Shop Tour: Carl Harpster, Building the “Dream Shop”

My Name is Chris and this article is a tribute to my late father and shop teacher, Carl Harpster. He was a Technology Education (“Shop”) Teacher for 33 years. He taught thousands of aspiring young students the basics of woodworking, metalworking, and shop safety, a passion that continued into his ~8 years of retirement. His instruction inspired many woodworkers, engineers, and technologists, including myself. In this article, we will take a brief look at his “dream shop”, which he built along with his “dream house” from the ground up. He did all of the carpentry, electrical, and finishing by himself from 2008-2014, all while battling cancer. Many of the features he considered during his career, while he saved for large machines. He continued to finish the home before focusing on shop improvements and external projects from ~2016 – 2018 when he passed away.

He is my inspiration for woodworking and teaching, and creating projects in the shop are some of my earliest memories. It will be hard to give a shop tour without describing some of the other projects and types of woodworking he has done or the vision for the space that he planned & shared but never achieved. For that reason, I will try to keep all of the factual, shop-tour info in this article, and share some more about him as a man, his projects, and his legacy in other articles on my website. Most of the photos in this article were taken c. Fall 2018 immediately after his passing when the shop was in its most-improved condition.

There are several videos that also go along with this article:

VIDEO: Carl-led tour 2015-2016

VIDEO: Carl-led tour 2016-2017

VIDEO: Reminiscing tour December 2020

I made the diagram above for this article using my shop layout guide, it’s a rough representation of my dad’s layout and space. The next photo is an overview of the interior of his shop space from the front when entering the shop.

The shop is 52’ deep by 23’ Wide, there is an attic above for lumber and household storage. All of the machines have mobile bases and are arranged with their long feed-axis parallel to the long axis of the shop. All the large machines have 16ft of in/outfeed or can be moved slightly to achieve this goal. The main exterior entrance is a set of French doors to allow for material and projects to enter or exit. There is also a stairway to the attic and a door to a garage and house.

His layout is some-what of a “wheel/spoke” concept with a large floor assembly and staging area in the center and two assembly and work-tables near opposite ends of the shop.

He has a bank of cabinets along entire 23-ft width of the rear-wall of the shop for storing tools, parts, material, and hardware inventory. There is also a large backer-board with commonly-used hand tools hung and ready for use.

I will work my way from “front” to “back” describing the features of the layout in that order. All of the large machines in the shop are 220VAC, 3HP Grizzly Brand, he felt they provided a best value for most of his purchases and he enjoyed visiting their local showroom. All Electrical is run from a 100A sub-panel each machine on its own breaker.

Near the front of his shop and entrance, are a computer work area, reference material, and a table with sitting area to share time with friends who stop by. His miter saw is also located near the front of the shop along the interior wall shared with the house.

A small detail I would like to point out is how convenient it is to have both a “trash-scrap” bucket and cutoff bin immediately near the miter saw to prevent cutoffs from piling up.

Adjacent to the miter saw area is a wood furnace with a lumber rack for air-drying lumber. The wood furnace provides both water and air heat to the full house and shop. My father harvested many local trees and had standing relationships with many Pennsylvania Amish sawyers which he would have his trees lumbered. For most projects, he would use air-dried lumber that he would season for periods ranging from several years to a decade before use.

Centrally located in the front half of the shop are a Grizzly (G1023RLW) Cabinet Table Saw and Shaper.

Much of his finished carpentry and cabinetry required long runs of mill-work or heavy shaping cuts. He cut tongue and groove Hemlock to sheathe the exterior of his home and White Pine to panel the interior.

The next photo shows a view of the rear of the shop when entering from the house. You can see his air-compressor cart, milling area and lumber rack along the far wall.

He has a large staging area in the middle of the shop near a milling area.

His planer (G0453PX) and jointer (G0656PX) are located close to the large lumber rack and where long stock is brought in from attic storage. One note that is clearly visible in this image is the dust collection piping coming out of the slab. One advantage to building from the ground up is the ability to plan features below the grade like buried piping.

In the next two photos you can see his large lumber storage made from conduit and 2×6 construction lumber. You can also see a view a view from the opposite wall (near the lumber rack) facing toward the house wall, bandsaw and bathroom.

A shop bathroom is a very nice addition when plumbing allows, this bathroom includes a shower and custom cabinetry and paneling from sentimental local trees cut on my grandparent’s property.

The next five photos show his sanding and shaping area and dust collection. All shaping and power sanding machines are located on one mobile cart. He also has a down-draft table on wheels with about a 30” x 25” work area. His dust collector is housed in the garage for both noise reduction and ease of emptying.

The next several photos detail the rear work and assembly areas. There is a 5’x5’ assembly table with fasteners, kreg accessories, brad nails in drawers at the bench. His drill press occupies a corner near the large workbench. The entire rear wall of the shop has base cabinets and a 23ft long workbench. The cabinets help to organize the myriad of hardware inventory and his tools. He lined much of the wall with painted plywood in order to hang tools for high visibility and ease of retrieval. He continued to improve his organization until his passing in September 2018.

The next image shows a firewood storage and finishing room, located in the rear corner of the shop. The room is solid concrete and flame resistant. He built shelves for finish and brush storage and had a ventilation fan that he would use to finish small projects in the space. Most of his larger projects were finished outdoors or in the adjacent garage.

The last two images show views from the rear of the shop and an unfinished prototype of a chair he was making.

Thank you for taking the time to read and reminisce with me in my dad’s shop. Thank you, Jay for the opportunity to share this with your audience. For those that would like a personal shop tour from my dad, there are two videos linked above. The first we recorded in 2016. The second we recorded in 2017. I also recorded a video to go along with this article if you would like to watch it, in the end of 2020. All of my links to my free shop layout guide, videos and other resources can be found here.

If you would like to read about my own shop layout, please check out the Article I wrote for Jay c. 2019 here.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Chris, what a beautiful and sentimental memorial to your dad. Thank you for inviting us along in your walk down memory lane. You’ve made your dad proud.

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