Questions Answered – When Do You Put Things in Order?

DSC_0002 The basic question is when do you clean up and tidy the workbench, sharpen your tools and keep order? Is is at different times in the day, at the beginning of the day or at the end of the day?

Every day tasks require order and laziness is no different than procrastination. That said, breaking into an intense section for the sake of orderliness can break the line of thought and consciousness some aspects of work take. More shortly.
DSC_0101 In my general work I generally keep order throughout the day without exception. That means I put tools used but no longer need for immediate work away, sweep sawdust from my bench into a dustpan (never onto the floor) and into the bin from there. Orderliness is as much about keeping dust down and lungs clean as anything else. The work in hand will dictate some of the clean up. Planing surfaces and components of course reduces dust you would otherwise create if you use sanders to correct flawed surfaces left by the machine. Sweeping is probably more for me a case of shavings and saw dust and not sanding dust as we never use sanders in the workshop. I only ever sand outdoors if I am using a random orbit or belt sander. This clearly creates the demarcation line in the sand so to speak. No power dust inside the workshop.
Because shavings build up quickly, and remember that shavings remove only what you would remove with power sanders to get down to perfect surface, so dust quantity could likely parallel shavings in quantity but the quality of shavings and surface is far superior to what can be created in terms of levelling and such. I sweep the floor of shavings after sweeping the bench top usually and this happens throughout the day; I would say perhaps 4-5 times a day is normal for me. I also encourage students to to allow buildup on the floor and bench and make certain to tell them to sweep the bench into the dustpan and not onto the floor. After 50 years of woodworking I am quite fanatical about creating unnecessary dust, not creating more dust through sweeping and making sure it’s collected properly. Also, about once a month I use the vacuum to pick up any and all finings. This means floors, shelves, ledges, tills, sills, inside cupboards and drawers and inside the tools themselves. We don’t get very much dust because of this protocol.
DSC_0101 Tools and tool care
There are different issues surrounding my tools and associated equipment. Hand tools don’t really create dust or finings, but more chunks and chips, parings, shavings and so on. Clutter can soon take over and whereas breaking into train of thought or a particular aspect of dedicated intent should not happen unless unsafe, there are usually natural breakpoints for tidying and ordering the tools and materials, equipment and so on. In my work area I have a moving trolly fitted out with clamps, a place for tools, screws and more. This has proven very useful because I can wheel it in and out as needed. I also have a moving table with a shelf underneath. this measures 38” high to match my bench and the 2’ x 4’ as a surface for deferent things i do. Because I have downsized my bench for a filming I often need more space for different reasons including extending my bench work surface (hence same height) gluing and clamping and assembly work, additional tool storage and so on. This unit has a lower shelf for more storage and I use this for unfinished work I can’t get to or a project we have in progress during different film shoots etc.
The tools are usually stored in the bench top well areas of whichever bench I use. All of my benches have wells and it makes little sense rot me to build a bench that has no well. I often hear people say that you can’t get to the tools you need when the bench has a project covering the well. This is rarely the case and if it does happen it is but a moments interruption to lift a board and retrieve a tool. Forward planning and thought resolves even this in most cases. The argument is not really a valid one. I also have a drawer and tills in the bench structure for storing certain tools. Here you can see what I mean. These tills are usually handy for long and narrow tools like files, chisels, screwdrivers and such. Spares i don;t keep in the bench well or tool chests and boxes.
Around my bench area I have all of my personal tools. the ones I have accumulated over many years of working wood. 7’ tall and 4’ wide, the biggest one stows mostly planes in the top section and ancillary stuff below; everything from rags to screws to bungie cords and spare parts, hardware and more. This keeps the tools handy but out of the way and safe. This is a put-it-back-where-it-was cupboard even though parts may look disorderly. It is difficult to store tools like the Fine Woodworking poster of fame because it is so impractical. I like the sloped shelves and flat shelves and like to seat assembled plough planes and router planes fully assembled, which this indeed facilitates. As you can see, I have collected a good sized assortment of planes over my 50 years.
DSC_0204 When I am working I tend to combine similar tasks in a measure. This measure means I plane all of my stock at once, make all of mortise and tenons at once, fit and trim at once and so on. this means i can put tools out and away on completion for the different phases. certain tools remain forever on the bench top or in the well. A full chisel set of bevelled edge chisels,two of each size, means i have enough not to break into my work if I need to. These are stowed in a chisel tray but left on the benchtop during use. I usually have two #4’s a #4 1/2 at the far end corner of the bench to my right. I am right handed. In the tray I have holes holding my gauges, screwdrivers and other tools including 3 hammer types. the well tends to fill up with shavings and dust but i live with that and clean out once a week or so.
Sharpening equipment
I built a narrow shelf that holds the whole tray of three diamond plates, another India stone and two strops – I have one for chromium oxide compound and one clear of compound. Sharpening should always be local to the work because part of being orderly is of course being sharp at all times. If the stones are too far away then you tend to postpone sharpening when it should be done.
I do have a habit of making sure tools are sharp when I put them away. it started as a practice in the early days of my becoming a woodworker and stayed with me. i think it’s a good habit.
Generally the last job of any day is putting the tools in order and stowing them where they should be. For continuity in filming, the tools often remain where they are when we are filming until the next film shoot. Outside of this period my tools are stowed safely and the bench and floor swept each end of day. i like a tidy shop and work better when I have order.
In the zone working
DSC_0185 there are different levels of intensity when working and this rarely changes from the norm. When I am inlaying the tools I need remain there until the job is done. This has been days in past work, but mostly an hour or two. The tools and equipment remain on the bench until completed and this is mainly because the tools are set for the work. Remaining in the zone mentally and physically is economy of time. thought should never be interrupted for sweeping and cleaning unless untidiness is causing confusion as will be the case when too many shavings and tools hide the tools we need to do the job or indeed just get in the way. I work quickly to put up and get back into my work so that there is a maintaining continuity.


  1. I worked in a plastics shop (picture woodworking machines applied to laminate sheets) where we had a 10 minute break in the morning, a 10 minute break in the afternoon, and a half hour for lunch. At the breaks, we just walked away from our benches, but every lunch was preceded by 10 minutes of cleaning that removed debris and quickly swept the entire shop, but generally left our bench tops as they were other than removing debris. We spent 20 minutes at the end of every day during which every tool was put away, every bench top was tidied, and the shop was swept more thoroughly including sweeping out of machines. Each Friday ended with a one hour cleaning session where we attended to shelving, arranging jigs and fixtures, and generally “getting into corners” everywhere in the shop. People had assigned areas. One of mine, as low man on the totem pole, was the dust collector back in the compressor room where it seemed hot enough to melt lead and loud enough to make you dizzy. Every morning, we returned to an orderly, clean shop and every Monday, we returned to a pristine shop. Everything had a place. There were rolling bins to hold parts. There was free space around major machines like bandsaws and never, ever, any clutter in those areas nor tool storage that would make people walk through big machine areas just to get a tool. The one exception was the table saw, which was right smack in the middle of the wood shop floor to maximize in/out feed space, but which potentially put it in the midst of foot traffic. But we knew to take care.

    1. We collect all the dust from the machines in a massive set of sacks and it is my job to occasionally change them. The sawdust is taken away (at a cost to us) but we have a funeral directing business as part of the company and the filings from the router and planer are used to pad coffins before the lining goes in.

      The whole system includes an automatic fire extinguisher and costs a fortune to run because it uses more power than all the machines put together because it is almost constantly running. When I was told this I asked “Can you remind me again why using hand tools is ‘uneconomical and living in a dream world’?” I got a scowl and was sent to change the bags in the sawdust bunker again…

      1. I’ve emptied hundreds of those myself and it’s almost impossible not to get covered in fallout from the impellers and top bags. A miserable job. I have none of that now.

  2. One of the many enemies of a tidy shop is what to do with all those offcuts that might come in handy one day but rarely do. Do you have a rule of thumb as to what gets thrown out with the shavings?

    1. I have a third in the series shortly on wood storage that might help some.

  3. I run a small dry dock fixing canal boats on the river Lea. In this last year I have discovered what an amazing resource you tube can be for learning stuff (I trained as a welder but do all aspects of boat repairs, from woodwork to engine rebuilds to shotblasting and epoxying hulls). One thing that has struck me about you tube is all these immaculate workshops, particularly Americans with walls of orderly festool systainers and workbenches that look like exquisite bits of furniture, no dust and no mess. How do they keep them like that? Do they do anything in these “shops” other than make videos? I would have to take my boots off before going in one of these places.
    Alas our dock is not like that, sure most tools have a place to go and I never let anything go on the bandsaw, table saw or planer beds, but we always have more stuff than places to put them. The racks are full and I then come across some elm from a keel or teak from a deck, or a seized perkins 4236 with all the ancillary bits. I don’t have time right now to deal with these things, but I could not sleep at night if I were not to save them, not just for their monetary value but because they are useful and irreplaceable. Constantly I am dealing with chaos.and mess and don’t quite know how to cope with it. And where else am I going to put that pack of biscuits other than the woodwork bench, not on the metalwork table its got too much grinding dust on it. Theoretically I clean up the woodwork and metal work benches at the end of each day, but I’ve got to finish spraying a boat hull and then do the school run. Cleaning and tidying only take precedence over paperwork (and this gets done annually usually approaching midnight on the 31st of January when the online tax return must be submitted) .Fixing the boat in the dock takes precedence over everything else (except the school run). Quite often I won’t clean the benches properly till the job I’m on is finished, often up to a week.I might have to clean a bit if the benches get so cluttered I can not get on with the job.
    One (of many) things I like about your videos Paul is your workshop, whilst less chaotic than mine, does not look like a hospital ward, painted white and super organised, there is stuff on your bench and not always neatly lined up.Some of the workshops I see on you tube look like they smell of disinfectant
    I have recently moved out of a boat into a flat with a garden and am building a shed for woodwork only, no machines except for a lathe, I would like to have a space away from the dock where I can do some none boaty projects (I have always wanted to make a violin) I have big plans to keep it orderly but hey we;ll see if I really can. One thing is for sure, it won;t smell like a hospital.

  4. Great post Paul, I am a part time Hobbyist mainly on the weekends but I do try and keep my shop some what neat and tidy. I do sweep every time I am out there and like you have a brush and dust pan attached to one of my legs for sweeping off saw dust. Some times depending on how many shavings I have I may sweep up shavings during the course of the day but all ways at the end. I built your bench and have modeled it after yours to a degree for tool storage etc.

    I do have a wall cabinet which I put away tools not being used at the end of the day as well. I try and keep the shop / garage clean as not to track dust etc. into the house and make sure I don’t have any sharp tools laying around or hanging off the bench for when my Grandchildren come over. They live next door so I never know when one or both of them may pop in, so safety is a concern for me also.

    I truly love using Hand Tools as opposed to the motorized cousins, I have allergies and keeping the dust down is a must. And the noise level goes without saying.

    Thank You for what you do and keep up the good work, it is much appreciated.


  5. Disposal of waste materials is a concern to me, apart from the altruistic concern about landfill etc but the sheer cost of using a waste disposal service scares me. I am fortunate to rely entirely of wood fired heating at home which takes care of anything large enough for the fire box however wood shavings from the plane, (which I find to be things of ethereal beauty) really do not lend themselves to anything much other than composting. They do however make the most luxurious nest box material for chickens. I now have a number of chicken owners who are delighted to be the recipient of these home made, free range, organic wonders.

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