Back in February 2009, I took several pictures of our shop, with the intention of doing a shop tour. Well, fast forward four years, and that blog entry was still saved as a draft, languishing in the digital abyss. One reason why I never published it was because within a few months, the shop, and the way I used it, had changed. Ever since starting J. Alexander Fine Woodworking, our 12,000 square foot shop has been continuously evolving to meet the needs of two different companies.

My father purchased the building, which use to be a light aircraft manufacturing plant, in 2001. Before moving in, we made scale cut-outs of every machine and laid out work flow, dust collection, material storage, and work stations. We completely overhauled the electrical system, dropping power where it was needed, ran copper piping for a new air system, hung three new dust collection systems designed by Oneida, and built a 12′x12′ paint booth from JBI Systems. Compare to the small cramped shop Shutter Crafts previously operated in, this new shop was down right palatial.

Fast forward to 2008 when I started J. Alexander Fine Woodworking. I originally saw myself as a small, one-man operation, so I set myself up in the corner of the back bay of the shop, in an area that was used as junk storage.

I planned on using many of the tools out in the shop, like the jointer, planer, and table saw, but gluing, parts cutting, and general furniture building would take place back there. It didn’t take to long for me to realize how short sighted my plan was. It was fun and novel to have my own little area for furniture making, but it didn’t make any sense. All the tools I needed were already set-up and waiting for me in the shop, so why duplicate it just so I could have “my own area”? After my first few jobs, I began slowly dismantling the idyllic corner and integrating it into the existing shop, and since then I have kept right on integrating J. Alexander’s operations into our existing one. Original

In 2009, the work flow, layout and assembly tables, storage, hanging racks, and tools were all geared around the production of custom interior shutters. Much of the shop took very little modification to accept the production of custom furniture, but as our custom cabinetry business increased, so did the need for new tools, material storage, building tables, and staging areas, which was a bit more disruptive to the existing layout. The specialized shutter cutting, drilling, and stapling machines are also outside of the picture to the left. There are two assembly tables in the middle foreground, louver-hanging and shutter-staging racks in the middle, and a Safety Speed Cut panel saw for sizing shutters in the back. Outside of the picture to the right, are several shapers and boring machines to process the shutter rails and stiles.

Since Shutter Crafts orders all of its shutter components pre-milled, there is not a huge need for much raw material processing, but the 8″ Powermatic jointer, 15″ Grizzly planer, Rockwell table saw, and stroke sander allowed us to mill whatever was needed. The sanding room can be seen in the background, complete with two Denray downdraft sanding tables, and a Sand-Pro sanding table. The finishing room is off to the left, through the two sliding doors in the back corner.

The paint booth is located in the middle of the finishing room, with shutters entering in through two sliding doors from the sanding room. The shutters are then finished and sent out of the finishing room, through two more sliding doors to the left, into the room where the shutters are prepped for install and loaded. The finishing of shutters was done using pressure pots and oil-based paints, stains, and lacquers.

All the extra paints and stains are stored in a separate room, accessed through the finishing room of course, located at the back of the shop. The “idyllic” work shop I talked about earlier was located in the very back of this picture, in the room with the paint booth exhaust tube. As you can see, the back bay was used as a storage unit/catch-all. My fathers 26′ fifth-wheel is parked directly behind where this picture was taken, and general clutter and overflow project storage filled the rest of the area.

In the next entry, I will show how we have been able to integrate a dozen new tools and an entirely different production line into the existing shop with minimal layout changes or expansion.

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