Synopsis: When your “dream shop” is in a small apartment bedroom, you make the most of the dream.
For the past four and a half years, my shop has been a spare 11×11 bedroom in my apartment. It’s small, especially because not even all of that 121 sq. ft. is usable. I’ve had to be particularly strategic about which tools to keep, which to buy, which to sell, and which to skip altogether. The shop is also right off my bedroom. So sawdust, shavings, and chips end up not only around my home, but in my bed as well. While I tend to give the phrase “dream shop” the side-eye real fast, my shop is miles away from whatever pie in the sky that phrase is trying to conjure. Instead, my shop can feel like a bucket of cold water that wakes you up from a dream.
But, it’s my bucket of cold water. I’ve learned how to use that shop, how to squeeze its space and mishmash of tools until they work for me. With that shop, I finally outfitted my apartment with a coffee table inspired by a Toshio Odate table I read about almost a decade ago. I’m carving interior doors for my parents’ new home, which is probably their final home. I’ve made many gifts there, ones I get to revisit as I see family and friends. On top of process shots I’ve taken there for Tools & Materials, Mike Pekovich shot a whole article in my shop. My shop, my bucket of cold water, has been in Fine Woodworking. I have to say that twice just to let it sink in.
For context, I store my handplanes and carving gouges in a 1990s entertainment center left behind by a previous tenant. That entertainment center sits in front of a washer/dryer hookup. Next to it is my bathroom, which Mike had to frame shots around so it would be off camera in the article. Behind the photographer is my bedroom.
My grand goal hasn’t been to pare down in pursuit of simpler, more basic woodworking. I love those notions, but I also love the new 18-in. bandsaw and 12-in. jointer in our FWW shop. My shop isn’t some ascetic pursuit of self-restraint and denial. I’m making do—but I want a shop, so you’d better believe I’m going to make do. Any shop is a luxury; I was never going to let the opportunity go to waste even when it felt like the room was fighting back. To be honest, I haven’t won. This isn’t a dream shop (or whatever). The room is still small and wonky, and there is still sawdust in my bed. Instead, I’ve learned to work with the room, and in the process it’s become a shop. My shop. I’ll happily take a blast of cold water to the face if it means I get to build some furniture while I’m awake.
Barry NM Dima is an associate editor at Fine Woodworking.
Photos: except where noted: Barry NM Dima; First photo: Michael Pekovich