And holy crap, have I lost it. The touch, that is. The closest I’ve gotten to fine woodworking was in 2007! That’s the last time I held a chisel in anger. Well, okay, some inlay on the bartop and floors, but really. It’s not that I haven’t been working in wood, but the kind of delicate hand work that I really love has just not been happening.
So, it was with some trepidation that I took saw in hand and set out to make a pair of Shoji screens to fit over my neighbor-facing kitchen window. And well should I have trembled; the joints look like they were cut by an epileptic third grader. I’ll spare my loyal readers any pictures, lest I spoil my reputation as craftsman extraordinaire.
A word about my environment. I wear hearing protection – specifically, one of those FM radio-equipped earmuffs (the FM radio on this particular model gets no reception, I can’t recommend it). I’ve attached an MP3 player so I can listen to podcasts while I work. This morning, I went to work without said earmuffs – all I was doing was hand work, so there was no need for ear protection. And voila! I can do good work again.
I’ve re-learned two important lessons. The more obvious lesson was that woodworking, especially hand work, is meditative. It’s monotonous, repetitive, and It demands absolute concentration on the task at hand. Terri Gross, god bless her, has no place in the woodshop. The second is the importance of sound. LISTEN to your tools – the difference between pairing to a line and bottoming out is right there, in your ear. A hand saw should just kiss the wood at first, and that happy slicing sound should never be replaced with the grind of an over-enthusiastic shove.
Workshop tip – attach the remote control for your dust collection to your headset. You’ll never lose it.
Still building out the shop. A couple weeks ago, I got a large blower installed, which pumps enough outside air into the shop to turn the air over about every three minutes. Now, it’s all about the vacuum system.
One cute trick that I used - everything on the walls is on 30 degree cleats. The shelf below is also on a cleat - i just cut a notch out of the bottom of it. It’s strong enough for me to sit on.
The rest of the shop is a bit of a mess - with no vacuum system, sawdust ends up on the floor, up my nose, around the corner, and inside “sealed cabinets”. I’ll be glad when it’s done!
I quit my job a few days ago, so it’s time to get started on some real projects. I’m building out a workshop over at NIMBY. It’s in West Oakland, near the port. I’ve heard the area referred to as “dogtown” (as opposed to dogpatch, in SF, I guess). It’s a strange mix of industrial, aging residential, and brand new vandalism-resistant condos. Every block has a different personality - some are benign, and some scare the shit out of me.
The seemingly inexorable death of the industrial zones at the hands of the housing boom has halted, and in a weird place. The warehouses are here, but they’re empty, or converted to light industry. Some were probably waiting to be torn down so more condos could go in. But it’s bustling during the day; we’re next to a lumberyard and a recycling center. The local drug addicts are omnipresent, and always hungry for scrap to feed their habits. We let them go through the trash, and they leave our stuff (and cars) alone. It’s an amicable relationship, conducted at arm’s length.
One beneficial side effect of the death of industry is that there’s a LOT of equipment available at the wrecking yards, and it’s being sold at scrap metal prices. This is large stuff, so it’s hard to resell. All of it requires a forklift to move, and it runs on three phase power, which isn’t available to your average home based woodworker. Details on the machines when I have more of them in my greedy little hands, but it looks promising.
The space that I’m turning into a shared workshop is reasonably large - about 1500 square feet. It’s going to need a lot of help. But today was a milestone, I think. One of the local business had a large Taiwanese dust collector, a little banged up. I have one of these at home, and I can’t say that I love it, but it’s functional, and I”m not excited about hauling mine across the bay. I offered the shopowner a low price, and he thought a moment, and made me a gift of it! My fantasy is that we’ll get people to contribute to the shop, and they can come play and make it a better place. I’m four days in, so far, so good.
I have a terrible habit, which most of my friends will happily confirm. I impress myself far too easily. Every time I complete a step, I stop to admire it. “Gosh, will you look at that. Can’t believe I did it myself!” I waste amazing amounts of time this way. So, I made a rule. If I’m in the shop, I have to keep moving. Since most woodwork requires at least a little planning, this usually means that I’m cleaning. The floor is the obvious thing, of course. But really, “cleaning” means:
- sharpening, sharpening, sharpening
- oiling tools
- removing rust from surfaces (thankfully, that’s rare)
- lubricating machinery
- vacuuming dust out of strange places
- emptying the dust collector
- putting tools away
- making new tool holders
- sorting (finishes, hardware, fasteners, scrap wood)
- stacking and unstacking wood
I can’t recall where I read it, but someone said, “every week, do one thing to improve the shop.” Make a new tool holder, install some lighting, improve dust collection, etc. Today, I’m going to improve the dust collection on my lathe. Right now, it loves to spew dust behind the lathe cabinet, which is where the heater is. Dust in the heater is bad.
I have about a zillion images. These include the current site plan. Oddly, the single aspect that has caused the most trouble is the driveway. Lots of rules. Minimum turning radius (40 feet, from my reading of the regs), that weird looking throat thing is mandatory, if it’s more than 150′ long there has to be a turnaround for fire trucks, location of hydrant, etc. And a mandatory 2500 gallon water tank. The list goes on. So if something seems screwy, there’s probably an equally screwy law that requires it. The french doors in the small house will be replaced with a nanawall (it’s hard to model) which will open to the west. Changes from the last rev include flattening the roof, expanding the entranceway, and adding the windows in the dividing walls between the main room and the bedroom. They were always there in my mind, they just kept falling out of the model… The house is now 840 square feet, the legal maximum for the second home on the property.
Comments encouraged; mistakes are easy to fix when it’s all digital…
1600 square feet on the bottom part, not including the deck (I’ll use that as a wood drying area - the thing just plain looks silly without something on the north side). Upstairs is a thousand ft^2. I’ll likely use that for glasswork. Not shown on this plan are the “someday” buildings - the main house, an onsen (Japanese style bathhouse), spraybooth (probably a shipping container), and a guesthouse (maxes out at 600 square feet, no kitchen allowed. Oh, and the septic system, but really, that’s not much to look at.
The heart of this building project will be a workshop. I’m currently working in a 700 square foot basement, much of which is dedicated to car space. It’s manageable, but I’m quickly running out of wood storage. Larger projects are also a problem. I started by looking at barns. This fellow - Dano - has come up with some lovely barn plans. But the cost per square foot will be on the order of $60-$80 per, if I have someone else build it. I’d love to build it myself, but it’s a chicken-and-egg problem. There’s nothing there now but a pasture - no tools, and no workspace.
My friends over at NIMBY found me a 24′ high-cube shipping container. “High cube” means they’re a foot taller than standard shipping containers - they clock in at 9′6″. Handy, if you want to store lumber. You can stand it up in the container, instead of stacking it lengthwise. And who doesn’t like ten foot ceilings? That’ll help me get established out there, but realistically, it’s going to be awfully hard to complete an entire structure by working weekends, especially since the land is an hour’s drive from my current home.
So why not make the shop out of containers? Stack them up like legos around a hollow center, and roof the whole thing. Standard steel buildings are cheap to extend lengthwise, but they cost a packet to make them wider (stronger trusses are required) and the costs on going higher are even worse. For a building with 12′ to 14′ ceilings, expect to spent $50/sq foot on a decent sized insulated steel building.
These buggers are STRONG, too. You can stack them 9 containers high. And they’ll hold 30,000 pounds apiece. So that bottom container is holding up an awful lot of weight. Provided they’re not loaded too heavily, there should be strength to spare even if I cut holes in them. And, if not, I can always weld in reinforcing. Of course, I’m not qualified to run the engineering numbers on this. That’ll be expensive, and it almost certanily means hiring an architect to work with the county on permits. Howqever, the materials cost on this structure will be low - The main cost will be the concrete it sits on. Then I’ll have to roof it. But siding? Well, they’re already waterproof. I could paint them. But a little research shows me that they’re already made of cor-ten - or at least, that is what some folks claim. If you’ve ever seen rusty metal used in sculpture, or architecturally, you’ve seen cor-ten. It’s steel, alloyed with a little bit of copper. The result is that the rust becomes an impermeable “skin” on the surface. Once that rust is in place, corrosion stops. I think it looks great. So I’ll sand blast these guys (I’ll have to do something with the paint chips; it’s probably not the sort of stuff you want sitting in your vegetable garden!), spray it with a light solution of hydrochloric acid, neutralize after 24 hours, and voila!
Inside, I don’t know how much container I can cut away before they become too weak. But if I have my druthers, it’ll look something like these images. Note that the model is quick and dirty - the openings aren’t lined up any way in particular. I’m reminded of the interior of fort point, except that I’ll roof over the interior courtyard.
I like it - it messes with my sense of what is indoor space and what is outdoor. It also blurs the line between residential and industrial. I’ll put an office in here, somewhere, and a glass shop, and who knows? Maybe a little living space will steak in. Turns out that if you add up all the floor space, it’s about 7700 square feet. The interior courtyard will be 40×64 (2560 square feet), but the container spaces make up the balance.
Next, cantilevering… but that’s for another day.