When I read David Cockey’s article about chart holders, I knew I needed to make one for myself because I use paper charts exclusively—they can indeed be awkward to handle—and I also enjoy woodworking projects. Unfortunately, spending time in my shop can be a mixed blessing. The tools and supplies I’ve accumulated since I began building boats in 1978 have overwhelmed the one-car-garage workshop they now occupy.
While there is a place for everything in my shop, there just isn’t enough space. The stocks of wood and metal I have leaning up against the walls and the tools piled on shelves are as unstable as mountain talus slopes. “Debris piles up to a characteristic angle of repose,” notes Encyclopedia Britannica, and “when new debris is added to the slope, thereby locally increasing the angle, the slope adjusts by movement of the debris to reestablish the angle.” It’s not uncommon while I’m working at the bench to hear something fall on the opposite side of the shop: an angle grinder, for example, sitting on a shelf 10′ away from me, spontaneously rolled off, dropped onto a box of soldering equipment sticking out from the shelf below it, and took it to the floor with itself, breaking one of the firebricks that was in the box.
More often, when I drop things I can’t find them (especially if they’re smaller than a half-dollar). The floor is speckled with drips and trails of paint, amber-like globules of epoxy, and wayward screws, nails, and staples. The Jackson Pollock–like pattern is as good at hiding dropped hardware and drill bits as Mossy Oak camo clothing is at concealing hunters. The back third of my workbench is devoted to storage for knives, tape, pencils, drill bits—and the rest of it (along with the table saw and jointer) can get so cluttered during a project that when I put a hammer down and turn my back it’s as good as gone.
Working in my shop is a bit like delving into the I Spy books I enjoyed with my kids when they were very young. On each page of the books is a photograph of dozens of miscellaneous scattered objects with a rhyme that names items to find: “I spy a lion and eight other cats, a shell from the ocean, a fish who wears hats.” In my shop it’s: “I’ve misplaced my chuck key, a stainless-steel screw, two ball-peen hammers, and the cap for the glue.” There’s a satisfaction in finding things, but nothing in an I Spy book is burdened with the annoyance of having lost the hidden objects in the first place.
I’ve worked in tidy woodworking shops, so I know such places exist. I’ve had woodworking jobs in two Smithsonian Institution museums making displays and at Seattle’s Dusty Strings building hammered dulcimers. The floors in those shops were always swept clean, and every tool and every unused clamp was put back where it belonged after use so others would be able to lay hands on them. I don’t know why it has to be so different in my own shop. I like to think that more space would make a difference, but the shop once occupied most of my home’s basement and it was every bit as cluttered.
Now that my kids are on their own, I plan to move to a smaller home that has a big, detached garage where I can spread out. I can imagine having all my tools and supplies as neatly arranged as they would be in a Smithsonian workshop. I might set it up that way, but I worry that Shakespeare is right that “what’s past is prologue.” A character flaw would seem to be at the root of my disarray, but I finished the chart holder losing only a cabinet scraper (and not my temper) and I think it came out okay.
For fans of the I Spy books, here are lists (with my apologies, not set to rhyme) of items in the photographs here (click on the photos for a larger, sharper view). All of the objects included appeared in articles in Small Boats Magazine and are linked to them.