A Wood-Warmed Workshop

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This article is from Issue 35 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Oregon’s Willamette Valley is a fertile area for timber and woodworking.

Most of the wood that Tom Elder carries into his shop exits as smoke up the flue or ashes that go into the compost pile. But you would be wrong to guess that you’ve met a careless woodworker who incinerates his botched woodworking projects. On the contrary, Tom’s a very safety-conscious guy who works to exacting tolerances in both wood and metal. The cold fact is that Tom feeds his filbert trimmings from his 800-tree orchard into a wall-mounted stove to keep his 1,792-square-foot shop comfortable, even during the coolest and dampest months in Harrisburg, Oregon.

As with many craftsmen, Tom’s introduction to woodworking began in his youth. In junior high he took an interest in making gunstocks and small woodworking projects. His only formal woodworking training occurred in the school’s shop class, but it was enough to encourage a lifelong interest. As time allowed, and as his passion for the subject grew, he found himself at the local library reading magazines and checking out woodworking books. It was in one such book that he found the classic European-style workbench that he later built for himself, dovetails and all. Unlike the European style, however, Tom opted for metal screws in his vise and changed the height to his comfort level. He also reversed the plan to serve his southpaw ways and chose blood-red Jatoba (Brazilian cherry) for its hardness and sheer good looks. For contrast, he embellished the workbench with bird’s-eye maple.

Tom’s 62'-long freestanding building combines a woodworking and machine shop.

By mixing woods of great color and figure, he simply followed through with his philosophy. Says Tom, “Why not use nice woods and do the best job you can working with them? It won’t save you any time by going with less attractive woods.” Tom’s wall-hung clamshell tool cabinet and base cabinets provide further testimony to his love of handsome quality woods.

Like his choices of workshop woods, the way he preps lumber stock differs from the more traditional approach. Unlike most shops that rely on a tablesaw and thickness planer to break down and dimension stock, Tom’s go-to tools are his 24" Agazzani bandsaw and 38" Woodmaster drum sander. “Now,” he says, “I use my bandsaw more than my tablesaw for such tasks. When I’m working by myself, I find this tool safer and even faster.”

A high-efficiency dust-collection system keeps Tom’s shop so clean that he never needs to dust the trophy heads hanging on the south wall.

The Workshop at a Glance

Size: Overall shop, 62' long. One end is 32'-square with bathroom and kitchenette. The remaining 24'-wide section contains a machine shop.

Construction: Outbuilding with insulated stud walls and attic and 12"-wide wood siding. Peaked roof has extended overhangs.

Heating: Wall-mounted wood stove with powered heat exchanger; ceiling mounted 220-volt electric heater. 

Lighting: (20) fluorescent fixtures 8' long, each contains two tubes.

Electrical: 90-amp service panel fed from house.

Dust collection: Oneida 3-hp two-stage, cyclone dust collector with felt filter bags.

Air compressor: 5-hp motor, 60-gallon tank.

The shop’s main heat source is a scratch-built stove fed with prunings from Tom’s filbert orchard. A lean-to shelters the wood from frequent rains.

Tom outfitted his bandsaw with a 1" carbide-tipped blade, a 3-hp motor, outfeed rollers, and an Incra fence for routine chores. For serious resawing (he’s sliced stock up to 15" wide), he installed a shop-built fence with stainless steel rollers. With this setup he has sliced a piece of 10"- wide white oak to .008" thick. “You could hold it up to the light and see right through it,” he says.

After resawing, Tom runs the lumber through the 38" 5-hp Woodmaster drum sander. “As long as I did my part steering the wood past the bandsaw blade,” Tom notes, “I can sand out all the mill marks with a couple of passes at 100 grit.” To make his sanding station more accommodating, he built infeed and outfeed tables. He also added the optional reversing switch (for an extra $150). This lets him reverse the feed belt direction for another pass to eliminate the need to carry the milled stock around to the front of the drum sander between sanding passes. For the final pass, he feeds from the normal direction to achieve the best results.

Tom's laminate-topped assembly table features pull-out trays that keep hardware in easy reach.

Tom knew that without a highly efficient dust-collection system, the drum sander could quickly fog the shop. So he chose a dual-stage Oneida 3-hp cyclone and designed and built a plenum fitted with 16 polyester felt filter bags to serve it. The system operates with astonishing efficiency, capturing up to 99.9% of particles down to .2 microns. A furnace filter scrubs the air one final time before returning it to the shop.

With its outfeed rollers and Incra fence, Tom's 3-hp, 24" bandsaw cuts with speed and precision.

Tom heats his shop with a wood stove that he built by welding together 1⁄4" steel sheets. To maximize its heat output, he purchased a Magic Heat brand heat exchanger. Mounted in the flue, this unit activates an electric blower to pump heated air into the shop.

To supplement the stove, Tom also has a ceiling-mounted electric heater set at 50˚, enough to circulate air, control humidity, and prevent rust from blooming on his tools.

The Floor Plan

Materials enter the shop through a 12'-wide sliding door that has sheet goods and lumber storage racks immediately next to the opening. Tom prepares to break down sheet goods by supporting them on his assembly table and sawhorses. He then uses a Festool circular saw and guide rail to cut blanks 1⁄8" oversized. The components move to the tablesaw for final sizing.

Solid stock also rests on the assembly table and sawhorses for initial rough-crosscutting to length with a Festool jigsaw. Tom squares one edge of each blank at the jointer before moving the lumber to the 24" bandsaw for resawing or ripping. The lumber then passes through the 38" drum sander to remove milling marks.

Project parts then move to other stations, such as the router table, tablesaw, or workbench for further machining. Tom usually glues up his projects at his assembly table, because the top is dead flat and its laminate surface resists drips.

Smart ideas for the taking

Two-way shooting board

Tom has a zero-tolerance joinery policy: if a joint isn’t perfect, it doesn’t leave his shop. To achieve a flawless fit, he built this two-way shooting board. The triangle can be adjusted for right- or left-hand shaves, or removed for shooting square ends. By shimming the adjustable fence, he can achieve dead-on accuracy.

Nesting sawhorses

Though two are shown here, Tom built four such maple sawhorses that nicely nest together to reduce their footprint when not in use. Based on similar sawhorses he found at the College of the Redwoods, he added top spacer strips to bring the sawhorses level with his assembly table, expanding the supporting roles of both shop fixtures. The sacrificial spacer strips sustain damage when Tom breaks down sheet goods, but they’re easily replaced.

A window on Tom and his woodworking

While Tom’s first woodworking project was a gunstock, it followed that his second would be a rifle rack. After getting married in 1959, Tom’s then dormant interest in making gunstocks returned, although the time demands of work and family made woodworking an occasional rather than continuous hobby.

For much of his adult life, he worked as a mechanical contractor in the metallurgical and forest industries, and was able to retire 20 years ago at age 50. He and his wife bought their current home about 17 years ago and spent the first two years gutting and rebuilding the house. Tom recruited a friend to help him frame the workshop, and then completed it himself.

With the shop built, Tom began filling it with power equipment and making shop essentials. “I could get by without all the machinery,” Tom quips, “but not my bench; it is the most important item in the shop.” The shop, striking in its appearance, goes way beyond being a showplace. Tom enjoys making furniture such as the quilted and bird’s-eye maple china cabinet he built for his granddaughter, shown at right. A more recent project is the quilted maple and Gabon ebony hand plane and presentation box (bottom) that he crafted for his son. The set also includes a lignum vitae adjusting mallet.

With all of his inroads into making furniture, Tom occasionally returns to his earliest woodworking roots, making gunstocks from walnut and maple. He couples this with his considerable gunsmithing skills. “I buy barrel blanks,” he says, “thread and chamber them, put them on the actions and, of course, build the figured stocks to fit.” Life could be a lot worse than when one hobby fulfills the needs of another.  

Special thanks to Joe and Susan Essin of the Eugene, Oregon, Woodcraft store.


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