Episode #004 – Simplifying your Workshop – Part 2


The Avid Woodworker – AW Episode # 4 – Simplifying your Woodworking Workshop   Part 2

The Five steps towards simplifying your shop

1)     Survey your existing workshop and decide what you really like to do in your shop

2)     Analyze your woodworking flows

3)     Clean House

4)     Organize, design, or re-design your shop

5)     Develop new rules and systems to maintain the simplicity in your shop

In this Episode, we cover step 3.

You should consider certain ‘simple’ rules to apply even if you have a small shop.  If you don’t apply them, and your shop grows, you will have a cluttered mess on your hands.  Trust me, I know from experience.  I can also say with confidence that the time it takes me to work through a project has been shortened significantly since I implemented these steps in my own shop.

Before I go any further, I know that many of you out there already have pristine shops.  You probably went through these steps or something similar years ago.  I have seen those shops and they look AWESOME and I want to say “thank you” for the inspiration to get my shop into that position.   But, if you work a full time job, have active children, and volunteer in their activities (like Cub Scouts for me), it is very difficult to find time to get into your shop.  When I get the time to get into the shop, I want to build something, not organize it.  That is why I am sharing this information.  The steps I have taken and continue to take have allowed me to get more woodworking done.  All I ask those of you have gone through this already, is to bear with me for these episodes, and who knows, you may pick up a few ideas along the way, or, even better, you might have some great suggestions that I can add to what is in this podcast.  The next step in this podcast is to start blogging, and I would love to share great ideas with everyone else.

Now, onto Step # 3 – This Step can be both challenging and freeing when you get to the end of it.

Step 3 – Clean house

Now that you have hit this stage, you should have a good idea of your core needs in your wood working shop.  As you move through this process, you want to remind yourself of what your basic workshop looks like, so, if you hit a bump in the road, you can push through the clean house phase by referring back to what you initially envisioned.

If your shop had become cluttered like mine, this clean house phase can take several weekends.  My shop had become filled with “stuff” over the course of 10 years.  I kept saying that “I am going to use that,” or “this gadget will get used one day,” and the junk just continued to pile up in need, organized boxes that merely collected dust.

If you are like me, you often have a lot going on, even on the weekends, so you don’t have all weekend to clean house in your shop.  I would often clean until I had filled up at least two large contractor grade trash bags with trash.  I took many items to Good Will, took them to a recycling facility, or sold them in the neighborhood yard sale.  The first day of my cleaning, I burned an incredible amount of scrap wood.  I have a fire ring that has a grate over it to cook things on, and my oldest son even helped cooked dinner over the wood fire.  He was more than happy to help me burn all the dry wood I had.

            A good rule of thumb is do not schedule appointments during this clean house phase.  Turn phones and cell phones to voicemail.  Do not check email.  Turn off the televisions.  Schedule a sitter to watch the kids or explain to older kids not to interrupt (unless of course you are working on an area that they use and should help you with). Get plenty of sleep!   Here is why:

Throwing things away can be difficult for some people.  Rather than making a decision of whether I should keep an item, I would just throw it in a box because it was easier at the time.  Distractions can interrupt the momentum and energy of cleaning house.

Before you start, you should gather your supplies needed to clean house.

–        Make sure you have a large trash can with construction grade trash bags.  That way you can throw away most sharp items and not have to worry too much about them cutting the trash bag.

–        Have a recycling bin for those rechargeable batteries that have not been used in years.

–        Have a bin for items that you might want to take to Good Will.

–        Have a bin for items you are not sure about and label it “Not Sure.”

–        Have a bin called “Keep”

Let’s break it down by what you can do with what you don’t need.  This can often be the hardest part of the process:

A)    Trash  – Most items that are broken or beyond repair should be tossed into the trash

             I don’t know about you, but I had so many little things in my shop that were ‘broken’ that I was going to fix or break down the parts and use for something else.  I found one item that had been down there from the last move over 10 years ago!  That went in the trash.  I had an arm from an old satellite dish that I thought I could use for something, but I didn’t, so in the trash it went.

             WOOD – anything that you would be afraid to cut on a table saw or a chop saw/ radial arm saw  by holding it with your bare hands – toss – unless you plan on a glue up (but I would only do that later) – Exception – if you are a turner – may be big enough for a pen or a bottle stopper.  If you think the wood is not appropriate for turning – toss it or burn it that day or the very next weekend.  Don’t even save it for the next bon-fire – it just takes up room.  Get rid of it.

–        If you really think you are going to use it, ask yourself if you have room to store it . . .  really.  If your dream shop with your specific woodworking flow does not have room for a ton of wood, get rid of it.  It will only slow you down and limit the amount of woodworking you do.

–        Throw away all the things that you have stored thinking . . . “I could use that one day.”

–        Trash old tools that don’t work anymore.  Why are you keeping that old cordless drill that you have not used in 2 years.  You keep saying you are going to fix it, but never do.

B)     Recycle items such as paper, glass, plastic or metal (be sure to check with your local recycling center or garbage collector to see what type of recyclable material they will take).

–        It is ok to recycle those old plastic tool boxes.

C)    Donate, Sell on Craig’s List or at yard sale – If you have a tool or project that is not being used and taking up space, you don’t have to trash it, you can sell or donate it.


For Example – I had old record player and radio from the 50’s I thought might be worth something.  It had sat in my basement for 10 years.  I had read on the internet how some of them were worth a couple thousand dollars, but I could not determine if the one I had was. 

–        At the end of the day, it was worthless to me because I had other projects more important – sold it at garage sale. 

D)    Return items that belong somewhere else.  These may be items that belong in another room, items that belong to someone else, or items that need to be returned to the store, library, etc.

E)     Don’t Know items are things you are having a hard time letting go of.   Don’t spend too much time on these so you can push through the rest of your clean house efforts.

Ask yourself the following questions if you are having a hard time with the “Don’t Know” items:

Do I love that old project?  – Ask yourselfHave you ever used it?  What are you doing with it?  Can you give it away?  Why is it just sitting there?

–        Throw in the attic?  Take a picture of it if you really want to remember it, but then sell it.

–        If you truly love an item, if it brings you joy every time you see it and it’s part of that “vision” you have for your space, then by all means keep it.

Do I need it? This is a no-brainer but be sure to get rid of duplicate items.  How many sanders do you need?  How many cordless drills do you need?  Try not to have duplicates unless you know you need them.  If you upgrade your router and don’t use the old one anymore – sell it on Craig’s list.  There are, of course, exceptions . . . You can never have enough clamps, and I have multiple hammers for when the Cub Scouts come over to work on a project in my basement.

Have I used it? Tools, wood, or gadgets that you’ve never used you should seriously consider getting rid of.

When was the last time I used it? Anything that hasn’t been used in over a year… again, you should seriously consider getting rid of them too.  If you have something that you consistently use once a year but not more than once a year, then keep it, but set it aside so it is not around what you use on a weekly basis.

Does it make my life better? I love quality woodworking tools.  So I ask myself: “Does this tool make my woodworking easier?”  If the answer is yes, then keep it, provided you have a place to store it.    If no, because you bought an upgrade – sell it!  Don’t wait – grab your smart phone, take a picture, and upload it to craig’s list.  Or, ask a neighbor if they want it.  I gave a number of my yard tools to my brother-in-law.  I had to stop working in the yard due to allergies (which I was not happy about because I actually enjoyed yard work).

 Can I borrow or rent it? Instead of taking up space with items you rarely use, consider renting it.  I bought a small sand blaster 9 years ago.  I have used it once on one project.  It just sits in my shop.  I have it set aside to sell on craig’s list.

 Am I keeping it out of a sense of obligation or guilt?   – Sentimental items can be challenging      

–  Cub scout projects – I take pictures of and then ask the kids if they want to keep in their room.  If the answer is no, then I let them know that I am going to find a new home for it (usually a bond fire).

–  Some items you can just create a space for in your shop – over the windows – hang from empty spots.

What’s the worst that can happen if I get rid of it? When all else fails and you’re still having trouble deciding, just ask what’s the worst that can happen? Practically everything can be replaced these days.  Heck, many things are cheaper to replace than repair.

I used to keep all kinds of wood  “just in case I might use it on a project someday” scenario.

I never used it.  Most of the time, I bought more wood and the pile of wood got larger.

 As you fill up trash bags, remove them immediately!   This will prevent you from changing your mind.  Hopefully embarrassment will prevent you from rummaging through your trash the next day.  If you cleaned house every weekend for a few weekends like I did, leave enough time for you to take certain items to Goodwill or to drop of things at your local recycling center (if you are recycling electronics).    Get rid of everything before you start thinking . . . now that I know where that is, I might get to it someday.

Keep your vision and goal in sight.  Reminding yourself of how you want your workshop to look when you are finished puts you in control of your space.  That way, your stuff does not control your woodworking flow.

That’s it.  That’s how you Clean House.  You will be amazed at how freeing it is.  In fact, I need to do some more this weekend!  It becomes very empowering.

If you are taking on this challenge to Simplify your Workshop, I would love to hear how it’s going.  If you are having trouble Cleaning house, let me know.

I do want to give credit to a couple that partly inspired this series of episodes.   As I indicated in Episode # 3, I started my simplification in December 2012.  I had grown tired of the clutter in my shop and started to do something about it.  Around that same time, I found this fantastic podcast called Simple Life Together.  It is hosted by Dan and Vanessa Hayes.  They were putting into words what I was working on in my shop at the time, and gave me extra incentive to simplify my shop.  I did want to give credit to them for inspiring me in an unexpected way to take my woodworking to the next level.  If you want to check them out, their website is www.simplelifetogether.com.  The outline for the simplification process actually came from Vanessa Hayes at her website www.getsimplifized.com


265Stumpy Wrote “Well Done!  – Look forward to more of this Podcast.”

Pgoodman1981 wrote “Awesome  – I have listened to several woodworking podcasts and love them all, but I am particularly excited about the avid woodworker podcast.  Thank you Leh and I look forward to hearing more.”

If you have any suggestions you would like to make, or have any woodworking ideas you would like to share on the podcast, please let me know.

I am going to do my best to wrap up this issue in the next episode and discuss steps 4 and 5,

–        Organize, design, or re-design your shop

–        Develop new rules and systems to maintain the simplicity in your shop



Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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