Update on the Upcoming Workshop Transition

In my future workshop looking into our future home.

The house project has been progressing in spite of the typical delays and hiccups. It has been inspiring to meet and watch the many skilled tradespersons working on the project. From the framers, to the electrician, to the HVAC pros, they all have demonstrated great expertise and tremendous pride in their work. I’ll be dragging guests to the basement to check out Robert’s meticulous wiring runs.

As you might expect, the workshop situation at the new place crossed my mind while we were planning. Kristin and I considered all sorts of scenarios, including the possibility of me building a small workshop apart from the house. Ultimately, we decided that the attached two-car garage would be the workshop. That decision was based partly on practical simplicity but, also, on what has worked for us already.

In my present workshop looking into our present home.

Our one-car attached garage has been my workshop for the last 27 years. It has worked well for me and it’s what I’m used to. Much of my workshop time necessarily occurs in small bursts of time, so it’s nice to step right out of the kitchen and into the shop. Three large-enough windows have allowed in a fair amount of natural light. It has also served as a transition area/mudroom from outside into the house.

The new shop will be larger (absent of two theoretical cars instead of one), but still attached, with a place for everyone to kick off their shoes and hang their coats. A few good windows will let in natural light, and, for most of the year, the large garage door will open up the shop to the outside.

I’ll build in some bookshelves, tool storage, and all that. I’ll sort out the details later. Meanwhile, I’ll be able to work just fine with a bench and my bowl horse. The bowl horse and low bench can be moved around easily, but I’ve been thinking a lot about the workbench location.

I built my workbench 27 years ago. It began with a simple framework of construction lumber and a 2×4 ledger board lag-bolted to the wall studs. I ripped two sheets of 3/4″ plywood in half lengthwise, then screwed and glued them, one-by-one, to the frame beneath and then to the layer below as the layer cake rose up. It sort of grew organically from there as my methods and work evolved. More holdfast holes, extended vise jaws, and a face frame to expand the edge-holding possibilities.

I know there are many other workbench options, but I’m taking this one with me. It works for me and I can’t bear to leave it behind. I know a lot of folks prefer to have a free-standing bench that allows access all around, but, after considering adapting this one with back legs, I plan to attach mine to the new wall, much as it has been attached to the old wall. The only difference is that the left end will be accessible instead of trapped in a corner.

One of my reasons for attaching it to the wall is stability. The bench simply doesn’t move, even with heavy or sudden pressure. Also, I’ve gotten used to having many of my tools in easy reach on the wall behind and beside the bench. I think I’ll arrange things similarly, although I will have two windows just above the bench.

That upper shelf in the current workshop runs around the room and is incorporated with the boards lining the wall itself, so it, and much of the shop, will stay. But many things will be coming with me: shelving units (including the one holding the planes), wooden boxes, chests, cabinets, hooks, stools, horses, racks, and more.

Book shelves will be important. I’m thinking about putting doors on the shelves to keep the dust out. Ideas are welcome!

Shelves like the one above my sharpening area will be relatively easy to transfer.

I like the way narrow shelves, like this one from a branch crook, catch the light coming in windows. Things like these will re-attach in the new shop.

The view will be new. Here’s a look at a little grove of aspens from the north wall window of the new shop.

Meanwhile, things are busy for now, but I’ll still have some time over the next couple months to work in this shop. Maybe I’ll even finish this bowl over the weekend.

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17 Responses to Update on the Upcoming Workshop Transition

  1. Scott Thomas says:

    It sounds like your new digs are coming along but I can’t help but think you’ll miss your current location with it’s many memories for you and your family. Seeing these photos remind me of (for me) the treasured visit you allowed nearly five years ago. It was a privilege and honor to be able to see your shop first hand. Thank you. Memories, yes, but your new view looks pretty sweet. Enjoy.


    • Dave Fisher says:

      Thanks, Scott. Yes, lots of memories, but those will come with me too. And a lot of those memories include folks like you who spent some time here with me. I’m looking forward to more of that in the new shop.


  2. Chris Edie says:

    It sounds like you have avoided the “new workshop paralysis” that overtook me when I finally got half of our single car garage. I spent weeks fretting over the perfect set up. The elusive perfection never eventuated but I have a space that I love where I can spend days and days turning good wood into sawdust and firewood.


    • Dave Fisher says:

      So far, Chris! I appreciate your insight. Yes, I suppose there’s a balance. I want to be thoughtful about my plans for the new space, while keeping in mind that it will continue to evolve over time and never be done or perfect. As long as the rain’s not pelting me in the head while I carve…


  3. Eric Goodson says:

    Super exciting, Dave! I can’t wait to see what the new space looks like. Congratulations. There is something deeply satisfying about organizing a new shop, like organizing your notebooks for the first day of school…


  4. Todd says:

    Eager to see what comes out of your new workshop! As Churchill said, “We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us.” Another quote that comes to mind is one from Jerome K. Jerome, “I want a house that has got over all its troubles; I don’t want to spend the rest of my life bringing up a young and inexperienced house.”


  5. Joe Leonetti says:

    Hi David,

    For the bookcases, how about a “barrister” type bookcase. That way you have drawers but with the glass you can see them. Just a thought.

    I have a free standing work bench but it is kept along the wall. Only one project in 7 years did I need to move it away from the wall. I make all kinds of furniture and it’s fine. I “need” to keep it against the wall so that way we can park the cars in at night. We have problems with homeless in the area rummaging in cars if you leave them out. I’ve talked to the local police. They know it happens but aren’t staffed to deal with it. As such, we park them in at night.

    My wife and I are in our early 50s. Retirement (for me teaching college chem & woodworking) is not that far away. I have mixed feelings about it. Not so much the workshop. Rather, it is the home where we raised our daughter. We also debate if we want to change states. CA is very expensive, has a high tax burden, and a poor infrastucture. Yes, I grew up here, am actively involved in my local community. We shall see. All good problems I suppose.

    Am looking forward to seeing you personalize the space in terms of paint, etc. I heard you mention windows. Will your natural lighting be on par or better than your current shop? Did the compass direction come into play when you placed the windows (e.g. northern light)? Could also see where more practical considerations for the living space rather than the workshop took precedence.

    Joe Leonetti


    • Dave Fisher says:

      Thanks, Joe.
      I think the Barrister type cases will serve as inspiration, but I think I may actually want solid doors — maybe even vertical. I’ve been sketching some possibilities. They will almost certainly be pine, and I may work in some carving or texture on them.
      I appreciate you sharing your experience with the workbench against the wall with your variety of work. If you do decide to move, Pennsylvania has room. I’m guessing you might be able to buy a house here for what your garage would sell for in California.
      There will be a little more natural light in the new workshop, but I was actually cautious about getting too much. Sounds strange perhaps, but if light is coming in from everywhere, you lose the shadows that reveal carving. It’s hard to see if there’s too much light! Still, there will be plenty. The big double window will be on the west side, opposite the garage door (which also has windows). Then the single window on the north. Much of that was determined by the orientation of the street to the lot, but it will work out fine. I have no problem with the fact that the light changes throughout the day. In my current shop, the main windows face south, which has worked out fine for me. Like you suggested, other considerations took precedence over the orientation of the shop.


      • Joe says:

        Hi David,
        Your garage comment was funny. When I moved from WA state to the SF Bay Area, I paid twice as much for a condo in San Francisco than my house cost in WA state. The condo was indeed the size of my three car garage was in WA state. After eight years (and waiting out the 2007, 2008 housing crash), I sold the condo and bought a home similar to the one in WA state but it has long commutes to work. I am still very happy to be in a home with a three car garage where I get to woodwork.


  6. Drew Knowland says:

    Best wishes to you and your family on your new home and workshop, Dave. It must be very exciting with lots of work ahead of you but I am sure you have mixed feelings about leaving your old shop which has served you well for so many years. I’ve never had a “new to me” home and not found myself in bed that first night in the new house asking myself “What have I done!” Yet, I’ve never regretted the changes that come with a move and I hope you have the same experience!


    • Dave Fisher says:

      Thank you, Drew! I appreciate you sharing that wisdom and I’m sure it will help to bring it to mind that first night. Kristin and I have talked about what a strange morning it will be when we wake up in a different house.


  7. Jimi A says:

    Such a beautiful place, that old workshop – love the green panelling behind the workbench (shades of what we used to have in the kitchen when I grew up) and the happy fish carving. The pocket watch on a strap … a lot of stuff to look at. I wish you much joy and woodworking in your new home.


    • Dave Fisher says:

      Must have been a popular shade. That green was part of the garage before my time. That vertical wainscoting was already there and painted that shade. I added the sassafras boards above and then matched the same green when I painted other areas. I carved the fish years ago based on an exercise in Chris Pye’s excellent book on relief carving.


  8. Thanks for sharing your memories, Dave. Seems like your new shop will be a great “woodpunk” mashup of old and new. Can’t wait to “watch” it come together.

    Liked by 1 person

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