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This article is from Issue 19 of Woodcraft Magazine.
By Sarah Brady
Devoted woodworking hobbyist Bobby Hartness wasn’t thinking about livestock when he renovated a charming horse barn on his Greenville, S.C., homestead. His focus was instead on creating a woodworker’s dream come true. With its comprehensive maintenance system and souped-up machinery, his shop might tempt any woodworker to take up residence—and for good reason, as you’ll soon see.
Adriveway winds past the Hartness home and gardens, ending beside a pond at a large, tidy red and white barn. Formerly shelter for horses, this building embarked on a second life in 2001 when businessman Bobby Hartness built on a modern woodworking shop. Now the only horses found here power woodworking machines.
In semi-retirement, Bobby has become an extraordinarily prolific builder of fine furniture, and his shop reflects his whistle-clean, no-nonsense approach to woodworking. Power tools are clustered to ease workflow, and wide corridors make it easy to move large boards and sheet goods between work stations. Toward the center of the 40 x 50' room, four steel support columns contain electrical outlets and air drops and serve as “home base” for major power tools.
For example, a 37" belt sander, horizontal/vertical edge sander and 22" planer are grouped around one column, while 14" and 24" bandsaws reside at another (along with one of the shop’s three router tables). Wall space is used to store clamps and jigs, while turning and carving tools fit neatly in attractive handmade cabinets with cabriole legs.
Order rules the roost, but appearances are not neglected. Bobby built four major banks of floor-to-ceiling cabinetry (30' wide altogether) of stunning bald cypress, harvested from Hilton Head Island in 1961. He purchased truckloads of 20"-wide, 2"-thick boards of the virgin wood in a liquidation sale to build the cabinets, which include most of the 160 handmade drawers throughout the shop. As a result, everything has a place, from abrasives and hardware to finishes, templates and spare batteries.
During construction, Bobby made sure to have the concrete floor true and even for building furniture. “It’s perfectly flat, with no variances in elevation,” he says. The floor is also spotless, a surprising state for a shop as frequently used as this one. Neatness is a virtue for Bobby, who insists on staying organized and dust-free with a centralized dust-collection system servicing all major tools. He uses flexible pipe and industrial connectors of 20-gauge galvanized steel, and the setup is controlled by an automated Ecogate system. This system uses motorized blast gates that switch on suction only to those tools in use and shutting off the airways to others. “A 3-hp collector will only serve one machine at a time effectively,” Bobby says. For noise abatement his collector and a pair of filter bags are closed off in a corner closet (see photo on page 48). The a/c and heating system also pitches in with ambient air cleaning; Bobby installed large filter panels in the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) closet which trap fine airborne particles.
An area in the north corner is devoted to finishing, with a sure way to clear the air. A variable-speed fan is installed in a cabinet/window, and Bobby opens a window on the northwest wall to create a corridor of moving air. Spray finish paraphernalia is stored on a wall rack nearby. Though he’s modest about his finishing capabilities, “the worst spray job is better than the best brushed-on finish,” Bobby says.
Bobby’s vertical milling machine is a tool not found in most woodworking shops. He uses it to precisely mill intricate joinery, keyholes, and channels for inlay. A digital X-Y-coordinate readout makes it possible from him to control the length and direction of cut.
While his technical expertise is impressive for a hobbyist and his furniture is beautiful, Bobby never makes a chore of woodworking and maintains a youthful fascination with the beauty of wood and the endless possibilities of design. He has an unhurried and appreciative approach. “Sometimes I’ll just sit and watch a piece of rough lumber come out of the planer. I love to see what the surface will look like. It’s one of the most exciting things about woodworking.” He typically gets absorbed in only one project at a time, sometimes working long hours late into the night. With everything imaginable under one roof, Bobby’s shop isn’t a home away from home—for him, it is home!
“If I can draw it, I can build it.” Bobby spends plenty of time at this
3 x 4' drafting table before undertaking any project. He has designed dozens of pieces: tool chests, all types of tables, desks, chests, highboys, chairs, antique-style pieces, and shop jigs and fixtures. As an integral part of his workshop, he built floor-to-ceiling, 8'-wide banks of cabinet/drawer storage space on three of the four workshop walls, plus the 5½'-wide bank shown above.
Location is everything: Bobby’s shop sits on acreage that the Hartness family held onto while Greenville’s residential area grew up around it. For many years, Bobby’s sister raised and trained horses here; the original barn is at left, the built-on workshop, at right. Inside and out, the shop seamlessly blends into the original structure, which now contains spacious living quarters, a lumber storage room, and covered parking for cars, lawn equipment and a golf cart. The 12' garage door opens into a clear staging area about 12' deep.
A workstation that works: Outfeed tables added to Bobby’s Rockwell Unisaw extend its surface to 7' in each direction, and an Incra fence system frames the setup. At first, Bobby thought the four steel support columns in his workshop would be liabilities, but instead he found them useful as “home bases” for larger machinery such as this saw. The columns contain electrical and air drops, which help reduce cord clutter, and also host small shelves and a telephone. The green box on the column here is a control panel for Bobby’s Ecogate dust-collection system, which detects when power tools are in use (by their vibration) and shuts off suction to unused areas. The result is much greater vacuum force where needed.
Man with the plans: Even in the midst of all these large machines, “the tool I use most is my pencil sharpener,” Bobby says. This view from the north corner of the workshop shows his 4 x 8' assembly table (with drawers beneath, not shown).
The Workshop at a Glance
Size: 40 x 50' shop plus living quarters (kitchen, bedroom, display areas for finished projects and antiques) and lumber storage. Ceiling height: 9'4".
Construction: Wood frame, 2 x 4" studs, 16" on center. Wooden interior paneling. Poured concrete floor with expansion joints. Four steel support columns clad with drywall.
Heating & cooling: Enclosed HVAC room contains 7-ton air conditioning and 160,000-btu forced-air gas heating units. Large filtration panels assist with ambient air cleaning.
Lighting: 30 4' high-intensity fluorescent panels and incandescent spotlights over work stations.
Electrical: 200-amp single-phase service panel and 220-amp three-phase converter.
Dust collection: Penn State 3-hp cyclone dust collector; 5-micron and .05-micron filter bags.
Air compressor: 7½-hp Curtis.
As a new addition, Bobby’s shop was a blank slate with few rules or limitations. Large, stationary power tools such as his 36" antique bandsaw and his Delta Unisaw leave plenty of room for the operator. His 4 x 8' work table (on the northeast wall, next to the 12' garage door) is comfortably accessible from all sides, with racks of clamps close at hand for project assembly. Much of the northwest wall is dedicated to his Makita LS1212 miter saw with 8' support tables, topped by wall storage racks for scraps and cutoffs. Turning dominates an area of the southwest wall with a Powermatic 4224 lathe and a freestanding storage cabinet for turning tools, beside two pairs of French doors. One corner houses 8' of storage cabinets and a mortising machine, with pegs for router templates on the nearby wall.
A central dust-collection system and electrical outlets on four center support columns offer a convenient way to cut back on nuisance extension cords. Most power tools not yet mentioned are clustered around these columns, with the exception of the vertical milling machine near the HVAC closet.
Also at this location is Bobby’s 3 x 4' drafting table. Here, he draws meticulous plans for the projects he builds. The “drawing nook” faces a corner HVAC room and is surrounded by shopmade cypress storage cabinets. A full 8 x 8' bath (!) fits neatly between this area and the dust collection/storage room. This shows how completely Bobby has integrated his living quarters into his shop. Not shown on these plans, the adjacent renovated barn includes a kitchen, living room, office/display room (see page 49) and bedroom (with billiards table). Lumber storage is given its own climate-controlled 16 x 40' room on the far southeast side of the building.
Smart Ideas for the Taking
1 Unique router fixture: This shop-made router fixture positions the router horizontally or vertically by moving it between two bases. Wooden stops lined with foam fill the void in the empty base, keeping sawdust contained and improving the suction of a vacuum hose. In the vertical position, it becomes an overhead router with a changeable pin—which acts as a bearing against a template—on the bottom of the box. The horizontal position makes mortising long boards easy. The assembly includes adjustment stops on top of the table and a threaded rod in back for vertical positioning.
2 Diverse dowel storage: This tall corner rack holds dozens of dowels, threaded rods, and other such items in plain view. Holes of various diameters are cut through the upper shelves and recessed in the bottom shelf to match PVC pipe and other stored items.
3 Guidance from above: This simple router jig positions a support pin directly above the bit. The jig makes it possible to create profiles on parts—such as gooseneck molding for grandfather clocks—with a bearingless bit. The illustration below shows how to make it.
“I swear by my...Incra LS Positioner. I can literally work to tolerances of a thousandth of an inch, and it is so easy. Why more people don’t use these, I just don’t understand.”
4 Rolling storage: A four-door mobile cabinet adapted from a magazine plan opens to reveal rows of router bits and smaller hand tools. The upper router bit shelves are angled forward for easier viewing of bits in the back rows. Closed, the whole assembly appears neat and rolls easily into a corner; overall size is 22 x 36 x 72".
Born-again bandsaw: Bobby rebuilt this 36" 1905 Crescent and added a 32 x 38" Mylar table, plus a Plexiglas panel covering the saw’s open pulleys. It weighs a ton and runs without vibration.
Dust collection’s private digs: In this 8 x 14' room (above right), a 3-hp cyclone dust collector sucks down the bulk of dust particles which travel here through a system of flexible hose from dust-producing workstations. The air is then pulled through 5-micron and .05-micron filter bags, which are sealed off in a shop-made airtight cabinet with two tall doors hung on long piano hinges and sealed with strips of rubber (overall dimensions: 29½ x 46 x 74"). Bobby works at his router station 25' from the virtually soundproof “dust room,” which scrubs air at a rate of 1,400 cfm. Visible over his shoulder on the southwest wall is steel shelving with hooks for setup blocks, wrenches, and other router table necessities.
Bobby Hartness - designer & woodworker
Early on, Bobby used his skills as a machinist and engineer to help build the family business, Hartness International, based in Greenville, S.C. His father started the company as a Pepsi bottling franchise and became a major innovator in packaging, assembly lines, and conveyor equipment. In spite of his background, he finds woodworking more difficult. “You have to deal with warpage and imperfections, which are key to the beauty in the wood. No two pieces are alike—they have different grain, different texture, different density—all these variables. That makes it interesting and fun.”
Bobby is now semi-retired and spends long hours—whenever he wants—absorbed in furniture projects. He’s a leading member of the Greenville Woodworkers Guild, one of the most active in the country, and is often tapped by fellow members for design and technical assistance. He hosts woodworking events on behalf of the guild at his home and shop, where many admire his extensive antique tool collection.
Wood-centric surroundings: The second floor of Bobby’s living quarters (above) used to be a hayloft, but now it’s a showplace for his finished projects and antique woodworking equipment. Downstairs (left), more antiques and finished projects furnish the TV room.
Slant-front desk: Bobby enjoys the challenge of reconstructing period details. He designed and crafted this desk. (The chair is by Brian Boggs.)
Multi-drawer cabinets: Dovetailed drawer sides are exposed in the modernly styled cabinet at top, while a more classic look belongs to Bobby’s signature piece at right. He’s made several of these, some as gifts and some to store hand tools in his shop. Another houses his collection of handmade knives by local craftsmen.
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