Planning makes you think about things


Yesterday was highly productive again. Thinking through design, considering creative workspace, I think of the word workspace itself. Workspace can be separated into the two words that comprised it, work + space, and should be. Workspace is that place of occupation where I live large chunks of proactivity I call life whereby I, within a sphere of creativity, produce that which I am called to fulfil. This space accommodates me in the things I do and hosts too my essential equipment, tools, notebooks, bench and vise support and so on. Often, mostly, such a place is created by us and is an isolated place of existence rarely duplicated in another space or sphere. At one time everyone would have operated within such a sphere. Farmers and gardeners, office workers and accountants, plumbers, tailors, spinners and weavers and so on all operated within such a sphere and of course for the main part that changed into conveyor belt workstations and laptop computers through the industrialising and techno-industrialising processing of people as mechanisms within mechanisms of mass making.


Efficient cooking

The ideal example of creative workspace to me, the one most refined of all, is the place we work in preparing and cooking food. Kitchens are the hub of any home and the hub of efficient and creative food preparation, cleanliness and hygiene. To operate well as the hub of the home they must also revolve around key elements strategically placed as fixed points within that hub. The sink, stove, refrigerator and for some the microwave are dominant elements at the centre of an efficient kitchen. In food prep and cooking, efficient movement between these components determines the efficiency of the cook. Seldom are they really thought through well, but the hub they are. In my home kitchen the stove, sink and fridge are within three feet of one another as is the table where we prepare food. In my apartment in NY the stove is no less than 12 feet from the sink and the fridge is 8 feet. As a working kitchen it’s not very efficient. So you see it’s no less important for me in my workspace to create the kind of versatility I consider essential to my work in the workshop. My workbench and vise provide the immoveable centre around which my tools, cupboards and related equipment must orbit. If I lose the centre, I become less productive, which can in some cases frustrate my work.

Living your sphere

I find it’s one thing to create a space and another to occupy that space to a level of occupancy whereby I operate cohesively within it. For productive creativity I have to live in it and not only create an image or appearance of something I perceive to merely look like something right. It is by physically ‘being’ right, made or adapted and adjusted to task, that it then ‘looks’ dead right. If a place does not carry as its essence workability, it is no more than an image conjured up in a man’s mind. Just as a tool is the extension of a man’s hand and mind and heart, the sphere in which he works becomes the extension of who he truly is too, and not just a figment of imagination. This then must be worked out and worked in. Placement is everything and surrounds where and how I work.

Work+space and work’s pace

It’s at this point where I subdivide the word workspace differently and shove the separation to work’s pace and not only work+space. My creative workspace must be economically valid so that my pace is unhampered by excess distances between the bench, the work and the equipment I need, or, conversely, insufficient room. As a right-hand dominant person my vise is placed to the left hand corner of my workbench and my in-use tools on the bench to my right or slightly off centre, favouring my right as I face the bench with the vise in front of me. I have my complement of other closely associated tools in chests and cupboards behind and to my left slightly; my left hand pulls the drawers and my right retrieves the tool I need from the compartments. This has been my preference for two decades and I rarely stray from placing my chest and cupboards this way. When I am teaching I have my tool cupboards behind me so that students can gather closely in around my bench. When students are gone, I may shift my bench so that, my tools are to my left completely and I have an open space behind me for the workpiece to grow into as I build. Otherwise I must always go around my bench to get to the piece I am building. Machinists need no such arrangement generally as all of the components they build come from fixed machines arranged again efficiently to their movements between machines. It’s a production of parts developed for final assembly on an assembly bench.

The day’s work

Yesterday my work went well, though a little slower than I had hoped. Building cupboards like this, it’s worth making certain that accuracy prevails with every turn—fitting doors and drawers to nonparallel, twisted openings can be done but doubles the time it takes to fit and hang them. All three of my main cabinets are together and ready for shelves, doors and drawers to be fitted and installed. I already have all of the doors made. Another advantage working to plan has is being able to create component parts, sections and such to the project without having the actual cabinet physically made. I usually begin with a rough sketch-drawing in my journal that represents the sort of proportion I am looking for that then goes on to detailing overall sizes, component sizes and on down, considering what I will keep in a particular place. It’s in my sketches that I look for proportion and shape, but though I have measurements to record details there too, my actual drawings become full size drawings on a sheet of ply, hardboard or MDF board This is my staff or storyboard. That way I can constantly reference every minute detail to dead size and so ensure accuracy throughout every stage of development. Creating one-of-a-kind pieces as I do for most of my work seldom needs a drawing beyond this board or my sketchbook. Without drawings, especially a storyboard I am lost. An even greater benefit to employing a storyboard is that when working with others on the same project it provides a one-source reference point for all to follow. Any mistakes or changes can be identified and recorded here too.


  1. Refreshing to read your take on the design process.  I follow that pretty much myself and even though I’ve tried (half-heartedly I must admit) to utilize computer programs it’s just not the same.  Taught Industrial Arts for 30+ years and always required students to learn basic drafting skills to make plans.  Still use my left-handed Vemco drafting arm.  My departure from your techniques is to use 1/4″ graph paper to detail joinery rather than make full size drawings.  Now, if the economy would only pick up here in Las Vegas so I can put more of this into practice……….

  2. As a design engineer i reflect on the same principles. We follow six sigma,you probably know if this as the way to true efficiancy. Thunk production lines on cars. However i do the exact thing with my computer desktop certain filess are referenced in one shortcut sets of tools in a folder and links to references all in shortcut folders on my internet browser. Then my actual desk has my pens where they need to be. My drawing space to the right of my screen and all my other books and tools in my draw to myright. I havent managed to make a more efficiant space in over 3 yesrs as this. I find it an anoyance i dont have a toolshed yet with my bench ,yet to be made, as i cant be organised it does put me off any work i could be doing. Your thoughts mirror many millenias worth of opinisation and serene coexistence woth an environment.

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