No more hide glue in my armpits
And other benefits to shop heating and cooling
Working at Fine Woodworking obviously has its perks. Awesome colleagues, amazing authors, and an unreal shop. But it wasn’t till I began working on an article in issue #265, “Heating and Cooling Your Shop,” that I realized one of the biggest benefits of our unreal shop: climate control.
For the article, I researched HVAC options available to both existing structures and new construction. Some woodworking pros weighed in with their experiences, recounting the ways they’ve tried to keep their shops comfortable enough to work in. Around this time is when it hit me: Climate control in the shop is a game changer.
For years prior, my work spaces had nothing approaching HVAC, unless you count the drafty doors and walls. So I adapted my practices—sharpening with oilstones, for instance. While it’s easy to dismiss these as relics of Ye Olde Workers of Wood*, they’re practical as all get-out for someone dealing with the seasons, particularly winter, of the northeastern U.S. For one, I don’t have to worry about forgetting to bring them in, risking them fracturing as the temperature drops below freezing. Plus, I’ll trade the relative slowness of oil for the icicles of water any day; speedy sharpness is no consolation for having wet finger tips in cold temperatures.
Using metal tools in the winter is no fun either. Metal gets wicked cold, and handling it when it’s frigid hurts right to your bones. All of a sudden, my chisels, gouges, planes, and squares become bitter enemies.
The high heat of summer’s only marginally better. Tank tops work fine and all, but sweating all over your piece isn’t exactly a best practice. Plus, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to wash hide glue out of my armpit hair because a panel glue-up, as always, was more than I’d bargained for. (It’s three. Three times.)
All this just gave me excuses to not be in the shop. Sure, staying inside and trawling eBay for old tools is fun, but it’s no carving, joinery, or heck, even sharpening. Plus, justifying a tool purchase becomes much harder when you haven’t actually worked wood for awhile.
So what’s a woodworker to do? My upcoming article dives into two choices, mini-splits and PTACs, for keeping the temperature and conditions in your shop seasonable. Both are ductless HVAC systems, albeit at divergent price points and different levels of efficiency, especially in the cold.
When I pop into the shop now, I do it all in relative comfort. The climate control is an astounding luxury and privilege—especially considering it’s in a dang shop—but that fact isn’t wasted on me. I never thought I’d say this, but add not having armpits that smell like adhesive made from dead animal to why I’m one lucky duck.
*Please don’t read this as mockery. I love every one of ye olde woodworkers, from your pitsaws to your matched T&G planes.