Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Woodworking in an Apartment

This is an unusual post for this blog, but the rest of the internet doesn't seem to have much good information on the subject of woodworking in an apartment, living room, or similar. I've spent a fair amount of time woodworking in a 75 sq. foot dorm, and this blog was started when I was working in the garage of an apartment. I'm far from an expert on the subject, but perhaps my experience can help a beginning woodworker out.

There are three main considerations when working in an apartment: noise, dust, and physical space used. Being limited by these things is certainly a handicap, but it can be minimized.

I'll just list my thoughts for faster reading-


  • Hand powered tools are quietest, with exception of hatchet and hammer
  • Massive bench or chopping block has more inertia and greatly reduces sound, while making work more enjoyable
    • Sandbags are cheap per weight and good at dampening vibration
  • Spring-pole or treadle lathe can replace powered lathe
  • Some of the quieter electric tools are quiet enough for an apartment. Italicized are the ones I feel offer the most return on investment, in terms of time saved. From quietest to loudest:
    • Drill press
    • Wood lathe
    • Metal/engineering lathe
    • Hand drill 
    • Band saw
    • Scroll saw
    • Random orbit sander
    • Spindle sander
    • Small dust collector
    • Variable speed router on low speed (router table?)
  • For powered tools, often heavier=quieter
  • Small power tools are generally the loudest due to motor type and light construction
  • Planer and table saws are very efficient tools, but among the loudest
    • Use outdoors; else
    • Set up band saw carefully to keep hand planing at a minimum
  • Shop built power tools can be made to run more quietly than their commercially available counterparts
    • Wood is relatively good at damping vibration
    • Machines can be modified to run more slowly with pulleys or VFD's
    • High quality motors can be used which are generally quieter and better balanced than cheap ones
  • Best collected at source with small dust collector(s) or household vacuum
    • Festool dust vacuums are moderately noisy
    • Shop vacuums also loud
  • Ambient air filters are quiet and effective
  • Large shavings fall out of the air and are easily cleaned
  • Hardness of cutting tool is inversely proportional to dust size
    • Sanding creates the finest dust, best kept to minimum
    • Carbide tools (circular saw, table saw, power plane) produce fine dist
    • HSS tools (power lathe tools, jointer, drill press) produce medium dust
    • Tool steel edges (chisel, plane, pole lathe tools, scraper) produce the coarsest dust
  • Green (dried... less) woodworking produces largest, most easily cleaned shavings
    • Splitting produces no dust
    • You will be cool (he said)
    • Spoon and bowl carving require minimal tools
  • Plywood is best worked with carbide due to abrasive nature; produces relatively foul dust
  • Douglas fir and wood with knots is frustrating and slow to work by hand
    • Best worked with fine-dust-producing tools (table saw, router, etc)
  • MDF, phenolic, and composites yield the most irritating and difficult-to-clean dust
  • HDPE plastic cuts nicely and makes large chips without fumes
  • Dustiest, loudest tools should be easily portable for taking outdoors
  • If machining metals, chips can be difficult to contain since they stick to clothing and fly far
    • Not pleasant to find in a bed
Physical Space
  • Tools can be stored densely, whereas housemates may complain if stored similarly
  • Wood storage uses up space quickly, especially sheet goods
  • Use vertical space efficiently
  • Band saw and drill press have small footprint 
If you have any revisions, additions, or questions, you can email me-

Happy sawing. May your neighbors be patient and forgiving.

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