My Very First Shop and Why It’s Important

A lot has happened in 2018. My family life leveled up and so did my shop. And as the year comes to an end it’s only fitting to do yet another shop tour of my current shop. I’ll cover that next week most likely. This week I wanted to hit the pause button and go back to where it all began. So many people like to complain about bad situations for their hobby or let small circumstances get in the way of them doing what they want to do. Or not having this tool or that setup to get the job done. The truth is that we all start somewhere and the beginning rarely smells like roses. This article will cover the first space that I was able to call “my shop.”

Before I talk about my first shop I want to give a little context of how it came to be. For years I was a back seat subliminal sponge to the debt free teachings of Dave Ramsey. “Where debt is dumb, cash is king, and the paid-off home mortgage has taken the place of the BMW as the status symbol of choice.” Over…and over…and over…and over I had to listen to Dave while being a kid stuck in the back seat. When I was 18 years old my mom started charging me rent. Wasting money on rent? As an 18 year old I thought it was crazy. It’s a never ending payment. A bad investment! So I got a job and saved up as much money as I could. I bought an acre of land and found an old house trailer that was in such bad shape that the owner said if I move it I could have it. I did the necessary work to put borrowed axles and tires under it, removed all the blocks and tie downs, and paid a moving company $440 to move it onto my property. It was a 2 bedroom one bath single wide piece of junk that was dropped off in the middle of my property with the tongue sitting on a stack of cinder blocks. My uncle and I positioned it on my property with my grandfathers old beast of a pickup truck. At 19 years old I was a land owner, owned the leaky roof over my head, had two junky vehicles and was 100% debt free. The life of a king :)

There’s a catch to the “roof over my head” statement. The trailer was (and still is) in horrible shape. If I lived in the city limits it would probably be condemned. When the moving company moved it a 6′ wide section of the exterior wall tin flew off. It was on the back of the trailer in the master bedroom. Just 2×3 wall studs and the open air outside. I never fixed it. At the time I didn’t really know how to and honestly did not care. I put a tarp over that missing wall section and another tarp over the back side missing windows in the living room. I lived in that trailer for six years listening to the tarps flap around every time it got windy. The tarps were on the back side of the trailer which was pushed up against a tree line. They never received sunlight and held up quite well. The master bedroom was used for miscellaneous storage. And the living room was gutted on the inside before I got it. 100% of the floor in the entire trailer was spongy and falling in from all of the roof leaks. I spent a little more than $700 to cover the entire floor with 3/4” CDX plywood, patched the roof leaks as necessary, and heated and cooled the small bedroom and the bathroom. Everything else was was left unimproved. I was a bachelor, debt free, only had an electric and car insurance bill every month, had a low paying job making more money than I was spending, and nobody could take it away from me.

I looked for any pictures of the trailer and this is the only one I could find. Sometime in 2013 I used Photoshop to put my old logo on it. I think this photo is originally from 2010. There she is. Home sweet home.

Inside the living room used to be a pool table. I had a 1960’s (I think) 6-1/2′ slate top bar box pool table. It was really tight but allowed me to stay in stroke shooting corner to corner. That’s me on the right and my long time friend Jeremy on the left. You may have seen him in a few recent videos. To this day we still shoot pool and I’ll still give him the last two (I hope you see this, Jeremy hahah)

Shooting pool was my life. I didn’t gamble much because the risk was too much for the amount of money I made but I did play in a lot of tournaments. I got to a point where I was making more money playing in pool tournaments and replacing cue tips and ferrules than I was making at my job.

In 2008 the economy crashed and nobody could afford to play pool anymore in north Mississippi. My hobby no longer provided income so I took an unplanned path. I sold my pool table, cues, and 7×10 mini metal lathe setup for replacing pool cue tips and ferrules and bought woodworking tools. I went to Lowes with around $600 in hand and bought a bunch of Skill brand tools. I came home with a benchtop table saw that scared the crap out of me, a router table that I didn’t understand how to use or why I needed it, a 9” bandsaw that barely cut, and a few other items that I can’t remember. I knew I previously saw variations of all of these tools on The New Yankee Workshop show with Norm so they had to be used for something. I was going to figure it out.

The benchtop table saw was dangerous. It vibrated around so much that I had to put my foot on the lower horizontal member of the flimsy metal stand it came with while making a cut. I had no idea how to use a table saw and did no research on safety but I do recall never standing behind the blade while cutting. Not for safety but rather to prevent the sawdust from being thrown in my face. I remember having the saw setup in the middle of the living room with me facing the end windows and my wife (girlfriend at the time) and step-dad behind me watching a hockey game in the kitchen area with their backs to me. I told them it was going to get loud for a second while I made a cut real quick. I turned on the saw to cut a piece of plywood and without realizing what even happened the small square of plywood kicked back and shot across the room behind me. It didn’t hit me or anyone in the room but I was terrified. I didn’t even know what kickback was at the time. I turned the saw off and asked them if they saw the piece of wood that went flying. They were so immersed in the hockey game that they had no idea what I was talking about. I quickly developed a greater respect for a table saw and researched why that event happened. To this day that is the only time I’ve been scared at a table saw. Live, learn, and proceed more intelligently next time.

The 9” Skill bandsaw didn’t last more than a few days at my place. I returned it because it barely cut anything. At the time I didn’t realize how much of the performance problems were due to the blade. I just thought the saw itself wasn’t good. I returned it and didn’t have another bandsaw until I got the Grizzly G0555LANV in the apartment shop a few years later.

Those Skill brand tools were the start of the woodworking infection for me. I slowly upgraded here and there until I got a pretty decent set of tools to work with. The following images represent the best state of my first shop. Here is my entire first woodworking shop setup in the living room of my first home. The ceiling was sagging, the interior walls stripped, a tarp over the back wall windows, the floor sinking in the back right corner, but the roof kept water out and it had electricity :)

This is my very first miter saw station. I found an old dresser of some kind and put some 6” industrial casters from my grandfathers junkyard on the bottom. The saw on top is an old 10” delta belt driven miter saw. That miter saw was HEAVY but it worked great. I secured a couple elevated platforms on top of the station. The miter saw down below is a lightweight Makita 10” miter saw. I don’t recall how I acquired that one or where it went. The best thing about this miter saw station was the dust collection. When cutting the saw would shoot the dust through the missing window, bounce off the tarp, and fall to the ground outside.

Moving past the miter saw station I had some miscellaneous wall storage and a metal rack for chemicals. One spark and this corner would have probably burned down my entire home. Keeping all of these chemicals open like this wasn’t smart at all.

The end wall of the trailer had a collapsing bay window and a bad floor below. I built a workbench in this corner to stop me from stepping in the weak spots and to store a bunch of crap below. It’s hard to tell but I think I had a shopvac, air compressor, and a few tool boxes below. Plus a few boxes of hardware here and there.

Moving to the right was my radial arm drill press, my “nice” table saw, and a wall mount storage bin system. These windows went to my front yard and for privacy I spray painted them black. It was cheaper than blinds. Disregard the dangerous electrical wires everywhere…

About that drill press.. This was an interesting machine. I don’t recall what brand it was but the head moved forward and backward with the same style mechanism as the table platform. I didn’t have the same standards for tool precision back then as I do now but I do remember it drilling quite nice. The base it came on had a shelf for storage. I built a small rolling base for it and loaded it up with junk.

You can see the base got modified a few times.

This is the best image I have of the best table saw I had in that shop. It was an old Delta Super 10 table saw. The fence was horrible. I used a straight edge against the blade to draw a line on the cast iron surface and then had to measure away from that line on the front and back of the fence and lock the front and back independently. It got the job done but was by far this saw’s weak link. The saw was a huge upgrade from the Skill that I bought brand new and the best part was that I only had a few dollars in fuel invested in it. I won a propane grill at my work’s company picnic and traded it for a Marlin .22 tube fed gun and 40 or so pieces of 1′ x 4′ x 3/4” CDX plywood and then traded the Marlin .22 even for the saw. Even though the saw was old the blade ran smooth and it cut great.

I saw this mobile base design on the internet. It worked rather well. The pipes would force the casters down and locked in the middle. To lower the saw the pipes would be pulled out from the center lock and the casters retracted.

Those are the few pictures I have left of my first woodworking shop. It wasn’t anything special but it was a lot of hard work and sweat that allowed me to really make stuff for the first time. So when I hear that “it must be nice” to have the tools I currently have or “I can’t do this or that because I don’t have this or that” it upsets me. Not because of any negative energy towards me but because people are losing their sense of pride. People are settling for less and complaining more and more about what they don’t have. If you want something then get off your butt and earn it. It’s hard work, everyone’s journey is different, and anyone can do it. And yes, it’s pretty damn nice to look at my shop now and see the results of hard work.

All of the tools in that shop were eventually sold to fund rebuilding the engine in my truck. I had no oil pressure and found out the cam bearings were shot. I couldn’t afford to have it fixed so I sold off everything in the shop to avoid debt and my uncle and I rebuilt the entire lower end of the engine. It wouldn’t be until building the apartment shop 3 or 4 years later that I got back into woodworking. I’ll leave you with the few pictures I have left of projects made in that shop.

111 COMMENTS

  1. Jay, Seeing your journey is very impressive. I know it was not easy street, but you sure deserve all the good that comes to you. I have enjoyed your video sessions greatly and will continue. You have been an inspiration to all of us.
    Many blessings to you and your beautiful family.
    Ray

  2. I’ve been putting off starting a YouTube channel because I don’t have a decent PC to edit video.
    Luckily I have money now. Honestly I could’ve started without it.
    Now I just have to find my GoPro.

    • If you really want to save money buy a used PC/laptop with decent parts and use Linux Mint or Ubuntu or numerous other great distros… Linux has excellent hardware support now and the debian based have some great free video editors that are surprisingly feature laden Actually there is Ubuntu Studio … Google it… if you are unsure or need help/advice look me up on facebook Bryan Patterson or I can get you my E-Mail address

    • One day Josh I’ll get there too. I want the world riddled with my concealment furniture! You of all people I know can appreciate that!

  3. Outstanding Jay! You sir are an inspiration!!! Keep up the great work, good things will continue to come your way!

  4. I’ve seen a lot of shop tours but this one is by far the most interesting and the commentary was an enjoyable read.
    Reminds me of the way I started out tool-wise although I had half of a two car garage shared with my wife’s car.
    The trailer was a real classic proving you can make due with whatever you’ve got. Glad you took so many pictures.
    I i have always been a follower of the work, earn, save, and pay cash for what you want. Much more enjoyable than “owning” things on credit. I have been enjoying your videos since way back when I discovered your trash can cyclone dust collection build and built it for my shop. Keep up the good work!

  5. My first shop was in an apartment house basement. I had to build a used plywood wall to separate it from the laundry room. My first table saw was a circular saw mounted under a sheet of 1/2″ plywood that sat on saw horses. The only good tool was a Craftsman compound radial arm saw that was missing threads on the arbor, so I used spacers to keep the blade tight. I still have faith in the older Craftsman tools. My table saw is a 1950’s ear, my jointer is a 1960’s era, and they both still work great. I want to upgrade both, but when something works, why fix it? I’m slowly upgrading the rest of my shop, I now have a dedicated 20×24 building, with many extension rooms for sandblasting, vinyl plotting, and my homemade CNC machines. It’s been a fun ride. You have one of my mirrors, but now I’m taking the shop on the road to help homeowners “Get that honey-do-list done!” Takes2 is a dream coming true, but the shop will remain for custom cabinetry and other jobs that require the need for it. We are looking at purchasing our own home, and the one I fell in love with has a 24×75 building that will be my new shop. Adding welding, fabrication, and other stuff sucks up a lot of space. :) I’ll post a shop tour video soon.

  6. Truly a rags to riches start-up story here. The come up for you Jay had truly been a rough one for sure. I’ve got a lot of inspiration from you Jay and all the projects I’ve watched you build. I’m starting up just like you with nothing. It’s a long hard journey but it’s worth the ride. I’ve learned a lot from your videos. I think you explain things just right where it’s not too boring and on the overkill side like most do. Keep up the good work and congratulations on the new family and continue to grow.

  7. I still remember some of your first videos. You have come a VERY long way my friend. You have impressed me at every turn, and doing that even once is no small feat. I have watched you grow from a novice into a true Craftsman in every respect. The thing that has impressed me the most is how balanced and humble you have remained. You are a very rare leader, a true gentleman, and one of my personal inspirations.

    You helped keep this old Vet together through some rough times just by reminding me of what was important when life kicked me in the ribs. Your friendship helped me find my feet, and knowing you were watching was a good part of my motivation to stand back up, dust myself off, and go forward again. Thanks for being there and helping me get my head on so I could get my life back.

    Give your wife a big hello from me and a big o’l bear hug from you. Tell her I said thanks for sticking with you all this time. Y’all are one awesome family. I was like a kid at Christmas when I heard about your family addition. The two of you deserve every happiness. Here is wishing You and yours the very best now and always.

    Sincerely,

    Michael S. Olsen

  8. Wow Jay, what an adventure.
    A Radial Arm Drill Press !
    Well I never…

    Amazing Jay. Thanks for the tour.
    Much Respect dude.

  9. I can definitely relate to your beginnings. Why? Well I’m in a sense living it now. I don’t own a run downed trailer but my entire shop is outside under 2 lean- twos that I built, in which are not attached to the property. I am constantly refinishing my surfaces on my major tools because of rust, but so far e how I definitely make it work. I wish I could send you some pictures of it but I swear to you it’s all true and you really don’t know how much you hit home for me. Thanks! I hope others can draw from what you presented here in this post. If you would like I could surely send you some pictures of my current situation so others can see it acn be done you just have to put forth the effort.

  10. Your journey is inspiring and I wish more people would realize the joy that comes from being happy with what you have. I am a new follower of your stuff but I have quickly grown to be more and more interested in your content. Thanks for all your hard work. Keep moving forward!!

  11. At first I wanted laugh. Then seeing inside I see how epic it really was. You have come a long way Jay! To boot, it makes me actually think for the first time, seriously, why didn’t I start my woodworking side business earlier! I’m pretty sure this is the first or second time I’ve commented here. I just want to say what an inspiration you are to the maker community.

  12. You continue to be an inspiration! My journey was much the same, however a completely different path. The key is too “never give up” in the words of Winston Churchill.
    THANK YOU FOR SHARING!
    tOM

  13. Great come up story! I started in a room behind the basement livingroom that was 4 ft deep by 20 ft wide sharing that space with the water heater and sump hole. Basically a utility closet. For our first Christmas together my in laws gave me a cordless drill, and a table saw the next year. I was PROUD of that shop. Now my shop is 1300 sq ft+ and STILL not large enough (hear that before?) ;)

    Keep up the great work Jay!

  14. Outstanding story Jay & a great inspiration for folks to do what they can with what they have. Great advice on staying debt free for as long as possible too. I do enjoy your videos and it is great knowing that you got there from here. Thank you for sharing the back story.

  15. Thank you Jay, for sharing your inspiring adventures in life and woodworking. I really enjoyed reading this and seeing what you started with. I’m currently saving up and then buying my first tools along with clearing a space in the garage to get started on this awesome hobby. Doing it without debt, too!

  16. Jay
    Thanks for all your videos etc. I really enjoyed reading about how you got started. I can kind of relate. I have a workshop (500sq ft) 1/2 my basement.
    Your first workshop was a lot neater than mine. My dad helped me acquire my general table saw, jointer,etc. I recently acquired a lathe 12″ and am having a blast. I first made pens and other little things, and once I joined Hub City Turners, I started turning bowls. Now my table saw sits collecting sawdust, but I will get back to making furniture. My dad was a cabinet maker by trade and when he realized that his boys didn’t want to follow in his footsteps, he very begrudgingly decided that I ( a woman) could also do woodworking. I learned safety from him, thank goodness. I love seeing and watching your videos. Makes me want to get back to building furniture again

  17. You sir have a lot to be proud of, great story. Thanks for sharing. I must say that when I first got into woodworking in the late ‘70s I bought a radial arm saw, some hand tools and a sander. Besides a drill there were not many power tools. As time went on I remember getting grumpy watching the new yankee workshop because he had a special tool for each and every little step along the way on his projects and I was unable to learn much since there was no way I could afford any of those tools. These days watching you and others via YouTube has given me inspiration and a lot of knowledge. I hope I can make some nice things as well as I play in my retirement.

    It’s great to see you so happy!.

    Many thanks for what you do,
    Rick

  18. Jay, my son (11 yrs) and I have been watching your videos for years. He has helped me build your mitersaw station and a lot of your other projects.

    This article was awesome in more than 1 way. I gave him my phone this evening and had him read this article. Of course he was excited because you did it. Afterward, we discussed it. When asked what he learned, he said “dad, there were so many things in there”. He talked about dealing with what you have, and then he blew me away by relating it back to school, athletics, and karate and some areas he’s been struggling with in those. He talked about not overspending and about something he’s been saving up for. He also talked about having pride in your name and what you do, which is something I push a lot with my kids.

    I am extremely blessed to have him and I wanted to share this and let you know that you have already been a big inspiration for him as well. Amazing how you can touch people’s lives that you have never met. This article provided a great discussion area for us and as my boy said, provided many lessons that I think a lot of kids, and adults, can learn from. Thank you for putting this out as it’s so important to know where we come from and all the lessons we have learned.

    Merry Christmas from Lubbock, TX!

  19. Great narrative & history. First, Ramsey won’t lead you wrong and didn’t. Wish I’d learned those lessons at the age you did. Second, your description of your early miter saw “dust collection” gave me a great laugh and, at the same time I’m thinking, “Yeah, that totally works!”. Thanks for sharing your history.

  20. Thank you, Jay I have learned a lot from your videos my first project was the benches and side table made out 2×4’s I made several for my family, friends and my pastor if you could see their happiness reflected on their eyes.
    Thank you sr. May God bless you and your family, sincerely Ruben.

  21. That’s great and very inspirational. I am fortunate to have the tools that I do in my shop and have been fortunate to have the help of my parents along the way. Yes I would love to have some better tools than what I currently have but what I do have works pretty well. I’ve been wanting to start selling things that I make but haven’t gotten that far yet really even though I have been doing woodworking for over 8 years now. It was initially just a hobby but I love doing it and the few things I have sold I got great pride out of when people have said no you couldn’t have made this now honestly where did you get and to see their faces drop when I tell them that I really made it. Anyway thanks for the story, very inspirational.

  22. Jay, this is SO encouraging! Thanks for taking the time to share this. Like so many others, I’m in a super small storage room doing my projects. This makes me want to do more than ever before. Keep up the great work!

    David

  23. Jay, I have been following you for several years, I’m not sure how long, but you were still in the apartment when I started. You have come a long way since that first trailer/shop. You have been a huge inspiration to me and without knowing it helped me design my own shop. Thank you for sharing this, I’m sure you are overwhelmed by the comments. Keep up the good work, I cant imagine where you will b!e in another 10 years!

  24. Thank you for sharing your story. It was inspiring and I agree with you, nothing in life is free. The harder you work, the more you appreciate whatever you gain. Be it skills, knowledge, money, love, happiness. Continue working hard and being positive.

  25. Your journey is a great story. I started up with woodworking as a hobby after I returned from a deployment 2 years ago. I been following your youtube channel and site since that deployment. Making a few things here and there. Your story is inspiring to me. I’m on a cutting board craze right now. It is so gratifying to turn nothing into something beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  26. Jay, thanks for the perspective. As a new woodworker it can be pretty discouraging to see all the folks whose videos I follow start making everything on CNC machines, while I’m still trying to properly and safely use a router and table saw. This was a good reminder about enjoying the process and making do with what you have as best you can.

  27. I can only endorse the previous posts and say thank you for sharing your expertise and knowledge. Happy trails.

  28. Jay,
    I hope you thanked your mother for making you the man you are today instead of enabling you by letting you live rent free.

  29. That’s incredible. Great story, and accomplishments. Hard work trumps everything else. You should be proud.

  30. you made some nice peaces,with inferior tools it is mainly the person making things and not the tool value, look at the ancestors they only had a sawblade some string and a chisel

  31. Jay I have been watching you since the apartment shop. You’ve always been a great inspiration. Thank you for all your content.

  32. Jay, I have great respect for you, everything that you touched turned to gold by your own hand. A wise man once told me that there are two measures of a man, the first is what a man can make with his own two hands, as in the end when the chips are down, that may be all that he has. The second measure is that with your talents, how many lives you have reached in a positive way. I can rightly say that in the beginning about 5 years ago, watching your videos convinced me to start my shop. So with that said, because of you, as long as I have a piece of scrap wood in the shop, I will be able to build something that I need.
    Thanks
    Dave Ramirez

  33. Jay,
    Thank you for sharing your experiences from your humble past, I really enjoyed the stories from your trailer past.
    I think the lessons for the younger viewers to learn is” do what you can with what you have on hand instead of complaining about what you don’t have.”
    keep up the nice work my friend and enjoy the family.
    Jim

  34. Jay,
    Inspiring life story. Thanks for sharing it with us. Hard work and perseverance! It will put the fire into everyone who reads it, that yeah he can do it I can too.
    I am recovering from kidney, heart cancer and following up with chemo. I have been able to work much. When I feel good, I have been building your miter station with my son. When I don’t feel well am surfing your channel for inspiration. Man this was real treat reading about your story .Thanks and keep up the great work.
    Kelly Leffingwell

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