When I show a picture of what seems the chaos of my workspace it’s not to say this is how I work or indeed to justify others in their untidiness, it’s simply to say I have been exceptionally busy making and that I have had just about every hand tool in the shop out and they can’t go back in place because I keep reaching for every one of them minute by minute. I am surprised though that some, maybe many, take this as confirmation that, well, it’s okay to live like this. It’s not! Definitely not.

Sometimes I find it frustrating that some seem justified in what is often a continuum of untidy squalor. I thought I should write of it here because my open transparency is nothing more than me declaring that after even only one hour I must, must, tidy, and reorder my creative space. I sweep my shop floor and benchtop every hour or so because I generate shavings and sawdust from my handwork that machinist woodworkers don’t because they don’t very often use such tools and nor do they create the type of shavings that I do.

It’s much more organised than you might think and I know where every tool and stick of wood in the shop is.

Tidiness and cleanliness are important to me. Untidiness is never an option and it is always a clear indication of being generally undisciplined. I have been in the workshops of many others who obviously leave or keep their workshops in bad condition for years on end, if not forever. This is not the case for me. When my bench looks like the picture above I immediately clean up and I never procrastinate on the issue. Mostly it’s following a period of working diligently for an hour or so of in-the-zone demand. I don’t want to break into my thought patterns nor my systematic way of working that might sever the thread too soon; to break off would take a lot of clawing back to maximised effectiveness. I have seen students I taught put back every tool on the bench into tidy rows after every single use of the tool only to pull it out again two seconds later. It’s grossly inefficient. One woodworker folded his knife blade away every time he put it down. Said he couldn’t live any other way. He was the only one that didn’t finish the course but only got half way through. Did it matter? Not to him and not to me. We were both happy.

My chisels are placed in a certain direction. Up to but not including half inch are placed handle to the one and and half inch and up the opposite way. It’s quick, efficient and effective.

George and I were up to to our shins in shavings when George said, “Sit thee down there lad!” and I sat.

“See that broom? he pointed to a wide broom leaning against an opposite bench.

‘Yes!’, I replied.

“What do you think it’s for? he asked.

‘Sweeping!’ I said.

“Good lad, Paul! You get the job because you’re so sharp you need no instruction.”

I smiled with self satisfaction and George saw it.

“Look, Paul! Let that be the last time I ever tell you you need to sweep up. If I have to do that again then I will be neglectful and irresponsible. Do you understand?”

‘Yes, George.’ And I swept many times a day and especially if I saw him kick the shavings with his feet.

Being an artisan means to put in order anything that is disorderly and choosing the exact moment to do it. Don’t wait for the accident to happen because that is always a costly lesson. I don’t identify with dumb and cute expressions like, ‘A tidy shop means nothing gets done!’ or “Oh, I feel so much better seeing your shop like this!” Of course, a shop can get untidy for a short spell, that’s par for the course. Especially is this true in a confined space such as the four square metres I am confined in. There is no way I could make three rocking chairs by hand in three weeks, film four or five videos of the quality we do in the same period, write 10,000 words, post Facebook and Instagram posts and so on if I wasn’t highly self-disciplined, high self-demanding and highly organised. Make no mistake, the man with a tidy shop is not the man who never made anything it’s the man who as a 15-year-old made up his mind 56 years ago that no one would ever need to tell him again to sweep the shop and keep things in order. Taking initiative is an amazing gift!

67 Comments

  1. Paul on 16 January 2021 at 12:20 pm

    Just yesterday I was working out of my chisel tray and thinking what would be a better way. I have handles going both ways but didn’t consider sizing them by direction. What a simple and effective solution.

    • Donal Schrot on 17 January 2021 at 6:57 pm

      I just cleaned my Shop today. I live in Germany and its below zero outside in my unheated Shop. I Like to keep my planes ,chisels, and saws oiled. I also cleaned the floor. I also have a small Shop and have to keep it clean, the saw dust and plane shavings are slipery and dangerous in a small work area. Stay healthy

    • John on 18 January 2021 at 6:10 pm

      I put my screwdrivers into a tool box the same way. Phillips head with the handles toward the front of the drawer and Flat head with the handles toward the rear of the drawer. And guess what, I also am able to store twice as many screwdrivers in the drawer this way.

  2. Rodney Magee on 16 January 2021 at 1:37 pm

    I need to tidy up from time to time and I’m getting my shop organized, modifying my work bench and making storage. I also need to pare back on some tools, but the tidying up so I can continue working is the most important.

  3. Jon on 16 January 2021 at 2:10 pm

    Hi Paul, Your newer benches have not had end of the bench tills (drawers), is there a reason why?

    Here is what I am talking about:
    https://paulsellers.com/2015/01/more-views-from-the-hub-of-woodworking/

    Thanks!

  4. Anthony on 16 January 2021 at 3:25 pm

    I like to keep a an organized and clean shop. It helps me think clearly (just the way I am). Right now though is pretty messy because I’m pack it up. I’m moving. Now I need to figure how I have a new shop at the next house.

  5. Giorgio on 16 January 2021 at 7:57 pm

    It’s funny and very helpful how you put your Stanley folding pocket knives on the bench, isn’t it? Bye from Italy!

  6. Samuel on 16 January 2021 at 11:33 pm

    It can be hard to know how best to organise things and probably if u start with a few tools and use them — you will naturally work out a good layout.
    When I worked in printing I remember when I took ownership of my space and got everything organised. It is like having a shower at night and eating your eggs and veg, brushing your teeth. It is good for you and let’s you get on with things positively.
    My shed is more of a warren with mowers, barrows, suitcases and tools,etc. But I do know where everything is.

  7. Leo Vedel Dyrkjær on 17 January 2021 at 11:27 am

    Your shop look more organized for an active workspace than mine ever have been:-)
    Ohh nonsense, My workshop is by far smaller and more crampet than yours, so except for sweeping more than once a day, or if its needed, I often tidy up my tools. I simply can’t stand if I can’t find the tools I need and the lesser space we have the more the demand of tidying up we get.

    Thank you for your posting!

  8. Francois on 17 January 2021 at 1:20 pm

    By and large, I have copied the way you organised your workshop and where things go, and I must say it is very natural and efficient. Having little experience with hand tools before meant that I didn’t have bad habits to undo.

    Thank you again for everything you’ve shared!

  9. Gregg on 17 January 2021 at 1:38 pm

    I cannot work for long in a messy shop with wood chips underfoot and sawdust everywhere and tools all over
    the place. So I try to clean up whenever I’m finished for the day.

    And just now I’m in the midst of a shop tool re-organization. I have a tiny shop – about 12 feet by 12 feet, so I don’t have a lot of space for tools and zero space for large power tools. I’m slimming down my tool collection as well. This time around (I’ve tried many tool storage techniques – movable tool boards, multi-door cabinets etc) I’ve build sliding tool boards that slide along 12 feet of the sort of track used for bypass closet sliding doors.

    I also took the time to carefully analyze my work and determine what tools I use and in what order. So the most used tools are over the bench and on the front track of sliders. The less I use a tool – the farther away it is. If I haven’t used it in decades I get rid of it. I’ve tested the organization while making the framed sliders.

    Anyhow this blog entry strikes a cord with me because for some reason I cannot work or think clearly in clutter.

  10. Stephen on 17 January 2021 at 1:39 pm

    Hi Paul,

    Totally agree. Being a LEAN professional, (not a thin person but a ‘Continuous Improvement’ term), I practice what I preach. If anyone is curious how this helps workplace organisation, type “5S” into a search engine and all will become clear.
    Thanks for your posts and sharing your wisdom with us all. Stay safe.

    • James M Gill on 17 January 2021 at 4:19 pm

      Thanks for the shout out to 5S and lean in general. I’d add 5 whys as another must adopt principle (ask why 5 times and you will most likely find the root cause of a problem.

      It’s not surprising to me that Lean and Making share so many basic principles, both strive to maximize harmony in the workspace.

  11. Elliott Timms on 17 January 2021 at 1:43 pm

    Could I send you a picture of my workshops Mr. Sellers, you will instantly feel much better about yours!

  12. Chris Manning on 17 January 2021 at 1:56 pm

    Thanks for making me feel better, Paul! My little 8′ x 12′ workshop oftens suffers from clutter, too – usually as the result of me being in there at all!

    They say you can’t have too many clamps, and there is no such thing as too large a workshop, which I think is pretty-much true, but I don’t think you and I are actually untidy.

    We are sometimes simply overtaken by events!

    Chris

  13. Robert Hancock on 17 January 2021 at 2:08 pm

    I left school in 1970 and began work as an apprentice plumber. I was very lucky in the fact we did most of our work in large houses and learnt how important it was to sweep up and keep things tidy . It has stayed with me for the next 50years , and I find it impossible to go more than an hour before I have to tidy the work place or workshop . I can then concentrate again and carry on . I also have to work alone

  14. James Vibert on 17 January 2021 at 2:39 pm

    I’ll have my wife read this posting. She always make derogatory comments on the condition of the shop. Too many on going projects seem to find their own little areas to clutter. My big problem is not writing the names of my children down and what they borrowed so I can get it back and not spend hours looking for the item.

    • Michael on 18 January 2021 at 8:55 am

      Haha. That made me laugh. When my dad can’t find something in his garage he calls me. I was always “borrowing” things on a semi-permanent basis.

  15. Gary on 17 January 2021 at 2:53 pm

    Sweeping the floor of shavings often is a safety requirement in my small hobby shop. As the shavings pile up, the floor becomes slippery. I also like to have my tools in their home place when not in use which somehow becomes fixed in my mind. Oddly if I change the home location of a tool, it takes time for me to keep from reaching in the wrong direction. I sweep and vacuum my work areas and floor often to avoid an accident. This especially during the pandemic since I do not want to end up in an ER.

  16. Joe Treloar on 17 January 2021 at 3:31 pm

    Very timely post. I was asked by a young friend to help him set up his new work shop. I told him I would be glad to, but he should never get the impression that it would be a one and done thing. As we grow in the craft, and our interests change, we will always need to tweak our shop space to accommodate those changes. Our skills develop to make our work easier, why wouldn’t adapting our work environment be the same?

  17. Jean Claude Peeters on 17 January 2021 at 3:34 pm

    I can find every tool in my shop with my eyes closed. (which I don’t because of … SHARP!).
    A tidy shop doesn’t mean you have OCD… The job isn’t done before the shop is tidy again and ready for the next.
    “….it’s the man who as a 15-year-old made up his mind 56 years ago that no one would ever need to tell him again to sweep the shop…”
    That’s the spirit.

  18. Peter Spuijman on 17 January 2021 at 8:04 pm

    When building my new workbench, I’ve added a number of drawers just below my bench top to store my chisels neatly arranged in cutouts. After a while you open, grab, close without thinking. And no more dents in your good chisels..

  19. Marty on 18 January 2021 at 12:29 am

    Shop tidiness just isn’t in my DNA sadly. I’m quite the opposite with messes everywhere and I’ve developed tool blindness meaning the very second I lay down so much as a saw, hammer, screwdriver, whatever it vanishes and I usually won’t find it again for a day or so to find it exactly where I laid it down.
    A lot has to do with being extremely forgetful which goes back to my childhood, but with age it’s only gotten worse. I drive myself crazy going out on the job only to have to pack back up, go back to the shop to retrieve a tape measure or any number of things I’ve forgotten. Luckily most of my customers live close by so it’s only a few blocks, sometimes a few miles and I do tell them I’m extremely forgetful. I don’t leave any such messes in customers homes though. I sometimes wonder what’s the disconnect..

    • Samuel on 19 January 2021 at 4:02 am

      I wrote a spiel but since I’m just me I’ll say what I actually do…
      When I go gardening I lump types of tools together in buckets. I have a main bucket with secatuers, baby hoe, loppers, shears, twine, sprinkler puller, PPE, etc what I use always. Then I pack for the day but don’t touch the basics.
      I love order but I struggle to get it right so tool grouping is where is start and then I can make it more refined later.
      Alternatively there is the Bernard Black accounting system.
      Today’s receipts, all other days and Misc.

    • Don on 19 January 2021 at 10:37 pm

      I really appreciate this article – this is my battle. I recently moved, and while I think I have enough space, 1 garage stall, the space I came from didn’t. Often tools were stacked, in boxes, on top of each other, or one in front of the other on shelves, which was a never-ending pain to get out and pain to put away. I developed some very bad habits of leaving them everywhere, which inevitably led to frustration from “where did I put that thing?” Now that I have considerably more space, I’m trying to organize it all so everything has a home – one that is easily accessible, and trying to retrain myself to put it away when done with it. Wearing an apron has made a huge difference. The knife, rule, tape, square, pencil, awl all have a home there and immediately return after use. The amount of time I save looking for the measuring tape alone makes it all worth it!

  20. Vidar Fagerjord Harboe on 18 January 2021 at 11:03 am

    Just before Christmas, I finished a major milestone for my shop. Two years ago, it was a garage with “too much fresh air and no risk of dry lips”. A new insulated door and an insulated wall where the garage door was, got it warm and cozy. Then I had to level the concrete floor which was very coarse. I then painted the floor with epoxy paint. Before I had to claw away at the shavings, as they seemed to be almost glued to the floor. Now I can blow them away if I want to.

    Yesterday, I started work on one of the walls. The walls are plastered leca blocks, and I am mounting OSB sheets over studs and 2” insulation.
    Reading this blog post made me think of something I “just did” yesterday, while I was working on screwing studs to the wall. I cut the studs with my Spears & Jackson saw. The holdfast kept them still while i cut to length and drilled holes for the ESSVE lightweight concrete screws. I used a percussion drill for the pilot holes in the wall, so naturally there was a bit concrete and wood dust lying around.
    There’s windows in the wall, so I had to add studs around them. Under one of the windows, the horizontal stud protruded a bit too much. A couple of sweeps with the scrub plane took care of that very efficiently.

    As soon as I finished planing the stud flush to the rest, I grabbed my broom and swept the floor. With the epoxy paint this was very easy and quick. I’ve got a sweep port for my dust collector which vanished the mess in a hurry.

    – I sweep the floor as soon as I start kicking shavings around. I just push them towards the sweep port and start the dust collector when the pile builds up. So easy to do!
    – I dimensioned the stud with a hand plane after I screwed it to the wall. No other method would be as fast!
    – I mark the screw holes and where to cut the studs with a combination square and a regular pencil sharpened to a long and fine point.
    – Each stud is cut to the exact length required. Quick and easy to do with by hand. After cutting to length, I drill all the holes. The holdfast keep the stud firmly in place during the whole operation.

    I find myself working highly efficient by using hand tools (except for drilling holes in the studs, the concrete wall and driving in the screws; all done with cordless drills). There’s no dust in the air, so I don’t have to use any PPE.

    And I sweep the floor with my wide, soft brush.
    I love it!

  21. John Cadd on 18 January 2021 at 12:57 pm

    The thinking now is that the most dangerous thing in a workshop is a sweeping brush . In some places dry sweeping while still working is banned .
    The problem with brushes is the springy nature of bristles . If you move shaving or dust with a scrap of flat wood the dust stays on the floor. With a brush the last little flick is what makes the dust become breathable .
    Life is full of these conundrums .

    • Julian Hatcliffe on 18 January 2021 at 1:34 pm

      A background dust collector will suck up some stray dust particles…however even hand planing some woods will kick up substantial dust particles!

    • Paul Sellers on 18 January 2021 at 1:48 pm

      I am sorry, but brush sweeping the floor is not harmful at the levels we are talking about here. Brush training was critical in my day and learning how to brush the floor was an art taught by masters so that dust did not puther! Sweeping the floor for 56 years several times a day has not hurt me, dust from different machines has. In reply also to Julian Hatcliffe’s, “A background dust collector will suck up some stray dust particles…however even hand planing some woods will kick up substantial dust particles!” Hand planing will not “kick up substantial dust particles!” and certainly nothing harmful unless the wood itself is toxic.

  22. David Wood on 18 January 2021 at 2:16 pm

    I had a neighbour who came into my work space and said “this is disgustingly tidy”.
    She was a hoarder!!!

  23. Shannon on 18 January 2021 at 2:23 pm

    Time bends in the woodshop. It does for me at least. I look up and 3 hours have passed and there is debris everywhere. It was the same when I was a stone shape carver of monuments. I am in the insurance industry now and have seen many fire claims due to extension cord connections being packed with dirt. This also includes wall plugs. Sweep the floors, occasionally blow out wall plugs, roll up, and disconnect cords.

  24. nemo on 18 January 2021 at 2:25 pm

    It’s reassuring to see that Stanley is living up to its reputation that it garnered building planes, when it comes to their folding hobby knife.

    As I was in the DIY store today decided to treat myself to a proper marking knife. After several years of making-do with a re-ground kitchen knife (which works fine, btw) it was to time to take the big step, so to speak.

    When I got home it took me half an hour of fettling with a file and a sharp knife (the irony – needing a knife to get another knife working) to remove burrs on the alu-zinc housing and plastic locking thingy before I had a working, retracting knife. In its defence, it now works smoothly and feels solidly, when locked. But in the future I’ll resort back to buying all my tools on the 2nd-hand market, if I have to fettle them anyway, whether new or old.

    Stanley rule & level co. appears to be a bit behind the times. Total Quality Management (TQM) was all the hype in the ’90s! Perhaps one of the management consultants in this thread could offer their services to Stanley? Woodworkers around the world would welcome that greatly, I think. I was asking myself five times in a row: ‘Stanley, why? Why? Why? Why? Why?’ but haven’t found the answer. My Kaizen is probably broken.

    • Artur Darmofal on 18 January 2021 at 6:44 pm

      Haha. They have Kaizens on savings and safety, rarely on quality…

    • Vidar Fagerjord Harboe on 19 January 2021 at 9:58 am

      I have a suspicion that it is the ISO system that is at fault. ISO 9001:2015 certification proves that you do have a quality management system in place that fulfill some given criteria. Basically, you actually have thought about quality and improvement. One of said criterias is to have an obligation towards “continuous improvement”.

      That being said: if you make a product that kills 100 people one year, and only 99 the next – technically you have improved and everything is a-ok.

      I’m saying this a bit tounge-in-cheek, but it is not that outrageous a claim. ISO 9001 have absolutely no minimum requirements you need to achieve when it comes to the actual quality of your work or products. Just that you monitor how bad your quality is and set goals for improvement (nobody will say anything if you do nothing towards reaching the goals). This, combined with the focus on the bottom line (very short sighted focus too) in stead of building a brand, and you have the situation we observe.

      • nemo on 19 January 2021 at 12:13 pm

        My knowledge of ISO900x was last updated in 1999, so not sure what current requirements are. Never liked it particularly much myself, had more admiration for the Japanese quality management achievements. Less paper, more results. But that requires a company-wide change in attitude, which is much harder than writing a big quality manual that no one will ever read anyway. I noticed on the packing label of the knife that Stanley did *not* proudly print the ‘ISO 9001’ logo, peculiarly enough. As if that says anything about product quality anyway, but there was a time nearly every company did so regardless. Was as useful as saying everyone in the factory wore red/blue-striped socks when working on the product – totally irrelevant.

        Am slightly familiar with the various quality management techniques, as I specialized in those in my final years in education. They work – when used properly. However, my personal experience with them was that by the time the last ‘why’-question was answered and the root-cause found, the answer was invariably something that management did not want to change, for varying reasons (unions, supplier relations, time/cost, whatever). So all in all they were a bit exercises in futility. Says more about management than the quality techniques, however. My usual response was ‘Those who want to, will find a way. Those who don’t want to, will find an excuse.’

        My personal view is that Stanley could have easily found out the problems with this knife if they had installed a blade and given it a quick opening and closing at the end of the assembly line. They didn’t. Probably for safety reasons that they didn’t ship it with blade installed. They could’ve done so if using different packaging. It took me a bit of time to find out how the knife worked (part of the time was spent on the knees searching for a little spring….). A next knife I could get working in a few minutes now. But I shouldn’t have to. I pride myself on being rather apt mechanically and electrically, but still took me surprisingly much effort (and a magnifying glass with light) to get the thing working. Then again, last week, I spent half an hour with someone else trying to figure out how to turn on the fog lights of his car. Couldn’t figure it out, the manual had to come to the rescue. (hint: you had to *pull* the rotary switch out.) So maybe I’m not as technically skilled as I think I am….

        Fortunately it wasn’t an expensive knife, but still. Can imagine the frustration when buying a plane. Am looking for a #5 and would even like to buy one new from Stanley, but won’t. When a 50-year old, used version of your product works better than one that just left the factory, you (they) have a problem.

        (apologies to mr. Sellers for the off-topic comments, but it was something that annoyed me quite a bit and could be relevant for other purchasers.)

        • Tom Wood on 20 January 2021 at 7:37 am

          The quality is variable because they are built to a price point. If you want a better quality knife that uses the same blades as the Stanley, try the red Swann Morton one that Paul has also recommended in the past.
          https://paulsellers.com/2015/11/another-knife-i-like/

          I have both the non retractable Swann Morton and the folding Stanley, and the SM one does feel better made.

          • nemo on 20 January 2021 at 4:07 pm

            Thanks for the reply, I wasn’t aware of that knife.

            I must say that I’m pretty happy with the Stanley now that it’s working. Feels solid and sturdy enough. Funny thing though, I noticed later the knife blades aren’t exactly very sharp. There’s a burr on them. Easy enough to cure for a woodworker, but still. Disposable blades that aren’t sharp. Hm.



  25. Brian Anders on 18 January 2021 at 2:30 pm

    Other hazards occur, depending on your local, with not sweeping! 35 yrs ago or so, living in the desert southwest, I’d left shavings on the shop floor from one night to the next. Being summer, the next night I was wearing shorts. As work progressed I felt a tickle on my shin above my sock. Stamping my foot to remove the wood curl, I continued on. The sensation continued moments later. Annoyed, looking down, there was a huge scorpion, desperately holding on to my sock and trying to climb my leg! I helped him outside and promptly swept up. Lesson learned😉

    • Paul Sellers on 18 January 2021 at 4:06 pm

      Been there too, but not with shorts on. I have had them drop on me off of the fan when I switched it on and inside my boots. Even though I lived in Texas for over 20 years I never felt it was sensible to wear shorts in the workshop. It’s what you grow up with I suppose. I never felt uncomfortable or too hot even with temperatures up in the 40s (107 on up). I wore long sleeves outside and a wide-brimmed hat when others lay or walked around half-dressed and in flip-flops. It made no sense to me. If I am going to go into any danger, known or otherwise, I want to be sensibly dressed. If I drop a chisel, and I do from time to time, I don’t want 20 stitches along my thigh or calf thank you! Scorpions I have handled often enough, even a rattler and a couple of copperheads. Times are changing. Would I go to an airport in flipflops? No way! Do I wear shorts or allow shorts on anyone in my workshop. No way! Oh. and if an Englishman can work manually in Texas summers in long pants or jeans, anyone can. Just saying!

      • Brian on 19 January 2021 at 6:01 am

        Paul, I heartily concur! This particular instance though was out of the ordinary. Being a Bowyer, the only edge tools were a spokesman, farriers rasp, and a draw knife. This drawknife had a surprisingly dull edge. When working Osage Orange ( Bois D’ Arc ) to the Francophones, a harp edge isn’t usefull for following a single growth ring on the bows back. The shorts facilitate the twisting of the Flemish twist bowstring from natural fibers, on a bare thigh.In this case fine Irish flax linen thread! A few pieces of broken glass for scraping and, voila, a fine self longbow! Any other time, full dress. Buzz Worms (rattlesnakes), scorpions, Brown Recluse spiders, and the rest, are just the friendly neighbors. Glad your Texas stint didn’t include a nice Coral snake! Cheers!

  26. RicoS on 18 January 2021 at 3:37 pm

    For me, the key is having a place for everything, and making sure not to buy anything new unless that space is made for it. I can barely work in my garage these days because it’s such a mess. I put up new stud walls in my previously tidy garage, but nothing was built to move so it was all piled in the centre of the garage. Once the new walls went up, life got in the way and I’ve never restored order since. It’s soul destroying seeing the mess, but its a lengthy process to tidy, as its gardening stuff, bike/car stuff etc too. I know where everything is, but nothing has a place. I got some timber for a new bench recently though, which I’ve got plastic containers to go in as drawers (I used them in the interim for storage, so I don’t want to waste them). Once the bench and drawers are put up, it’s on to the tool purge, where I’ll get rid of the vast majority of my power tools. I have a couple of jointer/planer machines that I’m undecided on, but I think I’ll give them the chop too. Once that’s done, I’ll re-invent my storage system again so that everything has a place I take it out from and put it back to. Somewhere that doesn’t involve moving three other things out of the way to get to, and if I happen to have a bench full of tools after a few hours, it’ll only take 10 minutes to replace them all in their positions.

    On another note, I was doing some re-grouting and sealing in the house last week, and the place was an absolute mess. My wife was correctly abusing my messy working. The thing is, I’m not a plumber/tiler. I simply didn’t have a working process for the job at hand and I didn’t really know what tools I’d need. Part of my tidying will be to try and organise those tools that I use once in a blue moon into their respective disciplines. Plumbing, tiling, electrical, plastering, painting etc. Contain(er) them, so that I can easily just take them into the house and back as and when needed as a whole. I suppose it’s a bit like compartmentalising joinery, sharpening and glue-ups. A lot to think about!!!

  27. Terrence OBrien on 18 January 2021 at 4:26 pm

    I built Paul’s bench with the tool well, and it immediately cleared a work area on top of the bench. Tools slip into the well, and are right where I need them. Coupled with that is a Dutch Tool Chest on casters that sits angled just behind me on my right. The chest holds the tools I use 95% of the time, and that is a surprisingly low number of all the tools I own.

    For me, those two things make it easy to maintain order. They fit with my personal tastes, preferences, and work style.

    • Paul Sellers on 18 January 2021 at 5:49 pm

      I have never understood the all-flat benchtop as in the USA. Tools are always in the way, always rolling off and the wide top is only ever used for tools that are in the way ALL the time. The well in the bench dates back to crafting artisans working full time for centuries. Unquestionably it is an evolved system that works great.

      • Vidar Fagerjord Harboe on 19 January 2021 at 10:01 am

        I do not understand why they insist on using a gatling gun on the thing either, but then again I am not from a constitutionally gun focused nation…

    • Paul Sellers on 18 January 2021 at 5:56 pm

      e covered this so many times, Terrence. The laying of the plane on its side began in 1932 when schoolboys were many in a class and they plonked their planes down on top of other tools because of their age. Prior to that, no one ever laid their plane on its side unless they were working away from the bench and on rough ground, concrete and so on. We obviously know our benches and what we have on our benches. `placing it down on its face actually protects the cutting iron. leaving it on its side does nothing to protect it but exposes it to the possibility of other tools being nudged onto the blade. Also, my planes are positioned for action. Laying planes on their sides risks missetting the planes.

  28. Cynthia Carter on 18 January 2021 at 7:27 pm

    No apprenticeship for me, but after my bachelors I ended up working in a university kitchen, responsible for producing both some huge batches and smaller sub-sets of specialty food items. I learned pretty quickly that I had to keep my own allotted table and sink clean or I would rapidly run out of space to work, things would fall behind, and others would be mad that the pots and pans or whisks or whatever, which they needed after me, were not yet thru the dishroom and ready for use. We were all on a schedule, and one person could throw off several cooks and deliveries if they didn’t learn to manage their time and equipment! I am not by nature terribly tidy, and having little kids has made my home worse for the chaos, but that stint at a job I didn’t even like at the time was quite useful in learning to keep a clean workspace. 🙂

  29. Roger Browning on 18 January 2021 at 9:09 pm

    There’s a thing about having wood shavings to clean up and placing tools back in good order where I’ve decided that they are to be stored that I enjoy. Kind of like cleaning a 4 wheeled drive pickup (you pick your toy) after having played in the mud.

  30. ADRIAN GAMBLE on 18 January 2021 at 9:40 pm

    Paul, Im dissapointed at the workshop Photo. How can a Professional like you
    have a rack with clamps on the wall and a glaring lack of symetry with a clamp out of place….
    On a serious note I try to clean as I go, however I rarely put tools away until a coffee break or the job is nearing completion. Each to their own eh?

  31. Doug on 18 January 2021 at 10:49 pm

    Paul,
    When I saw the picture of your work area I immediately enlarged it and studied it. Then I read your words below.

    “When my bench looks like the picture above I immediately clean up and I never procrastinate on the issue. Mostly it’s following a period of working diligently for an hour or so of in-the-zone demand. I don’t want to break into my thought patterns nor my systematic way of working that might sever the thread too soon; to break off would take a lot of clawing back to maximised effectiveness.“

    We are of an age physically but in woodworking experience I am knee high to a grasshopper compared to your mastery. Your words above are truly inspiring and I hope to experience what you have described above.

    I’m heading back to the shop now in search of the in-the-zone demand. At some point, with luck, in the years I have left I hope look up after a few hours and have the pleasure of seeing such a fine clutter and the satisfaction of tidying it up.

    Thank You for the inspiration.

  32. Trevor on 18 January 2021 at 11:03 pm

    Guilty as Paul. I go crazy when mine is too messy. I can relate to every tool out, and every clamp. I try to clean as much as I can while I go, otherwise I am in a pile of sawdust and it is no fun.

  33. Sandy on 18 January 2021 at 11:06 pm

    I wish I was tidy in my workspace but the truth is I am bad about not cleaning and putting things away. Not as bad as some you have described. I do clean up daily… most days…:-)

  34. Doug Irish on 18 January 2021 at 11:10 pm

    Sometimes my wife would return from the grocery store by walking through my garage shop into the back door of the house. Occasionally she’d stop and look around at stuff & clutter on the floor and everywhere else.
    She’d ask, “Don’t you think it’s time to sweep up?? My response would be to smile, kiss her on the cheek and ask, “Don’t you think it’s time to go inside?” We both got a laugh and of course I’d sweep up . . . . . sooner or later. She passed away a number of years ago. I treasure memories like that.

  35. Cindy Navarro on 19 January 2021 at 2:01 am

    I must agree. I am a woodworker and turner and I clean up frequently. I feel that it is much safer to keep the shaving from underfoot to avoid slipping on the concrete. My bench and lathe area get full of shavings so I stop and vacuum when I take an ergonomic body break.

  36. Jason on 19 January 2021 at 3:07 am

    My workshop is very small at 5 feet x 11 feet and my workbench is only 4 feet long by 2 feet deep so I have to keep a tidy workspace or I will very soon be overrun by tools and shavings. I actually enjoy taking the time out to sweep up shavings from the floor or off the bench. I hope this habit continues when I get a bigger workshop in the future.

  37. Nathan Jones on 19 January 2021 at 11:28 am

    Since covid I’ve found myself slipping into a routine of not cleaning as much as usual. Starting later, finishing later in the day too. I guess a lot has to do with balance in ones life.
    Best wishes to all.
    Nj

  38. Steve on 19 January 2021 at 1:48 pm

    What you don’t put away, gets in the way. I just wish I lived by that!

  39. John Cadd on 19 January 2021 at 4:08 pm

    Nobody has mentioned a rotary tool rack to keep the place tidy as you work. No need to put the chisel down on the bench when you have used it. Just have the rack close enough to pop it back . Just design the rack yourself .But make it so you can get it through a doorway . My mistake last time .

  40. Warren on 19 January 2021 at 8:45 pm

    It’s scientifically accurate to say – keeping items in piles and bundles is more efficient than filing items away.

  41. Richard Schultz on 20 January 2021 at 6:14 pm

    I purchased 12 inch long square wooden dowels in multiple sizes 3/8 to 1 1/4 inches, used the appropriate size dowel to separate each tool. Put a one inch square dowel bumper around the edges, didn’t glue or screw any of it. Wood all the way around each tool, none of the tools are banging into each other. Flipped every other handle, Got 16 chisels and gouges in one standard shallow mechanics drawer 14” by 22”. Wrote “gouges”, “ veiners” etc. on wider dowels to separate categories.

    Coincidentally I am picking up an auction box tomorrow with 16 mystery chisels. Time to clean out another drawer.

    • Paul Sellers on 20 January 2021 at 8:00 pm

      What’s a square dowel? How can something made round, a dowel, be considered square, I mean?

  42. Richard Schultz on 21 January 2021 at 12:38 am

    “Run for the Roundhouse, Sally. He can’t corner you there.”
    The package says “Poplar Squares.” They were over by the dowel display in 1/8” increments. Bigger sizes have fewer sticks in the package. If you buy all the sizes you can customize your tool drawer and get almost a compression fit with loose dividers. You can clear the chisels off the bench in a jiffy because you don’t have to hit the exact corral, the unattached dividers slide over to accommodate. You won’t get to display your collection this way but you can accidentally leave a drawer open.

    • Richard Schultz on 21 January 2021 at 10:30 am

      When Benny Goodman hired the singer Peggy Lee she wanted to do French poetry. “This is a respectable band” said Goodman. “You can’t put a square Peggy into a rondel.”

  43. David Bentz on 25 January 2021 at 11:48 pm

    If life weren’t too short I would compile a photo album of workshop messes. A glossy coffee table book for the reader to infer which pieces of finished furniture generated which sequence of shop messes: ‘Forensic Woodworking’!

  44. Sylvain on 3 February 2021 at 10:14 am

    Paul would you please let us know in what substance is the block in which your marking knife are stuck (visible on 4rth picture). Cork?

    • Paul Sellers on 4 February 2021 at 8:58 pm

      Yes, it’s just a cork sanding block, Sylvain! Mostly it keep me disciplined in putting the low-profile knife where I can find it.

  45. Carlos Agarie on 4 February 2021 at 5:02 pm

    “[…] four square metres I am confined in” Your shop seems larger than that. Are you referring to the space between your bench and the wall or what?

    I’m curious because my shop is exactly 2.20 by 2.00 meters (thus a bit more than 4 square meters), in a small room in my apartment. 🙂

    • Paul Sellers on 4 February 2021 at 7:58 pm

      The distance between my bench and the wall slightly more than 1 meter. The overall length of the garage is 5 meters but the accessible floor area for me to actually work in is about two meters. There is a little area at the vise end of my bench, maybe a half square meter. It’s enough.

Leave a Comment





  • Paul Sellers on Is it Helpful or No?Hello Margaret, In some ways the bench has somehow become more iconic than it should be. I hear names of specific benches bandied about that this or that is the ultimate when in re…
  • Margaret Tarbet on Is it Helpful or No?Apologies if this is off-topic! What would be really helpful to me (and probably at least some others) would be Paul's recommendations for someone who lives in a smallish rented fl…
  • Miles on Counter CultureIf you can get it, sweet chestnut is light, lovely to work and much more naturally durable - you can leave it unpainted but it does have a lot of tannin which will stain when it fi…
  • Samuel on Counter CultureI like seeing chairs in emerging stages of being made. If u made a furniture list in the same vein as an essential tool list, chairs and table are cornerstones of a functional life…
  • Daniel on The Meandering Path of WoodworkingS. Goodwin, you are right on. There are schools for so many things, yet jobs so few. There are schools for beauticians and massage therapists, yet only a tiny percentage of graduat…
  • Philip allen on It Takes Effort to ChangeI started an apprenticship as a carpenter in 1965. I must say that all of the instructors at the local tech were al, ex tradesmen. The head of department a kind mann by the name of…
  • S. Goodwin on The Meandering Path of WoodworkingYour initial comments on teaching remind me of all the advertisements on YouTube these days promising endless easy millions. If these instructors are so good at turning 4 hours int…