Scaling Down a Woodshop

Jacob Lewallen 604 words 4 min read April 22, 2014 #woodworking

Since we purchased our home a few years ago, we’ve known with near certainty that there was a temporary move in our future. My wife is getting a doctorate in Psychology and to get her degree she is required to complete an internship. For that internship, you interview at sites all over the country and then you and the sites rank each other. After a few weeks of anxious waiting you’re algorithmic-ally assigned to a mutually optimal choice in a stressful and sadistic process known as The Match. We knew it was highly likely and even desirable that she match outside of Southern California, given her concentration, and so have accepted from the beginning that our home would become another family’s for a short time while we took off on an adventure.

Fast forward to January, when the interview process began. She spent three long weeks in hotels and airports, interviewing at more than a dozen sites from Portland to Boston. She ranked them, and then we anxiously waited until we learned very early on a Friday morning in February that we’d be moving to New Haven, Connecticut – 2,500 miles away.

Standing in my three car garage among my saws, assembly table, benches, spare lumber, and ample floor space and storage I was confronted with a tough choice. It’s not often your reasons and assumptions for enjoying a hobby are tested in a way that reveal something deeper about why a hobby gives you joy. I was faced with a collision of competing desires. We wanted to be by the university for easy commuting. We wanted to be near the activities and the energetic life of our new city so we could leverage that energy and sling ourselves into the new community, engaging us so we felt comfortable leaving the 25 square mile patch of land in Southern California that’s been our home for a majority of our lives. I knew immediately that finding that and enough space for a workshop was unlikely, especially having to find a place to live remotely after only one visit to the area. Also, the thought of moving saws and equipment cross country daunted me more than I liked. Initially, I was a little depressed. I felt that losing the space meant that the hobby would have to lie dormant until we returned. I started to think about how I could pass the time. It was then that I stumbled upon an idea that should have been obvious to me from the beginning. The space I had was a luxury that someone interested in woodworking the way I was could easily sacrifice. With hand tools and a well-lit corner of a room I could easily create in a smaller way, hone skills and practice techniques. The more I thought about the opportunity, the more excited I got. It was comforting because it cemented the realization that my journey into the hobby was born out of a desire to create and learn techniques rather than collecting a shop. I feel pangs of remorse at the idea of losing the shop, for sure, that’s unavoidable. Yet, I’m invigorated because I know that fully embracing hand tools for a few years will do wonders to enhance my woodworking in ways that probably would never have come my way had I stayed in the comfort zone of my shop.

So I begin a journey that many woodworkers usually take in the opposite direction. My power tools are going into storage and I’m compressing my hobby down into a single chest and a Paul Sellers inspired 4′ bench. Wish me luck.

Back to top