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2-Day Shop Renewal

Finally! The table saw is clear. Just 10 minutes or so before my last session I took everything off and put each item in its box.

When driving a long distance, you know that if you stop somewhere even to just get gas or buy a snack how much better you feel when you get back in the car.  You could go for another 100 miles.  But just 7 minutes ago, you felt like falling asleep.

Giving yourself a boost like this is important when you notice you’re in a routine and things aren’t quite right.

Every so often, I step into the shop and notice some spider webs, scraps of wood on the floor, and too many tools out of place.  And of course piles of dust and shavings in every crevice.  So, I give myself permission to skip a few production days and just clean.  I mean systematically remove everything out of the shop clean. This gives me the boost I need for the shop sessions after that; it’s just so awesome to stand in there after a cleaning tornado.

While You Design Your Shop…

…you don’t have to live with a cluttered and frustrating shop.  The military uses what it calls a “Service Life Extension Program” or SLEP to upgrade existing things while planning new things.  You might (and should) be in the process of designing your ideal shop, but there are quick things you can do to make your space more productive and an exciting place to be.

I hate being in the middle of a glue-up and I can’t find the clamp I need because it’s under a huge pile of tools.  Then I don’t know where the paper towels are to catch the dripping glue.  Where is the wax paper?

Things naturally get out of whack because after a long day I don’t feel like cleaning up.  The only way that it gets done is to dedicate a morning to it.  Otherwise I just don’t feel like it.  If you know yourself, instead of beating yourself up about it, accommodate your tendencies.  I just don’t clean up much after a shop session other than put a few things away.  So I got into the habit of doing about 10 minutes of clean up before starting to make things.  Like yesterday, I cleared off the whole table saw of small clamps, squares, cut-offs, and various measuring devices before getting started on a refinishing project.  Otherwise I knew it wouldn’t get done.

The magnetic wall rack has been great to store a few commonly used items. If I need a screwdriver in the house, I can open the shop door and reach over and get it right away. If I need a mini-bar clamp, I can always find one here if the others are hiding under a pile somewhere.

Don’t Have Room to Take Everything Out?

When I start this, I do it in stages.  What I do is allow one side of the shop to be messy, and I designate the other side as the “clean side” where I empty it out.  As I take objects out of the clean side, I dust them off or wash them.  You can put them in a pile on the “messy” side.  I’ve even put things in my living room before, and on a nice day I’ll use the side patio.  Once the clean side is empty, I vacuum every corner and hose the whole floor down.  In my case, I pour concrete cleaner and blast it with water.  I let it dry overnight and ventilate it with a fan.

Use Your Empty Shop to Re-Think

Your newly empty shop will help you see new possibilities.  You’ll better be able to question your old layout.  Take your shop layout sketch and walk around with a red pen and goof around with ideas as they pop into your brain.

Don’t forget that “open” feeling while it’s empty.  In your design, leave at least one open area as your flex-space to stage glue-ups, partially finished projects, or conduct rare operations.

When I first moved in, the first thing I did was wash the floor with concrete cleaner and vacuum each stud bay in all the walls. I also hosed down the garage doors.

Don’t Put All the Lumber Back

I dusted off and sorted all kinds of lumber; I separated exotics from maple, poplar and clear pine, put all the sheet goods together, and small scraps were thrown away.  Then I realized that boards leaning against the wall were frustrating to step around, and they blocked access to some tools.  So I only put back wood that I know I’d be using soon, which just about fills my lumber racks.  The rest I put in another room until I build my lumber storage outbuilding.

Put All the Stuff Back Into the Clean Side–But Organize It While You Have The Chance

After washing the floor and cleaning the walls, I started rolling the machines back into place, reconnecting the dust collection flex hoses, and putting the tools back one by one.  Each time, I put them in their correct places.  For the smaller stuff, I made sure that like items were put in the same box or at their designated station.  I also decided that I wanted some frequently used items to be on a wall near the bench.  They were on the floor before so this was an upgrade until a more permanent storage solution is built.  Find a better home for the stuff you’re putting back, even if it’s temporary.

These temporary storage boxes keep everything off the floor until I build integrated storage into the workbenches, router table, assembly table, etc.

Clamps also got another rack, because I keep accumulating them.  I also bought clear plastic storage boxes to organize bits, wrenches, pliers, driver bits, and small bar clamps.  I’m planning to integrate storage for these at the workbench and assembly table, but the clear boxes are a good step toward being able to find everything.  I put labels on each box too so if I stack them I’ll know what’s in them at a glance.

WoodChip Tip: Save those silica gel packets to put in your toolboxes to keep moisture at bay.  You can also buy Bull Frog rust packets to prevent rust in tools that tend to get spotty easily.


Rinse and Repeat on the Messy Side

Once the clean side was all full of happy bunnies and comets, I focused on the other side.  I usually don’t finish in the same day, so I let it go to the next day.  So, in 2 days I get a super-clean shop out of it.

Now I know where they all are....


There are some things you can do to make it so it takes longer to get that messy again.  While driving around, I thought of adding a slide-out shelf under the table saw, so that I can leave stuff within arm’s reach while not being in the way of boards.  I’d leave it in the slide-out position so I can see what’s available but I can slide it back underneath if I want.

Yeah….mmmhmmm…don’t do this.

Storage solutions that may be temporary are well worth it.  Don’t wait for the perfect storage solutions to be built to do this.  If you have fasteners all thrown in a box, consider the Stanley small parts storage boxes, or fishing tackle boxes.  Get some clear plastic storage boxes to keep all your drill bits and drivers in one place.  I do this with the various hammers, wrenches, pliers, screwdrivers and Allen wrenches, etc. to make sure I know where they are.

I’m currently putting the finishing touches on my planer table, and I’m including a shelf under the main table.  I’ll store spare blades and a dust brush there.  The goal of all this is to keep stuff from accumulating on horizontal surfaces.

WoodChip Tip: Epoxy some magnets on jointer and table saw accessories so you can stick them to the side of the sheet metal cabinets.


Getting these under control has been a HUGE help.

More stuff in labeled boxes....

These clamp racks add a bit of the aesthetics I want and also give me a way to get these out of the way (they used to lean against the wall and it was annoying to have to step around them).


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Gotta get more clamps,


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2 Responses to “2-Day Shop Renewal”

  1. Chris says:

    Excellent thoughts, Bobby. Thanks for sharing.

    Question: do you plan to finish the walls of your shop?


    • Bobby says:

      Thanks, Chris. Yeah, I’ve got a wall section that shows a foam radiant barrier to keep the 110 deg. heat out during the summer, plus R-19 batt insulation. I’ll put up the foam boards (with a 3/4″ airspace for the radiant barrier to work) as the first thing. I got busy with my planer bench and electrical re-work so I put it off.

      But, with summer coming I really need to do it or I’ll have limited shop time.

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