Top Shop: The End-All Workshop

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This article is from Issue 36 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Following six previous efforts and 45 years of woodworking, Dick Reese finally has his shop of shops. 

By Jim Harrold

When you do something over again, and again, and again, your chances of getting it right vastly improve. That, in short, describes the journey taken by Centerville, Ohio, craftsman Dick Reese. Back in 1965, while fresh out of college, the basement of a townhome served as his first shop. As he climbed the ladder at NCR (National Cash Register) Corporation where he spent his career, relocations and job improvements spurred him to start anew, creating woodworking shops in a garage, a barn, three basements, and, most recently, the main level of the two-story dedicated building shown at right.

Dick’s woodworking passion began in his teen years, thanks, in part, to the family tradition. His grandfather made cabinets by trade, while his woodworking father owned and operated a lumberyard and restored antique furniture. Both served as mentors, along with the woodworking books and magazines he checked out from libraries or purchased. Throw in Dick’s exhaustive hands-on experience, and you might say he was more than prepared to create his be-all and end-all shop, this time, from the ground up.

The 1,764-square-foot main level serves as Dick’s shop, the unfinished basement provides storage, and the second level houses a design room.

Following retirement in 1995, Dick turned to designing and building a new home and his seventh shop. Says Dick, “I had several things in mind. First, I wanted a separate shop building that was not part of the main house. Yet, I wanted it to look like it belonged with the house.” His solution: link the buildings with a breezeway and style them similarly. “I also wanted a shop that was large enough so that the stationary tools could indeed be ‘stationary,’” he continues, “i.e., I didn’t want to deal with equipment on mobile bases.” That desire translated into a bigger shop, in this case, a 30 × 50' space. Added to this is a 10 × 12' dust-collector room that cuts down on the ambient noise in the shop. “By having a basement, I could run my ducts down through the floor from the tools and then return to the shop level in the dust-collector room.” This eliminated the exposed pipes that snaked along the walls and ceilings of his earlier shops. Dick also located his air compressor in the basement to reduce shop noise. He separated his finishing activities in a fan-ventilated, dust-free finishing room in one corner of the main shop.

He further reduced noise by shutting off his dust collector in its own room.

Unlike his basement shops of old that were devoid of natural light, Dick’s on-grade shop embraces the sun. “In my new shop I wanted a lot of windows,” he says. These, he admits, cut down on available wall space for storage. Where possible, he added specialized wall cabinet storage, like the drill bit holder shown above, right. Similar wall cabinets store his measuring and marking tools and router bits. “Most of my storage, however, is made up of base cabinets with lots of drawers. I built them to fit various spaces and functions as I moved in and set up shop.” One big improvement over his previous shops, Dick cites, is in lumber storage.  “I designed and had built steel support posts with crossarms that ‘float’ between the ceiling and the floor. The crossarm trees can be spaced as needed. I spaced them to hold 12'-long lumber."

Storing jigs in most shops can be a hassle. Dick, a consummate jig maker, stashes his in his dust-collector room. “I make jigs when I have a specific need,” he says. Most come from woodworking magazines, he claims, “but I’ll modify or improve them in some way.”

In spite of the shop’s plethora of features and wealth of space, Dick observes, “I don’t think too much about saving time or overall efficiency. I enjoy spending time in my shop, and I guess I’m more interested in the journey than the destination.”

Hardware, jigs, and clamps share space in Dick’s dust-collector room.

The Workshop At A Glance

Size: Overall two-story, 30 × 50' building with basement, plus an additional 10 × 12' dust-collector/jig storage room. Main level shop includes a 12 × 15' finishing room; ceilings, 10' high throughout. 

Construction: Poured concrete foundation walls with insulated 2×4 stick-built frame construction and brick veneer. Entrance features a ramp for moving equipment, stock, and projects in and out. The shop flooring is tongue-and-groove oak.

Heating and cooling: Two forced air HVAC systems. One serves the basement and shop, the other, the upstairs. They are isolated for dust control. Both have humidity control.

Lighting: (17) dual, 8'-long, T-8 fluorescent fixtures with electronic ballasts to eliminate hum plus incandescent task lights at workstations. 

Electrical, Internet, and security: Dedicated 200-amp panel for shop. In addition to circuits for the HW heater and HVAC systems are 220-volt circuits for dust collector, tablesaw, large bandsaw, planer, air compressor, and radio room (upstairs); 110-volt circuits service (14) outlets throughout, along with (8) lighting circuits. The security system stems from the main house system as does the telephone and cable (TV and Internet) access. Wireless access points throughout allow for connectivity. Two TVs and a stereo system provide entertainment.

Dust collection: Four-bag Reliant (1980 CFM) dust collector with under-floor ducts.

Air compressor: Two-stage, oil-filled compressor, with 80-gal. tank in basement. A black-pipe manifold circles the shop with various drops, including one over the assembly table.

Viewing Dick’s woodturning corner, you glimpse his lumber storage trees and fixed 15" planer with below-floor dust collection.

Dick mounted this custom-made bit cabinet on the limited wall space near his drill press.

The Floor Plan

During the planning phase, Dick laid out his workshop to scale and made cutouts of all the stationary tools, cabinets, and benches. “I moved things around until I was satisfied with the layout,” he says. Once done, he gave his architect the approximate weights of the heavier items (planer, jointer, tablesaw, lumber rack, and so on) “so she could ensure adequate floor joisting to eliminate the possibility of the floor sagging.” He also asked for a ramp outside the double front doors for easier hauling in and out.

As shown in the floor plan, he set the planer at an angle out in the floor to maximize the length of lumber he can thickness (a whopping 20'). “In my opinion,” says Dick, “the tablesaw is the most important tool to place. I centrally located mine and combined it with a large outfeed table that also serves as an assembly table. I wanted access to all sides of the saw and plenty of support to cut 4 × 8 sheets by myself.”  He likewise provided ample space around the jointer and other key tools. “Once I had decided on machine and bench placement, I ran electrical wiring into boxes that were floor mounted next to the appropriate tools.” This tactic, drawing from his former shops, got rid of any tripping hazards posed by electrical cords.

Dick located his woodworking bench a few steps away from his tablesaw and planned for access all around. Says the craftsman, “I essentially do all of my handwork here.” His remaining benches stand along the wall, serving other purposes.

In his finishing room he installed a wall of cabinets topped with a counter that runs the entire length. It includes a deep sink with hot and cold water, employing a tankless electrical heater. 

Smart ideas for the taking

Auxiliary workbench

“One of my best ideas,” says Dick, “was to build an auxiliary workbench to sit on top of my woodworking bench. It’s much easier on the back than bending over the typical height bench, and it lets me keep delicate work closer to eye level.” The bench raises the working surface just over 10", allowing Dick to stand comfortably when routing grooves and doing string inlay, as well as other meticulous tasks. 

Edge-joined 11⁄4"-thick maple makes up the top, along with breadboard ends to allow for expansion and contraction. This attaches to a pair of sturdy stands with countersunk lag screws and washers. The bench simply clamps to his primary bench and includes a quick-release vise and holes for bench dogs and hold-downs.

Flush-trim router jig

To save time and achieve perfect results when applying edge banding to plywood, Dick created this simple flush-trim jig for his trim router. It consists of scrap materials from the shop and an acrylic baseplate to which the trim router mounts. When in use, the adjustable carriage rests on the surface of the edged workpiece and glides along as shown. The baseplate acts as a fence, keeping the jig snug to the edge for the flush-trimming duration. At outside corners, Dick adds a temporary sacrificial block to the shelf being trimmed, holding it in place with double-faced tape. This allows the bit’s bearing to go beyond the corner.

Taking it to next level

Like his progression of workshops over the years, Dick continually takes his woodworking, in his words, “to the next level.”  For the past three years he’s plied his passion for challenging 18th century furniture of the Federal period, with his current efforts being a Baltimore Federal demilune card table and an 1805 New York Pembroke table. “One of my favorite projects (shown below) is the Massachusetts highboy that was completed in 2009. I worked on it for about 13 months. Total time to actually build and finish spanned 250 to 300 hours. I built it from curly cherry and finished it with wiping varnish.”

It was during the same year that Dick appeared on three episodes of The American Woodshop with Scott Phillips. The episodes featured his inlaid spice box (shown above), the highboy, and a trestle table that he designed for his home office.

Currently, he is the incoming president of the Western Ohio Woodworking Club, which boasts 225 members and directs its efforts—among other activities—to building Christmas toys for the local children’s hospital. The club awards a scholarship each year to a deserving student at Rio Grande University’s school of  woodworking. Says Dick, “We also sponsor a youth activity at the Artistry in Wood show where kids between 5 and 12 can come to our booth and build kit projects created by club members.” The projects include tool totes, pencil boxes, bird feeders, and birdhouses. The members oversee the activity by teaching woodworking and helping the kids assemble the kits.

In spite of his stock of power tools, Dick continually refines his craftsmanship. “As I improve my skills,” he summarizes, “I find myself spending more time with the hand tool part of woodworking. I seem to enjoy the solitude of just using hand tools in my shop, listening to the local public radio station, and just being quiet without a lot of power tools running.”

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