The foolishness of buying another workshop

Written by David Savage

Originally published as THE CRAFT OF CABINETMAKING in Woodworker Magazine / Circa 1991 - 1992

Part 2 of a series of 2

the outside of the old workshop in Bideford where David Savage set up his furniture making courses

However, boardrooms are tied in with what I want to talk about which is space. A pile of chair components is quite manageable while it is a pile of chair components, once you put those components together and it changes from a nice neat pile into twelve or fifteen half completed chairs, then you need quite a different amount of space. The same thing with big tables. If we are doing a monster table there is no way it can be fully assembled to have a look at how it is shaping up and make adjustments to details here and there. The thing has to be put together, more or less, for the first time on site and that is terrifying. So all this leads me to is thinking about do we have enough space. It is a bit like asking do I have enough cramps? To which the standard answer is: you can never have enough cramps. So can the woodworker ever have enough space?

So that is how I justify, in my own mind, what can only be described as absolute foolishness.

I don’t know. I know not far away from here an organisation called Millthome Chairs. They have a tiny workshop designed very carefully around a band saw, designed to hold chair components, because that is what they make, in a racking system based on the dimensions of the tomato box. In this room, really not much bigger than most peoples bathroom, two, admittedly very clever, people make more beautiful Windsor chairs than you can shake a stick at. So why am I itching to get a bit more space? I suppose the answer must be that Bob and Sue’s workshop is geared up to a certain type of object of known dimensions where we are a bespoke furniture making workshop and do not know what we are making from one month to the next.

So that is how I justify, in my own mind, what can only be described as absolute foolishness. For what I want to do, in the middle of a recession, is buy a second workshop. They say that during a recession you should just do what you are doing, keep you head down and take no risks. And I am sure that is right but now and again in life you have got to back your judgement and hope you are right and live with the consequences if you are wrong. I have decided to buy a workshop which is a few yards down the road which, until very recently, was run by three of my former students as a furniture making workshop. So now we have the chance to plan out another workshop, equip it and this time get it right.

They say that during a recession you should just do what you are doing, keep you head down and take no risks.

Our present workshop is already pretty well equipped. We have a 16″ Wadkin surface planer, a 24″ Wadkin planer thicknesser, a Wilson spindle moulder with sliding carriage for tenoning, a large Wadkin PK dimension saw, a beautiful old Robinson 30″ band saw and a Cooksley pad sander. So when we consider equipping the second workshop the immediate question is do we need to duplicate any of these facilities and if so to what extent?

There has been much discussion about this amongst the present members of the workshop and quite rightly so because they are the people using the machines. I think the current feeling is that we should duplicate the band saw, bench saw and planer thicknesser but not necessarily with very large machines. It leaves the question open as to what different roles could the workshops fulfil. The favourite argument at the present is that we should have our existing workshop specialising in solid wood and the second workshop specialising in larger projects and veneer work. This is a great idea for it would mean that most of the lay out in the existing shop could be retained which I am very much in favour of because moving things around is very costly. There is, however, one fly in the ointment, a dirty big fly, the veneer press.

I can remember bringing that veneer press in four or five years ago. It came apart into several big pieces but those pieces took four or five strong blokes a good morning to man handle around the place. You should understand that this is not a modern veneer press made out of pressed steel and hydraulic pipes, oh no, this is an old one. This is an Inter—wood three platen veneer press made in cast iron girders. As you can see, I do not really relish the thought of fooling around with it again. However, all of these pleasures are in the future. I hope in the coming articles to tell you all about it. I also hope to introduce you to the workshop staff, try to tell you a bit about what they are making and how they are doing it. I do not expect these articles will be a blow by blow account of how to cut dovetails or a six part course on how to be a designer maker of finest furniture but if I can express some of our enthusiasm for making things beautifully and perhaps touch on why we do it then the writing of the articles will have been worth while and I hope it will have been good reading. hope to introduce you to most, if not all, of our workshop Next month I may be able to tell you if the bank is going to let us go ahead with this daft idea.

David Savage
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