Woodworking/Setting up a home workshop
A great deal of good can come of a home workshop. The craftsperson may build many useful and long-lasting artifacts for the house, and these are most certainly good; the real gains, however, come from the work itself: the process of working wood transforms the woodworker as much as it does the wood, and it is through the work that we come to know both ourselves, and the wood. But for this to be true, we must approach our task in the right way.
On Doing Things Properly
It is best not to set out thinking I will make a coffee table today, because this is probably not what you will do: more likely, you will be planing sticks of timber, trying to get them square and true, and then cutting joints and boring holes. So reduce your day's tasks to what you are actually going to do: I am going to make this board flat today, or, I will sharpen this plane blade now, for then you are focused on what you are doing. This is important. So much frustration and anguish comes from running down to the hardware shop, buying new tools and wood, and then feeling a fool when you can't produce the lovely smooth things you see in the woodworking magazines. So stop. It's not a new piece of wood you need, nor a new tool, but simply an awareness of what you're actually doing. After all, most woodworking tools have very sharp edges. A finished product does not look very good if it is being held with hands that are missing fingers! Pay attention to what you are doing, from all angles.
The space for your workshop is probably pre-determined by the design of your house; there may be no options. A garage is commonly turned to the purpose (as well as those of cars and storage and everything else!), a basement may be available, or even an attic. But wherever you fit your workshop, aim for a space that is dry, not to hot or cold, and in which you can make a bit of noise without annoying anyone. Size is important, but perhaps not as greatly so as you might think: in a small space, you will simply adapt your practice to fit the space.
If you can, it will help if you can have a space dedicated to your workshop. Although the home workshop is (by definition) not used full-time, by having a full-time workshop space you will be able to keep your tools and materials always ready and generally in better condition. Not sharing a woodworking workbench with the bicycle mechanic of your household, for instance, means that the cross-purposes of these tasks will not come into conflict. Equally, when it is time—those precious couple of hours on a Saturday morning, perhaps—to get to work on your current project, it can be a great deterrent if you first have to disengage the workshop from its other roles.
Organization is key to using those spare hours you have to work your craft. One of the hardest things to do, is straighten and clean up your area when you are short on time. Take the few minutes and do it anyway, your next session will start on the right foot!
A good strong workbench is essential, and probably the most troubling part of a new workshop. It is almost Catch-22: skills and cost aside (for it is not hard to build a cheap workbench), one finds that it is a great deal harder to build a workbench without a workbench on which to work! The answers to this are many, but for the home woodworker probably the best ones are: to purchase a complete bench (new or second-hand); or to progressively work up (from first principles as it were) to a bench by making other items first, such as saw-horses or saw-stools.
Saw-horses are the handyman's workbench out in the field.(someone else's house!) But when at home, he uses them as an extension of his workbench. Having your saw-horses at the same or slightly under the height of your workbench has benefits in your workshop, giving you the ability to build projects that are bigger than your workbench.