When I die I hope be buried in the English rural churchyard that has been my responsibility as churchwarden, after a funeral service that has been a celebration of my life. I am neither an Egyptian pharaoh nor a Viking queen though, so my grave will not contain all my tools and equipment to serve me in the afterlife. Instead aside from my mortal remains it will contain only a suitably biodegradable coffin, and my headstone will be a modest one bearing perhaps a technical puzzle to entertain visitors to the churchyard.
My workshop, my bench, and my tools will be the responsibility of my nearest and dearest, and I hope I will have suitably equipped them for the task of their dispersal. But for anyone who has a sizeable collection of gear, have you thought of what would happen if someone else had to clean it all out? What is profession for some and hobby for others, we deal in specialization that might as well be tools of arcane magic to the uninitiated.
How Much Stuff Do You Have In Your Workshop?
This is a sombre note upon which to start a Hackaday piece, but it’s also a serious point. We all amass a quantity of tools, instruments, and equipment as part of our work that can often amount to a significant value, yet how much of that information have we passed on to those around us? Some of us have partners who are as involved with making and building things as we are, but many of us do not, and our next of kin won’t necessarily know the difference in value between a $1000 oscilloscope and a $40 electric drill.
My makerspace in Milton Keynes is upstairs from a Men In Sheds, an organization that runs fully-stocked communal workshops, and through them I see this on a regular basis. Relatives of those who have passed away leaving behind a comprehensive home workshop are often at a loss to know what to do with its contents. Boxes and boxes of beautiful tools, equipment, and power tools arrive until even the Shed has nowhere left to store them. I know those of you involved in hackerspaces the world over have similar stores. This is very sad indeed, because among them are tools that have been loved and cared for, and I feel deserve some respect.
It’s worth taking a moment then to consider your inventory. Is anything particularly valuable? Sitting here it’s something I’ve never really done, and because my bench is a result of decades as a scavenger of the discarded I have few big-ticket items. My drill press, chop saw, and band saw were bought used and are all old and worn. Instruments? A collection of second hand kit some of which dates back to the 1950s, and a Rigol 1054z which though it wasn’t cheap new is hardly worth a fortune as a second-hand item.
… And Where Should It All Go?
Then, where should things go? Some items I know would be cherished by the right people. My friend Bill for instance could probably use my stock of Triumph Herald spares — but how will someone cleaning out my shop know what they are, much less who will find them useful?
Perhaps the things that might fetch a few bob when sold should have clear instructions on where to sell them. In most cases that might be eBay, but sometimes there are specialist outlets. A decent quality anvil for example, I’d expect BABA members to be interested in. But imagine trying to list items for sale when you’re left to guess what the even are.
It sounds easy enough to say that it should be given away. But even then, to whom? I wouldn’t give woodworking tools to MK Men In Sheds for example, not because they aren’t a worthy cause but because they already have more than enough. Instead I’d suggest my partner go to one or other of the hackspaces I know haven’t got a decent woodworking area, because they’d really appreciate them. I’d hope a variety of potential recipients would receive my stuff, and be thankful for it.
The point I am trying to make here is that we never expect the inevitable to happen to us, and thus when it happens we often leave little preparation for it. I have seen the effect of this on loved ones through my time in the hackerspace community, and I’d like to urge everyone to give it some thought.
We spend a lifetime accumulating spare parts and the tools to work with them. It’s worth considering what we’ve gotten ourselves into and even to seek out advice on how to get it all organized. Just look around and you’ll realize the scale of the problem likely to land at the feet of your loved ones. Perhaps this autumn is a fine time to clean up, get organized, and to produce a set of destinations for your property when you meet your Maker. You’ll know that your tools and equipment will be appreciated when you are gone, and if heaven forbid you ever have to move your workshop you’ll thank yourself for the tidy organization.
I’d love to hear from you on this issue. How does your Hackerspace approach donations of entire workshops? Have you kept a detailed list of what you have in your shop and where it can find a home if needed? Join the discussion in the comments below.