Interesting times we’re in on the “snooze front..”  But, we’d rather be in the shop, pursuing Art, or up gardening.  Instead of “whining” about “distancing.”

These lower-level “contact times” are great time for getting projects done that have long-term tangible pay-offs.

Today, we table three simple ideas  -yours for the taking – that will increase your “joy of shop-time” considerably.  None of these projects will take more than one hour.

First, however, some “Shop Philosophy” to get into the mood.  Efficiency and its cousins; Task changes and Set-ups.

Home Shop Efficiency Matters

One of my home shop goals is to have a fairly  efficient  operation for anything that “moves my spirit” at any moment the whim to work strikes.

As long-time readers already know, once your mind gets too big to live in an apartment, you’re set to begin selecting “Personal Task Stations.”  In other words, for cooking there is a kitchen.  For sleeping (OK, maybe other indoor sports, too!) there is the bedroom.  For body maintenance, the bathroom is the “shop space.”

Ask yourself, though, how you have organized all the rest of your interests into fully-optimized areas.  The kind you can float into – or out of – as the you feel “called.”

Start By Listing Your Activities

Although we’re not-quite young, our “activities list” is still good-sized. We want  optimized spaces for:

  • Cooking
  • Reading
  • Computing
  • Sewing
  • Pottery-making
  • Interior design
  • Painting (*acrylics and oils)
  • Writing (both production – like this website) and books
  • Welding and metal work
  • Woodwork
  • Gemstone work and art
  • Gardening  (greenhouse, in-ground, and hydroponics)
  • Ham radio
  • Electronics research (being space-time)
  • Light research
  • Wildlife watching
  • (and there’s more… we hardly have time to be “retired”!)

For each of these pursuits, there is a “compact way” – a “cheap way” and a “going large” way.

Take gardening, as an example.  The “compact way” is to container garden.  Everything from a small herb growing kit on  the Zon all the way up to old 5-gallon paint cans on  the deck.  The Cheap Way is to either use leftover vegetable cuttings (many of which can be “started” or several small seed assortments.  The Going Large way involves a greenhouse with A.C. wiring and plumbing for indoors (gotta have a seed mat or three for winter, right?), an in-ground planting area, and a hydroponics set-up – indoor or out, your call.  Plumbing, too.

Pick a Dream – and Optimize

Life is a “Big Canvas.”  Some people use the canvas superficially.  Others won’t even give “the canvas” a second glance – they’re too busy being victims.  Third class of people (*that’d be us…) look at the Canvas of Life and decide to “Go For It!”

Once you make  that decision, you will begin finding ways to make your pursuit highly  efficient.

Overall Efficiency

The metric here is “How much “pursuit or skill” output can you get in a set amount of time?

Take gardening:  Make up a metric…say one meal per hour of work…and aim to produce more food than that for each hour of effort.  Or, in the woodshop, how much time does it take to make a footstool, or some other do-dad?

Task & Tool Changes

You don’t have to be the Father of Time on Task (which was Frederick Winslow Taylor, by the way) to quickly figure out that the two biggest obstacles most people run into are a) moving from one task to another and b) finding the damn tools.

I used to get sick of the “task change” wasted time.  Until I came up with a way to increase my personal efficiency.  I simply lumped materials into “staging areas.”  The electronics and shop “flow chart” goes like this…  While in the shop, there’s a small bench with “pending work” that is not yet WIP (work in progress).

Set-up Time Matters

Small shops are notoriously inefficient but often  necessary.  In order to experience a really smooth-running shop, you need to understand not only the basic work-flow of a project, you also need to have a mental map of where all the “ancillaries” are.  These can be tools, small parts, fasteners, and so on.

In the garden, for example, the “joy” of gardening quickly leaves the building if you have to spend a half-hour looking for a tool in a messy garage.

I used to have days when more time was spent looking for tools than was spent doing the job.  No more!

Meet the “BenchMindr”

Scene:  Main bench in the shop.  This is where everything happens.

In noticing my personal time-and-motion study (always running in background) I noticed that I was spending a disproportionate amount of time down on my hands and knees looking for small parts that fall off and get lost  somewhere in a 10-foot area.

Springs roll.  Washers not only fall  off the bench, but I have sound them as far as 9-feet away when the hit and roll.  Screws?  Lots of them.  And magically, they  all want to roll UNDER something.  Which leads to the magnetic screw finder, but that doesn’t work on non-ferrous materials.

Here comes a cheap invention that will be installed this week:

I’ll just rip-down a 2″ wide strip of 1/4″ plywood about 6-feet long and nail some tiny brads to hold a 1/2″ rail on it (to keep it lower than the bench height).

My thinking is that anything trying to “make a getaway” will be captured in this “parts catcher.”  I’ll let you know someday down the road how it works out.

The Saw-Muvr

There are two table saws in the shop.  Plus a compound miter saw.  The big table saw doesn’t go anywhere.  10″ and a reasonable workhorse we’ve had for more than 10-years, it doesn’t need to budge.  It’s placed so 8-foot stock can be ripped as long as I remember to open the double-doors to the shop.

The second table saw is something of an extravagance.  Old 8-inch Craftsman in good shape and for $100-bucks.  This one is used for either very fine cut-off work, but usually, it’s just left with a “wobble-dado” set to 1/2-inch wide and 1/2-inch deep.  Reason?  That’s useful when making small wood projects and its convenient to make mortise and tenon joints.

Unfortunately, this saw didn’t have casters.  So….40-minutes of cutting and (ahem…) screwing and here comes a simple frame.  Although you can’t see the small casters under it, it’s easy to push-around and get out of the way.

On Today’s List

Later on today, a similar caster & frame will be built up to move the new shaper around.  I was lucky enough to pick up a  ToolKraft shaper from about 1977, or so, that was new in the box.  A few bucks in some new and used 1/2-inch cutters and it will be used…a lot.

See, the savings with a shaper aren’t apparent until you get-after your house with a vengeance for woodworking.  A shaper lets you face just about any molding you can buy at the store.

Down in the big-box stores, the 1/4 and 1/2-round stuff sold these days is mostly *(pardon this)  shit.  Plastic with vinyl wrap on it.  What a freaking joke!

The way you make custom molding is easy and it can even be done with pallet wood if you get one that’s not terribly bunged-up.  Just make sure you get all the nails and staples out.  Run it through your planer to get two decent faces and once through a jointer so a straight edge will present to the shaper fence.

Run it through the shaper…then rip off the new molding however thick you want it.  Easy-peasy!

Multiple Tool Carts

love tool carts.  Back in 1968 when I became (for like 4-months before selling out for way too much money on a defense contractor job) a journey Radio and Electronics Mechanic (IAM 751, Seattle) with the long-defunct  West Coast Airlines which became Hugh’s  AirWest…uh…where were we?

Oh, yeah:  Tool carts.  Anything I needed when doing an annual on an F-27, for example, was on a cart.  There was a “wire cart” and there was a “fastener cart” and so forth.

I had forgotten about how useful carts were to speed up workflow until we helped do the annual of our old Beechcraft about seven or eight years back in Creswell Georgia.   Hammerhead Aviation was there at the time and the best Beechcraft wrenches you could find.

What came back in a rush was “the Carts.”  They had a “Paint Cart” with every spray you could imagine for touch-up and so forth.  There was a “wire cart” which went along with the “fasteners cart”” and there was even an “air tool cart.”

Carts Come Home

I’ve got three Sears “project centers” loaded with tools four-feet back from the bench.  But it’s never enough and the tools?  Well, they get in the way of the work on the bench.  So here was my answer:

This is my “bench cart” and as you can see:  The most-used tools live on it.

  • Top shelf:  Tray of box wrenches, SAE and Metric.  Bostich 1/4, 3/8, and 1/2-sockets, SAE and metric and deeps as well.  Plus screwdrivers.  The tall ones are the big ones and to save time, the handles are marked with a Sharpie  with either a “+” (Phillips) or a “-” (slotted)  to eliminate tool-hunting.
  • Middle Shelf:  Two sets of Stanley SAE and metric open/box combo wrenches. The green wrapper is a set of “thin open ends” and under that is a T-handle Allen wrench set.  Right of that is a Dewalt bit set (for things like odd  Torx sizes and such.
  • Bottom Shelf.  Left is a 4-1/2″ small circ saw for whacking down sheets of whatever.  The odd brown wood box is a a small router.  *(the bit sets are under the bench about middle of that space)  And to the right (red box) is the Extra Large sockets which get used maintaining farm equipment all the time.

Sunday’s Bottom Line

Working with our hands is something America needs to get back to.

Even Donald Trump Junior is proud of his ability to effectively use any tool on a job site and his playground is real big buildings.  Any comments about politics on this point will be trashed… My point is ONLY that DJT-jr is a hands-on guy.  If you can’t run a D-6, can’t run a chainsaw and sharpen your own chain, can’t bring in a crop, or repair equipment in general, then you’re at risk of being “late to the party.”  An ugly future is out there.

Technology is great – don’t get me wrong – but in the end it’s a lot like a young teenage male with their first Playboy magazine in hand.  They might think that’s sex…but no….

Same with tech.  It’s not an “end in an of itself.”  It’s a means. Tool to get there.

And the “balance of system” requirement to have a functional, self-reliant, and resilient world, involves a hell of a lot more physicality than just another useless app.

I’ve often said it…but it bears repeating:  Apps *(and smart phones) are for lazy people who can’t plan their work-life balance.

Power tools and a host of lost “industrial arts” (along with survival gardening) will be the next challenge and the frontiers of the future.

Are you getting ready?

Write when you get rich,