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.
An interesting variation of this layout is displayed in Jim Tolpin’s shop, shown in the photo at right. Tolpin located his jointer to the left of his table saw, its height low enough to allow panels cut on the saw to pass over the jointer. To save space, his portable planer lives beneath the saw. All three tools are oriented toward the garage-style door, which can be opened to allow long boards to be ripped, jointed, or thickness planed.
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.
You have a few options for planning your shop space: The first is simply to photocopy the two-dimensional models and use them to create a scale layout of your shop floor. You also can go to my Web site ( and download two-dimensional images of each tool to be used either on paper or on the computer. As a third alternative, you can download the same modeling program I used, and create three-dimensional plans.
Let’s be clear about one thing: No workshop is perfect for everyone. If there were, I could simply give you a precise plan to follow with clear dimensions. Every person who comes to the hobby, avocation, or profession of woodworking has his own particular collection of tools and his own peculiar work style, skills, and desires for the kind of woodworking he wants to do that gives him a unique approach as to how he will lay out a shop: where the tools should go, where lumber and supplies are stored, and how much bench area he needs.