Editorial, Shop

A Move to the Middle

I was driving behind a truck when it kicked up a rock and chipped my windshield.  I should’ve had that chip repaired right away, but life got in the way.  Winter came, and that chip became a small crack, then a larger crack, and soon I had a crack that spread from one side of my windshield to the other.  This happened five or six years ago, and yes, that crack is still in my windshield.  Honestly, I don’t even see it anymore; my eyes just naturally look past it when I’m driving.  It’s amazing how, given enough time, we can develop workarounds that allow us to live with easily remedied annoyances.

Up until a few months ago, I was a workbench-against-the-wall guy.  My shop is long and narrow, so placing the bench against the wall gives me the space I need to move around.  The wall also offers some extra support to the bench when I’m using a hand plane.  I learned to tolerate the disadvantages of this setup just like the cracked windshield in my car.  I can only work comfortably on one side of my bench when it’s against the wall.  Any operation that requires access from the ends or the other side has to be done elsewhere.  Clamping a workpiece to the front edge of the bench is always inconvenient because I have to pull the bench away from the wall a bit.  My concrete basement floor is not level, so pulling my bench out a few inches disturbs the shims under the back left leg of the bench, which then makes it wobble.  And don’t even get me started on the kind of damage a 50” parallel jaw clamp can do when it tips over and hits the tool rack hanging on the wall.

When it came time to smooth the top of the curved-front desk, I pulled the bench into the center of my shop to make it easier to plane the entire panel… and it’s still there today.  Having 360 degree access to a workpiece was life-changing.  Nothing was in my way, I didn’t have to worry about knocking something off the wall while reaching across the workpiece, and lo-and-behold the concrete floor is actually flat in the center of my shop, eliminating the need for shims.  I have no plans to ever move the bench back against the wall.  It seems that moving out of my comfort zone made me realize how uncomfortable I’d been all along.