The Shop Goldfish

By way of being employed in a position that moves it’s people around a lot, I’ve had occasion to re-think my shop several times. Each time feels like a start-up shop except with old friends; tools collected during the last set-up. Take, for instance, the squeaky, shiny Rabone folding rule I scored in a Georgetown, KY antique store more than a decade ago. It was a really nice location to visit during a really peaceful time in my life. The fact that it was worth 1000% of what I paid for it doesn’t hurt anything, either. Or the matched pair of Independence Tool saws, one a dovetail, the other a carcass. Tools that to the Galoot need no explanation.

Predictably each location has brought a series of new challenges with it; space utilization, power availability, weather tightness. My first formal shop, so designated because of the addition of a non-mobile tool (read this table saw,) was in the yard barn I had built for the purpose. And when I say purpose, I really mean main purpose, as every “shop” seems to collect the tent and extra coolers and fertilizer spreaders and… Layout was easy in that shop; the table saw got the center of the floor (pre-outfeed tables, stock rip fence.) The workbench (singular) went against the wall. An extension cord from the apartment hooked me up and got taken in at the end of a day. Simple. Soon that shop was a pleasant place to work, as long as you were willing to twist your hips around things as you walked through it.

With a move my shop grew into a single car garage, and with another move it grew into half of a two-car garage, complete with 8 plugs. Since the car could always be backed out of the garage, things like outfeed tables and toolboxes began to show up as my circle of “friends” grew. Full-sized bookcases that would have made an English librarian proud made their way out of that shop. Another move, and I had an entire building all to myself. Originally built for a previous owner’s wife who was into ceramics, it had a built in sink and discarded kitchen cupboards, a garage door at one end, 200v three-phase (for a kiln, I suppose) and windows all around. It also had a car-port off the back of it; just the place to store extra dimensional lumber (hardwood stayed inside.) Cherry and then walnut toy boxes, shaker tables sporting hand-cut dovetails were brought to life there. And again I was twisting and turning my way through that shop.

Another move, and it’s back to a two and a half car garage with no back window and the red sand of the Texas Brush Country defying all my attempts to keep it outside. The 110 degrees tended to keep shop time to a minimum. Another move, and here I am setting up shop in a barn.

Now, you might think that it doesn’t get any better than that, but let me briefly describe the barn; built at least 75 years ago, it’s been used to store hay, goats, feed, plumbing supplies, and various tenant’s trash since the original owner passed away. Amongst the aged hay, baling wire, broken glass, the Chevrolet exhaust, and smashed Coors cans is the one lone outlet, all housed by boards presumably milled on site that have long ago ceased to make physical contact with one another (which is good for lighting during the day.) I’ve learned where to put the horse bucket on my table saw (wrapped in a tarp) to catch the roof leaks.

Yet despite the balmy breezes of Texas blowing through my shop, it too has already given life to a 4′ x 6′ assembly table, a miter saw / radial arm saw station, and soon a permanent table for a portable planer. This is all justifiable; it begs the explanation I’ve offered my wife, which is that good shops have the same condition that goldfish do. They grow to the size of their environment.

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