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***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***
Copyright © 2015 James Wesley, Rawles
SETTING UP SHOP
Law of the Workshop: Any tool, when dropped, will roll to the least accessible corner.
One of the first things you’ll need to do as you embark on becoming more prepared is to set up a well-equipped workshop for yourself. Actually, you’ll want to set up multiple workshops with dedicated purposes. Having one big combination shop is an invitation to a conflagration caused by negligence. Having sawdust and scrap wood from your carpentry projects in proximity to your welding bench is foolhardy. As you build up the assortment of tools in your metal and woodworking shops, resist the urge to have any of your tools—other than perhaps measuring and squaring tools—migrate from one shop to the other. Using a wood-working chisel on any sort of metal is sure to ruin it. And it is quite discouraging to see one of your metalworking files gunked up with sap from wood. Keep your tools separate, and insist that your children and teenagers do likewise. If possible, set aside separate shops or at least dedicated corners of a shop building for each purpose.
When designing your workshops, try to err on the side of (A) more closely spaces power outlets, (B) better ventilation, and (C) copious lighting.
Keep safety in mind when designing and operating your shop. Keep power cords out of the way and minimize other hazards that might cause anyone to trip or slip. Use common sense when designing your shelving arrangement: Stow the heaviest objects at waist level (so you don’t have to bend your back when lifting them), stow the moderately heavy objects down low, and stow the light objects up high. And of course keep anything flammable away from sources of ignition. Oily rags should be stored in a special fire-resistant bucket (such as a Justrite model 9100) that is positioned well away from walls or benches.
One good mental exercise is to try to picture a spunky, unrestrained, and curious yearling bull that has been set loose to go crashing around in your workshop. That gives you a rough approximation of the trouble that people (especially kids) can get themselves into. You will want all of your sharp tools secured, nothing to trip over, no hazardous protuberances (particularly at eye level), and nothing flammable in places of risk.
There are five items that you need to keep close at hand at all times:
• A rack of eye goggles and safety glasses (a couple of pairs of each so you have absolutely no excuse for not wearing them)
• A first aid kit with tourniquet
• An emergency eye-wash bottle
• An ABC fire extinguisher
• Communications gear in case of an accident or emergency
Buy sets of these for each of your workshops and position them where they are in prominent view and within easy reach.
I’m often asked about the ideal height for a workbench. That varies, depending on your own height. Most bench tops are between thirty-two and thirty-eight inches. The ideal height for a carpentry bench is palm height, just where your palms rest on the surface if you stand up straight and leave your arms hanging at your sides. I generally like woodworking and painting benches right at palm height, metalworking benches lower than palm height, and electronics and reloading benches higher than palm height—perhaps as high as forty-four inches. Of course, sometimes you will be sitting in an adjustable-height stool at the latter two benches. Find what’s comfortable for you.
Before building (or buying) your shop benches, you might want to experiment with your existing kitchen countertops to see what height works best for you. Be sure to build your benches quite sturdy, solidly on all four legs, and with the bench top dead level. If the top is not level, then everything that you build on it will be, as I call it, Pelosi.
When building carpentry benches, I intentionally build them three-quarters of an inch low, and then install a sacrificial piece of three-quarter-inch interior plywood on top, attached with a few very deeply countersunk screws. This top sheet of plywood gets replaced once every few years after inevitably getting nicked, furrowed, and gouged.
Some carpenters build a separate bench for planing, sanding, and painting that is considerably lower than their other benches. By placing the work surface of this bench at around twenty-eight inches, you will gain more leverage for planing and a more complete perspective on your projects.
If you plan to use rubber shop mats (to reduce fatigue and to provide a nonslip surface), then you will need to include that thickness in your calculation for your workbench heights.
Your sawhorses should all be made the exact same height as your workbench so that they can support long pieces and hold them horizontal. Your table saw height should also be adjusted to match. If you are quite tall, then you may find that this height is beyond the range of travel for your table saw’s legs. If so, you can fabricate long inlet wooden blocks to act as boosters for each side.
Wood vises should be installed so that their tops don’t protrude above the bench height. That way, they won’t interfere when you are working with oversize pieces on your bench top. Metal vises are of course expected to sit considerably higher, but for the greatest versatility, attach them with oversize wing nuts, so that they can be repositioned quickly if need be. For some years, I simply attached my machinist’s vise with a pair of extra-large C-clamps. But this only suffices for very light work.
VISES: YOUR GO-TO TOOLS
A swiveling machinist’s vise will be one of your shop’s most often used and most versatile tools. It is the centerpiece of most workshops, for good reason. It is your go-to tool for umpteen projects. Most of the mass-produced workshop vises made since the 1940s have a coaxial pair of pipe-gripping jaws below the main (flat) jaws. The better-quality vises have removable upper and lower jaw blocks. This design allows you to replace a damaged block. It also lets you fabricate spare jaw blocks of brass, plastic, or wood so that you can work with delicate surface items that would otherwise be marred by steel jaws. Most machinist vises are now made in China, but some of the Wilton brand and Yost brand vises are still American made. Check carefully for the country of origin before ordering, at their respective Web pages (Wilton: snipurl.com/27lz8g3; Yost: snipurl.com/27lz8o5).
A machinist’s vise typically also includes an anvil surface for light metalworking, but it is no substitute for a proper heavy-duty blacksmithing anvil.
I also recommend buying a miniature vise, commonly called a “fly-tying” vise. These are handy for detail work, such as when soldering electronic components. There are several brands of mini-vises still made in the USA, such as Atlas and Apex (Wolff Industries), Dyna-King, and Griffin Enterprises. These are usually attached to a workbench with a C-clamp, but some use a lever-actuated suction cup.
For blacksmithing and welding, a different style of vise is used. Instead of a precise jaw screw thread—with many turns required to move the jaws two inches—a blacksmithing vise has a quick throw lever, which is useful because time is of the essence when working heated steel. This sort of vise also has a leg that goes to the floor to absorb the shock of the hammer blows (without this feature there would eventually be damage to the screw threads).
THE HOT SHOP
Your “hot shop” can combine most of your high-temperature processes: a steel welding table and sundry apparatus, brass and aluminum casting equipment, pottery kiln, glassworking torch, and so forth. Needless to say, this shop should be physically distanced from all the sawdust generated by your woodshop. If both of these workshops must be in the same combination shop building, then they should be located at opposite ends of the building.
Your flammables (bulk fuel, paint, solvents, and reloading powder) should be stored in a completely separate, free-standing building. In my experience the best approach is to establish a small locking continental express (CONEX) steel multimode shipping container dedicated to storing flammables. (CONEXes are the ubiquitous ribbed metal shipping containers that you see carried on many 18-wheel trucks.) The dedicated petroleum/oil/lubricants (POL) CONEX has long been standard for military units, and for good reason. In the civilian world, these are often called “paint sheds.” It is best to leave no more than one cylinder of each type of gas for your cutting torches, one bar of oxidizer (such as Solidox), and one cylinder of propane in your metal shop. All of the spares should be stored in your POL building. This shed or CONEX should be situated in an open area that is clear of grass and brush so that even if it were fully engulfed in flames it would not endanger any other structures, wood fences, or timber. The same CONEX or shed should be used to store nearly all of your surplus oil, grease, gas cans, diesel cans, transmission fluid, hydraulic fluid, spray lubricants, and so forth.
Speaking of lubricants, one of my favorites is a brand called Break-Free CLP. We buy a couple of pints at a time for use here at the Rawles Ranch.
To be prepared for a worst-case situation wherein you may have to live self-sufficiently for months or even years, you will need to accumulate stockpiles of lumber, plywood, scrap steel, plumbing pipe, wire mesh, sheet plastic (opaque and clear), glass, lead, casting sand, leather, nylon webbing, wire, and many other supplies. All of this must be kept out of the elements for longevity, and out from underfoot for safety. Furthermore, it has to be well organized, so that you can immediately see what you have available.
Planning your stockpiles requires common sense. Just think through what you might need, given a paucity of outside resources and the potential for a lot of houseguests for an extended period of time. Plan on lots of aunts, uncles, and cousins arriving, with little more than the clothes on their back. How would you feed them? How would you house them? How would you provide for their privacy? Think this all through, and you’ll likely come to conclusion that you will need a big stack of plywood!
Since many of your stockpiled materials will only appreciate in value, stockpiling is like putting money in the bank, so buy all you can afford and safely store. You also need to plan ahead to provide the raw materials for self-employment during an extended period of economic dislocation. My key bit of advice: Buy lots of tanned leather hides, sheets of Kydex, and rolls of nylon webbing, because your neighbors are suddenly going to feel the need to have slings and holsters for all their guns. Count on it.
In my book How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It, I describe a variety of situations that could force you to revert to a small-scale, home-based business to survive. Consider those possibilities and think through the tools and materials that you would need to operate such a business.