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.
When I began to arrange my shop on paper and on the computer screen, I realized that, in a small shop, moving wood is easier than moving machines. So I ignored the idea of setting up the space for workflow—for example, creating adjacent, sequential zones for lumber storage, rough dimensioning, final dimensioning, joinery, and so on. That workflow concept is more appropriate for larger or commercial shops.
This style of saw will provide more power than a contractor-type saw and have the high-quality rip fence you need to do good work. However, because they are favored by professionals and serious amateurs, cabinet saws are harder to find on the used market. Scour the classifieds and online sales (be sure to check industrial auction sites as well), and do some networking. Check the bulletin board at your hardwood supplier and ask the proprietors if they know of anyone selling a saw. Also call local cabinet shops. They sometimes have a surplus tool sitting idle that they’d be willing to sell. Take your time in this step. A careful investment will pay dividends in the long run, but a well-intentioned compromise can cause long-term frustration.
Hard to determine which stain you need in that bespattered collection of cans? An easy-to-make “stain index,” courtesy of reader Bob Jacek, solves the problem. Section off boards of your favorite woods into squares with masking tape, and apply the different stains across the width of each wood type (pine, oak, birch, etc.). When the stains are dry, brush on lengthwise your regular finishes—polyurethane, water-based polyurethane, oil, orange shellac, etc. You’ll be able to tell how each stain looks with each finish. Label each one. Use both sides of each board, and you’ll have a wooden encyclopedia of stain and finish combinations. Plus: How to stain wood evenly.
For all of my planning, I must admit there simply was no room in my shop for some tools. I struggled to find a place for my wide jointer and eventually decided against shoehorning it in, instead making a fixture for my router table that joints edges quite well. My scrollsaw, the bulk of my wood supply, and some storage cabinets didn’t make the cut either. These remain in a nearby room.
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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.
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.
Usually ducting is well covered and one of the first things considered, however, most people initially neglect clean up when designing shops. With growth, I have a very cluttered shop that makes pulling shop vacs around frustrating especially if you’re at the wrong end of a 5m flexible hose without having to struggle with the vac (the practice of in no doubt exacerbated by those ridiculous vacuuming ads on TV). As my setup is retro fitted, it may not be pretty as it is ducted overhead, but it is productive. I have a centralised heavy duty ‘shop vac’ (rigged with a Dust Deputy) and 50mm stormwater piping radiating to selective parts (corners) of the workshop. I use 50mm water diverters to act as blast-gates to control the flow of air (I have a bank of them running down one full side of the workshop spaced about 5m apart). When I need to clean a part of the shop I plug the vac into the appropriate overhead vent, organise the diverters and attach a 5m flexible hose to the working end. I have the vac on a remote (one of those that control power points – all my dust extraction is controlled by these – after modifying any proprietary mag switches) and I can vacuum any part of my workshop without having to go and manually switch the vac on. I have bought some cheap off market flexible hoses and spread them at the extremities of the workshop. Each outlet will accept the hose. Hint – I bought a fairly low end 3D printer ($800 (Aust)) and I can print any sized coupling to accommodate all those non-standard ‘shop vac’ hoses/fittings to accept my proprietary shop vac accessories. Duct tape is now reserved for the few threaded non-standard couplings.
A board is considered “quarter-sawn” when the growth rings run, more or less, perpendicular to the face of the board. Quarter-sawn boards generally have straight grain and are less prone to shrinkage, compared to other boards. These factors don’t come into play with the 2x4s you use to frame a closet—but it does with the shelves and cabinetry you put into that closet; you want those boards to remain straight, flat and stable.
Sanding curves is tricky. Sometimes you need a sanding pad that’s both firm and flexible. A small notepad works great. Just wrap sandpaper around the pad and bend the pad to whatever arc you need. Slip the one end of the sandpaper between the pages to help hold it in place on the pad. Give this a try the next time you’re working on a project that has curves and tough to reach spots.
Unless you’re a big fan of frequent shop remodeling, planning the layout of your workshop early in its development will save you a lot of time and trouble and also can keep you from spending years in an uncomfortable, poorly organized space. And if you already work in a shop that’s as organized as a trailer park after a tornado, careful planning and a little remodeling is likely to help you make a quantum leap.
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