Someday, I will have a shop with daylight.
Some of my friends have enviable shops. Daryll Whitehead’s bamboo rod shop and Denny Turk’s machine shop come to mind. It doesn’t hurt that they are both in Oregon. More to the point, though, they were both built as standalone shops, while my shops have always been squeezed into furnace rooms or garages or basements — the lesser cuts of a house. Which have been a darn sight better than no shops at all and I’ve usually managed to make more or less what I wanted to make. My current shop in the basement has enough room for pipe making — one room with a workbench, desk, sofa and TV that doubles as my practice room and man cave, a skinny room for the lathes, and the perimeter of the garage for the really dusty stuff: sawing, sanding, sandblasting. One of the first things I did when everything shut down was clean and organize my shop as much as possible. It is a nice shop, beats the hell out of a coal mine, and the guy managing to make pipes in his apartment in Moscow would call me all kinds of fitting names if I were to complain about it. That said, while I’m working my mind often wanders, and before I catch it and drag it back it sometimes designs my dream shop.
If one is to dream, might as well dream big. The dream shop has plenty of windows and a great view. Of course, the view I might specify given a blank check — Oregon coast, Sandia Mountains, my private stretch of a Montana trout stream — might be the first thing to get trimmed once negotiations begin, but I’d like to be able to see the weather. My house in Albuquerque was up on the West Mesa, and I loved watching thunderstorms roll in over the Sandia Crest.
Apart from the view, windows mean natural light. My shop has fluorescent lights. Seemed like a good idea at the time (cheap), but they suck. Sunlight gives you a better sense of color and shape, and puts you in a better mood.
Maybe a Craftsman style shop would be nice. Or maybe industrial with exposed brick and beams. The latter is probably a better candidate since sturdy, reasonably high ceilings with solid overhead lifting points are essential. Also solid floors. My dream shop will have the Bridgeport (or equivalent) milling machine that I’ve always wanted, and a few other dream machines (Hardinge toolroom lathe, a surface grinder, big Dake arbor press, actually kind of a long list) and floor space is only part of the problem. The other part is weight. A Bridgeport weighs about 2,400 pounds, a Hardinge HLVH just a bit less than that. That’s more weight than a Fiat 500 on a refrigerator‘s footprint; residential construction isn’t meant to support that kind of weight either from above or below, which is only one reason machine tools live in basements. Since I’m dreaming I can have construction that allows masses of cast iron and also windows.
Another important construction detail is an isolated room for the dust collector and air compressor. Wearing hearing protection isn’t the end of the world, which is fortunate because a dust collector is basically an air raid siren that they tried to tone down a bit. Mine supposedly puts put 85 dB, which, according to the chart and even if it isn’t the optimistic guess I suspect, is equivalent to somewhere between being 100 feet away from a freight train and being inside a boiler room. My air compressor is considerably louder, and I’d sure like to have both of them further than six feet away from me while I work. Also, ideally I would have a separate room for machine tools. Wood dust is really terrible for a metal lathe and my dear old Logan has simply had to take one for the team. Since I’m dreaming I’ll put the Hardinge and Bridgeport in their own room away from the dust and grit.
Speaking of dust collection, in my dream shop I’ll do a much better job of it. One of the first things I did once confined to quarters was whack together a dust shroud for my 12” disc sander, which was previously the worst dust offender in the shop. While better in that regard, my dust collection is still practically field expedient, requiring me to unhook the 4” hose from one machine and reattach it to another. Tom Eltang doesn’t put up with that, and his shop doesn’t seem to have a fine layer of briar dust all over everything. In my dream shop, dust collection will be powerful, effective, seamlessly integrated, and quiet.
Something that I almost forgot because it’s not dreamy but I often wish for is plumbing. Nothing elaborate, I don’t need a shower — although, as I remember moving my bandsaw from the carbide plant I reckon it might come in handy occasionally — just a can and a big sink. Not having to dash upstairs when I need to pee would be convenient, and a laundry tub where I could wash shop things would save a certain amount of hassle. If you’re going to wash a machine part in the kitchen sink you have to time the operation carefully. The idea isn’t really to make a shop that is its own home, the idea is to keep shop stuff out of the house.
Well, yes. If my dream shop is somewhere that has winter, I would like a wood stove. A couple of leather overstuffed chairs would be nice. I have a covered, maybe even screened, porch where I can sit and work in nice weather. The ocean breeze carries the dust from hand sanding away so I don’t need a dust mask. There’s a fridge with cold beer. There are miles and miles of great roads with no cars right behind the shop; I’ve been riding my bike every day so I’m fit and I feel great. The kids have settled into rewarding careers and the world’s problems have been solved — the worst of them, anyway. I guess 2020 sucked pretty hard, but at least it showed us what a mess we’d made so we could do something about it. I realize now that the dream shop isn’t really the building or the view but a time — a time when there’s nothing nipping at my heels.
The craggy Oregon coast dissolves. It’s still 2020, enough said about that, and you’d better pay attention, you idiot, you almost drilled right past the airway.
It was nice while it lasted.