As part of my resident research position at ITP, I keep an eye on the shop in collaboration with our shop foreman and the student workers. While we have access to a number of great tools, our space constraints and disparate skill sets and experience can lead to quite a lot of work around the shop. The challenges here are different than those of a home workshop. With multiple users and near round-the-clock access, things like maintenance and clean-up cannot be governed by the group alone.
Alignment and Efficiency
With so many different people of various skill-levels using the shop, it is easy for the tools to get out of whack. Making sure that the tools are aligned, guards are tightened down and that all blades are sharp is super important.
Limited space means that every workspace is needed (and more during the busiest times). We encourage vacuuming tools after use; making sure to remove bits or clamps, and that all trash and project refuse is tossed when finished using a workspace.
One of the best strengths about our shop is the community. Being a beginner-friendly and open place fosters a sense among the students that they can ask anyone for help. Not only does this save tools that might otherwise be abused due to misuse, but also increases the level of knowledge for the entire workshop as people learn new skill sets.
Digital or Manual?
We are fortunate to have a number of digital fabrication machines in our shop, but they are consistently in high demand. One thing that has helped to alleviate demand is to help people realize the limitations of the digital fabrication machines, and also to show when they are more complicated than required for the project (i.e. not every box needs to be laser cut).
While we allow individuals to store their materials within the shop, we are careful to make sure they are stored in the correct place since incorrect storage can be dangerous. We also have scrap materials available to make sure that leftover bits and pieces are available to others who may have use for them.
Putting Tools Back
We have labeled bins to help accomplish this task, but when not everyone understands what the difference is between a hacksaw and a wood saw they don't always help. Keeping an eye out on where tools end up can make the difference between panic and a finished project.
Make sure that your safety equipment accomplishes the job, since someone in a rush might not notice the headband is missing or that the dust masks aren't good for spray painting. Placing them in the open and near power tools encourages their use.
Since direct supervision is not one of the requirements of the shop, simple signs help people remember to do the things they should be doing anyway. We have signs to let people know which tools are appropriate for what materials, as well as simple clean up procedures and things to watch out for when using the tools.
Storing Tools when not in Use
We have a rather crowded shop, and more tools than can be used at the same time. Safely storing away our power tools, but still having them easily accessible is a constant struggle. One way we accomplish this is by having cabinets outside of the shop, but we primarily use tables with lower shelves so that all the tools are visible (out of sight is strongly out of mind).
Training on Tools
In addition to a required shop safety session, we host specific lessons on tools when there is a perceived need. It is important to not only include how to use a tool, but what materials to use the tools with since misused tools lead to broken or dangerous tools.
Eric Hagan. is a resident researcher at NYU’s ITP, and helps to oversee the day-to-day functions of the school’s workshop, which includes a full complement of woodworking tools, CNC machine, laser cutter, and 3D printer. Students at ITP come from all sorts of backgrounds, making the maintenance of the shop both challenging and engaging.
I'm senior editor of MAKE magazine and have worked at MAKE since the first issue. I'm a word nerd who particularly loves to geek out on how emerging technology affects the lexicon as a whole. When not fawning over perfect word choices, I can be found on the nearest mountain, looking for the ideal alpine lake or hunting for snow to feed my inner snowboard addict.