Aging in the Shop

In last issue’s eZine editorial, Rob reflected on the changes wrought in his woodworking by the fact of having an increasing number of birthdays behind him, and asked what kind of accommodations to aging the rest of you have made in your shops.

The amount of responses we got to that question would create a pile of paper measuring the same number of inches tall as some of you claim to be years old. In other words: it was a lot. Here’s a few of the highlights. – Editor

“Every time I do something that helps with diminished senses or strength, it seems to be something that would have been good all along. Here are a few ideas:
1. Everything has wheels. If it doesn’t come that way, put them on.
2. Some things have big wheels. My old Craftsman 9” saw lives on top of an old hospital gurney with 10” high quality wheels. This allows the saw to go outside or to be repositioned for long stuff. Sawing outside is far better for the health than recycling dust through a bag filter indoors
3. More light is good. Add task lighting anywhere you actually need to see something.
4.  Fight presbyopia! If you can’t focus close in anymore, forget narrow reading glasses, as you are likely to get a chip in the eye over the tops. Get either safety bifocals from industrial supply places, or be sure that you have sturdy, full-coverage ones. Clip on magnifiers  are also easy to use and only a few bucks. Basically, though, never go near a tool, power or hand, without plastic between you and the work.
5.  Lifting heavy sheet goods is easier with one of those handled carriers that are made for the purpose.  No bending. Dragging said heavy stuff, when needed, is easier if you use any kind of a C clamp as a handle to enhance your grip.
6. In the same category,  those recently popular grippy work gloves, the ones that are thin and stretchy , reduce fatigue from gripping tools and shears while they protect from splinters and dirt. I like nitrile rubber for the palm side.
7.  Lifting anything from a cement sack to a table saw can wreck anyone’s back. If you can’t find a friend or a place to hang a hoist, see if an inclined plane can help. A back support belt is helpful, but doesn’t make you any stronger.
8. Change your bench working height, or the height of vises, so that bending over is less necessary. This can reduce your power when using hand tools, but it’s easier on the back, and puts your eyes a little closer to the work.” – Richard Stein

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“Well this May I will be 67, and I am spending more time in the woodshop than in my easy chair watching woodworking videos and TV programs.  Yes, I could use a bit more light in the shop, and after having a triple bypass last year my doctor tells me I should not lift more than 50 pounds. (But what does he know?) I have mounted my thickness planer and band saw on their own rolling mini benches. That way I don’t have to pick them up.” – Richard Beals

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“ I am a busy 74-year-old woodworker. My shop time is still three hours in the morning and three in the afternoon. Because of cement floors, I have cow stall mats on the floor. I do mostly hand work and sit down when I can.” – Tom Goldsmith

“I turned 60 last year and totally relate to your comments on adapting to change. [Some of] the concessions to age have been: Clean – I’m a much tidier woodie now than I ever was if only to be able to find tools because I don’t remember where I put them down. I still climb up the ladder … but now I think afterwards that perhaps I shouldn’t have done it. With each project I think ahead a lot more than I used to.   Is that another way of saying less haste?” – Bob Carter

Some had some thoughts about cost, and what’s worth it. – Editor

“I’m now 71, but refuse to give up woodworking! (Or fishing!)  I don’t buy full sheets of plywood or composite sheets anymore unless I absolutely have to.  It costs more to buy quarter sheets or half sheets, but I can more easily get them onto the car to bring home and more easily move them around in the shop. 2.  I make smaller projects. 3.  If I make a large project, I break the construction into smaller ‘parts’ and then assemble at the end.  These are projects for other people, so they have to agree to come and get it when it’s completed.  Glad I did my own large pieces when I was [much] younger!” – Charles Carney

“I have added a 4×4 under my lathe and workbench or anything that I MIGHT have to bend over a little bit for. If I have something heavy, I call for my son to pick it up. If I drop a dollar on the floor I won’t bend over to pick it up. If I drop 10 dollars on the floor, I’ll fall down & get it. (Man, 10 bucks is 10 bucks. I will figure out a way to get back up. ) Do you know why they call this the GOLDEN age? It takes a lot of gold to keep going!” – Kevin Elswick

Some readers have found specific tools to help. – Editor

“I find that I am moving toward using tools like the Woodpecker StoryStick to duplicate measurements rather than measuring separately when I’m trying to fit a part into a specific opening or duplicating parts. I also have found that using digital measuring tools, in some cases, is easier, since I don’t have to read small lines or marks. It’s sometimes hard to see small lines and bend down to look at the right perspective. I also have to take my glasses off sometimes to see small numbers close up: a new experience for someone who wore glasses all his life so that I could see.” – Randy Heinemann

“Instead of having what some would say would be sufficient lighting, I have what my wife calls overkill. I put enough lighting in my shop so I can see and know that I saw what I thought I saw. No pun was intended!! I have 16 four-foot, four-bulb fluorescents in my 1,012 square foot garage/workshop. My neighbors think I hired God to put the sun in my shop. Okay, maybe it looks more like daylight than real daylight does, but hey, I can see what I am doing and any good woodworker worth his weight in sawdust is going to like a lot of light as well. “ – Dennis Young

“Sometimes, age is an excuse to buy new tools to break things down to size – so I just got a new Makita track saw.” – Ed Fox

“Your prompt for workshop aids/practices for aging Boomers made me stop and think of what I do differently today than a decade ago. First is my footwear. I use only shoes that are Medicare approved for diabetics, even though I am not diabetic, because of the extra cushioning in them. I’ve just completed a new workshop, and it has a concrete floor. I prefer the Velcro® closures for convenience because of frequent trips in and out of the house; they have surprised me at their holding power even as shoes age a bit.” – Dennis DesRoches

“The two biggest things I’ve done in the shop to accommodate my aging body is to get GOOD task lighting, and I bought myself a large magnifying glass.  I stole the magnifying glass idea from my wife — who does needlepoint, knits, sews and various other things that tax your eyes. The magnifying glass is the type that hangs around your neck, there’s a frame that rests on your chest, so it’s hands-free.  It’s been a blessing when doing layouts or trying to see my layout lines.  The only problem is keeping it clean of sawdust.” – Roy Harding

“1. I bought a small panel saw from Safety Speed.  I got their C4 saw, and it has made all the difference in the world for me. It has actually allowed me to keep building kitchens (for my kids) instead of giving that kind of work up.” – John Ahlquist

Of course, not everyone agrees about every detail. – Editor

“I, too, became 59 lately. Standing on the cement floor for several hours is killing me. I need to go in the house and relax on the couch for a while to regain myself.  I do use the pads to help out, but they don’t really help all that much.  Straightening myself out to an upright position is a chore. I guess I need to do yoga or something.  I bought a swivel chair to rest occasionally. It has no back, so it’s only half the solution. I still feel 25, too. But in a 59-year-old body. I do find listening to music (rock & roll — a little Pink Floyd, maybe?) is a complete necessity now while in the shop.” – Steve Greenberg

“I turn off the radio now when I am working on something that needs my full attention…and that is nearly everything nowadays.  I find the noise distracts me in ways it never did before, and that leads to mistakes and mistakes can lead to added expense at best and injury at the worst.” – John Ahlquist

Some had some philosophical thoughts on aging and working in the shop. – Editor

“The next step is trying my hand at woodcarving so if I’m confined to a chair long-term or back in a nursing home, I can keep busy with a block of wood and a couple of knives. (They won’t let me bring a cabinet saw to the nursing home). Just try to do your best and be creative with what you do have.” – Mick Murphy

“My longest term plan was to purchase and have paid off a shop of tools, with the usefulness I want. Over the course of my life, I work at acquiring those skills to use these, so that when the day comes that I retire, I will have what I need to keep occupied and bring some additional enjoyment to young people.” – Mike Hedgecock

“One advantage of age and experience is that we get more and more inquiries. Some of this is because we can do the things others cannot, and some of it is because a lot of our competition has retired, died or just given up (or gave out). I think we work hard, and through the pain because we are finally true masters of our crafts and won’t quit when we are at the top of our game. Why stop when the tools work almost on their own with less and less effort. I think the focus on growing old and losing strength, vision & energy misses a very important point. The only way to acquire the skills and craftsmanship is to spend time with tools in your hands. And spend your life doing it.” – Stephen Ortado

“My birthday was on December 11th [Editor’s Note: the same date as Rob’s – which he never lets his staff forget], and I made 67. I still work in my shop an average of 11 to 12 hours a day and love every second of it. Sure, sometimes I feel a few aches and pains but I won’t let that bother me. We all only live once and it is important to enjoy and savor every moment of it and do what you enjoy. I believe that if a person feels that they are old, then the power of suggestion will make it so.” – Greg Little

And some had some thoughts on aging, and on what Rob should say to his kids who are teasing him about “pushing 60.” – Editor

“I think you look great, and even if you have had to modify some of your activities, I believe you have lots of miles to go. Tell your kids plplplplpl. Tell them that I am 92
and still going!!” – Virgil Armstrong

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