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Woodworking in a NYC apartment...

silkwj's picture

Hi Everyone,

I recently moved to New York City for work, but I'm trying to keep my woodworking going as much as I can in my 475 sqft apartment (big for NYC!). I grew up in a house with a very nice shop in the basement, fully loaded with pretty much everything. Now, due to space and noise constraints, I'm trying to go 100% hand tool. I also see it as an opportunity to improve those skills and really get back to the "old ways" of the craft. But I find that it's also very frustrating. Not that I expected to be able to turn out stuff like I did before, but, right now for example, all I need to do is shorten a board by barely 1/16th (granted, with a POS block plane), and it's killing me. I've been reading FWW for years, and have a handful of books (including the 3-edition reference books from Taunton), but sometimes I'm just totally at a loss as to how to keep this hobby alive and enjoyable. So I guess my question is, anyone else out there doing this kind of thing?


salvaged's picture

(post #88039, reply #1 of 22)

Do a search for "shooting board"

Keep at it!

RalphBarker's picture

(post #88039, reply #2 of 22)

It seems to me you have the same problem as others with very confined shop spaces, except that your "shop" is shared with other living functions. That sharing aspect probably means that things like shop cleanup need to be emphasized a bit more. You probably don't want sawdust getting inside your TV, for example.

Otherwise, a bit more ingenuity may be required for your situation, compared to a shop-only space. Your workbench, for example, might double as a low bar on non-woodworking days, with liquid refreshments sharing space with hand tools on the back side.

MikeHennessy's picture

(post #88039, reply #3 of 22)

FWIW, I recall another post similar to yours in the last year or so, so you're not alone. Also, if you do keep this up, you'll find that you will develop hand tool skills that most WWers never bother with and they will serve you well in the future, even if you do eventually get a wonderful modern shop. Once you acquire an assortment of hand tools, and learn to use them well, you will certainly be able to turn out stuff just a good as before. Just with less noise. ;-) I recall a FWW article a couple of years ago (?) about a bunch of guys who each made identical large blockfront secretaries (I think) with shell carvings, etc. One guy built his in a 10'X10' storeroom!

I'm pretty good with all manner of power tools, but none of them give me the satisfaction of using my hand tools. And, nice hand tools will actually make a pretty nice display arranged tastefully on your living room bookshelves. Or build yoursel, and stock, a Studley tool chest to keep in your living space -- guaranteed to be a babe magnet! ;-) IMHO, the main downside is that you'll have to keep after the dust a lot more than someone with a dedicated workshop.

Mike Hennessy
Pittsburgh, PA

Mike Hennessy
Pittsburgh, PA
Everything fits, until you put glue on it.

SteveSchoene's picture

(post #88039, reply #4 of 22)

NYC woodworking can be done.  First schelp out to Brooklyn to see Gramercy Tools (web pages )  and check out a few quality hand tools --a few good planes makes a world of difference.  The key thing for working with hand tools is a solid workbench, even if small.  That and a quiet vacuum (Fein for example) will allow a lot of work to be done with hand planes and saws. 

I did a little when I lived in the city, and I worked with a guy who built William and Mary case goods in his Manhattan apartment.  (Though it was at least a Classic 6 on Park Avenue.) 

Test your finish on scrap, FIRST, or risk having to scrap your finish.

ASK's picture

(post #88039, reply #5 of 22)

This may not be any help but I remember that there was a full woodworking shop available to the public in Cadman Plaza Park in Brooklyn. I couldn't find any information about it but maybe you can.


joinerswork's picture

(post #88039, reply #6 of 22)


I'm guessing it has ever been so.  Back when I was starting out, in our first apartment, my "shop" was a 5' x 10' sunporch (enclosed) off the kitchen.  In that small area, I built a sofa frame,  a high chair, and a drop-leaf coffee table over the course of a year.   Tools were a router, a drill, a jigsaw, and assorted planes and chisels, and other miscellaneous hand tools.  About the same time, a good friend was building windsor chairs in the living room of his apartment.  I doubt that all the shavings and chips ever came out of that shag carpet (this was the 70's)! Surely some were still there when he moved out.  My point is, if you want to do it badly enough, you can do it well enough.


dherzig's picture

(post #88039, reply #7 of 22)

You might want to contact Chris Gouchner. I think that several years back he moved to an apartment in DC while his wife was on assignment there with EPA. He did keep wood working in their apartment.

pft57's picture

(post #88039, reply #8 of 22)

My son moved to Boston and shares an apartment with his friend who is attending the Bennet st school.

They have a work bench in living room of third floor apartment. He has access to shop at school but is working in LR to make items to sell on Bbay.

Also I once took a woodworking course at local HS. Everyone there was enrolled just to be able to use shop as they had none at home.

I often think of forgoing power to do all hand work.

dloc's picture

(post #88039, reply #9 of 22)

Maybe it is time to refine your choice of approach. There is pen or bowl turning, carving – both traditional and chip, green wood construction of chairs, marquetry, etc. My shaving “horse” breaks down so it could fit under a bed or stand in a corner and shavings are a lot easier to corral than saw dust is.

Fotze's picture

(post #88039, reply #10 of 22)

There are many clubs and shops in the greater nyc area that sell or rent space, where you share space with other woodworkers in the same position as you.

flairwoodworks's picture

(post #88039, reply #11 of 22)


My first thought was that my always-too-small shop is almost as big as your appartment.  Two nights ago, at around 9:30, I decided to go down to the shop to work.  Everyone had already gone to bed, so that meant I had to work quietly.  I took this not as a setback, but rather as a challenge.  I used my handplanes extensively as well as hand saws and chisels.  I think that it was more fun and enjoyable than using power tools.  I also felt that I was capable of more precise work.  When handplaning and sawing, it is important to have a good, stable workbench.  I've attached a photo of the project I made in an hour and a half and the tools I used.  I also used a couple clamps.  This was a quick, easy, and fun project.  With more time, a project of much grander scale could be built as long as it can be assembled.

Chris @

 - Success is not the key to happines.  Happiness is the key to success.  If you love what you are doing, you will be successful. - Albert Schweitzer

Chris @

 - Success is not the key to happiness.  Happiness is the key to success.  If you love what you are doing, you will be successful. - Albert Schweitzer

IMG_0348x.jpg75.7 KB
twotowers's picture

(post #88039, reply #12 of 22)

Hi CS;
I set up shop in an extra closet in the Sheppard House Duplex Apartments down on Hudson Street when I was there. Primary power tools were a Circular saw, sander and jig saw. Built a loft bed in one room - about eight feet above the floor, that was nice.
Rest of the stuff was hand tools and a vacuum.

Never compromised, always had a shop. glad I did. I will tell you one of the things that drove me out of my exclusive digs in Manhattan was the fact that the hardware only had nail imported from FRANCE, in very tiny,dusty packets at very high prices. Those French nails helped me to decide to head to Westchester!

silkwj's picture

(post #88039, reply #13 of 22)

Hi all,

Thanks for all the encouragement. I think that's what i needed most; hearing from others in the same situation. I'm going to check out that "Tools for Working Wood" store in Brooklyn (not far from my place actually) the next chance I get, unfortunately they have no weekend hours so it's a bit tricky with a day job...

Thanks again

flairwoodworks's picture

(post #88039, reply #15 of 22)

""Tools for Working Wood" store in Brooklyn (not far from my place actually) the next chance I get, unfortunately they have no weekend hours so it's a bit tricky with a day job..."

I think that may be in your favour, if you get my drift...

Chris @

 - Success is not the key to happines.  Happiness is the key to success.  If you love what you are doing, you will be successful. - Albert Schweitzer

Chris @

 - Success is not the key to happiness.  Happiness is the key to success.  If you love what you are doing, you will be successful. - Albert Schweitzer

GEide's picture

(post #88039, reply #14 of 22)

Hi CS,

Sounds like you've got the right idea sticking with hand tools. In fact, we just published an article today this exact topic, how hand tools help you save space in a small shop: 

(Part of our Tools and Shops issue that's coming out soon.)

Anyway, good luck with your upcoming projects.


roc's picture

(post #88039, reply #16 of 22)


I work with mostly hand tools in a small space. I am lucky to have an attached garage/shop under the living space but am limited with the noise because it is a duplex and my partner goes to bed way earlier than I do.

This book is encouraging and enlightening as to how rich we are in America when it comes to living space and work space. I highly recommend getting a copy.

I am not saying go totally Japanese tools but some of the tools and techniques are applicable and certainly the small, quiet and simple environment that Mr. Odate introduces us to is worth exploring.

I built and use the long and short planing beams that he demonstrates but I found I needed a Klausz cabinet makers bench to be happy cutting western dovetailed drawers.

I would encourage at least one power tool that is fairly quiet and not too dust intensive if you have a vacuum. The bandsaw.

So to answer your question yes some of us have fairly simple shops. I do crave and see the desirability of an eight inch (or 12 inch) jointer and a fifteen inch thickness planer but I don't have room for them and will get by without. (For another year any way) : )

May your stock stay flat and your tools sharp !

Edited 11/20/2008 12:11 am by roc


Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. Abraham Lincoln ( 54° shaves )

hammer1's picture

(post #88039, reply #17 of 22)

Years ago there was an article in FWW about situations like yours. I remember a guy who built a bench that he set up on his staircase. When I lived in Boston, many years ago, I had a pair of saw horses I set up on the sidewalk. When folks saw me working, it led to quite a few jobs. I didn't own any power tools at that time. I did most of my work with a handsaw, square, block plane and a chisel.

Beat it to fit / Paint it to match

Beat it to fit / Paint it to match

AdamCherubini's picture

(post #88039, reply #18 of 22)

"So I guess my question is, anyone else out there doing this kind of thing?"

Yes and I live an hour and a half from you.


JASNYC's picture

Apartment woodshop (post #88039, reply #19 of 22)

I'm renovating our 1400 sq ft apartment in Washington Heights one room at a time, and so far the living room has been the shop. It's about 14' by 18'.  My family is very patient.  We live on the ground floor so getting stuff in and out has been easy, we have no neighbors abutting us ( two sides hallway, two sides street) and the upstairs neighbors don't mind if I work during the day.  So we've been really lucky.

In addition to all of the renovation stuff (plaster, trim, etc.) I'm building most of our furniture.  As the renovation comes to a close (I only have one bedroom, the office and then of course the living room left) I've been looking for space to rent for an actual shop.  This has been next to impossible in this area.  It seems like Brooklyn has its share of wood shops and cooperatives, but there's nothing like that in northern Manhattan, that I've found.


Anyway, you asked.  I don't know if you're still at it here 2 years later, but good luck wherever you are.




cahudson42's picture

Roc has some good (post #88039, reply #20 of 22)

Roc has some good suggestions. I also suggest you check out Odate's book.

Also, if you have not seen it, you might browse:

I would also recommend Fidgen's Book: 'Made by Hand' - for additional great info on using hand tools in a small space. Plus the book has a nice DVD bonus enclosed with it.

I've the same 'no shop' problem here this winter with my small apartment in  Williamstown, MA . My 'mammoth' 12 x16 shop is 100 miles away - but also unheated and uninsulated. Unusable unfortunately.

I am not going hand tools exclusively. My TS-55 track saw has excellent dust collection, and I intend to use it, along with my Bosch jigsaw - though Roc's bandsaw suggestion would sure be better. I also will be using my Bosch 3365 3" electric hand planer (better than the more expensive 1594 - and I do have both) for initial surfacing/jointing - finishing with hand planes (LV BU smoother is great! And my #3 and #5 Woodrivers are not bad, either)

For a bench, I will start with a Festool MFT800, still available on close-out for $306 or so. While ideal for the TS-55, it will not be rigid enough for hand-planing without additional bracing. Alternately, I may make a similar sized small but very heavy simple trestle worktable from 2 x 10 dimensional SPF to sit next to it - and perhaps attach to it.

Good Luck!


fesfoolio's picture

same situation (post #88039, reply #21 of 22)

Yes, I too have a tiny space which is extremely challenging.  I have to set up my mft table and tools and then completely break down each day.  Fortunately, I have festools, so the dust is a minimum and clean up is a breeze.  There's no room for wood, so I have to buy only what I'm going to use immediately.  I dream of a big space, some day, with a table saw,  planer, drill press, lathe, etc.  In the meantime, I'm making hay.  I could see the poosibility of renting a separate space to just do woodwork,but I'd have to be making some money at it, inorder to afford a separate rental.

mrossk's picture

I'm not sure what your budget (post #88039, reply #22 of 22)

I'm not sure what your budget is, but Bridge City Tools has an ingenious "Table Saw" that's hand tools only. I have no personal experience, but by all acounts their stuff is fabulous-