I started using a shop apron about 5 years ago. I'm not sure what prompted me to first put one on, but I very quickly came to rely on it. I stopped losing pencils and my little 6" ruler, and my dust collector remote control was always within reach. Over time I began to add more things like lumber crayons, a tiny block of wood I use when setting up my planes, and a real necessity in my shop: the video camera remote control.
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The more I worked with the apron, the more I realized that it wasn't just the stuff I carried around with me all the time, but the ability to temporarily carry stuff. I would mark a tenon with my gauge and drop the gauge in my pocket, do some other stuff, then pull the gauge back out and mark another tenon. A shallow breast pocket became a quick spot to store hinge screws during installation and a screwdriver found its way into another pocket. The key to this is to empty all that junk out once a task is done, or before you know it you're stoop-shouldered and carrying around a 20 pound apron. The shop apron should go unnoticed, and the minute you know its there, something is wrong.
Well after years of wiping glue-covered hands on my apron and spilling all manner of finishes on the front, the apron is far from unnoticed. It has become stiff from all that gunk and now keeps getting in my way while I work.
Fate intervened and I heard about a new business called Texas Heritage Woodworks that happens to be making shop aprons (among other things) that are simply beautiful. Moreover, I could work with them to customize my new apron and add my company logo. After some conversations with Jason Thigpen about what I wanted in my new apron, he was off to the races. About 2 weeks later I had a new apron in my shop.
It is made from high quality double layered, double stitched canvas and leather straps. The hand-hammered copper rivets are a really nice touch, and Jason was able to embroider my Hand Tool School logo on the front. I got to pick a variety of colors, and Jason sent me photos of several samples of my logo on different colors. Of course being a Brown Coat supporter (look it up), my choice was obvious.
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I added a few custom touches too which make it my own. First off, Jason recognized my superior left handed trait and positioned the graduated pencil pockets on the "proper" side of the apron. I should also add that the snug fit of these pockets keeps things in place too. I can't tell you how many times my 6" ruler has slipped out and slid under my workbench when I have to bend over to pick up something. Jason had also been toying around with a ring hook that could hold a wheel style marking gauge which fit perfectly with my "hold on to the gauge" habit I talked about above. So I added that, and it sits about dead center on the apron. I can now attest to the usefulness of this feature. It's not a place to permanently stick anything but a quick and easy place to stash that gauge while in the heat of joinery layout. I'm sure it will have other uses too as I spend more time with it.
Next, I added a narrow pocket down by my right hip that perfectly holds my folding rule that hearkens back to 18th century joiners, who usually had a similar rule pocket on their pants. This was one area where my last apron dropped the ball. While I could hold this rule, it would flop around inside the pocket and invariably end up settling crossways and becoming uncomfortable. The fit on the rule is a snug friction fit so it slides in and out easily yet stays put when I want it to.
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Then I got crazy and added a monster buttonhole top center of the apron through which I could feed my lapel microphone, thus allowing me to run the wire inside my apron to the receiver in my back pocket. Granted a very specific application for me, but Jason admitted that it has potential as a place to stick headphone cords to a phone or any of those radio enabled ear protection muffs.
So I'm back in business and better than ever with my new apron. The two front pockets are a bit smaller than I was used to in my old apron, and I'm finding that to be an improvement because it prevents me from taking on too much cargo. They hold everything I need and it stays out of my way, which is exactly what I want in a shop apron.
I couldn't be happier with my new apron and want to say thank you to Jason and Texas Heritage Woodworks for their great work. I wish him luck as his business gets off the ground.
This "Hand Tool School" series is provided courtesy of Shannon Rogers, a/k/a The Renaissance Woodworker. Rogers is founder of The Hand Tool School, which provides members with an online apprenticeship that teaches them how to use hand tools and to build furniture with traditional methods.
Shannon Rogers started woodworking by trying to build a proton pack, and has been in love with the craft ever since. He runs The Renaissance Woodworker website which is dedicated to spreading the love about hand tool woodworking. He is also the head glue pot keeper at The Hand Tool School where teaches thousands of woodworkers on 6 continents (still trying to find somebody in Antarctica) how to cast off the power tool oppressors and build "the hard way".
By day Shannon is the Director of Marketing for J. Gibson McIlvain, a lumber company founded in 1798 that supplies high quality hardwoods from all over the world to everyone from Calvin Klein, the New York Yankees, and the US Government. He is a wood nerd through and through and often finds reasons to inject latin botanical names into everyday conversation.