A close second on the overall list of questions people ask me about small-space, apartment-based woodworking is, “Don’t the neighbors complain about the noise?”. I get the question frequently enough to warrant a full post response.
Woodworking, even the hand-tool-only variety, is noisy. The thud of the chisel mallet echoes down a long hallway just as the whirr of the plunge router does. The wheeze of hand-sawing is unmistakeable to even the most casual aural observer. And other more muted work, such as hand-planing, can nonetheless audibly rattle bench-top accoutrements.
So what can you do, if you want to make furniture in an apartment or a side room and not also accumulate noise violations or the scorn of your family members? Each situation is unique, but there are some tricks that I employ. And since chopping mortises is the loudest thing I do other than a quick orbital sanding (rarely, if necessary), I will use that as my basic example:
- Don’t chop mortises during quiet hours. Apartment buildings usually have a range of hours during the business day where loud noise is tolerated. So keep your loud tasks to the daytime hours and generally be cognizant of what you’re doing.
- Space out louder tasks. You’ve got 8 or more mortises to chop, I get it. Chop two at 10am and then two more at each of noon, 2pm and 4pm. Short bursts of loud banging are less likely to attract attention than sustained pounding. Use the time in between for quieter tasks, like sawing, planing or sharpening.
- Sharpen early and often. Sharp tools mean better results for less effort, so trim down your total mallet blows by keeping your chisels sharp.
- Fully support the work. Wood vibrates and resonates when struck. Trying to chop a mortise in a piece of wood that’s partially overhanging the bench top is not very different from banging on an impromptu xylophone. Fully supporting the piece over it’s entire length will reduce vibration and help deaden any resonance.
- Dampen outbound noise. My walls are solid concrete, but my front door certainly isn’t. It’s a hollow metal box that works pretty much like an amplifier into the hallway. In a pinch, I will drape a heavy cloth blanket over my front door (not unlike the soundproofing they put in music studios). There are commercial sound-dampening tapestries that work even better, if you care to spend the money.
Some combination of these tricks will go a long way toward keeping your neighbors and loved ones tolerant of your furniture-making. And time spent disputing noise complaints or apologizing to your family is time not spent in the workshop.