Workshop Shenanigans

Shop as of 02/10/2013It occurred to me yesterday how fluid my workshop space has been over the years. In part I think this can be attributed to its size. As time passed my needs in the space changed. We have been here for almost 17 years, April 1st is our anniversary here, and in that time the shop has gone through several configurations, each one focused on a different set of job and shop needs.

Sure, a large shop would make things easier, okay, it would be really cool to say “hey, look at my huge workshop…”. I could just shift my attention from one area to another area in the shop that is currently relevant to my needs. In theory this would be great, in practice it would likely mean that large portions of the shop would be underused, collecting clutter and dust. Does this mean I want to stick with a tiny shop? No! What it does mean is I have to take a look at what I “really need” to get the job done. Right now is a period of transition for the shop and for me.

For many years now my work in the shop has mostly been locksmithing stuff, at least from a bench work perspective, otherwise the shop has been primarily a storage area for occasionally used power tools, materials, and consumables. In the past when I had a project I ordered or picked up the materials, gathered up what tools I needed and drug them it to the job. This modus operandi was based on my work being mainly facilities maintenance tasks.

My shop needs are changing again and there are a couple of primary areas I need to consider and accommodate for these changes:

  • Locksmithing – This is one of the last vestiges of maintenance I do on a regular basis. I have some projects I need to finish, but I don’t plan on taking on many more and while I will continue doing lock related stuff as an interest/hobby, it will occupy less of my time professionally.
  • Hand tool restoration, repair, and tuning – Tool repair goes along with the vintage aircraft work as well as basic shop work. It is also something I enjoy a great deal. As for tuning, well, that’s an ongoing process with hand tools, particularly cutting tools.
  • Tool making – Tool making is another a cross-over between hand tools for woodworking and for working on aircraft. There are a lot of tools that are not made any more, or that are inordinately expensive and can be made by the mechanic, needed for vintage aircraft work.
  • Aircraft component overhaul, service, and manufacture – There are many repairs and overhauls that can be done in a smaller space once items are removed from the airframe or engine. These smaller components are mostly confined to light bench work, though some of them require test stands or benches.
  • Small woodworking projects – The smaller projects I have in mind are related to making tools, fixtures, and test stands along with small storage projects for the shop.

All of these can be done in a fairly small shop space like mine, it will be a tight fit and require some creative adaptation to make some things work. Another concern is that I am not sure how long I can work in a space this small while making a living.

There are several parts of my plan that will just need more space:

  • Airframe structural restoration and repair – Yah, there is no way I can get an assembled airframe in the shop and work on it. Even getting small control surfaces in the shop and actually doing anything with them would be a difficult task in this size shop. To do this kind of work I would need at least a 15′ x 25′ (375 ft2) space for a small aircraft. Okay I could squeeze into a 8′ x 20′ (160 ft2) space for a very small airplane but yikes, it would be uncomfortable. This is of course is assuming that the aircraft arrived on site with at least the wings removed, if not the wings and tail surfaces.
  • Aircraft engine restoration and repair – I could get a small engine in the space I have, and it is theoretically possible to actually do some work on an engine in the shop I have, but It would be in no way be convenient. I could however do it in segments using other space on site for major disassembly/assembly, then I could do top-end overhauls one cylinder at a time along with component overhauls in the shop. There would be some significant planning requirements to make this one work though. It would be much better if I had double the shop space from the 9′ x 8′ (72 ft2) I currently have to something around 10′ x 15′ (150 ft2). Bigger would be much better in this case.
  • Cabinetry projects – The cabinetry projects I have in mind are mostly for the shop itself. This would include task specific benches (i.e. a jointing bench for woodwork, an engine bench for engine work, and a basic shop bench for airframe part and component work) along with shelving and cabinets for tools and materials in the shop. Another cabinet task that would go along with tool work is making a couple of test benches, cabinets really, for something like a magneto test bench. Any decent sized shop space for airframe work would allow for this work as well.

As you can see, there is a place for me to start with what I have available and I will. Also apparent is the need to expand my shop space ether here or elsewhere. I could comfortably do a full restoration or replica build in a relatively small space somewhere in the neighborhood of 20′ x 25′ (500 ft2), sure, I would like a bigger space like a 60′ x 50′ (3,000 ft2) hangar, but I am shooting for what I need not what I would like. This size also is dependent on what aircraft I would be working on.

Any way you look at it, change is inevitable. I have a path, foggy though it may be, and I will continue down that path trusting the universe to guide me to the next stage. After I finish A&P school in May and FAA testing in June things will start moving one direction or another. For now its head down and plow ahead.

Until next time, Peace Love and Airplanes.