A Fitting New England Shop

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This article is from Issue 34 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Every square foot of Louis Lovas’ 30 × 30' saltbox-style workshop is spoken for, including the front porch where he sometimes entertains his woodworking buddies.

Take the time to plan an efficient, custom work space, and it’ll love you back with time saved.

By Jefferson Kolle

In one very significant way, little difference exists between the furniture that Louis Lovas makes and his shop in Hollis, New Hampshire. His philosophy is “Never design as you go,” a lesson he learned after 25 years as a program designer in the computer industry. “My professional work requires a tremendous amount of planning and forethought,” Louis says. “I find both processes rewarding. In fact, they serve me well in all I do, woodworking included.”

Having worked out of his garage for years, Louis at last had the luxury of designing a new workshop around his needs. No more would he have to arrange his tools to conform to an unaccommodating structure.

From the outside, the shop reflects quintessential New England style with its steep-peaked saltbox roof, symmetrical window placements, and full-length overhanging porch. But like any good architecture, a thoughtful exterior hints at a well-conceived interior.

His garage of old taught him many things. For instance, he learned to place his large tools on wheels. By mounting them on double-locking casters, he can adjust the floor plan for the project at hand. “I can reconfigure the shop to accommodate different stages of a project, as well as large or small multiple pieces,” Louis says, “simply by rolling the big tools to different parts of the room.”

This clamshell cabinet houses planes, chisels, and marking and measuring devices. Other cabinets hold supplies and tool accessories.

Louis tricked out his Unifence with a hold-down accessory and a micro-adjustment device.

He chose to place his stationary workbench in the middle of the room, so he can access it from all sides. “Especially when I’m working on big case pieces,” he explains, “it’s easier to walk around the furniture than move the piece around on the bench.”

The window locations take advantage of natural light. The large Palladian window at the east gable end receives lots of light throughout the day. Four 8'-long, double-tube fluorescent ceiling fixtures provide supplemental lighting.

Other electrical features include 20 separate 110-volt wall and ceiling outlets and three 220-volt outlets. Louis’ electrician convinced him to install a bright red, wall-mounted, push-button shunt switch that connects to all the shop circuits except for the ceiling light circuit. “In case of an emergency, I can hit the switch and everything shuts down,” Louis says. “It gives me peace of mind, plus a break on my homeowner’s insurance premium.”

The ceiling and the 2 × 6' exterior walls contain fiberglass batt insulation. This buffers against the brutal winter cold while retaining the heat rising from the in-floor hydronic heating system in the concrete below the strip-oak floor. Louis opted for a single through-wall air-conditioner to cool things off during the occasional scorcher.

The Workshop At A Glance

Size: Overall building 30 × 30'; shop space 20 × 30' with a 9'6" ceiling height; first floor storage room 7 × 30'; attic storage 20 × 30'.

Construction: Outbuilding; concrete slab floor covered with strip-oak flooring; 2 × 6' stud walls with fiberglass insulation.

Heating and cooling: In-floor radiant heat with propane-fired boiler in first-floor storage room; wall-mounted air conditioner.

Lighting: Natural light via 6'-wide French doors and Palladian double-hung windows; (4) 8'- long double-tube fluorescent ceiling fixtures.

Electrical: (20) 110-volt wall outlets on walls and ceiling; (3) 220-volt outlets on walls and floor. Shunt switch that shuts off power to everything except the lights in case of an emergency.

Dust collection: Ceiling-mounted air-filtration system (JDS Air-Tech 750 ER); mobile 11/2 hp, 300 CFM Jet Dust Collector, barrel-top model; 16 and 20 gal.Craftsman shop vacuums.

Air compressor: Porter-Cable 2 gal. pancake.

Louis created a temporary 10 × 16' finishing room with two heavy-duty clear plastic curtains that slide on ceiling tracks.

When spray-finishing, Louis uses a window fan in a plywood frame to exhaust fumes to the outside.

In the rear of the building, under the lowest part of the roof, is a 7 × 30' room that contains the furnace and storage for offcuts, large jigs and fixtures, as well as finishing tools and materials. Doors provide access to the shop area and to the outside for easy loading of projects and supplies.

Louis employs the building’s second floor for rough-sawn stock, accessing it from within by a pull-down staircase and from the outside through a large door. The back room and second-floor storage add immeasurably to Louis’ desire for a tidy workspace. “I like everything to be neat,” he says. “Otherwise it clutters my mind.”

Inside the shop, Louis planned a place for everything. The majority of the caster-equipped power tools have dedicated storage built into their custom-made stands. Well-stocked wall cabinets offer more storage while enhancing the look with pleasing designs and craftsmanship.

Louis souped-up a pair of 1980s Craftsman 10" tablesaws that he bought for less than $75 each. One he set up for ripping; the other, for crosscutting. He installed 2 hp, totally-enclosed, fan-cooled (TEFC) motors and balanced pulleys with power-twist belts. He equipped the crosscut saw with a JessEm sliding crosscut table. Underneath is an enclosed bin with a vacuum port and storage for accessories.

He located the ripping saw in front of the multi-paned French doors that serve as the shop’s main entrance. Beyond lies a full-length front porch (see the exterior photo). Not only is this outdoor space a good place to hang out with woodworking friends, but it proves handy when ripping long stock. Louis simply swings open the double doors and lets the boards exit off the outfeed table and into the protected porch area under the roof.

The router in the ripping saw’s extension table shares the same rip fence. Like the other saw, the green cabinet under the saw holds a dust-collection bin and port, plus storage for blades and accessories.

A large stationary 3 × 42 × 84"

maple workbench top once served duty in a bowling alley before being cut to size and given a new role. Says the proud shop owner, “My workshop is not just a place to design and build furniture, it’s a sanctuary, a place where I can get away from all the stress and strain of being a caring father and an engineer.”

The Floor Plan

Louis applied a tried-and-true approach when he designed his 30 × 30' shop. “I used a piece of posterboard and cut out each machine/workstation to scale to lay out the floor plan,” he says. By incorporating the 7 × 30' back room into the design (under the low side of the saltbox roof), he was better able to control the clutter. The second floor contains additional storage for rough-sawn stickered stock, accessed by a pull-down staircase or an exterior door for loading wood.

Large power tools rest on casters; those without mobile bases sit on custom-made cabinets with storage underneath, painted green to match Louis’ planer. This mobility provides flexibility when doing different machining operations. His 42 × 85" stationary workbench sits away from the walls, letting him work at the bench from all four sides.

Ample daylight enters the shop along its sides and front through the huge, east-facing 7'-long arch-top window, the 6'-long double French doors, and four double-hung windows. Louis opens the doors to create more outfeed room when ripping long stock.

A unique feature is the temporary finishing “room” that Louis makes by pulling clear plastic industrial curtains along a ceiling-mounted track to partition off a 10 × 16' area. This keeps dust off the piece he’s finishing and overspray out of the rest of the shop. A window-mounted fan exhausts the area when he sprays shellac, his favorite finish.

Smart ideas for the taking 

Curve-cutting bandsaw wing and jig

Louis built an auxiliary table that he bolted to his cast-iron table using existing mounting holes. Added to this is a hinged extension wing that he equipped with a pivoting trammel T-arm for cutting large radii from 36" to 60". The slot in the arm allows for 10" of adjustment. It’s recessed on the arm’s bottom face to accommodate a nut that locks the knob’s threaded stud/pivot pin in place along the slot. The pivot pin fits into a hole along the wing. The position of the hole is located in the wing to match the radius of the desired arc.

When in use, the outside end of the hinged wing rests on a work-support stand. For cutting a curved apron, Louis makes a full-sized drawing of the part to determine the thickness of the needed blank. He then adheres a workpiece on edge onto the MDF carrier of the T-arm with double-faced tape. He adjusts the arm to curve-cut the concave face of the apron. With the saw on, he swings the arm and workpiece through the blade. To make the apron’s convex (inside) cut, he reattaches the workpiece to the inside of the kerf to match the desired part thickness and swings the arm through the saw a second time, resulting in a workpiece that’s ready for sanding. For more, hit the “Slideshow” button at http://www.flinthillfurniture.com/thebandsaw.html.

Mobile clamp cart

Louis rolls this 221/2 × 36" plywood clamp cart up to the stationary bench for project-assembly glue-ups. Border rails on the top keep screws and other items from rolling off. The basic cabinet rests on a stout base with four swivel-locking casters. In addition to the open compartments, a simple drawer offers room for supplies such as glue, glue brushes, and rags.

Magnetic hand-plane jointer fence

Louis used rare-earth magnets and a rabbeted piece of maple to make a simple fence for his Lie-Nielsen #62 plane. A shaped piece of wood glued at the front end of the fence helps house the plane while conforming to its shape. Recessed metal cups screwed in the fence hold the magnets that secure the iron plane in place. Louis finds that the fence makes it infinitely easier to true a board’s edges.

Louis’ profile in woodworking

Louis Lovas traces his passion for woodworking to a book on the subject that he received at age 13 on Christmas Day, 1972. He grew up on a farm in rural Ohio under the parental guidance of his machinist father. “In addition to building and repairing fences and animal stalls,” he says, “I recall making footstools and a saddle rack for my dad.”

After a decades-long hiatus spent building a career and raising a family, he got back into woodworking when he created an elaborate playhouse for his three daughters. At first, he set up shop in the family’s two-car garage, which meant the cars stayed out all winter. “Every time I went out to brush the snow off the vehicles, I thought about having a dedicated shop,” he says. 

Louis considers himself largely self-taught, while admitting that “I’m an avid reader and have learned a tremendous amount from the many professional woodworkers who shared their experience in books and magazines.” He draws inspiration from classic designs and then draws detailed plans on graph paper prior to building. And when he presents a design to a customer—about half his work is done on commission—he will often make a full-scale model to show them. 

This eye-catching jewelry box by Louis demonstrates his eye for design, symmetry, and working with contrasting woods.

When Louis rotates the top of this cleverly-designed coffee table, the four leaves drop down between the legs.

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