Lots of makers who have YouTube channels do shop tour videos. They can be a mixed bag. As Izzy Swan points out in his video below, they can feel a little bit like bragging or at least an endless list of tools you don’t own, tools you may not need, and tools you can’t afford. On the plus side, shop tours can also give a deeper sense of place for the makers you admire. You can see the full extent of what they have to work with, the thoughts that went into setting up their shops, and their basic workflow.
The best thing that I get out of shop tours is shop tips. A lot of times, if you ask someone to share some of their best tips with you, they’ll draw a blank in the moment. But when you put them in their beloved workspaces, as they walk you through, they’re likely to share some gems in the process.
I decided recently to catch up on some shop tours of makers I follow on YouTube and to tease out some of the better tips they share during the tour. Here are the tours, followed by my favorite tips.
Make an Inspiring Workspace: In Izzy Swans’ tour video, he shares one of the most interesting and unusual shop tips I’ve ever heard. Ever wondered why his shop is bright orange and lime green? He specifically chose those colors because they make him feel comfortable, creative. He doesn’t know why and he doesn’t care. He wanted to create a space that reflects him, his personality, and is an inspiring space to work in. This is probably something that most of us overlook. Think about what colors really get your juices going and what sort of vibe you want to create in your workspace and indulge yourself. Don’t make painting and decorating an afterthought. Make it foundational to how you want your shop set up.
Use Foam Holders for Tools: A lot of people swear by the outlined tool approach to tool organization — to have as many everyday tools as possible up where you can see them on pegboards and to draw outlines around each tool so that you know what goes where and when a tool is missing. Instead of pegs, Izzy uses Kaizen foam cutouts for each tool as it holder and identifier. It’s easy to slam a tool into its cutout and easy to see when a tool is missing.
Make Everything Mobile: April tries to make all of the machinery stands in her shop mobile so that she can configure everything as she needs it on a project-by-project basis. This allows for what Adam Savage calls “first order retrievability,” where you can arrange the space around you so that the tools and equipment you need most often are closest, then the next order of retrievability farther away, and the next, etc.
Consider Using Fold-Out Workbenches: To save shop space, think about creating fold-out work surfaces that you can mount on the walls of your shop and deploy as needed. April has 3 such benches in her shop.
Make a Home for Everything: Nearly every serious fabricator I know insists on having clear and well thought-out places for all of his/her tools, equipment, and materials to go and spending the time returning them there at the end of every project. April has purpose-built cabinets, racks, and wall-holders for many of her tools and supplies. For instance, the screw shelves were built around a standard box of screws. By building your storage around the exact sizes of bins, paint cans, common size hardware boxes, and the like, you save precious space and you’re creating a purpose-built home for each type of shop resident.
Actor and comedian Nick Offerman is also a very talented woodworker. In this tour for Fine Woodworking, he shows off his shop, his amazing collection of wood stock, and discusses his woodworking career.
Build a Router Jig for Surfacing Rough Lumber: Since Nick does a lot of work with giant slabs of lumber to create “live-edge” tables, countertops, and other pieces, he needs to surface lots of rough pieces. If you’ve ever seen this in action, it’s a painstaking process of routing your desired surface. To make this process a lot easier, Nick designed and built a giant router jig to fit onto his custom outfeed table on his table saw. You might not need a jig this big, but if you plan on routing flat surfaces onto trees, you’re going to want a jig. Nick wrote up his jig project and published it in Fine Homebuilding. You can access that PDF (for free) here.
Get Free Wood from Your City or Town: Nick recommends contacting your local municipality and asking them if they will alert you if they’re planning on cutting down and hauling away any hardwood trees. Even if the trees that you get are not huge, you can bookmatch two or more pieces to make a dining table, countertop, etc.
Spend Real Money on the Most Vital Tools: Bob saved up his money to buy the best, safest table saw he could afford, a SawStop. He wanted it to be the last saw he would ever need to buy. He also wants to teach his kids to be makers but would like for them to retain all of their fingers (SawStop has built-in skin-detecting technology that stops the saw if your fleshy bits come into contact with it). And like many woodworkers, the table saw is his most used tool, the tool at the center of his shop. Those vital tools are the ones that make the most sense to break your bank on.
Keeping the Right Tools at Hand: Bob keeps all of his push sticks and anything else he may need to grab while working on the saw within reach.
Keep the Computer in Another Room: His shop computer is actually in the other room with a cable running to a suspended monitor in his shop. He uses a wireless keyboard to control the computer. Lots of people keep computers in their shop, just blow the dust out on occasion, and have encountered few problems. But Bob’s not taking any chances.
Consider Fold-out Machinery: While April Wilkerson swears by fold-out workbenches, Bob has gone one step further and mounted his complete CNC machine, his X-Carve, onto a folding table so that he can fold it away when not in use.
Magnetized Wall Holders: To store a lot of his light hand tools, Bob uses cheap magnetized knife holders from Harbor Freight. They cost about $4 each.
Don’t Be Afraid of Certain Tools on the Cheap: Harbor Freight has a rep for selling cheap tools and so many people avoid buying there. Bob says to not be afraid to buy cheap tools there when cheap is just fine. Certain shop items such as storage cabinet, racks, holders, containers, certain supplies and materials are just fine to buy on the cheap at “Horrible Freight.” The money you save on stuff that doesn’t really matter can go towards tools that really do.