Monday, May 26, 2008

Live from Studio B

I’ve been thinking about nomenclature. I’ve been thinking about what I call the area where I do my woodworking thing (or at least where all of the tools and equipment live when I am busy surfing the internet or playing Wii Fit and complaining about having no time to do any woodworking.)

Some people call those tool filled places their “SHOP.” However, that seems a little too generic for me because I have more than one shop in my life. All of the car stuff happens in my garage, but it is more of a combination garage/bicycle shop. I’ve said before that somewhere in between my Park Double Arm repair stand and Park TS-3 Master Truing Stand are enough tools to make 90% of the bicycle shops in North America jealous. Do you need to re-tap a bottom bracket? All decent shops can do either English or Italian Threads. However, for some reason I also have a tap for French Threaded bottom brackets, even though I neither work on bikes professionally nor have any French Bicycles. (I never know why I buy every tool I see, whether I’ll ever need it or not).

The non-bicycle part of the garage is pretty well set up for anything I need to do with cars. In the last ten years I have done engine swaps, clutch replacements, Air Locker installations, countless tune-ups, 30 or so brake jobs, 100 oil changes, water pump and radiator replacements, Axle replacements, ring and pinion set-ups, and on and on and on.

Before my wife and I moved to this house, most of the automotive stuff was done at my father-in-law’s shop. Long before I met him he ran a 2000 sq ft body shop behind his house, but he retired and closed his body shop before I ever came on the scene. So in the early days of my marriage, I would commandeer his shop for various automotive projects.

So now to differentiate between his shop, my bike shop, my garage shop, and the area of my plantation where I do welding and metal work, I always refer to my basement area as my WOOD SHOP. I say to Gail, “I’ll be downstairs in the Wood Shop. If the lazy dog should wake up, feel free to convince him to come keep me company.”

I am very happy with the Wood Shop in my basement. However, I will inevitably have to rename that space. Eventually my work will be good enough for me to call my wood shop a “Studio.” It’s a subtle little thing, but it is the key to being a wood artist. Adirondack Chairs are made in Wood Shops by woodworkers. Commissioned furniture projects are done in studios by two types of guys. To the uninitiated, woodshops and studios look a heck of a lot alike. They have identical equipment and tools. The difference between woodshops and studios is the guy doing the work and the deposit slips for his bank account. Today I came up with the official list of criteria required for a woodshop to be called a studio, and here it is:

1) If the woodworker went to art school then it is acceptable to call it a studio. Art School guys are different. A couple of years ago I was a Mechanical Engineer who worked with a bunch of Industrial Designers designing Office Furniture. It was my job to make sure the roll-formed steel and the drawer slides could support the required loads. It was the responsibility of the Industrial Designers to make sure the theme of the company was represented with a passionate design that made one think, “If I have to spend 10 hours a day in a cubicle, this is the work space I want.” Those left handed, beret-wearing guys were studio types.

2) If you are a woodworker who has ever made $1000 profit on a piece then you can call your woodshop a studio. The keyword here is profit. It’s more than selling cherry cabinets for $2000 when you have more than half of that total tied up in materials, overhead, labor, and burden. Woodshops produce items that either generate no income or can sometimes sell for as much as one half of the price of the lumber they use. However, studios are the setting where profitable wooden art projects are created.

Someday my basement woodshop will become my Studio. I am not able to go to art school, so criterion 1 will not happen. However, I have a plan for creating a 4 digit profit on a piece of furniture or a similar woodworking project. I’ll share that plan with you now.

Someday I am going to resaw a walnut plank and find that the bookmatched inner faces form a distinctive picture of Jesus. Then, I will put the resawn slabs on eBay, and send out a press release. Within 24 hours of FoxNews and Headline News doing bits on Jesus in the Walnut, my auction will have bids over $5000. And when the auction ends and the buyer’s PayPal clears, my basement woodshop with the resawing 18” bandsaw will forever be referred to as “My Studio.”

And I’ll get to show pictures to people and say things like, “here is a picture of my Studio. The Unisaw is in the middle, and on the left is my hand crafted maple workbench. If you look closely in the corner you can see my bandsaw where I created my most famous pieces, Jesus in the Walnut, as I was resawing stock one day…”


Ethan said...

Interesting topic, Jeff. I've always thought of my work space as a "studio"... but then I have an art degree, so maybe that's why.

But I'm not sure if you really need an art degree or a single sale over $1000. The difference between "a woodworking piece" and "a woodworking piece of art" (i.e. a workshop vs. a studio) is subjective, but relatively easy to see.

It doesn't generally take me very long after looking at a piece to determine if it was done by a woodworker or if it was done by an artist.

Who pays attention to proportion and who uses whatever thickness board they have laying around?

Who spends the extra time and wood to make sure the grain matches up or is complimentary to the overall look of the piece and who just slaps three boards together and calls it a table top?

Who uses extruded brass hinges and who uses pressed brass hinges?

Who spends as much or more time on their finish as they spent making the piece and who uses a spray can of LAK-UR from WalMart and leaves drip marks on every edge?

That said, I'd certainly love to add your second criteria to my list of reasons for calling my shop a studio.

P.S. I see the asian girls are back!

Anonymous said...

What we call our workspaces is an interesting question - and when. Since I fell into this trap perhaps 18 months ago - knowing I would have very limited time and energy, and 'good sense' limited funding - I decided that I would not call our two car garage my "shop" till a first dovetailed box emerged. So loaded now with hand tools, a wood lathe, a sharp station and a still unfinished lazy-man's workbench... my workspace remains simply a garage. But it's re-designation as a shop crawls slowly forward, if on it's belly... as my acquisitions gradually displace some of the bikes, trikes, skateboards, scooters, many sized balls, helmets, and varied sports equipment and toys remaining years after our now so teen aged daughter's earlier ejection of our family autos out onto the driveway! But soon I'll call it shop... even if now it's still better called "mess"! But studio - by either manner earned - no, never, I'll be shocked and grateful just to get to shop!

ps: I'm glad the Asian girls are back!

Jeff Skiver said...


Thanks for adding a well thought out response. One problem I have with being a Smart#$$ is that when I give genuine is not always seen as being GENUINE appreciation. So let me again state I am very pleased with your response.

Your response highlights true areas of difference between woodworkers and artists who work with wood.

Your points make me think of my own work and ponder how interesting it is that our acceptance criteria changes as we progress in our craft. Today's pride is tomorrow's source of shame.

As far as the issue of what the "market" is willing to pay for art I still need to get around to discussing an amazing wood-carving I recently purchased. I believe I acquired an amazing piece on sale for $8500 off of a list price that should have been about $10,000. I don't want to spoil this eventual blog post, but I feel torn when I get a great deal on art when I know (or at least wish) it should mandate a price 100 times what I pay.

Ethan, thanks again for your response. You did manage to assign some tangible, measurable qualities to my babbling comparison of hobby vs. art.

Jeff Skiver said...

I think we are all glad the "Asian Gilrs" are if everyone would just click the links and actually follow through with marrying one of these "Gilrs", then I would earn a solid $0.45 that I can use on my vacation that starts next week.

I want to reiterate that my best chance of earning $1000 profit on anything I produce is through the random re-saw/Ebay/Jesus trifecta.

However, think about this...the ultimate "coolness" would be to reach the pinnacle of design and craftsmanship and then intentionally play down your success by referring to your studio as a "shop." My brain is visualizing an image of someday becoming the Sam Maloof of the mid 21st Century and then putting on a mask of humility as I say something like, "This is the little hole in the wall Shop where I create the stuff that people want to pay a hundred thousand dollars for..."

Then again, I will likely have more financial success if I just keep resawing Walnut, looking for Jesus...

Ethan said...


Coming from a published author, I'll gladly take that compliment!

You might have to sift through some scary monologue, but I occasionally come up with a good sentence or two here:

Anonymous said...

And I once thought this was a woodworker's blog. Been reading it for a while now and haven't seen much evidence of it.

So long.

Jeff Skiver said...

So long.... are you leaving, too???

Gail and I are busy packing. (We'll be in Ireland the next two weeks). Perhaps we'll see you there??

Wait...surely you don't mean "so long" like this drivel is just not for you?!?!?!?

Is it the Asian Gilrs???? Hey I can't control what Google Ads pop up on the side. Remember they are just there to finance the Methadone treatment my dog needs.

Like you, I am looking for a committed, long term relationship with any Asian Gilrs I bring to the USA. So I realize it is shocking to see these Gilrs who are only interested in dating. However, who are we to want to saddle these Asian Gilrs with the chains of commitment?

Although the Asian Gilrs' inability to commit is disheartening, you can't give up on blogging!!!!! If you do that then the Terrorists Win (and the Asian Gilrs win, too).