Well, today I put the final coat of finish on what is yet another chapter in an ongoing love story: the continually changing set-up of the Bronze Oak Leaf shop. This will probably turn into a two-part post on the proper care and feeding of a woodshop; skipping over the placement of power tools (boring) and going right into how I made my shop fit me. Remember me? The one around whom all of this revolves?
I inherited a really nice start to a nice shop from Gary, the guy who sold us our house. The only problem is, I’m lazy. Yes, me. Lazy and manly. Or maybe man-ish. I can’t quite decide.
We are in the eighth year of blissful happiness in our little wooded corner of the world, and I am in the eighth year of ecstasy in my 24′ x 24′ box of total manliness (this time I’m sure). In that first five years, I was plagued by two lazy-man syndromes: the “that’s good enough for a shop” syndrome, and the “I have enough scrap lumber laying around for that” syndrome. I was putting up shelves made from reclaimed 2×4′s, running screws willy-nilly into the walls wherever I needed to hang something, and generally making a mess out of the nicest interior to a wood shop I have ever seen.
You see, Gary was a professional furniture builder. And his shop and his home showed it.
Picture, if you will, O.S.B. Oriented Strand Board. Some call it particle board. Most call it junk. It’s the 4×8 sheets of–stuff?–that are made up of large splinters and shavings of wood glued and mashed together into the sheets most commonly substituting for real plywood in sub-floors and exterior walls in home construction. It’s cheap, ugly, and apparently an interesting medium of art for Gary, the man who shares his name with SpongeBob’s pet snail.
Gary took O.S.B. and made a complete conversation piece out of the future Bronze Oak Leaf shop. He ripped strips of 5 1/2″ from sheets of O.S.B., tongue-and-grooved them, added a 1/16″ chamfer around the edges, sanded smooth, then polyurethaned the whole lot. He then hung them horizontally on the bare studs, staggering the joints to make beautiful interior walls. Most agree that it was a lot of work for O.S.B. They also admit that the results are stunning. They are right on both counts.
This is the shop where I first started my foray into woodworking by building a gargantuan set of shelves from the ugliest used 2×4′s and plywood laying around the place. Good enough for a shop. Need to hang a hammer? Grab the screwgun.
A few years of generally mucking up my shop later, something happened. I had built a few pieces of furniture, and began to take note of my progression from the first piece, replete with mistakes and omissions, to the latest, which was looking decidedly better. Joints were fitting more tightly. Finished surfaces looked better due to a better-tuned handplane. In short; I was becoming competent.
It was then that I began to notice some of the less-than-pretty work I had done in my own sanctuary. ”Wow”, I thought, “could I have picked an uglier 2×4 for that?” ”Where the hell did I get that piece of plywood?” ”Why did I trim out that huge, beautiful window in rough-sawn Hemlock?” I realized that I had taken a chance to make something beautiful, and completely squandered it.
Now, I realize that your shop is your sanctuary. For some it may be the basement. For some it may be a 2000 square foot McWoodshop. But for all of us, it’s a place that, when we’re out there, is ours. Even when we share it with the kids’ bicycles, the wife’s lawn chairs, or the burnable garbage that can’t be burned until it quits raining. The place where you are the Master and Commander in your own little world.
Very soon, we will talk about the aforementioned last coat of finish. We’ll talk about red-neck feng-shui, and how I made myself at home in my own shop. If we’re lucky, maybe I can even help you come up with a cool name for a woodshop.