Along with stone, clay and animal parts, wood was one of the first materials worked by early humans. Microwear analysis of the Mousterian stone tools used by the Neanderthals show that many were used to work wood. The development of civilization was closely tied to the development of increasingly greater degrees of skill in working these materials.

One of the misconceptions about planers is that they make lumber straight. They do some straightening, but they don’t make lumber straight. That is what jointers do. Many lumber mills just send rough lumber through the planer allowing the board to exit the machine with the same ups and downs and whoops that is entered with, only now to a consistent thickness. This is especially apparent when gluing up a couple of these roller coaster type of boards and trying to get them to line up. After a couple of those glue-ups, you will swear by lumber that has seen the jointer before the planer, and never skip the jointer.


I agree with all of these tips in a larger shop. In a smaller shop (mine is just under 400-square feet) most things are fairly close together anyway. One of my original principals for shop layout was … how is a machining process performed on a piece of wood? Is the wood stationary while it is machined … or does the wood move through the machine? If the wood is stationary, I have tried to have this set for one side wall of the shop. To be specific, I have four machines in one line with a continuous table to support long pieces that might need cutting from one or all of those machines. The machines in that line are (from left to right) the drill press, the powered miter saw, the square-chisel mortiser and the radial arm saw.

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.


“I do a lot of finish-sanding freehand, without a sandpaper block, so I can smooth edges and get into nooks and crannies. But the finer grits are usually bonded to thinner paper and, at least for me, the paper is too thin and ends up tearing long before the grit wears out. So I apply duct tape to the back of the sandpaper. The sandpaper is still flexible enough to sand a tight radius and it’s far more durable. You can use this super-strong sandpaper like a shoeshine rag.” — Chuck Merchant
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The frost generated by Canadian winters wreak havoc on structures through their foundations. According to code con­ventional foundations and footings must rest below the reach of frost on undisturbed soil (in most provinces, this is safely considered to be 4 ft. below ground level or grade), bear directly on bedrock, or be frost-protected. A shallow founda­tion may be possible in your area in an outbuilding if you can get an engineer to design and stamp plans for insulating the area directly beside your shallow foundation wall so that frost will not form beneath the footing area and cause damage. A slab-on-grade foundation for an outbuilding is another option that will need to be designed by an engineer so that the con­crete slab will structurally bear the weight of the shop structure you build above it.

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.

After a permit has been issued, the building inspector will want to be notified at various points during your build in order to do a site visit, walk around and inspect the details to make sure that they meet code requirements. These inspections are commonly at the point where excavation work is complete, when the foundation is completed but before back-filling, when framing and all structural work has been done, after the installation of the insulation and vapour barrier, and then a final inspection after everything is complete. You may need to have a separate plumbing inspector if you’re adding or changing plumbing fixtures, and electrical work will need to be inspected by the appro­priate electrical inspector (in Ontario, the Electrical Safety Authority). In my experience, inspectors appreciate good work, a clean, safe site, and are willing to work with hom­eowners and builders to make sure that the work will meet code and will endure.

Shop layout is all about making the best use of space. Place your machines so that you have adequate “safe space” that you need to work around them. The “buffer area” beyond that is the amount of room you need to run large stock though a given machine, keeping in mind that buffer areas can overlap between machines. If you want to get more organized, buy some 1/4-inch squared paper, make scale models of each machine including the safe space around each, and place them on your model shop layout. Remember that buffer areas need to be long enough to put an 8' sheet through a table saw, or a 6' plank through your planer, for instance. I raised my planer, so that I can use the area above my router table to pass long planks through the planer – all it takes is some modelling, and a little shuffling, and you will find the layout that works for you. Each space will have chal­lenges; I had the area under the stairs that was wasted space, so I installed the dust collector there.

First, let’s take a look at four placement options for the table saw, the machine that is at the heart of most woodshops. The first option (see the illustration) places it in the center of the shop, which lends maximum space and flexibility for ripping and panel sawing, as well as crosscutting long boards. The main requirement here is a shop that’s at least long and wide enough to allow room for the workpiece, both on the infeed and outfeed sides.
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