Tuesday, 21 June 2011

If Mohammad can’t go to the mountain, then the mountain will have to come to him…

After considering my wife’s change in position regarding our plans for moving out of the city and the loss of my planned workshop wherever that move would take us, I have come to some decisions regarding the direction I should take.

No, I’m not going to leave her.

What I am going to do is build a compact shop set-up for my specific needs that is based on a sort of modular design. If I am forced to stay here, it will work, and if we do end up moving to a more accommodating location, I can add to it as desired. If I am nothing, I am at least adaptable – possibly delusional – but definitely adaptable.

Ok, here’s the deal. We live on the 26th floor of a high-rise condominium. We own everything from the plaster on the boundary walls in. While we can do modifications to the unit, they are limited. As moving is something my wife will not consider at this point, I am stuck with an area that is 9-feet by 12-feet with regular 8-foot ceilings. Within 108 square feet I have to operate my digital design business, deal with my teaching duties, store and display my ever-growing research library and have a usable workshop that has the facilities to store my ever-growing hand tool collection.

The only way to do all of this is to dedicate one wall to the workshop and one wall to the commercial operation that pays for that workshop.

Having done so much research lately on workbenches, this didn’t turn out to be the challenging task I thought it would be. Sequestered away in my 108 square foot domain for the weekend, this is what I came up with…

The minute my current project, the large plant shelf unit, is done, I am going on a shopping spree for a great deal of mahogany and this drawing will slowly become my centre for working wood.

Here is a layout with the basic dimensions...

The design is based on two drawer cabinets with three drawers each; two large drawers, one to be my saw till with the other accommodating larger items like my mitre jack, two medium sized drawers to hold my metal and wood plane collection and two smaller ones to hold my drills and other assorted mid-sized items.

Each of these cabinets has an overhead storage unit attached by a steel frame. These units have very shallow drawers, a number of smaller ones to hold small tools, a few midsized ones to hold files and other similar sized tools and two shallow hanging lockers with tambour doors.

In between the two storage areas lays a 7 ½ - foot bench with a tail vise at one end and a face vise of my own design at the other. A deadman sits between the two base cabinets for use with the face vise. Because floor space is at such a premium, the face vise cannot project out as far as a normal one, so the outer plate is set into the bench top with only the screw wheel projecting. When a longer board is being worked, a filler will have to be added behind it to bring it forward beyond the bench’s face.

As storage of additional jigs and things is also limited, as many adjustments as possible have to be built into the bench. One of those adjustments will be for height. Charlie, over at jack-bench.com has done some extensive work utilizing a car jack for this purpose and studying the plans I purchased from him, I am sure I can utilize this set-up to create a 10-inch height adjustment into my design.

I am also going to skirt the base cabinets to minimize the dust collecting underneath them. Because the room is full of computers as well, dust control is a big deal for me so I have also designed the same car jack set-up in their bases as I’ll be using for the bench top. These bases, however, will have the two car jacks connected so they raise and lower as a single unit to limit twisting the top. When employed, casters in each base will drop down to allow the whole assembly to be moved for relocation or just cleaning beneath.

If things change in our accommodations and we end up somewhere that offers more floor space, the bench top can be removed and set up independently, the two base cabinets can be stacked on one base and the two overhead storage units can be mounted to the wall in any one of multiple arrangements.

Overall, I think the workstation that will result from these plans will be functional to work at and esthetically pleasing to look at. The results will also be usable at this location, or adaptable if my wife decides working for a living is something she would finally like to forgo.

Either way, Mohammad ends up with his mountain.




  1. And I thought my space was meager. By comparison, it seems positively extravagant. Of course, I don't have the luxury of heat or AC.

    It sounds like you will have to go pretty much sandpaper free to keep the dust down.

    Best wishes.

  2. And I thought I was limited. My workshop aka the garage has been taken over as a storage unit for my son who just moved back in with us and my daughter who just moved to another place but didn't have enough room for everything so my wife volunteered our garage.

  3. When we lived in a small apartment I used a rolling bench and a closet. The kitchen table was my work space when not needed.

    IMHO files in a drawer is bad for them unless separated and kept clean.
    I'd make an air filter for that space also. Throw a box together around a couple of pleated filters and a stove exhaust fan, easy...