The router—The router is the master when it comes to flexibility. Its potential far exceeds trimming and decorative edge treatments. A router will cut mortises, rabbets, and dadoes, and adding a router table builds in even more versatility, including biscuit joinery and raised-panel doors. But where the router distinguishes itself from all other tools is in its ability to produce identical parts using a pattern.
A landscape designer friend of mine tells a story about the college he went to. During his years there, the university embarked upon an ambitious building plan, adding several large structures around the main quad: a dorm, a chemistry lab, and a couple of others. The look of the place, which had remained unchanged for a century, was suddenly transformed, as glass-and-steel modernist structures were interspersed with the earlier ivy-covered stone Victorian-Gothic.
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).
There are benefits to either approach. Sharing a common wall with your house can require some careful soundproofing but can reduce heat loss and exterior finishing costs like siding. A shop located in an addition is more likely to be allowed to have living space or storage space above it, and it may be easier to make use of the existing plumbing and electrical and heating systems of your home to service your shop space. Another advantage of an addition is not having to run to an outbuilding in minus-30-degree weather or a summer downpour.
I consider it part of my job to answer emails from my fellow woodworkers. Guild members or not, everyone receives a response. Occasionally, I get a question that requires a very detailed answer and that answer in and of itself would make for a decent blog post. That happened this morning when a Guild member asked me for advice on shop layout. I brainstormed some basic tips that I think apply to nearly all wood shops (at least the ones that incorporate some power tools). Of course, shop layout is something that evolves over time and really comes down to one’s personal preferences and tool choice. But here are some simple rules of thumb that came to mind; some more obvious than others. If you have some tips to add, please do so in the comments!
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!
Set the table saw fence so the blade is centered on the seam, then push the whole thing through the saw. If the board edges are quite bowed or curvy, you may need a second pass. If so, unscrew the cleats, reclamp the boards across the middle center, then screw on the cleats again. The screws ding up the ends of the boards a little, so cut the boards you’re jointing a bit long, then trim 1/2 in. from each end to remove the screw holes.
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).
There are a few things particleboard is NOT. It’s not medium density fiberboard (MDF)—a material with greater density and weight composed of more uniform particles. It’s NOT oriented strand board (OSB), a material composed of large wood chips and strands that’s structurally equivalent to plywood. It does NOT have great nail or screw holding ability, nor is it all that water resistant; water can quickly cause the material to swell and lose structural integrity. But if you need something flat and cheap for use in a dry place, particleboard will do you proud. Learn how to make a plastic laminate tabletop with a particleboard substrate.
Sanding small items is tricky, as they’re hard to clamp in a vise to work on them. So instead of bringing the sandpaper to the workpiece, I bring the workpiece to the sandpaper. I glue sheets of sandpaper to a piece of plywood; 60 and 100-grit on one side and 150 and 220-grit on the other. Spray adhesive works well for this. Since there’s sandpaper on both sides, my sanding board doesn’t slide around on the bench. Check out these small projects!
Since most of your assembly will be done on the assembly table, it just makes sense to have your clamps nearby. If you’re short on wall space, try a rolling clamp cart! If you use your workbench for assembly, keep your clamps near the workbench. Check out these two helpful articles for clamp racks: A Simple Utilitarian Clamp Rack and A Parallel Clamp Rack.
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.
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.
Hardwoods, botanically known as angiosperms, are deciduous and shed their leaves annually with temperature changes. Softwoods come from trees botanically known as gymnosperms, which are coniferous, cone-bearing, and stay green year round. Although a general pattern, softwoods are not necessarily always “softer” than hardwoods, and vice versa.
I could write a whole post on wood species as each species has unique characteristics and traits. But, one of the most common types of wood used in DIY projects and furniture building is pine wood (a softwood). Pine is an affordable and readily available option at your local home improvement store and it comes in many sizes. I highly recommend using pine for beginner woodworking projects. Then, as you improve your skill, try working with some different wood species!
Before you bid in an online auction, check the site’s rules of operation. At some sites, a winning bid is a binding contract, which can be a problem if you can’t inspect the tool before you purchase it. Don’t forget shipping costs. In some cases they can exceed the cost of the tool. Also, make sure the tool you’re buying will run on the power you have in your shop. Many former industrial tools run on 240v single-phase power. If your shop doesn’t have 240v service, you’ll need to factor in the cost of upgrading before deciding to buy. You don’t want to saddle yourself with a tool you can’t use, no matter how good the price.
Low-tech tools are high on value A basic set of handplanes lets you true edges, flatten panels or wide boards, and achieve finish-ready surfaces. Start with a small cluster of handplanes—low-angle and standard block planes, a No. 4 or 4-1/2 bench plane, and a jointer plane. A set of inexpensive chisels is essential for chopping, paring, and trimming.
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.
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.