more. Since then, he's created poles for medical plazas, dental clinics, and other sites. "There's so much to do," Dale says, "and each project is different."
Besides being involved in various tribal projects, Dale is helping to carry on the native art tradition by teaching classes in designing and carving traditional objects, and is the subject of a book about the craft. (See below.) He and his family—wife, Heather; daughter, Holly; and son, Tyler—live in the house they built in 1979. For more information about Dale's art, visit www.olypen.com/hhtd.