Designing Inshop Tool Storage

Jim Morgans Wood Profits

Jim Morgan's Wood Profits

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V Talking through the cabinetmaker's, wheelwright's and cooper's shops of Colonial Williamsburg in Virgina, I was struck by one thing that each of these pre-industrial woodworking shops hold in common: the ubiquitous presence of countless hand tools hung or shelved along nearly every square inch of wall surface. When I asked the craftsmen about this, they replied that working exclusively with hand tools demanded that the tools be immediately accessible— anything less markedly affected the efficiency of their work. While larger tools such as planes or fragile layout instruments might be stored in their personal chests at the end of the workday, they found it best to leave such tools as screwdrivers, hammers, chisels, saws, and bits and braces permanently set out close at hand on the walls of the shop. And because they worked either alone or among family or close associates (not among strangers in a factory), they felt safe leaving their tools out in the open.


Dominy And Associates

The interior of the Dominy family's woodworking shop. Though long out of use by the time the Historic American Buildings Survey took this picture in 1940. the shop still had a great many hand tools hanging on the walls. While some tools were presumably kept in joiner's chests (two such boxes stand at the end of the bench), the cabinetmakers probably kept their most commonly used hand tools in sight and close at hand. Photo courtesy of the Collections of the Library of Congress.

While this ready accessibility made sense to me, I couldn't help comparing these shops to my own, where fine wood dust quickly forms a film over any tools left out for more than a day. Then it dawned on me that my shop contains something completely foreign to these historical shops: machines. It is, of course, power tools that produce most of the fine wood dust in a woodworking shop. Because pre-industrial woodworkers created mostly shavings working with hand tools, they did not have to worry about the handles of their stored tools (or their lungs for that matter) becoming coated with an annoying—and potentially dangerous-slick film of dust.

Nowadays, however, powered hand tools are a necessary part of the work, and they too need a home within the shop. One excellent solution is to create open-faced bins—or cubbyholes—for each tool, its accessories and its snag-prone power cord. The timber-framing shop at Timbercraft I lomes in Port Townsend, Washington, features cubbyhole tool storage (see the photo on p. 62). These bins don't block out all the dust and debris of a busy shop, but they do organize the tools and also provide easy access to them. The heavier power tools can be located in the lower bins to make them easier and safer to remove and replace. Be careful, however, to place the heaviest tools (at Timbercraft, these are the chain mortisers) at about elbow-height to protect your back. Small hand and power tools and their accessories can go in the upper bins.

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