Workshop Catch-22


Where did all of the home workshops go? It used to be that every home had a little woodworking shop for fixing a broken chair or building a cradle. Not anymore. I assumed the reason was modern technology and Walmart made them obsolete. After trying to set up a workshop myself, I now know the real reason: It is impossible!

It isn’t easy finding space for a workshop. The garage and the basement are the usual candidates but I don’t have either one. My ever-loving wife, “Woody” (not her real name), didn’t seem to catch the vision when I proposed using the guest room for my woodworking even though I assured her I would close the door to keep the dust out of the rest of the house. It’s not like we use that room on a daily basis but the idea went over like a lead balloon. She proposed using the storage room. So we compromised and I’m using the storage room.

As it happens, Woody recently finished reading an excellent biography of Woodrow Wilson by A. Scott Berg, but any similarity in their names should in no way be construed to suggest any resemblance in physical appearance or temperament. Let me make this perfectly clear. The names Woody and Woodrow are completely coincidental and my ever-loving wife and the headstrong, stubborn president have nothing in common.

Every woodworking shop needs the basics: a table saw, a miter saw, and a workbench. I have a table saw courtesy of Mom (see “Downsizing–a moving experience“) and a miter saw courtesy of Treddie (see “Carpet out; stair retreads in“). But I need a workbench. It is self-evident that you can’t just buy a workbench when the whole point is to build things out of wood in the woodworking shop.

“Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Alice in Wonderland.

The Queen probably believed she could build a workbench before breakfast.

Impossibility #1

A workbench needs to be perfectly flat. One way to make a flat workbench is to build a torsion box, which sounds like a device used during the Spanish Inquisition.

Torsion box made using a wood grid and a top and bottom of plywood
Torsion box made using a wood grid and a top and bottom of plywood

A torsion box is a wood grid sandwiched between two pieces of plywood. Everything must be glued together and assembled on a perfectly flat surface such as, wait for it …, a workbench! So to build a workbench you must already have a workbench. (See “How to Prevent Twist in a Torsion Box.”)

Impossibility #2

The grid and sides of the torsion box must be ripped to an exact width on the table saw so they all fit together to make a flat surface. When cutting long boards, like the sides or the top or bottom of the torsion box, you need to have an outfeed table to support them when they hang out past the saw. If you don’t have an outfeed table, you can always use, wait for it …, a workbench!

Impossibility #3

The torsion box pieces also need to be cut to length with the miter saw. (See “Build a Torsion Box Assembly Table.”) The saw itself is only about 2’ long so you need to have long “arms” sticking out from the miter saw on the sides to hold the long boards level. These arms must be the same height as the miter saw base, so you need to rip some plywood or boards about 2” wide to support them, which as you, an Alert Reader, will recall from the previous paragraph, requires a workbench, i.e. the thing we are trying to make.

It is clearly impossible to build a workbench, which explains why no one does it. Since a workbench is essential to a woodshop, it is now obvious why no one builds them anymore and we can stop wasting research dollars on that issue.

In spite of this imposing obstacle, I’m going to press on and convert the storage room to a workshop with the (unwarranted) optimism that a workbench will spontaneously appear so that I can actually build things, which is the justification for the workshop in the first place. It is not that I’m stubborn like Woody, er, President Wilson. I’m just determined.

I’m also cautiously optimistic that by the time I finish making the workshop, I’ll remember what it was that I wanted to build there.


One thought on “Workshop Catch-22”

  1. Great article, my workshop is still on the drawing board. I have a wonderful wife who wants my dream to come true. Also I think she want her garage back….

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