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.
Popular and easy to work with, cherry is in high demand for its reddish-brown color and ease of staining and finishing. Cherry likely won’t be at the local home center, but should be at a lumberyard for a somewhat expensive price. This hardwood is a very common material for furniture, and is resistant to normal wear-and-tear, but it is best for indoor pieces.
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.
If you live where summers get hot and humid, you may need more than a fan to keep cool in your workshop. Fortunately, air conditioners will both dehumidify and cool your space — and you don’t need a traditional window to get the job done. Instead of a residential window unit, consider a freestanding portable air conditioner that you can use as needed on hot days.
To experiment with different wood shop layouts, measure your furniture and equipment to sketch onto your plan in different positions. You can also make cutouts of the footprint of your items so you can easily move them around your floor plan to see how best to arrange them. As you do so, don’t forget to leave adequate spacing around tools and tables.
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.
Electricity. It’s a rare workshop today that doesn’t need electricity; most need multiple receptacles of high amperage (20 amperes or more). Are there plugs available or will you need to add new lines and circuits? If you need to add wiring, when laying it out keep in mind that there’s no such thing as too many outlets in a workshop. The fewer (as in, ideally, zero) extension cords the better; they’re safety hazards. A good minimum is to have receptacles set at no more than six-foot intervals around the perimeter of the room, and, if possible, flush-mounted floor plugs in the central area.
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.
Although refrigerators long ago rendered them obsolete, antique oak ice boxes remain popular with collectors, even though they’re expensive and hard to find. This do-it-yourself version is neither: it’s both inexpensive and easy to build. An authentic reproduction of an original, the project is especially popular when used as a bar, but it has many
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.
Temperature and Moisture Control. If your workshop is to be located in a portion of your house that is already comfortably warm, this will not be an issue. But if you’re converting a barn or shed or an unheated space, especially if you live in a climate where winter temperatures make for cold hands, you’ll need to devise a heating strategy. In some climates, air conditioning is a virtual necessity in hot weather.
My advice here is to make a detailed list of what the various parts of the build will be (drawings, permits, foundation, framing, electrical, etc.) and decide what you would like to do yourself and what you will need to hire others to do. Get quotes on the work that you would like to hire out and estimate the materials you will need to do your portion. You may want to factor in your time into the cost as well, especially if you will be passing up other income to work on the project. At some lumberyards, you will be able to give detailed drawings to an estimator on staff who will do a material takeoff list for you of what you’ll need and what it will cost. When all the numbers come in, you can put together a budget and plan for an overrun allowance of around 15 percent. If you keep track of the materials and subcontract costs as you go, you can stay on track and make decisions as you go about the latter stages of the project without regretting it later. If it is challenging to obtain funding for a complete build, you may want to stage the build so that initially the frame goes up and the exterior is finished, and then you finish the interior work as you have time or as funds become available.
Second, learning how to read lumber dimensions, like knowing what 1×2 or 2×12 actually means, is really important. Understanding softwood lumber dimensions will help you to read woodworking build plans, shop for lumber, and understand the general measurements for your projects. I’ve provided a simple explanation to lumber sizes along with a free lumber size chart printable here!
Chop saw (compound miter saw): I do a mix of woodworking from furniture to built-ins and even finish carpentry, and I find myself regularly using the chop saw. Even if used for nothing more than roughly cutting a long board into two shorter ones to fit in a car, this tool earns its keep. It is especially useful (with the help of an outfeed table) on long pieces that are precarious to push through a table saw. But, since a table saw with a jig can perform many of the same functions, this tool doesn’t make it to the essential list. With that said, I expect to have a chop saw wherever I am working, whether it be in the shop or at an install. If this was a post about on-site woodworking and trim carpentry, the chop saw might be the #1 tool.
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.
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.
The beauty of a portable A/C unit is that you don’t have to heft it into a window and block off a valuable source of fresh air for keeping paint fumes at bay. Instead, choose a model with a low profile that you can tuck under a table or against a wall when not in use — a model with casters for maximum maneuverability is ideal. Choose a high-powered unit that will condition at least 400 square feet of space and move it where you need it for maximum comfort as you work.
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.
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.