The Dream Shop

Alright, enough of this talk of trimming down and bare necessities. Now it’s time to get flamboyant. My brother’s, girlfriend’s, sister’s, friend’s uncle has just tragically passed away after a long and happy life. We’ll call him Mr. Jobs. Well, Mr. Jobs secretly loved 18th century style furniture and traditional woodworking. Having no immediate heirs to his fortunes, Mr. Jobs decided to will his estate to a poor hand tool woodworker in desperate need of more space than his current meager dwellings. Being a huge fan of the Hand Tools & Techniques Woodworking Podcast, Mr. Jobs kindly endowed his billions to me. So adhering to my benefactor’s wishes for his fortunes, I have to design, build and equip my ultimate hand tool shop.

OK, so maybe I didn’t inherit a huge fortune (let’s face it, the only thing I’m likely to inherit is debt :)), but I did receive a question about my dream shop. So I thought I’d have a little fun and give it some thought. Here’s the question:

I’ve read the bare necessities hand tool shop as well as Adam’s article and of course all of Chris’ stuff. I (and I’m sure others) would be interested in what would be your ideal/dream hand tool shop (i.e. size, construction, lighting, wood storage, etc.)? Would you enlarge your tool collection? Would you change how you work or collect more wood? I would like to hear your opinion if you have time.

I thought it would be fun to think about a “money and land are no object dream shop”. Where would I build it? What would it look like? What tools would I fill it with? That’s a lot to think about, but since it’s not likely to ever happen anyway, let’s have a little fun.

The first thing I’d have to do is choose a location. The property would be off the main grid, but close enough to it that people could easily get to us (I would like to offer small, free classes since I would never have to work again) and so we could easily get to civilization when we wanted to. Our main dwelling and the shop would be on the property. There’s no way I’d want to live one place and have to go somewhere else to go to the shop. The shop would be a separate, detached building, though.

I’d like it to be on a large piece of waterfront property. Maybe 100 acres of prime North American hardwood forest, teeming with perfect cherry & black walnut. The maple would all be perfectly tiger figured, and there would be an abundance of clear pine and cedar mixed in as well. The property would be a renewable source of perfect, air dried lumber. There would be a moderate sized trout stream running through the middle of the property (I do things other than woodworking you know), and the stream would be loaded with large, wild, native brook trout (the most beautiful of the stream trout in my opinion).

Williamsburg Powell House
Williamsburg Powell House

On the property, I’d have a modestly sized dwelling for my family and I to live in, designed to look like an 18th century style house like those found in Colonial Wiliamsburg, but with subtle modern amenities that would allow us to live a comfortable 21st century life. There would be enough clear acreage adjacent to the primary dwelling for us to raise some livestock to supplement the wild game from the forest, and plant a garden big enough for us to live off of. Ultimately, I’d like for the whole thing to be self sustaining since I wouldn’t need to work anymore as a result of my inheritance.

Williamsburg Shoe Maker's Shop
Williamsburg Shoe Maker’s Shop

A short distance from the primary dwelling, along the tree line to the wooded part of the property, is where I’d put the shop. It would be moderate in size, perhaps about 16′ x 20′. I can’t decide at the moment which elevation style I would like better, however. I’m partial to the post & beam style, but within the style, there are buildings like Pete Galbert’s country shop, and “city” buildings like the cobbler’s shop in Colonial Williamsburg. I like Pete Galbert’s shop a lot, but I think a shop in the style of the Williamsburg cobbler’s shop would fit in better with the style of the primary dwelling.

Peter Galbert's Shop
Peter Galbert’s Shop

The shop would have plenty of windows to let in natural light during the day and natural ventilation from the outside air. The walls would be painted an eggshell white in order to reflect light, but not create glare. In the evening, light would be provided by solar powered artificial lighting designed to mimic candle sconces and lanterns (it wouldn’t look like artificial light). There would be plenty of light to work comfortably without eye strain due to the white walls and sufficient number of fixtures, but it wouldn’t have the over lit, washed out flourescent feel of most modern shops. There would be a fireplace along one of the short walls for heat in the colder months, but of course in my dream location, it would never get so cold that the fireplace couldn’t heat the shop sufficiently :). There would be a small loft overlooking the working shop where I could have a small office space, but the entire ground level would be dedicated to my woodworking.

Inside, I’d have one large workbench along the large front window, so I could make use of the natural light during the day. A treadle lathe would be between two windows along the back wall. A second smaller workbench with storage underneath would be along the left wall. This bench would be primarily a sharpening area (with a floor standing grindstone next to it), but it could be called into service as a solid workbench if needed during small classes or busy days.

Scattered throughout the shop would be various fixtures and appliances; saw benches, a shave horse, a chopping stump. I’d have a medium sized tool chest near the main workbench to store my less used tools. My more frequently used tools would be stored near the benches on various pegs and shelves. Lumber would be stored out back in a covered area where it would be protected from the elements, but open to the air so it could dry perfectly. Perhaps I’ll do a Sketchup drawing of my ultimate shop one day, but it’s a time consuming project that I just don’t have the time for right now, so you’ll have to use your imagination :).

My tools would all be traditional in nature, though I may splurge just a little. Bench, joinery and molding planes would be from Old Street Tools (formerly Clark & Williams). I would likely make all my hand saws like I currently do since the style of saws I like aren’t commercially available (except from Adam Cherubini, who has stopped making saws for sale to my knowledge). Chisels and gouges would be a challenge. No one makes 18th century style chisels today, so I might have to find a good blacksmith who could hand forge some for me. Since money would be no object, this wouldn’t be a problem.

I don’t think I would really grow my tool collection much more than what I currently have or have an immediate need for (i.e. a set of gimlet bits for my brace). I would likely just get slightly better versions of some of the tools I have now (i.e. the Old Street Tools planes). I certainly wouldn’t change the way I work. I’m am very comfortable with the way I work, and I think that the tools I use are capable of building everything I will ever want to build in my lifetime. I would, in my dream shop, like to have an extra set or two of tools for my small classes. But we are just talking about a dream shop now :).


15 thoughts on “The Dream Shop

  1. No bandsaw? You know that deep down you really want a bandsaw. And given that your shop is going to be on waterfront property, you could harness a nearby stream to make it water-powered.

    • Nah. The only thing I would want a bandsaw for would be resawing and rips in thick stock. Before, I might have caved, but now thanks to a friend, I have a new weapon against such things. But that’s another post for another day :).

  2. I like your dream shop idea. Actually, we have very close to the same vision. I had posted a while back that I’d like my dream shop to look like the shoemaker’s shop in Colonial Williamsburg. Love that big, swing open, double window. What a great place for a workbench. And right next to my dream woodworking shop would be a pavilion with a traditional brick forge complete with a large bellows to do all the smithing that I don’t know how to do yet. It’s on my list though. ๐Ÿ™‚

    A weapon against resawing and rips in thick stock huh? Might someone have made themselves a nice frame saw ala Roubo or Diderot? Or maybe you dug yourself a nice pit in the backyard and found a willing friend? My bet’s on the frame saw though. Can’t wait for that post.

    • Yeah, I remember that post. In fact, your post is what inspired me to take a close look at the cobbler’s shop. I had been there several times before, but for some reason I had never looked at things in there real closely. When were were there back in October, I spent a few extra minutes inside the shop just looking at the building itself. I still don’t remember all the interior details (i.e. was there a loft? ladder to the loft?), but I did get a better feel for the overall size of the interior. I guess I’ll have to go back for another more detailed examination :).

  3. Pretty close to my dream shop. I’d probably not share the second bench with the sharpening station. The second (smaller bench) also provides a place for the kids to work if they stop by. And it has to have big doors that open up in nice weather. The shaving horse can sit outside on a porch.

    My big debate is the detached shop. I am thinking attached to the house, but with doors I can close if I want to. I have a basement shop now, and one of my complaints is that often I don’t want to go hide away, but I want to be around the family (although that isn’t always true – hence the doors on the dream shop). In my current house, my ideal shop area would be our family room. Big window, fireplace, right next to the kitchen. We already have a living room – do we really need both? I tried to sell this during our last round of remodelling, but…

    Oh…and since we are dreaming, my wife would actually like it when I track wood shavings through the house…

    And…my son will have the forge. Is it wrong that I let him read my copy of “Tool Making for Woodworkers” and now he keeps talking about wanting to make a forge (something I sort of want to do as well)? He is only 13…should I really encourage this? And what is the deal with anvils? In the cartoons they are just dropping out of the air all over the place – but can I ever find one at reasonable price?

    • Yeah, detached is a debate. I do like having the shop next to the family room where it is now so the kids can go in and out and I can talk to my wife while she is watching TV or in the kitchen. But since this dream shop isn’t likely to happen until I’m retired [in another 30 years] anyway, I figured I’d dream big :).

      As for the smithy, definitely encourage this. We need more smiths connected to the woodworking world. How about a set of 18th century style laminated chisels as a project? I’ll take them unhandled. :). As for finding an anvil for a good price, well, that depends on your definition of reasonable. I’ve heard that somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.50 per pound is pretty typical. I’d like a small one (maybe 25-50 lbs) myself for saw smith work, but I’ve no where to put it right now. Plus, I can use a cheap (cast) dead anvil for that work. Ron Herman actually recommends dead anvils for saw smith work. Blacksmiths want a live (forged) anvil, which are typically much more expensive.

  4. 16×32, otherwise good for me too. In my dream shop, I have three workbenches and a sharpening station. One for planing, one for joinery, and one for utility/assembly, each with a chest next to it. This bench height thing is a bother. I don’t like the bench height you experts recommend at all, except for planing. I like to do joinery substantially higher. Finally, I would like to have a lower table/bench where I can glue/assemble separately. Nothing on the walls except pictures.

    Part of the reason I want my shop longer is to have a separate room for lumber storage and a bandsaw, which is driven by a waterwheel in the stream next to the shop–or a shaft powered by a horse walking contentedly in a circle outside.

    I’ll bet you think this is conspicuous consumption, but it is only a dream. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. It miss something to me, a top quality hifi system.
    One of thing i appreciate the most in using hand tools is that you can actually hear music while working.
    That doesn’t mean i would not appreciate the “silence” of the forest, birds and water sounds which given the location would be a great music too.

  6. Bob,

    Loved the description of your dream shop. Not to get religious but I would consider your description as pure “heaven”. Who needs “1000 virgins”? I would rather experience your dream shop!!

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