“Every man has his cave,” my sister-in-law commented during a tour of my shop. It is true I suppose, at least to the degree that it applies to me. A home contains many public areas: great room, (living room), kitchen for instance. Then there are semi-private areas in which the decor and function are decided by consensus, like a bedroom or home office. The man cave is unique; it is that place which belongs entirely to the man of the house. It could be a shed, an attic, garage or maybe just a bench in a corner of a garage. If you can hang a tool in it, it is a shop. But it might be construed by disinterested women as a “cave”. I won’t argue the point.
A man’s cave follows certain design rules. It is usually outside the home. Caves that are inside the home almost always fall outside the definition of “livable space”. The point here is that there is an understood boundary which exists between a man’s cave and the rest of the available living quarters. A second rule addresses the requirement for a AM-FM radio, one tuned to NPR or an AM news or talk show, or a sports station. The AM-FM radio is a man’s connection with the rest of the world. He may receive his “schooling” from a major university, but his “education” does not begin until he acquires his own cave and turns on that radio. A man who lives in his cave long enough can, and often does, emerge as a scholar of politics, world events, the arts, and sports. Over a period of years he will learn everything that is important to know, and he will be right in his opinions 99% of the time.
The remaining design characteristics account for a logical allocation of space that is unique to each shop and its designer. The table saw goes here and the drill press there. Here is the lathe, over there is the wood pile. For every object that is in a shop (cave), it is there for a reason, and it CANNOT BE ANYWHERE ELSE. When you tour someone’s shop you can ask, “Why did you put it here?” once, maybe twice. If you press the question for each object in the shop, you will probably be asked to leave. At the very least, the length of the shop tour will be shortened.
The Quintessential Shop Tour
Millions know of Rebecca Black, but Norm Abrams is known by every man in the world. If you have never taken a tour of a shop, your first one must be of The New Yankee Workshop found on the web. (Select the panoramic tour but do not click on the tools in the picture. You can zoom in and out. Take your time. Norm doesn’t mind.)
As you view Norm’s shop, keep in mind that everything in it is located precisely where it should be, and it could not be located elsewhere. Don’t ask why. You are supposed to already know why, just as you know that the Big Dipper is located up there, and the Little Dipper is over there. It is the way it is because that is the way it is supposed to be.
The Shop Journey – A Cave Allegory
It is through the journey of discovery that a man finds the right location for every object in the cave. From time to time objects will be relocated in the cave. The reason for this is simple, the universe shifted. Things that were once correctly aligned are no longer in phase with the new reality. This universe shift usually occurs right after a new exotic tool is purchased. The addition of a wood lathe can cause a cataclysmic shift in a cave’s reality. Add a set of chisels, and a new bench may become necessary.
From Grasshopper to Master
The new cave dweller marks his progress of discovery by making jigs. As you tour Norm’s shop, keep your eyes open for “things made in the shop, for the shop”. These objects are important clues about the character of the shop and the man who created it. A cave without jigs is like a woman without a hairnet. Don’t ask me why; I am only the messenger.
The Secret for a Long Marriage
Not all caves are woodworking shops. Some men work in metal. Some are HAM radio operators. Others work on engines, automobiles and even models. The purposes of a cave sometimes are only known to the cave dweller. What is certain about the work that is done in a man cave is that every object produced is flawless, outstanding, a true work of genius and craftsmanship. Ask any wife and she will attest to this fact, and will continue to do so if she wants to remain married. That birdhouse that was missing an entry hole — pure genius! The chair with the leg that broke — an Act of God! The radio that caught fire last spring – a break-through in electronic theory. I cannot begin to count the number of marriages that were doomed to fail right after a new wife took a screwdriver from the hand of her young husband and said, “Here! Let me show you how to use that.”
Shop Creatures – Environmentally Friendly
Outdoor man caves are home to many creatures. A man can tolerate an occasional mouse or snake. They are there for a good reason. It is part of man’s natural calling that he must develop certain skills in pest extermination. Every man has at one time cut a snake’s head off with a hoe. If he has not, it is part of his destiny — it WILL happen one day. Likewise, the presence of a field mouse or barn rat is a standing invitation to employ advanced varmint catching methods, such as applying peanut butter to the BOTTOM of the trap spring, or testing various dosages and placements of lethal poisons. Great battles have been waged against the beasts of the wild. Some men battle deer to keep them from the garden (a variant form of a cave is the garden). Some have fought the mighty grizzly. Still others fight termites, cockroaches, owls, bats, racoons, birds, armadillos and even an occasional opossum. But the most dangerous predator that invades a shop/cave is none other than the “tool borrower”.
The Golden Rule of the Cave
The first rule of tool lending is “Don’t do it.” This is not always possible. Neighbors often have good stuff you might want to one day borrow, so a calculation is necessary to determine perceived risks. This calculation is based on a formula which contains factors such as the likelihood that the tool will be lost forever, or damaged, or that you will forget you lent it, and other factors that require developed skills in higher computational thinking. This situation gives rise to the second rule of the cave, “Put your mark (name) on everything.” Ancient pre-history teaches us that the first method of marking a tool was simply to urinate on it. This method practically eliminated borrowing of any type and was deemed counter-intuitive for economical reasons. Eventually someone invented the ‘mark’, and tools soon began to carry those indentations of identity. The last consideration of tool lending is written in stone, and has been passed down from father to son. It is the Golden Rule of tool lending. “Return the tool in better condition than when it was first received.” Any tool-borrowing neighbor who attends to this simple rule will soon be elevated from the status of varmint to friend.
The Cave as Art Museum
There are objects d’ arte which exist in this world which will never be seen outside the walls of a man cave. In this category of art you will find anything from dogs playing poker, to a Budweizer poster from 1939. The images of heroes might cover holes in drywall, or an assortment of sci-fi movie posters might be used as a substitute for ceiling paint. A cave is home to a great many hand-painted murals. Each combination of tacky art conveys a message as cryptic as hieroglyphics. Scholars of such matters unlocked the key to a mysterious common language masked by the deliberate placement of what can only be described as “man art”. The message is now widely accepted to mean: “No man of cultivated taste inhabits this cave.”
The Man Cave; A Universal Constant
Philosophers, drunks and young attorneys have often wrestled with the questions of the universe. Primary among those questions is this riddle, “Does the man cave exist because the universe exists, or is the universe dependent on the man cave for its existence.” Which came first, the universe, or the man cave? If a 60 amp cartridge fuse blows and no one is in the cave at the time, does it make a sound? Are all man caves mere allusions, each shadowy forms which only resemble a Universal man cave located somewhere in the Heavens? One woodworker who was building a cart put it this way, “I have a shop, therefore I am.”
The answers to these and all other questions of cavemanship can only be found late at night on the weakest signals received by the FM radio in the shop. I cannot reveal those Truths to you here because I am sworn to secrecy and bound by the trusts imparted to me by the secret handshake. These Truths, and many others, are revealed in their own time, one jig at a time. The signal is weak, but the message is strong.