Ah the leathercraft workshop, the centre of our universe..
It doesn’t matter if it’s a converted spare bedroom, the corner of your garage, your basement right next to the dryer, or a shed in your garden. That space is all yours, it’s where dreams are carefully crafted.
But many leatherworker’s are not quite optimising their workspace for best use. ‘But Phil’, you shout, ‘what are the benefits of optimising your workspace?’.
Do you enjoy back pain? How about constantly hunting for tools every 5 mins? Perhaps tight shoulders and a stiff neck are more your cup of tea? If these all sound like a fun time to you, you can stop reading now.
Ok, so like most normal functioning people, you probably want to avoid the above and discover how to organise yourself in a way that promotes healthy posture, less stress and generally you want to have a more fun and relaxing time.
So I’ve come up with 7 not so obvious tips and tricks that you may not find circulating the internet on forums and social media. These are tips based on my own experiences and some that I've taken from other unrelated crafts.
Don't forget to add your favourite workshop tips and hacks in the comments below! Let's share some ideas together.
1. Stand firm on soft ground.
For most people, standing is a much healthier alternative to sitting for hours. With good posture, standing can prevent backache and hip issues associated with excessive sitting.
But standing on hard ground, especially in flat un-supporting shoes, can cause pain in the feet and knees.
To combat this, I recommend a softer surface than concrete, brick, tile or solid wood. If your floor is made up of these hard materials then even a strip of carpet stuck down around your work area can make a drastic difference, however specialist anti-fatigue mats do exist and will most likely offer the best protection.
Another side benefit of having a barrier between your feet and a hard surface is the protection offered to your tools falling to the ground by accident. This also prevents dye, edge paint and oils from fouling your floor too.
To compound these benefits, comfortable shoes offering good arch support will increase the length of time you can stand before fatigue sets in.
A good pair of leather shoes will offer some protection from falling bladed tools such as craft and skiving knives. Sandals and barefoot crafting is not recommended for this reason, but steel toe cap boots may be overkill!
However you choose to work, take the occasional break to move around and stretch.
2. Project Boxes
Now, you probably already know that I teach online courses through video, however you may not know that every course you see has a project box associated with it.
What is a project box you say? Well, it’s a large or medium sized tub that contains all the materials, hardware and semi completed parts (gussets, T slots, handles etc) that I am using within a specific project.
This saves time wasted looking for that brass lock that you could have sworn you left in the top drawer but somehow ended up next to the coffee machine.
The first rule of project boxes, is don’t talk about… no wait, that’s not right! The rule is: if you’re not using it, put it back in the box (which is open and within arms reach of where you’re working). That way it’s either already part of your project, or it’s in the box. Simple.
The tub is usually see-through so that I can quickly identify the contents at a glance, it is also lockable so that the lid doesn’t come off when I take it off the shelf, and I will also write the name of the project on top of the box with marker pen in case the project has been ‘shelved’ for a later date. The project itself doesn’t go in the box, neither do the tools used, just the ingredients needed.
Avoid budget tubs that are prone to crack or shatter if dropped or when the workshop is cold (cheap plastics get brittle). That way a project box can last your entire career in leatherwork without needing to dispose of it.
3. Make Use Of A Smart Speaker
There are many uses for a smart speaker in your workshop other than listening to music, podcasts and asking about the weather.
Smart speakers that make use of voice assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Home, Apple’s Siri and Samsung’s Bixby have many other uses in the workshop.
When paired with smart plugs, you can turn on (and off..) lights, creaser machines, hot foil machines and a whole host of other electronics.
With the above two examples, you can have them switched on and set to a specific temperature, so all you have to say is ‘Alexa, turn on creaser machine’.
So by the time you make your last cut, the machine is ready to use at the right temperature, and you never had to stop what you were doing.
Just be sure to turn your smart plug off after use (you can use your assistant's app remotely if needed).
Another benefit is the ability to ask maths questions. When designing patterns especially, you need to add, subtract, find percentages and even work with ratios (such as the golden ratio). Getting answers from a voice assistant while you still have a pen and ruler in hand, can really speed things up compared to reaching for your calculator and typing it all out.
It’s always good to exercise your mind and work things out for yourself, but if you’re already working on something complex, you may just need all the brain power you can get!
This isn’t so much about convenience or even laziness. Stopping to go and do something, or purposely thinking hard about a problem can take your attention away from what you are working on and ruin your flow.
Smart speakers aren’t for everyone, but you can always make a leather hat and line it with tin foil, that way your assistant can’t get inside your mind and steal all your pattern designs!
4. Work Table Height
Now you may have heard that a table for precision work should be elbow height (assuming you stand) and since leathercraft mostly falls into this category, it’s common to see tables of this height.
However there are a few considerations to think about when setting up your table height. Variables to watch out for are the mat you stand on, the shoes you wear, the thickness of your cutting surface, how far you lean over the table and the big question, were your shoulders relaxed when you measured?
Having a table where the height can be adjustable really helps in this regard. However if you are having a work table made for you, or you are making one for yourself, then it is sometimes advisable to have one that is a little too high so that you can always lay it down into its side and saw off a centimetre or two.
Measure twice, cut once.
5. Prepare Your Work Area The Night Before.
It’s never nice entering your workshop only to realise you are going to have to tidy up all your tools, leather scraps, thread and whatever delights adorn your work area.
In contrast, sitting down to continue a project on a clean clutter free table, with only the immediate tools and materials you need to hand, will make you much more likely to enjoy your craft and you will always be off to a good start.
Mentally, this can be quite profound, so unless you get called away unexpectedly mid stitch, always take a couple minutes at the end of the day to put your tools away, brush the table, and only have what you need ready for tomorrow's continuation.
6. Stop And Give Me 20!
I made up this rule a few years ago as a way to keep my mind clutter free.
Every so often when I am working away, I notice my stress levels rising. Now these days I have the self awareness to notice where this rising anxiety is coming from, and it’s right under my nose!
When we're working it's very hard to stop and put away a tool just as you finish using it. Normally I tell myself that I’ll be using it again in just a few minutes anyway, so best keep it on the table.
This way of thinking usually has my work space so full of tools and materials that my 8’x4’ table gets to the point where I run out of space.
So I created the ‘20 tool put away’ concept. Just when I begin to notice when the table is becoming cluttered, I stop what I’m doing and put away 20 items. Sometimes there aren’t 20 tools to put away, sometimes not everything I put away is a tool.
The concept of making time to tidy up helps to focus your energy back into your work, rather than getting distracted by a growing mess.
7. Pareto’s Law
Some of you may know this as the 80/20 principle. 20% of your social posts bring in 80% of your followers, 20% of your work colleagues create 80% of your headaches, and 20% of your customers bring in 80% of your revenue etc.
With regards to workshop tips, I recommend you select the 20% of your tools that you use for 80% of your work and have them near your work area, ideally in a rack or on a wall within arms reach.
The rest of your tools (the 80% you use only 20% of the time) can go into cupboards or drawers near the table. This reduces clutter, makes your choices simpler and serves to reduce the amount of ‘20 tool put aways’ you need to do!
So there you have my 7 not so obvious tips and tricks that will help you to optimize your workspace. I'd love to hear you're thoughts and if you have any to add, please share below!