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The Editors Mailbox

Greatest community shop on the planet?

comments (13) February 22nd, 2012 in blogs

AsaC AsaC, Contributor
thumbs up 98 users recommend

This is the Sun City West Woodworkers Club. In this sunny Arizona community, most peoples second vehicle is a golf cart, whether they play the game or not. What a life!
I was there to work with Art Breese, a retired engineer who loves segmented turning (right after golf).
The shop is massive, with a cavernous machine room.
Folks were hard at work everywhere I looked. No need for a shop at home, and you get to see your woodworking buddies every day!
The bench room is almost as big with acres of work surfaces, and storage cabinets for the most frequent shop users.
But the most popular spot is the meeting table, where guys hang out, muching on goodies from their wives. Coffees on all day. What else do you need?
There is a complete library, with every woodworking magazine, plus new computers for watching videos, surfing the web, using design software, etc.
Need lumber? They buy it in volume and then sell it to members.
To have unlimited access to the shop, members must volunteer just one-half-day a month to man various stations. Walita Mroz was in the tool crib the day I visited.
Everything has its place and is in good working order.
There are lots of clever, helpful touches throughout, like these carpet-covered pass-over platforms on the wide-belt sanders (yeah, thre is more than one!).
This is the Sun City West Woodworkers Club. In this sunny Arizona community, most peoples second vehicle is a golf cart, whether they play the game or not. What a life! - CLICK TO ENLARGE

This is the Sun City West Woodworkers Club. In this sunny Arizona community, most people's second vehicle is a golf cart, whether they play the game or not. What a life!


I visited Mesa, Arizona, last week to judge the annual exhibition of the Arizona Association of Fine Woodworkers, and while I was in the area, I shot an article on segmented turning with Art Breese, one of the show's past exhibitors. That brought me up to Sun City West, a huge active-retirement community about 20 miles northwest of Phoenix, and their amazing 7,000-sq.-ft. woodworking club.

Art had told me it was quite the facility, but I had no idea until I walked in the door, actually until I was allowed in the door by one of the "monitors," one of the 800 club members who volunteer time to man the tool crib, keep the library and computers up to date, hand out lumber, and so on.

I walked into woodworking heaven, with about 20 people working away at rows of tablesaws, miter saws, lathes of all sizes, drill presses, and even three machinists' vertical milling machines! And the massive bench room was home to about 20 other folks that day, either working at rows of benches and work surfaces, or just sitting at a center meeting table and shooting the breeze. 

Woodworking is a solitary pursuit, most times, and this playground offers the best of both worlds, with the lone wolves doing their thing, and others friends just enjoying each others' company.  What I really loved were how the more experienced people were guiding the less-so, and also the overall care and upkeep of the place. When you are retired, I guess you can afford the time to keep everything just as it should be. 

Each person gets a small stack of chips when they sign in, and they use those to check things out, handheld tools, bits and special blades, even machines in high demand, like the lathes. And I saw every person cleaning up every bit of dust they dropped, which wasn't much, considering the state-of-the-art ducting that went to every corner of the shop, with floor-sweep ports everywhere you would want one!

Worst, or best, of all were the baked goods that kept appearing at that center table. I guess the spouses have time on their hands, too. 

At 45, I've only got 10 years to go before they'll let me in!

(If you are seriously considering it, houses in the immaculate Sun City West neighborhoods are surprisingly affordable, at under $200K for a sizable one, and under $100K for a condo. The greater Phoenix area was hit hard by overbuilding and the real estate bubble, so there are deals aplenty.)


posted in: blogs, workshop, shop, community, Arizona, retirement

Comments (13)

Posted: 11:14 am on July 13th

Breenus Breenus writes: Looks like a great facility, well patronized and managed. In Australia a series, some hundreds, of "Mens' Sheds" have been set up in a variety of different places, styles and with different assistance. The sheds are also seen as assistance to isolated retired men and men likely to become depressed.
You could check out the online site about Mens' Sheds here:
All the best, Michael Southern Highlands New South Wales Australia
Posted: 7:14 pm on March 26th

AsaC AsaC writes: I'm not sure if Sun City West takes community equipment donations, but it wouldn't be hard to call them and check. Those other community shops sound great. These are on our radar now, so hopefully we'll visit others as we make our way across the country. As for pics of the members work, I didn't grab many of those, and I don't think the club posts any. Good idea for them, though: Create an online gallery, and maybe an annual sale!
Posted: 12:52 pm on March 23rd

Woodsmithy Woodsmithy writes: Thanks for bringing this to us Asa. As a future snowbird,it would be interesting to hear about other retirement areas with woodworking facilities.
Posted: 5:27 pm on February 28th

Ron_USMC Ron_USMC writes: Very impressive! However, if you find time you may like to visit the Greenville, SC woodworker's guild Their relatively new facility is 25,000 square feet in size with nearly every tool needed for your project. Membership includes unlimited access to the shop (within the 9 am to 9 pm posted hours, except Sunday), mentoring on projects and tool use along with a separate Lathe Instruction room, children's instruction, charity projects area, and an auditorium with seating for approximately 300. All this for $10 a month....
Posted: 6:35 pm on February 27th

woodchip3703 woodchip3703 writes: OK, I have to ask...since an individual woodworker can't have enough clamps, just how many isn't enough for this meca?

Also, as I approach the age of retirement, (and my kids don't have the passion for woodworking), do clubs like this take "equipment donations" from their members?
Posted: 11:45 am on February 27th

dlrooky dlrooky writes: Looks like a really nice shop. If you look around, there are community woodworking organizations all over the country. I would stack ours up against any of them. Check out the Kansas City version: On another note, the author must be from one of the coasts to consider $200k "surprisingly affordable."
Posted: 7:47 pm on February 25th

toolswede toolswede writes: Good to know where to retire in say 25 years...sound like heaven on earth. Maybe I have to sell this in to my wife first...hmm...or NOT.
Posted: 1:21 pm on February 25th

HIGHTOR HIGHTOR writes: $25 !!!!! Amazing! But what funds provided the initial investment in the equipment, building, etc? Surely not $25 memberships. Gosh what a Paradise!

Having retired to Portland, Maine from the west coast, I fear I moved slightly too far to the East!
Posted: 11:03 am on February 25th

MarK39 MarK39 writes: @tallgrasses,

When citizens get together to form clubs such as this to help each other and have fun doing what they like to do most then it is a great thing!

Get the government involved and have them force everyone, including those who don't like this activity and won't use these facilities, to pay for this club and you take away the foundation of what made this project great.

I certainly applaud the people in this community banding together to make a great club for all who wish to enjoy it at their leisure!
Posted: 9:50 am on February 25th

tallgrasses tallgrasses writes: A socialist/ communist club indeed!! People pooling together for a common good. What a crazy idea.
Posted: 9:32 am on February 25th

DrTuna DrTuna writes: What a great place. I can only imagine what it would be like to have access to such a facility. Will you be posting pictures of some of the participants projects?
Posted: 6:11 am on February 25th

Ron Alley Ron Alley writes: This piece absolutely blew me away. I googled Sun City West Woodworking Club and wound up at the Sun City Clubs site. Imagine 32 interest clubs in a single community. The annual dues for the woodworking club? $25!!

The power of collective action is awesome indeed.
Posted: 3:24 pm on February 24th

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