Setting up the work space 12/13/2009 - By Tim Whealton

Tips for setting up shop

Setting up the work space

It is important to do a good job when you design your work space. For most of us it will be how to make the best use of the available space. How many machine and power tools? Where are the power outlets? Exhaust fans? What is the best use of sunlight and artificial light? What is the safest setup for the gunsmith and the customer? Will security be a problem? All of these need to be addressed early because it is easier to change setup before the shop fills up.
Safety is the chief concern. Working on firearms has intrinsic risks that are always present. Just handling firearms presents safety issues. They are dangerous by design and it is all to easy for the gunsmith to become complacent about safety. Think about where customers will stand in relation to the work bench. Many of our work processes are dangerous as well. Volatile chemicals, sharp tools, high speed cutters all produce their own hazards. Keeping customers and friends out of the work area is the most preferable solution but realize that a lot of customers are just dying to go in a gunshop and watch.
You might be able to tell how many years the gunsmith has been at the bench by looking at the lighting. One thing is for sure, you have to see it to fix it and as the years go by it doesnít get easier to see. Around my 40th birthday I had an eye doctor come over to get a gun repaired. After seeing my work lights he said If I would come get glasses I would save enough on my light bill to pay for them. He was right! Just make sure your lighting is ample. Remember, your work may be done at the work bench but it will be inspected in bright daylight!
Ventilation will be needed for a lot of the work processes that happen in the gunshop. Blueing tanks are not the only thing giving off fumes. Grinders, buffers, torches and even machine tools like the mill and lathe produce smoke and fumes that need to be removed.
Security with be a constant concern both while the shop is open and when you are away. Burglar alarms help but if the location is remote they donít stop the crash and grab. A combination of safes, secure doors and windows backed up by an alarm system that makes automatic notification to police should be the minimum. It helps to have a few police friends to stop by and point out the probable points of entry for burglary. Most of these guys have seen enough breakins that they can quickly point out something you have missed. Donít ever forget that the possibility for armed robbery is always there for gunshops.
Most likely your first shop will be small and only equipped with a few basic tools but as times goes on the small shop has a way of growing. Plan ahead and allow room for expansion if possible. Donít sell the small shop short. An amazing amount of gun work can be preformed and good income realized with hand tools but there are other forces at work in your customers mind. Men seem to feel better about leaving their gun with a man that has big tools. Even if the job to be performed will be done with hand tools they like to see a lathe and milling machine in the background. Maybe its just a man thing but it is real and might be worth the trouble of moving in a old machine you could pick up for a song. Even better if you learn how to use it!
The center of attention in any shop is the workbench. No need to describe the perfect workbench because it is a personal thing. Everybody agrees it should be sturdy with common tools within easy reach. A good bench vise with smooth jaws and padded inserts is also standard. Some like a soft covering but understand that there will be metal chips and grinding dust that will stick in a soft bench top and turn it into sandpaper. I like using pads of indoor/outdoor carpet of a light color so the parts show up well and throw it out when it gets contaminated.
You will never have enough storage but if you are inventive you can make the most of what you have. Wall racks and even ceiling hooks can keep seldom used stuff out from under foot. Just donít hang the axe over where your wife sits.