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Old doors laid across sawhorses make great temporary workbenches, but they take up a lot of space when you’re not using them. Instead of full-size doors, I use bifold doors with hinges so I can fold them up when I’m done working. They’re also easier to haul around in the pickup for on-the-road jobs. — Harry Steele. Here are 12 more simple workbenches you can build.
That headline struck me as discouraging. As an entry fee, $5,000 seems high enough to exclude a number of potential woodworkers, myself included. Christiana softened the blow by saying that used tools could cut the cost roughly in half. That figure seemed much closer to my experience, which involved buying a mix of new and used tools. Having said that, buying the right used tools is much more difficult than buying from a catalog or dealer who stocks everything needed to build a great shop. It requires a bit of guile and a good plan, but the payoff is worth it. Through careful choices and good fortune, I was able to outfit my shop with a blend of new and used tools for around $2,000.
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.
Shops can range from functional spaces adorned with unpainted wallboard to beautifully finished, painted, and trimmed-out spaces. Ultimately, I think it depends on your budget and how important your surroundings are to your mindset as you’re working, or to your clients’ if they will be viewing your shop. If finishing your shop will improve the quality of the work that you will produce, thereby relaxing or inspiring you, or showcase for your clients the quality of the work of which you are capable, it may be a worthwhile investment. A more finished space may also allow for activities like parties or even a weekly poker game (as long as drinks stay off the tools).
I wanted to have numerous outlets, and have enough electrical service that I did not have to worry about overloading circuits. There was already some lighting, so I simply picked off that line and added additional lights to keep things bright and cozy. I ran a 240V line for the table saw and jointer with a dedicated breaker. For wall outlets, I ran 14-3 wire, and split all the plugs, so that I can run one machine on the upper plug, and another on the lower plug of any outlet.
These are all good tips, and apply to pretty much every shop. Like all things woodworking they need to be tweaked so that it’s right for the individual. For instance, I have a basement shop that’s not tiny but it is still space constrained, so worrying about the optimal layout for my ts/jointer/planer is a little off the mark since I don’t have to walk very far; instead, I want to be sure that related tools can be used *at the same time*. Having to move the planer out of the away so that I can use my TS is crazy if it can be avoided. However, interference between my drill press and my planer is less of an issue because they usually don’t get used at the same phase of a project.
This is the one tool in the shop that provides the greatest opportunity to save money, if you are willing to purchase a well made, light duty machine, and take lighter cuts. In the past I have used General 14" planers that can hog off serious cuts all day long. The problem is that these professional units cost over $5000, and they would crush my buddy as we haul them down the stairs (note: don’t be the guy on the bottom). After doing a fair amount of research, I purchased the Dewalt DW735 13" thickness planer. The unit came with a good manual, and was in a good state of tune. It is light enough for me to carry around the shop without excessive grunting, so that made it very simple to install. The planer has a significant internal fan-assisted chip ejection system. The chips are catapulted out of this planer, so have your dust collector running before you run stock through it. I now have to make more cuts at a lighter cut depth, but I saved about $4500, which makes my budget happy. The planer makes clean cuts, and has two speeds. I don’t see a reason for the two speeds for my type of work, but there is a faster feed rate should you choose to use it. Knife changing is simple and quick.
Iron-on edge-banding is a quick way to cover up an edge on plywood. Trimming the excess, however, is tricky. I’ve tried edge-banding trimmers, but I find the results are unpredictable. With the trimmers I’ve tried, it wasn’t easy to change the direction of the cut to suit the grain direction of the edge-banding. If you’re cutting against the grain, you’re likely to tear out a chunk of your new edge-banding. Instead, I use a wide, sharp chisel. This way, I can read the grain direction and trim accordingly. Angle the chisel slightly and go slow, raising the back corner of the chisel just enough so that it doesn’t dig into the plywood veneer. Smooth the corner with a sanding block after trimming. Check out this amazing edge band veneering project!
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Through my cabinet-shop connections, I managed a snappy deal ($200) on a used cabinet saw with a 54-in. commercial rip fence. That price would be hard to match, but it is possible to find a hybrid or used cabinet saw with a high-quality fence for $600 to $1,200. Some of them will run on 120v household current, meaning you won’t have to rewire your shop for 240v service, but be sure to check for compatibility before you buy.
One of the challenges we all face is how to move machines into a home without damaging the home, the machinery, or yourself. I actually had to bring things through the front door, and across hardwood floors, and turn 90° to descend the stairs into the shop. To protect the floors, I laid down sheets of 1/2" MDF that I could use later. On the wooden stairs, I used three strips of softwood strapping, held with wood screws to the stairs. I mounted a 2x4 baton to the wall studs at the top of the stairs, with a 5/16-inch eye-bolt through it.
Let’s face it, one of the most significant costs of your shop will be its foundation. While you’re at it, what about adding space above your shop? There may be regulations preventing you from building living space above your shop if it is in an urban setting or in an outbuilding, but there may be some flexibility depending on where you live. It is in the municipality’s interests to encourage infill housing that uses existing infrastructure. At a minimum, think about including attic trusses to create some space above your shop for drying lumber or storing equipment. Access could be from simple pull-down attic stairs or from the exterior if you don’t want to lose floor space to a stair or ladder. If you’re creating an addition to your house, you may be able to add a couple of rooms you’ve always wanted, such as a family room, office or in-law suite.
To make sure you account for any existing obstructions, it’s a good idea to make a measured drawing of your workshop area on graph paper, noting existing furniture, built-ins and large items on the plan as you go. For example, a common one-car garage workshop layout has built-in tool cabinets and shelves around the perimeter where they won’t impede parking, but you may also have to get clever about folding work tables and saw horses that you can set up as needed in the middle of the garage when you’re working on a project (and cars are parked outside).
Short scraps of hardwood are too good to throw away but hard to store neatly. So I bought a 4-ft. tube form made for concrete footings, cut it in half (the cardboard-like material cuts easily) and set the tubes on end. I tack the tubes to a wall or a bench leg so they don’t fall over. With the wood scraps stored upright, it’s easy to find a piece just the right length. Tube forms are available in various diameters for $5 and up at home centers. — Bill Wells. Here’s another brilliant use for these concrete forms.
Click the image at right, and start building the ideal workflow at the bottom where you see the first red arrow. This arrow crosses through one roll-up door of a typical two-car garage. Note that if the right-hand window were not present, you could place lumber storage closer to the entrance, which would also allow for easier passage onto the jointer. Work flows from the jointer to the planer and the table saw, then ideally onto an outfeed table near position #2 in the diagram. From #2, proceed left to the assembly area (pictured below).
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Keep in mind, there are no perfect boards, but try to always use the straighter boards and avoid warping boards. Also, Brandon and I have found that when it comes to picking out lumber at Home Depot and Lowes, they tend to stock up on fresh boards a few days before the weekend starts (so Thursday/Friday). And then, on Sundays and Mondays, the boards are usually really picked over and there isn’t a good selection. Just another tip to keep in mind!
The standard option for a shop floor is a concrete slab. You’re probably not going to go to the trouble of creating a basement beneath your shop, although it is possible. The weight of most woodworking machines suggests that a concrete floor is the most solid and durable substrate available. It has the potential to be used as thermal mass to store heat from your heating system or from the sun, but it can be tiring and hard on your body to be standing on concrete all the time. You can add a vapour barrier, 2x4 sleepers and a wooden floor above the concrete to ease the tendency of the floor to strain your feet and back, or you can add anti-fatigue mats in key areas where you’ll be standing for longer periods.
Tabletop versus Freestanding Tools. When purchasing some power tools (the list includes the jointer, shaper, sander, and even some models of table and band saw), you may decide to opt for benchtop models. A single bench can then serve, alternately, a range of purposes. Make- ready time is increased significantly, of course, as not only the blades, fences, miter gauges, and the rest must be set but the machine itself has to be positioned and powered. But for the small shop, the infrequently used tool may be quite easily stowed on a shelf out of the way, opening up more space for other tasks.
High-velocity fans are also an important tool in their own right, particularly at your finishing station. Increased air flow will help dissipate fumes from paints and sprays for your safety, and you can train a fan on your project to help paint dry more quickly between coats on humid days. To get the most out of your fan, look for floor fans that are easy to aim or wall-mounted fans that will save space in smaller shops.