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Thread: Tiny workshop advice - woodworking in an apartment!

  1. #1
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    Tiny workshop advice - woodworking in an apartment!

    <edit> Sorry for the long post! So much to say/ask, so little time... </edit>

    I've been lurking for a while, so first things first: great forum, I've read so much cool stuff on here

    I've scoured the search feature of this forum trying to find information that might help me out, and I've seen a lot of comments hinting about truly tiny apartment workshops, but have had a lot of difficulty finding thread about them, so I turn my questions over to the knowledgeable folks here

    First, my situation:
    I live in Finland, where winters are cold and snowy. I'm a relative newcomer to the hobby. I'm not really interested (yet, at least!) in building big things - I'd like to build boxes, small tools, and the odd electric guitar or two. I'm also not interested in power tools at all - I have a natural aversion to vibration, noise, and dust, and an unnatural attraction to planes, chisels, saws, and drill braces I'm definitely a Neanderthal. I am purchasing a flat on the 8th floor of a building, and moving in soon - its a pretty typical smallish flat here, about 60 sq m with one bedroom, lots of closet space, and an unheated balcony with sliding glass panels enclosing it.

    Up until now I've been using a Workmate clone on my rental apartment's balcony during the summer months to do a few things here or there, but I really want a more solid, more conventional bench, in a workspace somewhere inside so I can use it all year round.

    So far I've seen/thought up a few possibilities:

    • Build a more permanent bench to stay on the balcony, and buy a power-chewing heater to allow me to use the balcony during the depths of winter
    • Build a small knockdown bench to drag out every now and again, hoping theres enough free space that I can requesition without upsetting the better half
    • Permanently dedicate a corner somewhere to my habit, possibly walling it off with wardrobes or something to kind of subdivide the room
    • Build a super-compact bench that can be disguised as a piece of furniture, to live in a corner and be unfolded every now and again as a semi-permanent work area
    • Build a workshop-in-a-closet? (I guess this is similar to the above, really)


    I guess the main problems are:

    • Size. Whatever it is, it needs to be compact and efficient, and might need to be usable with access to only one or maybe two sides of the bench.
    • Shavings. How to contain them?
    • Eyesore. How to make it significant other-/snobby visitor-proof? Certainly, a bedroom shop is unlikely to please she-who-must-be-obeyed.


    I've got and read through both Schwarz and Landis and there are some nice seeds of ideas in there, and I've heard tantalizing hints on this forum, but I'm yet to see any fully realized solutions to the problem of woodworking in a small apartment. I realize this is a very tough problem, but has anyone got any thoughts, tips, advice, or better yet - links or first hand experience about such tiny workshops?

    Put it this way: imagine you were stripped of your garages and spare rooms, transplanted to a tiny flat in Europe or Japan, and had to find a less than ideal solution to get your woodworking fix - what would YOU do?
    Last edited by Tristan Williams; 03-18-2009 at 10:03 AM.

  2. #2
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    My suggestion is to buy a woodworking bench and disguise it with a nice table cloth when not in use. Could be used as a hall table, or tall table behind the couch. Make or buy a nice cover that goes down to the floor so you can put your inwork projects on bottom shelf. The smaller traditional benches are not that big. And I think it could be hidden pretty well or at least not unsightly. I think the better half would be more willing for that, than to loose a corner with cabinets hiding something.

    Maybe you can store the bench out on the porch and just bring it in when you want to work. And use it in front of the nice natural light. In the summers you can keep it and work outside.

  3. #3
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    Hi Tristan, I had a workbench in a closet when I lived in an apartment.

    I used all hand tools, and had a pair of folding saw horses for when I wanted to cut plywood on the balcony, or in the parking spot for my car.

    Since everything was handplaned or scraped with a card scraper, it wasn't messy in the apartment, nothing a standard vacuum cleaner couldn't handle.

    I used the dining room table as an assembly table, after covering it with a pad.

    For finishing I used the above table and a window fan to exhaust air.

    P.S. The shop was in the guest bedroom so the closet wasn't being used, and Diann has always been interested in and supportive of woodworking. Her father was a cabinet maker.

    Regards, Rod.
    Last edited by Rod Sheridan; 03-18-2009 at 9:46 AM. Reason: Added post script.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rod Sheridan View Post
    Hi Tristan, I had a workbench in a closet when I lived in an apartment.

    I used all hand tools, and had a pair of folding saw horses for when I wanted to cut plywood on the balcony, or in the parking spot for my car.

    Since everything was handplaned or scraped with a card scraper, it wasn't messy in the apartment, nothing a standard vacuum cleaner couldn't handle
    That sounds like just the ticket! Any pictures, or more details? What sort of workholding solutions did you come up with, given the poor access in a closet? What sort of stuff did you manage to build in such a space?
    The closet in particular that I'm thinking of converting is right by the entrance - so theres already an excuse to have a more mess-resistant rug there, and the vacuum cleaner holder would sit right in there too so it'd be almost like a built in shop vac

  5. #5
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    Tristan - Not sure if this helps (depends on your space availability), but I made a bench along the lines of a hybrid Schwarz/Bob Lang model, using an already-glued up maple top I'd had sitting around for a few years. When I glued up the top, I didn't really understand too much about workbenches, so I made it quite short - about 5', 6" long.

    I finally got around to putting a structure underneath it last winter, and have been thinking I made a mistake by going ahead and using the top rather than gluing up another one that's 7-8 feet long.

    However, I've actually found in using this one that it's length limitations aren't really a problem for most furniture projects (I guess the exception would be a large table top, but I've not had occasion to have to do that yet, at least on this bench).

    Point is, you may find that a bench with a 5 foot long top that's about 18" wide may do what you want just fine, especially for making smaller things, like boxes, small chests, and the like.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tristan Williams View Post
    That sounds like just the ticket! Any pictures, or more details? What sort of workholding solutions did you come up with, given the poor access in a closet? What sort of stuff did you manage to build in such a space?
    The closet in particular that I'm thinking of converting is right by the entrance - so theres already an excuse to have a more mess-resistant rug there, and the vacuum cleaner holder would sit right in there too so it'd be almost like a built in shop vac
    Sorry, I don't have any photo's.

    The bench had front and one end access, it was about 160cm long with welded steel legs (a tossed out base from work).

    I had removed the sliding closet doors to gain full use of the space.

    I made a table, some chairs, a few flower boxes for the balcony etc.

    I had the use of a full size drill press and bandsaw at work, and I had a bench top drill press at the apartment.

    I made mortise and tenon joints, half laps, dado and box joints using hand tools.

    I had a #5 plane, a #3 and a 60 1/2 low angle Stanley block plane, as well as a router plane loaned by my Father-in-Law.

    Regards, Rod.

  7. #7
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    Tristan,

    I get e-mail from Highland Woodworking and they had an article about a man with a very small shop in Brazil, he is a true artist, this is a link to the reader response that also has a link to the original article. http://www.highlandwoodworking.com/w...ry/dilo2b.html

    This man sounds like he has walked the same road as you, you may want to ask him if he has any old shoes as you begin your journey. If you are interested in box making, PM me and I will send an interesting link, I would post it here but I think it will be a TOS violation.

    Heather
    Any thing with sharp teeth eats meat.
    Most powertools have sharp teeth.
    People are made of meat.

  8. #8
    why does the living space have to take priority over the shop space?

    if it were me, i would set up a cot in the corner of my shop to sleep on when im not cutting wood.

    set up your apartment with a work bench in a central location that takes advantage of whatever natural light source you have and than squeeze in your home furnishings in the space left over.

    your girlfriend of wife might not like it but relationships are full of compromises and giving in to the desires of the other mate. this time its yours, next time she gets what she wants.
    S.M.Titmas.

    "...I had field experience, a vocabulary and a criminal mind, I was a danger to myself and others."

    -Anthony Bourdain

  9. Hi there, I am actually in the possess of editing my most recent episode of my podcast, Transatlantic Wood Talk. In that episode we actually discussed apartment workshops, im not sure how helpful it will be if you are only doing hand tools, but if you want, i hope to have episode 5 out on Friday here on twt.blip.tv

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by David Keller NC View Post
    Tristan - Not sure if this helps
    <snip>
    you may find that a bench with a 5 foot long top that's about 18" wide may do what you want just fine, especially for making smaller things, like boxes, small chests, and the like.
    Yep, that helps! I was planning it to be narrow and short - maybe 40"x18" - with some "outriggers" to help support longer pieces if need be. Having a mental blank about the proper name for them - like a freestanding deadman.

    Quote Originally Posted by Heather Thompson View Post
    Some very inspiring work there

    Quote Originally Posted by sean m. titmas View Post
    why does the living space have to take priority over the shop space?
    <snip>
    your girlfriend of wife might not like it but relationships are full of compromises and giving in to the desires of the other mate. this time its yours, next time she gets what she wants.
    Ah, if only it were that simple! While she is very understanding - after all I put up with her quilting habit - I don't think she'd let me take over a whole room for my habit She has given me the go-ahead to figure out an indoors place to work, though, as long as it can disappear when it needs to, and not make too much noise to disturb her work (she works from home).

    Quote Originally Posted by Rod Sheridan View Post
    <snip>
    Thanks for the info, Rod. Did you use a typical vice arrangement with a front vice and end vice?

    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew Fewsmith View Post
    Hi there, I am actually in the possess of editing my most recent episode of my podcast, Transatlantic Wood Talk. In that episode we actually discussed apartment workshops, im not sure how helpful it will be if you are only doing hand tools, but if you want, i hope to have episode 5 out on Friday here on twt.blip.tv
    That sounds interesting - what was the smallest shop you discussed?

  11. #11
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    Some time ago I saw a documentary about a Japanese woodworker who did everything from a bench he sat on. He built some rather large furniture but the basic idea was his method of work. He would straddle the bench and use the front to hold work with wedges. If something were large he would use the bench in various ways to balance and leverage the piece with the bench.

    Using this idea in an apartment would allow you to incorporate your workbench as part of your furniture, rather then separate.

    Sorry that I can't supply more information. Perhaps, do a search on Japanese Woodworking and you may come up with other surprising items.

    Burt

  12. #12
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    [quote=Tristan Williams;1085396]
    Thanks for the info, Rod. Did you use a typical vice arrangement with a front vice and end vice?quote]

    Hi Tristan, I didn't have a vice, I used planing stops, a bench hook and a clamp as required to hold items on the bench.

    Regards, Rod.

  13. #13
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    Tristan - One thing that might help in the space-saving department is to build a bench with just a face vise (whether that be a leg vise, twin-screw, or "quick-release" iron vise). A tail vise takes up a bunch of room in just the wrong direction as it operates - parallel to the length of the bench, which is usually the constrained direction.

    Many of the oldest bench designs from Moxon and Ruobo (late 17th and mid 18th centuries) did not have a vise in the end position - face work was planed against a planing stop, and edge work was planed with the board held in the face vise and resting against a board jack or held with a bench hook in drilled holes in the right-hand leg.

    Speaking from my own experience, almost all of the boards that I use are planed against a stop with the other end free. It takes a bit of practice, but I find it preferable to pinching the work between a dog in the bench and a dog in the tail vise.

  14. #14
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    The idea of going without a vice is quite tempting indeed - I must have read those chapters of Landis & Schwarz several times more often than the others Systems of wedges on the benchtop is very tempting too. I'm not sure that it'd work for me though - I'll be needing to do some odd carving jobs when I build a guitar, that would not be easy to wedge into place. I think I'll have to have some sort of face vise at a bare minimum.

  15. #15
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    Yeah - I think you'll absolutely require a face vise - I was suggesting going without an end-vse. Most of the time, I'd think that the bench's long axis is going against a wall, and the face vise's travel is perpendicular to that axis (i.e., it extends into the room), so no clearance problems there.

    One thought about holding oddly-shaped objects is to go with a secondary bench appliance, like carvers use:

    http://www.sawmillcreek.org/showthread.php?t=106599

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