Downsizing

A good woodworking friend is downsizing his shop – drastically – and I’m having trouble imagining what he’s going through.

To describe my friend’s situation briefly, he once ran a cabinet shop out of a building behind his home. With a couple employees and lots of big equipment, the approximately 2,500-sq.-ft. shop was perfect. He closed that business several years ago but kept working by himself to produce custom furniture in the same space, which was palatial by my standards and with machinery I can only dream of. But he’s in the process of selling his home, and along with it that roomy shop and gear. He and his wife are moving into a smaller home they own, and when they do his new shop will be the same as mine: a converted two-car garage with about 450 sq. ft. of space.

Now, I do fine in 450 sq. ft., but I’ve had a lot of years to understand how a space of that size works best. What’s more, since this is the largest shop I’ve had, I’ve actually “grown into” that space. He, on the other hand, must shrink down to that space from something more than five times larger.

He’s coming for a visit later this week to see my setup, and I’ll do everything I can to offer advice to help him adjust to his new space. But to be honest, even though the size of his new shop will be the same as mine, I’m having difficulty envisioning things from his perspective. Working in 450 sq. ft I get just fine, but shifting down from 2,500 sq. ft. (again, with every machine imaginable) to a space the size of mine is an alien concept for me.

Surely a lot of you have traveled my friend’s route. I’m curious what advice you’d have for him when it comes to drastically downsizing like this as it affects machinery, shop processes, space management and the like.

A.J.

COMMENTS

  1. Howard Van Valzah wrote:

    I have 450 square feet devoted to wood storage. The other 1750 Sq. Ft. are filed with machinery and storage area. When I have to close my shop which will happen fairly soon since I’m now 83 years old, I couldn’t bear to shrink it. I will sell off everything including my pick up truck and probably buy a new luxury car to impress my neighbors. Then again I think I might keep my Festool shop which stands alone in a small place. But how could I live without my wood supply?

  2. chris wrote:

    Wow,
    Having just gone through this process, I can say it was exciting to say the least. Owner of a full cabinet shop of 3000sq’ and full production capabilities, it was a stretch to reduce to 504sq’.(18′ x 28′) It was a professional choice and I couldn’t be happier!!!!
    It was an exercise that everyone should be required to endure. I started small, then expanded, then, built the large shop, only to realize that it was insane to go that big. It felt like hundreds of hours of drawing and designing the small shop only to have it change multiple times after it was complete.

    It is a great, cozy shop that I am realizing is much better suited to efficiency and quality. No, there is not ample room to stack and store, but thats the point. Efficient, clean and still productive? YES!!!! You bet!!!!

    Paring down to the basics is an exercise most Americans, let alone woodworkers are not accustomed too but it is liberating in so many ways, only those who have done it can explain.
    I have come to understand that woodworking is about satisfaction, not speed or capacity. Leave that to factories.
    So good luck to your friend who will realize sooner rather than later that this is the greatest process to participate in.
    Cheers,
    Chris

  3. James wrote:

    Having a 12×12 building and about a quarter of the basement of a small home, I understand limited space. It goes without saying, anything possible has wheels. The only equipment without wheels is the table saw and a Jet 18PFN milling machine. Some operations are controlled by the weather and can only be done on dry days because things have to be wheeled outside to make room. Other things like cutting sheet goods down to size are outside task. I can relate to losing a large space as I had to close a 4100sq.ft photography studio. I worked for a while taking equipment on location using a trailer. Being difficult for an old army of one, I have since scaled back. But even having only the capacity for smaller project sizes I can still enjoy my woodworking and photography. The change is not only physical but mental. Tell your friend that once he changes his mind set from a money making business one to a hobby one, he can make it work.

  4. Larry wrote:

    I did the same thing with a cross country move IL to CO in 2006 and then the economey went down hill. Luckily I have plenty of storage in other out buildings as well as a second floor to the garage shop for storage of hardware and such things that need to be close at hand. I had to give up large machinary and have everything laid out around the Table saw in the center, and radial saw along 1 long wall. All other pieces are moveable and kept out of the way. I am lucky to have a log garage that gives me 8′ clear and an extra 1′+ between the log rafters. My biggist problem is putting things away and trying to work on one piece at a time. If you are organized and can take things one at a time it is very doable but if you are like me, it is a struggle. I can’t wait till the economy picks up and I can add on or build a whole new shop with a min. of 1,000sq’ to 2,000sq’ should do nicely.

  5. Michael wrote:

    Quite a few years ago, I shifted my business from doing custom furniture to just wood turning. After selling a lot of machinery, I found I adjusted quite nicely to the extra space in the shop. I also added a couple of machines that were multi-purpose players, ie. joiner/planer. Would highly recommend that your friend look into combo machines. They not only save space, but in some circumstances, will add additional capacities.

  6. Ron Kamp wrote:

    I too went from a big shop 3200sf to a building of 750sf it AIN’T eazy
    I kept a few basic saws and hand tools. Over the years I keep buying
    smaller tools I needed, now I have a shop full of smaller tools, and wish I had my old tools. But that’s not the kind of work I do now.
    Sometimes you just have to suck-it-up and live with what you got.
    GOOD LUCK

  7. Larry wrote:

    My first shop was the upstairs bedroom of a cape cod style house. Half the garage had been turned into a family room, but there was enough room to store some wood. Our new house I used 2 parts of the basement and part of the garage. The next home had a 3 car garage. I purchased the barn back to the property and now have 2000 sq feet down, the same up and 2500 sq feet storage attached.. Plus a small 2 story out building to store my lawn mower and other stuff. I wonder frequently what I will ever do when the time comes to give up my play ground…

  8. Bill “Pop” Golden wrote:

    AJ, I have a basement garage shop. I’ve managed to squeeze 620 sq. ft. out of it. I’m now 74 and I’m still buying machines. I know that some time in the future I’m going to have to do something. Unless I win the lottery we are going to have to move. This keeps me up at night. Then again, I try not to think about it.

    Bill “Pop” Golden
    Charlotte, NC

  9. John Gresko wrote:

    Adapt!

  10. Chuck R wrote:

    First, he will need to define what he is going to produce. That’s the hardest part. And he needs to get it right. Then it’s all downhill from there – his experience will guide him through the workflow and he will be able to envision where each of the machines that he will keep will be placed.

    Now tell me how I am going to get my new Powermatic 12 inch jointer down a flight and a half of stairs into my lower basement…

  11. AJ Friend wrote:

    AJ…thanks for the great visit today…”Sweeps” and I were in awe of your home on the Ohio, great shop and your many talents. After a 529 mile round daytrip, I will properly respond and acknowledge the kind responses from your loyal followers tomorrow after a rest…thank you one and all.

    …going from a one man shop in 1974-80 to a two man shop in 1981-83 to a four man combination shop/retail/wood store setting in 1983-89 to a six man USMC defense sub-contractor in 1989-94, has been a great ride…just as my ongoing project from 1995 to present has been unbelievable…just not done yet…just downsizing a bit at 62 years young…just not ready to golf my life away…

    …I appreciate all the fellows’ comments here and will digest what I can…this move is NOT easy and I won’t go down easy…the chips and dust are forever imbedded…

    …as always my best to Miss Sally,
    …OBSVT…out…

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