Saturday, June 30, 2012

Tour of the School Shop

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you probably know that I've been teaching woodworking (hand tools only) at the Waldorf Inspired charter school where I also teach middle school. It's been a fantastic adventure, and since I started with a blank slate, it has also been a lot of work.

Our school opened two years ago, and I had an empty room to convert into a shop. In typical overly optimistic no-time-reality fashion, I thought it would take until Christmas break to turn my vision into reality. Ha! Well, the students and I got busy and two years later it's finally finished, mostly, and ready to be shown.

So here is the tour.

These first four shots pan the room right to left from the wood storage corner. In the first picture you can see the door into the classroom from the hallway, the sharpening station, clamp rack, our original bench and the chalkboard.

In the second shot, you can see the tool storage corner - shelves, saw board, brace and hand drill board. And of course, the GGTCOD.

The third shot gives a better idea of the main working area with the workbenches. There are three different variations on the basic split top design. They evolved over time based on experience and changing space needs as we moved to a slightly smaller, but more suitable room in year two. The first design, as already stated, is the bench at the front by the chalkboard. The two benches visible on the right in this shot are variation two. They are shorter and the vises are moved outside of the legs which is more useful for most tasks.

In this final shot from this corner, you can see the last two benches, which are variation three. They have the longer tops of the first variety, but the short bases of variation two, which gives them oddly long overhangs. What happened was, I had planned on four more of the shorter benches, but it became evident that it would just be too tight - but not before we had already built the shorter bases. So, in order to have enough work stations for all the students, we went back to longer tops and just made do with the existing bases. Some day we will change out the stretchers and make the benches less awkward.

And now three shots from a front corner of the shop - mostly the same stuff, just different perspectives. Here's the front of the room again:

And across the benches to the old Stanley Tool Guide on the wall:

Here you get a first look at wood storage, scrap bins, project storage shelves, and the saw bench. This is a slightly modified version of my saw bench from my own shop. It's a little lower, to better suit the students, and made from 2x8s rather than 2x6 stock to be more stable. You can also see the door to the outside, which is one of the features of the new room that really make it work well. The other is the concrete slab floor - no more bouncing!

A shot from along the bank of southwest facing windows, which give great raking light to compensate for the overhead florescenct lights.

Another shot of the benches, version two on the left, and three on the right. The bench on the right doesn't have its end cover on the stretcher shelf yet, which allows you to see how it was designed. The stretchers are "L" shaped with vertical 2x6s and horizontal 2x4s glued and screwed together. The spacing between stretchers is such that cement pavers fit nicely across to give some extra weight. The inside edges of the 2x6s are rabbeted to accept 2x4 slats which hide the pavers and create the shelf. The trestle ends of the base are 2x4 laminated legs with 2x4 stretchers - the bottom M&T and the top bridal joints. The leveler feet are the Mark II design I posted about here - simple and effective.

Another look at version two:

And version three:

Here's a better shot of the cool old dovetailed chest from Germany that I picked up to hid stuff in that I don't feel like looking at on a daily basis. It's been lurking in the background in several pictures and I thought it deserved it's own photo. Well, really I should give it a full post, but that will have to wait...

And finally, a closer look at the most troublesome part of the shop. It's not looking so bad now, but I had just spent about 30 minutes cleaning it up. The big can is for plane shavings, well at least the ones that make it in there. The students usually take the really cool ones with them.

Well, I guess that's it. It sure makes me happy - I hope you enjoyed seeing it!


  1. Congrats! Wonderful space for teaching and learning... As you often say, every school should have one of this rooms! What is in the GGTCOD? That you did not mentioned it makes it more intriguing and so do the big locks!

    1. Charliez - Thanks! If you click on the GGTCOD link it will take you to a post that talks about it a bit. You'll have to read the comments to find the "OD" explaination, which is a bit of an inside joke, since I tend to add that to just about everything I name.

  2. Dan,
    You have given me serious shop envy. The shop I am inheriting is the exact opposite--Dark, dusty, shop-worn benches, disorganized tool storage and debris everywhere. The good news is I get create a place similar to yours in the next month.

    Truly, thanks for the inspiration and blueprint.

    1. Steve - Sorry about that! I'm glad you're going to have fun working on your shop too. You're welcome - sorry it took so long to post...

  3. GGTCOD is a link, click on it. :-)

  4. Dan, Hope your having a great summer. I'm going to forward this link to the handwork teacher and school administrator and show what vision and inspiration can do. Beautiful job. Dohnn

    1. Dohnn - Thanks! And yes, administrative support is key - and some funding too of course. But really, the total amount invested is far less than may be expected. We had some support from local businesses on the wood, I spent a lot of time on eBay, and brought in some of my own tools as well. The two biggest investments were the carving gouges and the vises. As far as the vises go, there are many shop-built alternatives that I am sure you are aware of.

      Thanks for posting - hope to see you sometime soon - I was sorry to miss the last workshop.

  5. I am pretty excited that this kind of experience is being given to kids today.

  6. Wait, so it took you AND a shop full of kids to get this in order? *whew* now I don't feel so badly about how far along my shop isn't. ;)

    Concrete slab? You should definitely look into getting something for the kids to stand on around their benches. No use teaching them the bad habit of standing on concrete while working!

    I used the interlocking foam mats in my old shop. The new one doesn't have much in it yet, but it does have cork floors (installed like engineered hardwood click-in flooring) over a cork sub. Not saggy by any means, but not at all a bother to stand on for hours at a time!

    If you have a local farm store nearby, might want to look into picking up 8 horse stall mats (usually about 3' x 6' or so - perfect for one side of a bench). They'll last forever (unless you're kids have shod feet) and their future podiatrists will thank you.

    Awesome shop, by the way, Dan. Sad to say your area of hand tools for an entire class looks to be about the same number of tools I have... for just me. Slowly purging through them, though.

    How are you hanging the eggbeater drills, by the way?

  7. Ethan, Allow me to answer on Dan's behalf, what's a brother for? He hangs the eggbeaters by an eyebolt in the chuck. Once you know that, you can see it in the picture if you look closely. Clever guy, my brother.

  8. Drilling and tapping a hole in the chuck for an eyebolt just to hang my eggbeater drills sounds like a lot of work, but I'll give it a shot.

    (I keed, I keed... :) Thanks for the info, Josh)

  9. Hi! :) Is woodworking compulsory subject? Do all the kids have it at school?

    Saara, Finland

    1. Saara - In our school, woodworking is part of the curriculum for grades 5-8. Lower grades do some projects, but the upper grades have scheduled shop time twice a week.


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