One of the challenges in building a cabinet for hand tools, is that as soon as you define a place for each tool in your custom cabinet, you find that you need more room to store the must have tools you just bought. I decided to make a couple of open cabinets, and employ the use of inserts that can be replaced or modified as my tool collection grows. Part of the goal was to make a clean, efficient shop, while keeping to a budget. I bought paint grade maple plywood and made the cabinets. Applying a solid maple face frame to the cabinet makes a clean looking cabinet from sheet goods purchased at $50/sheet.
I place the band saw first in my order of purchases, because I consider it the heart of the shop. Band saws are very safe tools for ripping, re-sawing, cutting curves and more because all of the force is downward, virtually eliminating any chance of unexpected kickbacks. I wanted a saw that had a strong back, dynamically balanced cast iron wheels for smooth operation and flywheel effect, 12" depth of cut, good dust extraction design, a large table and a solid fence. After shopping around, I settled on the General International Model 90-170 14" saw. It is very smooth, comes with an Excalibur fence, and it is light enough (133kg) to move into your basement without crushing someone.
In most small shops, once the key machines are in place, others are arranged wherever there is room for them. There typically isn’t enough free space for these tools in the middle of the floor area, although sometimes you can tuck a machine into an unused space. For example, in a shop where the table saw is in the center, a shaper (or a router table or spindle sander) with a table the same height as the saw can be put on the outfeed side of the extension table (see the illustration). Also, building a router table directly into the table saw’s extension table is a great way to save space, as well as make use of the saw’s fence for routing operations.
The number of windows, as well as their sizing and placement, depends on your orientation, view, desire for ventilation, and needs for daylight and solar gain. Orienting more of your windows towards the south side of your shop and placing them high enough that they are shaded by the eaves in summer, but allow lower-angle winter light to come in, will increase your ability to get free light and heat from the sun. If your goal is to take advantage of passive solar opportunities, make sure that you carefully research the type of glass that is in your windows and look for something with a high solar heat gain coefficient. Higher windows generally allow for benches and tools beneath them, and relatively windowless north walls may be a place to arrange wood storage or mechanicals.
The layout of a workshop will be based, in part, on how it will be used — whether for carpentry, fine woodworking, metalwork or other activities. Regardless of category, however, it's important to keep in mind the principles of efficiency and organization. A layout that's clearly thought out in terms of functionality will make all the difference in creating a workspace that offers a pleasant surrounding as well as a space that's conducive to work.
Position #3 is where you will likely spend most of your time in the shop. The diagonally placed workbench is the heart of this plan. The wall-mounted workspace that surrounds the bench forms an ideal “work triangle” within which each of your most commonly needed tools is only one or two steps away. The band saw can be placed outside of the work triangle because it is used slightly less frequently and often needs a little more space around it for your lumber to move.
Cedars are strong, aromatic softwoods that are capable of enduring outdoor elements, the most common of which is the Western Red Cedar. Western Red Cedar can sustain wet environments without succumbing to rot, and as a result is commonly used for outdoor projects such as patios, outdoor furniture, and building exteriors. This wood can be easily found at most home centers for a moderate price.
Enter the garage heater. These space heaters are specifically designed to warm up wide open areas and to function under much tougher circumstances than you’re likely to find in the average house. A well designed garage heater will offer at least 5,000 watts of heating power — enough to warm 750 square feet of space. A smaller heater might take off a bit of the chill, but to really warm your workshop — and keep it that way — you’ll need a heater of this size.
Temperature and Moisture Control. If your workshop is to be located in a portion of your house that is already comfortably warm, this will not be an issue. But if you’re converting a barn or shed or an unheated space, especially if you live in a climate where winter temperatures make for cold hands, you’ll need to devise a heating strategy. In some climates, air conditioning is a virtual necessity in hot weather.
In a woodworking shop, lumber storage is key, and it’s best to design shelves or racks that are about 50 percent larger than you think you need — you’ll almost certainly acquire more materials as the years go on. To maximize a small space, use walls by mounting shelves to the ceiling and purchasing a sturdy step ladder to help you reach things. A wall covered in standard pegboard and outfitted with hooks allows you to customize hand tool storage and keep your most-used hardware within easy reach.
You need an out-feed table to support work exiting the table saw and band saw. By placing the tools close together, I was able to make one out-feed table that works for both tools. I put four pivoting wheels on the table, allowing me to shift the table in any direction. By placing a shelf below the table, I gained some much needed storage space for portable power tools. Finally, since this is a large work surface, the table also serves as a true, flat assembly table.
Line ’em up — Most other woodshop machines work harmoniously when lined up along the walls, where they are easy to power and connect to dust collection. The amount of space left between these tools depends on the amount of room you have, the size of the stock you work with, and whether or not adjacent tools have tables at the same height. You can always pull a machine away from the wall if additional space is needed. Clearly, these options are not the only possibilities and are contingent upon the mix of machines you have, the shape and size of your shop, and the kind of work you do. The bottom line is if the layout works for you, then that’s the best for your shop (and don’t let anyone tell you any different!).