Progress in the process

Those of us with paying 9-5 jobs (the hobby woodworkers) have probably all experienced it before. The dreaded process meetings. Even when I was toiling along at minimum wage teenage jobs, the roots were there – the training videos, mostly. I remember one from Kroger where there was part of a clip that showed a Titan rocket taking off and overlaid was ‘It doesn’t take a rocket scientist.’ The things you remember from a job that only lasted about two weeks before you quit. I figured changing oil would be more fun.

In white collar America, the concept grows. There are entire companies based on teaching the processes to other companies. I’m sure you’ve heard of the buzzwords. Kaizen. Lean Six Sigma. 5S. The list goes on. 5S has come to woodworking as well. There’s a guy named Steve Johnson (The Down to Earth Woodworker) who is an advocate of it, and his videos are pretty good. The pace can take some getting used to, but the content is good. He organized his new workshop based on 5S principles, and teaches classes on it.

I’m not here to really talk about 5S, but having an organized shop falls in line with it. I’ve noticed the more my shop gets cleaned up and I know where things are, the happier I am. Hopefully gone are the days where the thing I am looking for is buried somewhere or hard to get to. Without knowing it, or really being proficient in 5S, my workshop layout has started to gravitate to the principles.

Take my new systainer storage as an example. Most of the tools I use now are the Festools, at least outside of the big floor-based tools. I mostly use these tools at the MFT, so it made sense to have them easily accessible while I was standing there. All of my tools, then, are just a step or two from where I need to use them, and all easily accessible. In the same manner, I’ve tried to put all my measuring tools in the same space. You might joke around that my entire shop is the same space, but you’d be surprised. I’m hoping that at some point I can make the very large cabinet over my workbench into two smaller cabinets, so I can bring my hand planes back over to the bench, where they get used.

I think most woodworkers try to do the same things. Keep your turning tools and shields at the lathe. Push sticks at the jointer and table saw. Drill bits at the drill press. Chisels and planes at the workbench. Saw blades at respective saws. This is just sound common sense, but it can often be overlooked when you are trying to fit things just so, as can happen in a small shop. Guys with big shops may not know this conundrum. Whenever I am fortunate to move into a bigger shop, I can take this knowledge with me and be at an advantage. It’s a big reason why I think I could do a whole lot with just a slightly bigger shop, where guys with bigger shops would feel that they couldn’t thrive in the same space.

In truth, the layout and organizing portion of the shop is nearer the end than the beginning. It has nothing really to do with moving into a new shop, but the fact that I’m finally beginning to figure things out long-term. Trust me, I wish it were due to getting a new shop, because that would mean I was getting a bigger one. There are still going to be tweaks, and I’ll share the results of them. For example, very soon I will be examining the router table/miter saw/planer relationship and seeing what I could combine, if anything. I still need to try to come up with about four more square feet or so in ‘savings’ to make things work even better. It really is amazing to start to get down to the little details that make shops work that much more efficiently, and that’s where you can really take some clues from all the process management implementation ideas. It’s progress in the process, and it’s a key component to making a shop function more like a shop should.


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