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The Value of Floor Space in the Woodshop

Open Shop SpaceLast weekend the buyer of my bandsaw came to pick it up. It was exciting to see that she would have a good home and would get lots of use. As we were rolling her out of the shop I was asked what I have planned for the now empty space. I hesitated a bit and probably said something like, “I’ll find something”. The reality is I don’t have anything planned for the space. Truthfully a 14″ bandsaw has a very small footprint anyway so its not like I suddenly have a huge open area. But that little bit of open air is simply wonderful.

We woodworkers love our shops and love our tools. We build work flow diagrams and engineer our process down to the sub atomic level, cramming tools and work surfaces into every square inch of our never big enough workshops. I have seen some ingenious solutions and workshop layouts that would make a Six Sigma Black belt proud. But one thing is missing: dead space. My God man, we’re woodworkers not rats in a maze! Add in a little room to breath and stretch.

I’m just as guilty and have filled every open space in my shop with something. New space opens up and I immediately need to find something to put there. But not this time. For the last week I have just left that little corner open and it is amazing how useful a little elbow room is. We forget that space is needed to build our projects; to actually dry fit and set aside. Perhaps an open space to set a panel in clamps while it dries. Maybe a place where you can stick a full scale drawing and step back to decide if it looks right. Sometime you just need some elbow room so you don’t feel like a lab rat.

Just last night I needed some room to work at my lathe and wanted enough space so I could get a camera shot of the whole thing. Sure enough that empty corner came in real handy. I didn’t actually even move the lathe into the corner nor did I stand in the corner while working. Just feeling the empty space behind me and the freedom to move around without running in to something made my time at the lathe that much more enjoyable.

When I look at photos of “dream shops” the one thing that is so attractive is the open space. We all look at those pictures and dream about what we would do with a shop that big and how we would set it up. The truth is for the average woodworker, very little space is actually needed for their tools (electric or twinkie powered). It is the dead space in between the tools that makes the shop usable and a pleasant place to work.

Cherish your open spaces in the shop and fight the urge to fill them with tools. Try filling them with some music instead…or maybe a sleeping dog…ooh maybe a Jointmaker Pro…dangit…bad Shannon, bad!

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