A New York Community Workshop – Shop Tour

Shop Tour -
Added on November 20, 2008

This week’s shop is submitted by Todd. Let’s check his place out and see what he has to say:

“I have a somewhat unusual workshop. I work at a place called 3rd Ward, which is a resource for creative people of many kinds, in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. There’s a woodshop, but there’s also a metal shop, a computer lab, lots of desk spaces for graphic designers and the like, two recording studios, a gallery, and three photo studios (not darkrooms). The woodshop has a very elementary safety primer (which I teach), a furniture design class, a refinishing class, a basic introduction to joinery (which I also teach), and several more classes are developing. The idea is to collect creative people together and build a community so they might collaborate and learn from each other. It’s a good idea, and in practice it has its pros and cons. Here’s a link: http://www.3rdward.com”

“Some of you might be interested in our tools. We’ve got an old 14″ Rockwell Delta table saw that’s a great workhorse with no major issues, and it’s primarily the rip saw. We’ve also got a 14″ Martin sliding saw with 8′ of travel. We have two bandsaws, a 14″ Powermatic, and a big old monster made by IDunnoWho. Two drill presses, a big old one with a head that swings on an arm with two joints (like a shoulder and an elbow, so it has a very deep reach, about 22″ I think), and a small benchtop Ryobi that works just fine for most things. 12″ Dewalt compound chop saw. Combination disk sander/belt sander by Shop Fox that is total crap. Powermatic 8″ jointer, and Enco 15″ thickness planer. 5 workbenches, used for everything from glue-ups to writing documents. You know, workbenches. They’re just 4Ã?â??4 posts with 1 1/2″ slabs of oak on top, and some bracing. They’re not dead flat, but they’re usually fine. There are also some portable power tools people can use, but I have found it easier and more reliable to have my own. I have a small storage space in an adjacent room, where I keep my rolling cart, some vertical sheet goods, some vertical hardwood, and a bunch of other stuff.”

“There are pros and cons, as I said. The biggest pro is that there are plenty of other people around to ask questions of. Several of the other regular shop users are guys with years of professional experience. The shop manager has worked in cabinet shops for 25 years, and he knows all there is to know about cabinetmaking, also a lot about many other areas of woodworking. He’s also not bad with metalworking and electrical and plumbing and etc. I work alone, and I have no employees, but it’s not hard to find someone to help me lift something. I can turn around and say, “Hey Eric, does this look stupid?” or “Do you have any 2″ cabinet screws, San?” or “How come my finish is dripping, Naresh?”

“The next big advantage is that the rent (actually “membership fee”) is reasonable and I don’t have to buy my own machinery. As a young guy (34) starting a business I’m not 100% confident about, it’s nice not to have a large capital investment in overhead. I don’t get scared if I have 3 weeks without paying work. It gives me a chance to do other things that will help me to learn what my own designs actually look like.”

“The third advantage is that once in a while I get work from other people there. Someone will call the front desk and ask if there’s a woodworker in the house who can make something. Or someone will need help with an installation. Or the situation where a guy did a bunch of design work on a project, which took longer than he thought, and then it was time for him to move away. He passed the fabrication to me.”

“In the con department: Chief among these is abuse of the machinery and the facility. It’s often because students or amateurs using the shop (sometimes for only a day or two) don’t know any better. For example, they rip a 12′ piece of 6/4 oak with the crosscut blade, overheating it and warping it. Often people do dangerous things, like crosscutting a long board with the rip fence. Kickbacks are way too common. No one’s hurt themselves yet, in two years, but I think it’s only a matter of time. Some of the regular shop users, professionals and semi-professionals, can be tough on the place too, like when they leave a dusty layer of overspray all over in the spray room. There’s even the factor of non-shop users who borrow things and don’t return them. We used to have dozens of small clamps. Now there are two. The rest, I suspect, are in the tool kits of photographers who have used the photo studios.”

“Another con is that, with people working together, come office politics. You know about this if you’ve ever had a job of any kind. People bicker when they spend time together, and petty issues blow up. Last, we’re out of space. Under financial pressure, the place has had to find space for more users and sell more memberships. It’s more crowded than it was, and it’s getting worse. There are more classes now too. That means teaching opportunities for guys like me, but it also puts a drain on the space.”

“My whole time there, two years, I’ve constantly considered moving out and setting up my own space somewhere. I always settle down to the idea that the pros outweigh the cons, and it’s better right now not to take a risk and burden myself with overhead. Next week I might change my mind, but right now I’m staying where I am.”