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Delightfully Downsized

A pared-down workshop returns the focus to the joy of woodworking.

At some point in his or her woodworking career, every woodworker dreams about a giant shop space, with ample lighting and fancy machinery. Our farm has a 1,000-square-foot outbuilding that I originally outfitted as my shop. However, as a hand-tool-focused woodworker, after a few projects under the leaky roof of that large space, I decided it was time to downsize instead. So I converted the 8×10' laundry room in our house into my new shop.

I love my new postage-stamp-size space. It is heated, which, during the winter months in Seattle, is a huge plus. The sink makes sharpening with waterstones a lot less messy. And a large window right over the bench lets in lots of natural light while giving me a great view of my chickens, goats, and alpacas playing in the field outside. If I end up building bigger-than-my-normal projects, I will probably annex the porch.

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Even with space at a premium, a dedicated sharpening station has proven to be worth its square footage. With the hassle taken out of sharpening, I more readily maintain my tools.

Designing a small workshop took a lot of careful thought to make it work right. I wanted to maximize the natural light from the window. But I still needed walking room between the bench and the window (I am 5'4" and have a fairly short wingspan), so I could work from both sides of the bench. Also, I left just enough space between the bench and the wall for me to rip long stock on my stacking saw benches. 

A hanging tool chest [opening photo] keeps my most-used tools within easy reach of the main bench. I put my assembly bench against the wall at 90° to the bench. A shelf beneath it holds all of my bench hooks, shooting boards, battens, holdfasts, and benchdogs within easy reach of both benches. 

Everything in the shop is never more than a few steps away, so not only am I walking less in the middle of a project, I also spend a heck of a lot less time wandering around looking for the tool I set down three projects ago. I’ve trained myself to put tools away as soon as I’m finished using them, and there simply isn’t space to allow the mess of multiple projects to build up. Everything in the shop has “its place,” and that makes it easy to put tools away and to find them again when needed. 

The efficiencies of being in a small space abound. For one, it forces me to think through every stage of a project before I begin. This lets me execute quicker and with more confidence.

Moving into a smaller shop space had another advantage I hadn’t predicted—space became so precious that it wasn’t hard to part with some of the tools I’d been hanging on to for far too long. Paring down my tool collection brought in extra money to upgrade some of my vintage tools to a few modern Lie-Nielsen counterparts. I ended up having fewer tools to maintain and sharpen. I can now spend more time woodworking than fighting the constant battle between Seattle’s humidity and the iron in a whole fleet of tools. 

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Bench-dog-mounted lighting travels to wherever it is most needed, eliminating the need for an expensive electrical overhaul in the farmhouse.

Someday, when I’ve got an extra $15,000 to replace the roof, insulate, plumb, and heat my 1,000-square-foot outbuilding, I may turn it back into a woodworking shop. But for now, I couldn’t be happier with my little postage stamp in the laundry room.

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