Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Techy Tuesday - Outfitting the Small Shop Pt. I

It's about time I bring everyone up to date on my big side project: I've been building my dream shop.  The building phase is almost complete - might well be done this week.  The outfitting phase is less clear. 

Let me back up to the start. 

The diminutive but deadly Mrs. Graybeard and I have been living here 30 years; we moved in June 4, 1984 (which happened to be our second wedding anniversary).  The house is small by modern standards, with the original "under air" space not quite 1300 sq. ft. (we since air conditioned the garage, making it almost 1600 square feet).  If you remember 30 years ago, mortgage rates were terrible - something like 17% on new loans.  Buying from an owner with an assumable mortgage let us keep it at 13%.  I bring this up to underline the reasons for getting into a smallish house.  The early '80s were also when Paul Volker was reeling in the horrible inflation of the 70s, by creating a recession (the sort of pain no Fed Head will voluntarily create now), and the two of us were laid off several times in the early 80s.  It led us to want a house we could afford if one of us were forced out of work. 

In these 30 years, I've always had a workshop in the garage.  I've build the oak wall unit I'm facing now, and done a lot of other woodworking.  From about '86 until '90, we had a small aluminum boat in there, but still enough room to tinker and build things.  Some time after we sold the boat, in the early '00s, Mrs. Graybeard bought me my first machine tool: a Sherline lathe.  As time went by, I eventually added the Sherline Mill, and to shorten the story, had a small metal shop in there along with the wood shop.  And then we got back into fishing.  Let's get another little aluminum boat like we had last time we sez.  It'll be better than walking piers and jetties we sez.  After half a year in the back yard and the problems that brought, we played 3D Tetris and moved the boat into the garage.  Middle of May of '12.  And since then it has been rough to get much of anything done in the garage.  Even without that, we outgrew the house at least 15 years ago.  It's a small house, after all.   

We paid off the house early and have been living debt free for a few years (we re-fi'ed along the way, and our "lower" rate was 9%!).  As retirement approaches, we're both trying to reconcile the many different directions we feel pulling us.  Again, leaving out a lot minutia, we decided to expand the house.  Make a shop on the back of the existing garage. It will restore the room I need for a good shop, better than I've ever had, and allow more room for storage of everything.  What started out to be the size of a two car garage (about 440 sq.ft.) turned into "why not build it as big as we can?" and it's now 770 sq. ft. (outside).  It's almost half the rest of the house and garage combined. 

So given a shop that size, I'm going to have a woodworking area, a metal shop area, and a reloading corner.  For starters, the shop will have my existing tools.  Metal shop will have my Sherline lathe and Sherline/A2Z CNC milling machine.  I'm looking for some heavier metal: maybe a full-sized tool room lathe, and bigger mill, as I can find them or as finances allow.  Being a techno-geek with access to a good 3D CAD program, I've been building (and revising) a 3D model of the space.  This is about what it looks like in perspective from high above. 
The drawing just has lines to represent the walls, windows and doors, so it might be hard to figure out from this drawing that those light green boxes floating in midair are shelves that don't particularly exist right now.  But I bet you can figure that there's a computer, monitor and keyboard in the L-shaped space called "Metal Shop".   

What I intend to do here is talk about outfitting the shop.  My current shop is capable of turning an 80% lower into an AR, but I'm not sure it can do it from a forging (0% lower).  While my shop can do any of the smaller tasks that come up, and maybe even a 1911, I'd like to be able to rechamber a barrel and that's definitely way too big a job for my shop.  That implies a big lathe.  That large gold block on the top right of my floor plan is a reserved space for a gunsmith's lathe, or full sized lathe like that.  Redneck Engineer tells me the Precision Matthews lathes seem to be good full-sized lathes.  I kind of like this model.  I was looking at some nice hobby-sized mills, but find that Craig's List seems to get real, big, heavy metal like a used Bridgeport for much less than it usually takes to get some of the more capable smaller mills.  Something like this Grizzly G0704 is a good compromise.  That Griz, and probably a used Bridgeport, will be manual and not CNC (not that I couldn't convert them).  There's interest in the patriot community in how to get a machine we can drop plans into and get a gun out of.  While it seems it will always take a bit more user skill than that, I'd like to steer in that direction and keep everyone up with what I'm learning.



  1. Before you part with cash, you might want to visit this website:


    and check out the descriptions and reviews of the various medls on this page:


    Plenty of information on American lathes and as the models differ in what they can do (e.g. some do not have an automatic feed screw so cutting screw threads will be ... interesting) so make sure that the model you are thinking about will do what you want it to do.

    Best regards

    Phil B

  2. Do you plan to have a partition between the wood shop and everything else, or do you have the dust issue solved? Fine particulates are a real bear in metal working gear. I have a pretty substantial dust sucker system and I still end up with fine particulates floating around. Eventually I gave up and relocated the metal stuff.

    73, Jim

  3. Jim - I haven't put as much weight on the dust control as I should. I've got a big shop vac with a HEPA filter in it, and when it's on the router table or table saw, it does a pretty respectable job. But fine dust still gets out of the system. Some amount of fine dust does seem inevitable.

    At the moment, I'm 50/50 on either trying to do a much better dust control system or moving the tools outside to do serious cutting/shaping.

    Just off the bottom left frame of that picture is a set of pink lines that are double doors. I could roll the table saw, miter saw, anything out those doors onto a courtyard / back porch.

  4. I make sawdust professionally, but the nature of my work makes it advantageous for me to also keep a few machine tools in the shop. I gave up on trying to keep ahead of the dust a long time ago, I just try to keep the machine tools as oil/grease free as I can. Covering them will help some, but dust has the annoying ability to defy gravity. Most of my tools are stationary so moving them is not an option.

    I recently replaced my 9" South Bend lathe with an 11" Sheldon, which is in pieces right now getting a thorough cleaning/greasing and some new paint. The Sheldon is a very well built machine, they really don't make them like that anymore. Another more common lathe that is popular with amateur gunsmiths is a South Bend Heavy 10 -10L (not to be confused with the light 10 -10K), something of a compromise between size and rigidity but with a 1 3/8" spindle through hole.

    I also have a 10X42 Gorton vertical mill that I use to cut both wood and metal, and a Deckel KF3S duplicator that is used for copying wood parts. Neither tool is made to cut wood but the dust doesn't seem to bother either of them too terribly. The computer is another story, I've given up on trying to keep a working printer out here.

    David Martin

  5. Free PDF with makerspace ideas on assembling a shop. Unfortunately more general than specific to a wood + metal shop.

    Your double doors are handy, especially being in the southland where you have nearly year-round outdoor access. Here in the northland, that doesn't really fly. Taking the sawdust outside seems like a fine solution.

    Your window to the left of the metal area is handy, and I'd be hesitant to throw a wall in there. Unfortunately moving the wood gear nearer the double doors would probably make getting materials and projects in and out of the shop harder. Speaking of which, I don't see much in the way of a wood storage area for larger materials, but maybe you tend to run Just In Time rather than Packrat. Or maybe it's just my tired eyes.

    It's certainly a big challenge to mix wood and metal gear. I don't really recall seeing a workshop book that covers mixing the two. Usually it's one or the other.

    Here are a few links I saved but don't claim to have read all of:



    Sipp, just because:

    FRETS, music guy that uses wood and metal gear. Plus, lots of DIY tools, jigs, and so forth.

    Now that I think about it there is one piece of metal gear still in the wood area, a micro mill. It stays covered with a thick, large quilt and mostly stays clean.

    My dust collection efforts are still in flux. There is an electrostatic (?) unit that I was considering but I haven't gotten back to it yet.

    Good luck with the shop, and I hope you enjoy it. It's much like a website; it's never really done.

    73, Jim

  6. Perhaps you could come up with some sort of sliding curtain between the metal and wood areas. A track on the ceiling to hang it. I've seen really nice ones in meeting rooms and churches to divide large rooms. They look very substantial. Maybe it could be the first project for the shop, if you can't find it off the shelf? Thin, wide, wood or metal strips with a heavy cloth type backing/center for a hinge effect should do it. Matching track in the floor. Push to the wall when not needed.

    Might be something available in welding supply stores. There are fire resistant types to curtain off welders in use.

  7. In my very amateur opinion, here are some things I've learned that I would have preferred not to have learned by experience:

    Imagine doing woodworking on an 8 foot 2x4 and a 4x8 sheet. Anticipate pulling the equipment away from the wall and a little bit out of line to make room for the workpiece ends.

    Wheels on all equipment is good. Wheels which raise and lower are good. Equipment which only moves occasionally can be made to interface with a pallet jack, which is cheap. There exists a pallet jack with wheels at the tips which can roll sideways.

    A mill is an unsubtle device which depends on the brute strength of the frame. You want the heaviest one you can picture yourself committing to moving, a 700 pound bench mill or a Bridgeport clone. You can move the 700 pound mill with an engine crane and a pickup truck; the Bridgeport commits you to a pallet jack or a forklift.

    If you buy a mill new and it arrives on a shipping pallet, leave it on the pallet because the factory has already figured out the pallet jack/forklift interface.

    If it's not too tall for you, a full size Bridgeport can be readied for a forklift by bolting a 4x4 under the front and back edges. This is top heavy, and if you move it with a pallet jack barely raise it off the floor so it's harder to topple when a wheel hits a pebble.

    A 700 pound mill not on wheels cannot be moved with body English. If you put it on wheels on a sloping concrete driveway you want a pulley to pull it up the slope. You can keep it from tipping over with your hand, but if it starts to go you can't even slow it down, jump away or have your safety buddy call for the jaws of life.

    Maybe with a curtain on a ceiling track you can partition the room to segregate the finer dusts? Medical exam room surplus for the track and hangers but extend the curtain higher? Or do all the sanding outside?

    CNC is not as general purpose of an assistant as we might wish, it seems to be for automating the production of multiples from known stock materials. Anything repair-ish needs to be done manually so you can feel the machine's reaction and stop it before it takes too big of a bite.

  8. (Continued)

    Consider that you will want to add welding/grinding in the future, which produces lots of smoke and sparks. What direction will you send the rooster tail of angle grinder sparks? Do you have a safe target like a backstop, or a volume of empty space where it falls upon clear floor you can easily clean? Can this open floor area also receive wood and paint dust for easy cleaning?

    You may not have enough square footage to leave dust-collection and material handing open space around every tool, and an alternative is one open space shared with every purpose and lighter tools on wheels stored around the edges. However, don't move the mill or the lathe.

    Will welding sparks bounce back under shelves and ignite dust bunnies? Where is the cabinet for flammable storage, relative to the shower of sparks and the fire exit door for when the solvent vapors ooze out the bottom? Welding and torch work may be better done outside, although an exhaust hood over a cart-sized steel table on wheels works surprisingly well, and also for painting. Put a hole in the middle of the steel top for the nose of clamps. Consider duplicating the size and lighting of a kitchen island or a butcher block with a steel top, for an every-media worktable you can woodwork, weld, grind, clean, mechanic, inspect, and paint on.

    Lots of different light source locations reduce shadows, and eyes don't improve with age. Track lighting? The 120 Volt LED bulbs won't explode like fluorescents if they get hit. If you throw a workpiece into the ceiling you don't want the additional hazard of a rain of glass. Outdoor halogen par bulbs with the thick face are nice, but too hot for Florida. Waterproof high output tube fluorescents with the case keeping the dust and impacts out are nice, but expensive.

    Consider a metal booth to contain grinding sparks and welding light to protect the eyes of the neighbors' children and pets. The shell from a trashpicked clothes dryer is a good size for a booth and the price is right. Cut an inch in from the corners, add hinges such that the original corner overlaps the seams, and it folds flat for storage. The same trashpicked dryer provides a fan and a round drum to make a fume hood from.

    Trashpick a selection of canister vacuum cleaners to pick up machining swarf, and an upright with a rotating brush to pick up welding slag. Cleanup with a vac is much more pleasant than every other way.

  9. Anon - thanks for the really excellent comments. Lots there to go over and comment back to. May even deserve a post of their own.

    Likewise Jim's collection of links and the comment before that.