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Dear reader: this is a post where I discuss in (some) detail why and how I made a paper cabinet and a new bench for my bindery. If you’re more interested in how these rather ordinary workspace improvements are linked to my journey as an artisan you can skip to the last part which is the musings I’ve become, for better or worse, notorious for.

Even though I have what many consider a roomy bindery it somehow became clogged over the last years and I’ve had to always move things from one bench to another. This wasn’t simply a matter of “tidying up”; Storage is a multifaceted topic that strongly determines whether a workspace is functional or not. After 5 years I decided to finally tackle the issue with a few additions and realizations that had much more of an impact than I anticipated.

One of my main griefs with the workspace was the paper cabinet/bench I made back in 2016 when I first moved in. I had the option of making a paper cabinet with drawers, but that would had taken a lot of time and effort and would cost almost twice as much so I chose to go with this bare-bones approach.

This proved – shockingly! – the wrong choice. As a bookbinder I work with paper every day, often having to take or return sheets to their place dozens of times within a few hours. The initial paper “cabinet” had all sort of problems:

– The drawers rested on wooden laths, which meant it was a hussle pulling them out or pushing them back in. For the same reason they could only be pulled a certain amount, which was not comfortable enough in examining or handling the papers.

– The drawers protruded outwards from the face of the furniture and there wasn’t some kind of door. That meant dust -and my bindery is quite dusty due to the absence of large windows and also because of toolmaking- constantly accumulated over the top sheets of every drawer. I hung a paper sheet to cover most of the drawers but, for practical reasons, the corners of the drawers remained exposed, which still allowed a lot of dust to settle in. Cleaning it was pointless, so I simply placed some disposable sheets on the top of each stack in order to protect the rest of the papers.

– The “drawers” were flat pieces of wood. I naively thought they were thick enough to not mind holding 3-4 dozen of papers each and so I was not too happy to find some of them rather bent after 5 years of use.

– Last but not least, I felt my beloved marbled papers’ disapproving gaze every time I pulled their drawer. After a while it became too much to bear.

It can be draining when your workspace gets in your way instead of making your life easier. For what is more I will be working on some interesting and challenging commissions in late 2021 and 2022, plus a couple of important personal projects, and so it felt like it was time for some much-needed improvements in the workspace.

The paper cabinet was the main project, followed by a new bench and some shelves in the tooling section of the bindery.
It took me 5 days to measure, design and put together the entire thing. I’ve watched enough woodworking and furniture making videos to know a proper cabinet maker would do 99% of it differently. Even so, given the complexity and difficulty such a project posed, my respect for the trade climbed to even greater heights.

I’d also like to -sacrilegiously- add that I love plywood and even consider it good looking, (those yummy stripes!) apart from being an affordable and easy to work with material.

I’ve added a small twist to the cabinet: the front wall of the drawers is hinged and can fall down. I believe this may be useful when placing in new papers, especially when they must go in the middle or lower part of a stack, which is most often the case. Remains to be seen though!

The new bench that sits next to the board shear is basically shelves with a working surface on top of them. I was tempted to make it fit the geometry of the wooden panel behind it and blend in better with the surrounding space but then I thought I might have to someday move to a new space, so it would be ill-advised to let the current one dictate the bench’s dimensions.

Last but definitely not least come the shelves next to and above the polishing machine.

I’ve come to realize that many of a bindery’s problems come from the lack of shelves: does your workspace feel cluttered and uninspiring? You probably need more shelves. Are you having trouble meeting deadlines? You need more shelves. Does the bindery cat avoid your company? It is most likely frustrated by the lack of shelves.

They might not look like much but given how toolmaking is becoming more and more an important part of the bindery’s day to day work their addition will make a big difference.
You can never have enough shelves folks!

To compliment these improvements I bought a number of storing boxes (I recommend this from Plaisio if you’re a greek reader – no ties with them, I simply like these boxes very much: convenient size, sturdy enough, they have handles and are very affordable) and also had some custom ones made to suit specific needs. As I said, storing stuff is a multifaceted topic that ranges from small things to how you arrange your workspace in general. For example, effectively storing your collection of colored threads or sandpapers might sound trivial but even spending a few seconds more in finding or getting them can accumulate in working days, weeks, or even months over the course of years – especially if you consider all the little things this might apply to.

Reflection part ensuing from here on.

If I’m to be completely honest with myself these improvements were much needed but cost a lot more than I felt comfortable with at the moment and also took precious time away from commissions, with which I’m trying to catch up after a very disruptive 7 month long lockdown (dear reader from the 2040s, this was the year of the Covid pandemic).
So why did I invest resources and time into something like this? Were a paper cabinet, a bench and some shelves all that important? I believe they were; apart from their practical benefits they embody the fact my workspace finally feels like home.

The bindery is my home. If you count out sleeping, that pesky biological need, I spend more hours there than I do at my actual home. I would guess this holds true for many of my fellow artisans out there, bookbinders or otherwise. Since that is the case it’s important I also feel at home when I’m at the bindery.

Up until now however it always felt like a suit cut 1-2 sizes short, if you know what I mean. Instead of being an extension of me, at times it almost felt like a unwilling entity that I had to convince or trick into collaboration in order to get things done.

It’s hard to explain this, as it seems I was unhappy when in fact I loved my first workspace, although it was severely lacking in all aspects (this was because of many reasons that had to do with the resources I had available and the timing in which I started exploring bookbinding – the 2008 financial crisis which sent Greece into bankruptcy).

Same goes for when I moved to my current space; the space itself and the way I set my bindery there was a vast improvement but still lagging behind my needs and desires. You can love someone or something deeply and still feel they can’t give you everything you need. And that’s alright; you (can choose to) accept that, try to improve what can be improved and make do.

Even though I made improvements over the years and things got better and better, storage has always been an issue and even though I moved to a new and roomier location it kept plaguing me. That’s why making these was liberating; for most of my bookbinding career I used to see photos from other binderies and -admittedly- drool over them. However now, after 13 years and with this issue solved, the bindery in my mind finally matches the bindery in front of my eyes.

If you’ve read so far I’ll have you know that there’s an interesting project coming in the future, where the bindery itself will play a pivotal role in.

Till next time!~