If you’re like the woodworkers on our campus, you’re constantly carrying around a few crucial tools – pencil, square, rule, maybe a tape measure and a knife. Do you fill up your pants pockets? Do you constantly walk back to your workbench? Many embrace a different shop solution: the apron.
You see them everywhere you look on campus. Full aprons, half aprons, single pockets, cross-backs, high-necks, canvas, denim, leather. What makes for the perfect apron? And what items are in the apron pockets of our staff, faculty, and students every day?
Many woodworkers find themselves drawn to aprons for convenience. Some prefer lots of pockets, where they can fit every tool they use.
Others like just a single special compartment for pencil and rule.
Instructor Owain Harris avoids a shop apron entirely after years of wearing a tool belt as a job-site carpenter. His solution is a personal uniform of button down shirts with “a nicely sized breast pocket that is perfect for carrying the everyday items.” Pictured here, a special pocket Owain gifted as part of last year's holiday swap.
Whichever approach they take, everyone we asked mentioned the benefit of having what they wanted close at hand anywhere in the shop. Libby Schrum, one of the instructors for the most recent twelve-week Furniture Intensive, reflects that after years of feeling claustrophobic or encumbered in aprons she’s finally coming around. The reason? She realized she never had a pencil or a square when she needed one.
Others love the protection an apron offers, both for themselves and their clothes. Our Turning Intensive instructor, Beth Ireland, says bluntly, “You have to when you’re turning.” Many turning aprons feature a high knitted collar to keep chips out, with no strings or straps that can get caught in a lathe. Beth herself uses a welding jacket with a customized pencil/ruler pocket and added Velcro around the collar. The heavy fabric is flame proof, which helps when she makes her own tools and grinder sparks fly.
Tim Rousseau, our Nine-month Comprehensive lead instructor, has two aprons: a lightweight teaching one with lots of pockets for everything he needs with students, and a thick leather one he made twenty years ago for his own workshop. The tougher material protects him no matter what he’s doing, including bracing himself against wood and chisels.
Bruce Beeken, who is currently on campus to teach the curvature segment of the Comprehensive class, thinks his mother first made the suggestion that he wear an apron in the shop, so he “wouldn’t have such a laundry problem.” (And he wasn’t even living with her at the time!)
Some see the apron as a symbol, showing it is time to get down to business. Sam Sassa, a graduate of last year’s Comprehensive class and current Fellow, says using his apron is “Psychological, a ritual in the morning that switches your mindset to working.”
Yuri Kobayashi, who is both an instructor and a Fellow, has maintained her current apron for ten years with creative stitching, scraps from textile artists, old clothing, and fabrics she’s brought from Japan to mend holes and pockets. For Yuri, putting on the apron is a “change in mentality: Walk in, work.”
And finally, the most common objects we all carry around? You may have guessed them: a pencil, rule, and 4” square.