Friday, March 20, 2020

Shedding the Shed

When I was a boy, my dad built a shop in the back yard. It was about half the size of our house and he built the whole thing himself. He needed it because he was an upholsterer and, over the years, he re-upholstered chairs and couches and refinished cabinets and built all manner of household furnishings. It was a wondrous place that only became more and more wondrous.

By the time I was able to operate the machinery—button maker, band saw, table saw, vice, wood lathe, jig saw, electric sander, et al—there were so many bits of wood and cast-offs stored in there that you could make anything out of stuff you found lying around.

My father was a craftsman and, though he did teach me what I was capable of learning, I never came close to how good he was with wood.

My dad in his workshop.
Still, I tried. After I was married (the first time) we bought a house with a basement and I immediately set up a workshop. While I lived there, I made a number of things—dining room table that folded up into the wall so the kids had the dining room to play in, a toy box for them, cubby holes for their coats and books and boots—but then that time ended, and I spent years moving from rented flat to rented flat and never again had the opportunity to work with wood. Until a few years ago.

My new in-laws had a small shed in their backyard and, after my father-in-law died and it fell to my wife and I to take care of the property for my mother-in-law, I talked her into getting a bigger one. (She likes me, so it was easy to convince her.)

I set the new shed up as a workshop and immediately cast about for things to build.

Working on my first bookcase
In an era where everything is done on-line, it is gratifying to feel wood taking shape under your rasp and sander. I find the smell of sawdust soothing and evocative of my youth and I spent as much time as I could out there. Over the years I built several bookcases, an airing cupboard for our new flat, a tombola, storage units and a variety of other, useful items.

Set of blocks I made for my granddaughter.
I loved being there, especially when it was raining, and I could take a break with a cup of coffee amid the sawdust and wood-shavings and assess whatever project I was working on. There is nothing quite like having your own space to work in.

Except, it wasn’t mine. Last year, my mother-in-law’s dementia got to the point where we could no longer support her, and she was moved into a home. We still went to the house from time to time—to mow and mulch in the back yard and make sure the house was in good order—but I didn’t have the time to spend in my shed like I used to.

Tub Guard to replace the unsightly piece of Masonite that was there. 
Then, we had to sell it. It went on the market last autumn and we exchanged contracts today. We took our last trip to the property this morning, so we could take the final meter readings. We will never go back.

Now, in addition to my shed, this house was the home of my wife from the time she was two until we married, so we both took a moment to say good-bye, and I expect hers was more bittersweet. But knowing I will never again have someplace to build something—anything—out of wood does close a significant chapter in my life.

So, good-bye to my workshop, and to the first home I had in Britain. I hope the new owners love it as much as we did, and find happiness there.

A final look


  1. Do not fear now you no longer have a shed of your own. Look up "Men in Sheds" in Horsham. They meet in their own, rented, premises behind the Drill Hall. Probably not at the moment of course due to 'that which shall not be named'.

    1. Actually, I donated all my tools to Men in Sheds and had a look around their premises. They did say I could join any time I felt a need to build something, so, yeah, great resource. And almost as good as having your own shed.

      By the way: "that which shall not be named" is what I call my old girlfriend. ;)