Shop Time

From Wayne's Dusty Box of Words
burning time

Lately, I have been thinking about marking time in the workshop.

The Welsh chairmaker John Brown (1935-2009) would light a candle when he started working in his shop each day. It had no electricity, all his chairs were completely hand made, so it functioned somewhat like a clock. Also, according to him, was a reminder of the impermanence of life and to make his time count.

That's a bit too metaphysical for me. Plus, I count it a good day if I get 2 uninterrupted hours in the shop, so it seems a waste of candles aside from the threat of combustion of things I have in my shop that he didn't (which can be broadly classed as VOC).

Several professional and semi-professional woodworkers keep a log in the shop. They note what they worked on that day and how long each thing took. That seemed like a pretty reasonable thing, so I have started to keep one myself.

My reasoning is that I sometimes sell my work and I have only a vague notion of how much time a given project takes. The typical pricing strategy is Time and Materials at some notional shop rate.

Realistically no one would pay a shop rate that you could live on, even if I didn't live in one of the most expensive places to live. So I aim to make it worth my time and pay for some cool new tool or whatever.

So, I would like to have a real number at the end even if it's twice what I think someone would pay. Who knows? Maybe someone would pay that. The only way to know is to have that number.

And even if it's not a work for sale, it's just handy to know where all that time went and how much I got into the shop. Data is not the plural of anecdote, so let's gather data.

I now keep a steno pad next to where I park my phone (at the Bluetooth speaker and the charge cords). This experiment has been going on for 2 weeks so far. I note when I start, and in the end, I list off the things I've worked on and how much time on each.

I typically have 2-5 projects going at once as any one project will hit a wall (waiting for glue to dry or finish to dry or whatever) before my shop time comes to an end. Plus I am distractible as all hell.

What I have learned so far is that the main project I am working on, a small Arts & Crafts piece which I breezily estimated at about 5 hours to build and 3-5 hours to finish is taking at least twice that.

It's not build problems. It's a pretty simple piece. Sure, it's 16 mortise and tenon joints, but they are small. The wood is all small and stable(ish). I am not working from formal plans, I just sketched something up after spending 2 hours online looking at other examples. It's…just more. Of everything.

It's pretty much done. I have two trim pieces to install and I will keep adding coats of oil until I deliver it or I need the finishing table (also known as the table saw) for something else. But, each coat is only like 10-15 min plus drying time (i.e., per day).

I put 2 coats on general stuff. This is enough to lightweight protection from things like glue and beer. Actual furniture gets more like 4 coats. More is better, but my attention span or timeline usually doesn't support more than 4.

And this dumb paper towel holder that's been in the works for years is also nearing completion. That project suffered for no clear idea on how to build what I wanted (or what I really wanted other than a way to keep the roll from getting wet unintentionally).

I seem to be getting better at making shit up out of thin air and this project is finally at the finishing stage even though I'd be embarrassed to admit it took more than 45 min of bench time (more like 3 hours looking at my logs) to create it.

Still, it will be nice, and sturdy, and Jess will love it (it's purple after all). It replaces the absence of one on the kitchen counter after the kids wrecked the one we bought for two much money when we remodeled some years ago.