Don’t Ignore the Fourth Wall
This is something that I have heard many a director and acting coach tell me in a former life. The fourth wall being the theatre term for the invisible wall on a set that separates the actors from the audience. As a performer you spend all your time facing this wall yet the tendency is to ignore it thereby acknowledging that it doesn’t exist. I had a director once actually block actions to be done along the fourth wall during an aria in order to give my performance some direction and hopefully more believability. I admit that it was probably more a lack of acting talent than lack of blocking that made that particular aria rather dull, but the exercise was a good one and once I paid attention to the fourth wall my performance was more organic.
So what does this have to do with woodworking? Very little, unless you are a garage woodworker like myself. We garage shop owners have this fourth wall but instead of it being invisible it takes the form of a garage door. In just about every garage shop I have visited, the tools and benches are arrayed around the shop in a U shape with the open end towards the door. Perhaps some of us are setting up this way so that a car can still be pulled into the garage, but I’ll bet that even those of us who do not put cars into the garage still unconsciously ignore this fourth wall. Maybe you leave it open so as to move lumber in and completed project out through the door. If this is the case ask yourself just how much space you actually need and why not move something along that wall.
I worked this way for years without ever realizing how much space I was wasting at the front of my shop. As I sold off power tools space wasn’t such a premium and my workbench was the center of the shop so I never really thought about that spot up front. Then as I started building other stationary objects like my joinery bench, treadle lathe, and spring pole lathe I needed to find a place to put them. Naturally since the space near the garage door was free things ended up there, even if only temporarily. Often I will move my sharpening bench up near this front wall to work too. When the weather is nice, I will open the garage door and move things out into the driveway to work in the daylight. Now I use this space all the time while leaving an aisle of sorts to still bring things in and out of the shop via the garage door. I essentially added almost 150 square feet to the front of the shop by not ignoring this fourth wall.
The real reason I bring this up is that even though I have realized the benefits of using this space for several years now, as I’m gearing up to renovate my shop this spring I have been doing some lay out in my head and on paper. I realized last night while looking at one of my drawings that I was still leaving this front wall bare. My shop renovation will involve a lot of demolition of stationary cabinets which will actually free up a lot of space so yet again this front wall is going unused. Now I’m starting to rethink my plan and what could be better used along the fourth wall. Don’t ignore this space, you might be surprised that you already are without even knowing it.