To plan my shop, I used a modeling program on my computer, but you can use the drawings I created to plan an efficient shop on paper. Download and print the PDF below and arrange them on graph paper to create a plan view of your shop. Take the time to work out the most efficient placement of benches, cabinets, and machines, taking into account infeed and outfeed zones as well as ducting for dust collection.
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This is a fundamental question. A good place to start is with a survey of your property. Most municipalities have a maximum percentage of your lot that you can build on and standard setbacks from your property lines that you will need to adhere to without needing to request special permission to build. On a photocopy of your survey you can draw in what your local setbacks are in order to define the location within which you will be permitted to build. In a best-case scenario, you will have the space to build without compromising too much on space or location; otherwise, you may need to request a minor variance, which would allow you to circumvent an obstacle such as a setback.
When you design your workshop setup, climate control often gets ignored — and that’s a huge mistake! If your workshop or hobby room is in an unconditioned space like a garage or basement, you could find that it’s brutally uncomfortable to work in there during warm weather. You’ll be much happier with a solid fan — or several — to keep air moving for your comfort.
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.
I am often surprised at what tools woodworkers don’t use or own, especially when they are some of the few that I find essential. Sometimes it’s just the difference between hand tool and power tool guys, but sometimes it’s just from lack of experience or the fact that they haven’t given it too much thought. Most likely they just buy tools as they need them and never really considered what tools would give them the most bang for the buck.
You may want a garage door if you will need to access your shop with large workpieces or tools, or if you or future owners will ever want to use the space to park a vehicle. Garage doors are notoriously drafty, however, so if you think you can live without one you will probably be warmer. Instead, you could opt for out-swinging double doors. In a small shop you can, at a pinch, rip longer lengths of lumber by feeding the material out of either a strategically placed door or window.
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.
The tablesaw—This tool is the backbone of nearly every shop, and for good reason. It allows unmatched precision in ripping parallel edges and crosscutting at a variety of angles. Most woodworkers find it crucial for the basic milling of stock. It is also suited to many joinery tasks, easily producing tenons, box joints, and—with a reground blade—the tails for dovetail joints.
In many workshops, band saws and drill presses are not used constantly, so they can be set back out of the way. Jointers and shapers can also sometimes be set back out of the midway, but keep in mind that the more trouble they are to reposition, the less useful they’ll be. Remember, too, that while jointers and shapers take up relatively little floor space, you need to allow space on either side that is at least the length of your longest workpiece: a four-foot workpiece needs about a ten-foot space (the tool, plus four feet on either side). The longer the pieces to be joined or shaped, the greater the space required on either side.
Minor variances are applications to your municipality to suspend a particular by-law to allow your project to proceed, based on common sense or precedents set by other buildings in your area. If your municipal committee of adjustment denies permission because a neighbour voices concern over the development, you would have to appeal the decision to the municipal board of your particular province. In that case, you may be better off looking for another piece of property with an existing structure that you could renovate, more relaxed zoning regulations, a larger lot, or more congenial neighbours.
The #1 shop tip is that the space dictates the layout. Every structure and shop location has subtleties to it, only after you dial those in can you end up at the optimum layout, and in addition to that the kind of work you do is going to dictate how you configure your shop. Casework requires more assembly area and space around your tablesaw for sheet goods, while smaller pieces benefit from having more organization around your bench.
Before you buy a single tool, you need to take a hard look at your workshop space. If your workshop is a freestanding building or empty barn, you can simply measure the perimeter and know that you have the entire square footage at your disposal including the wall space. If your workshop is tucked into the back of a garage or a corner of partially finished basement, you’ll need to plan your furnishings with cars and water heaters in mind.
This will be a personal matter, depending on whether it will be helpful for finishing or sharpening. However, it is a good idea to look beyond your current use of this space to the next owner. Would it be beneficial to add plumbing hookups so that the shop could someday be an apartment, or an art studio, or an extension to your house? It could add to the resale value of your house to be able to create as flexible an area as possible by roughing in a bathroom and even a kitchenette area if you can. If this is done when wall cavities are open or before the slab is poured, your forethought could pay dividends but not cost much up front.
Tape measure: I know this isn’t a power tool, but it is the one tool that you should always have with you. It is a pet peeve of mine – if you are planning on building something, or you are actually building it, have a tape measure with you. If you are in the shop, on the job site, or even at Home Depot make sure you have a tape measure with you or at least one very handy (Home Depot probably isn’t the best example, since they have them widely available, but you get the point). Without a tape measure, not much beyond rough work can get done.
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If your table saw is near a wall and your shop is fairly narrow, positioning the jointer and planer against the opposite wall is reasonable, as shown in option 2 in the illustration. If the shop isn’t long enough to accommodate long workpieces, try to put these machines near an operable doorway, as shown in the illustration and in the photo of Doug Warren’s shop.