John McMahon shows how it’s possible to design your ideal workshop for less than the price of a takeaway meal (depending on how you look at it!)
There are some woodworkers who can do great work sitting at the kitchen table, using a sharp spoon and a pair of mole-grips. While I admire such craftsmen, I am not one of them. I need the right tools around me and a well-arranged workspace or I soon find myself descending into chaos.
I am not alone: I have taught a couple of hundred students over the years and by week three every man-jack of them has worked out that they can’t do good work on a wobbly bench in the corner of a messy garage. Perhaps you would agree, and if so keep reading…
Spending money wisely
My idea here is that we build a really good workshop that’s within the reach of a keen but not yet fully equipped woodworker. I imagine a project like this would take around three years and I’ve made a few basic assumptions: this is aimed at someone who is pretty serious about woodwork, who has a basic toolkit, and some time and space to devote to the project.
Now we need to talk about money. I have based this build on a weekly spend of £34 over three years. That makes a total of £5,304. Can you afford it? Of course you can. The average UK family spends £68 a week on recreation and culture – surely half of that could go into a worthwhile project like this without rocking the family boat too much. (Maybe ‘less than the price of a takeaway’ is stretching things a bit but it makes for a snappy title… it depends on where you get your takeaway from, I suppose!) OK, so let’s work through this one year at a time…
Year 1: the basic hand tool workshop Clean-up & lighting
The first job is to clear the junk out. I’m guessing most of you will be using the garage for this project, so park the car on the drive (cars are waterproof, after all) and chuck away everything that you haven’t used in the last year. A dark workshop is your enemy, so paint walls and ceilings white, fit ‘daylight’ tubes/ bulbs and add extra light fittings wherever you can. If there is no window in your workshop, I suggest you fit one now . Making a simple window is a really good exercise for a developing woodworker and cutting a hole in a single-skin garage wall is no biggie.
The next thing I would do is to fit a wooden floor. Most people ignore me when I suggest this and regret it when their feet are frozen blocks of ice in the winter or the first time they drop a plane on the concrete floor. Seriously, a timber floor greatly improves your workshop and needn’t cost much. I would put a layer of insulation/damp-proofing down over the concrete and fit 11mm oriented strand board (OSB) over that.
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