Finally, think about the overall color and feel of your workshop. A fresh coat of bright white paint will help your lighting go farther, but you might also consider adding a splash of color for fun. An accent wall or an epoxy floor coating are good ways to upgrade your workshop from drab to fab without adding fussy decorations that will get in the way of business.
Here’s a nifty tip—with a nifty tip—from faithful reader Don Ayers: Fill snap-capped sports water bottles with glue and stick them upside down in a hunk of 2×6. Now you don’t have to wait for the glue to run into the neck of the bottle, and the cap will control glue flow (and never get lost!). To holster the glue dispensers, cut holes in the base with a spade bit that’s a smidgen larger than the cap’s diameter.
I have never worked with my bench up against the wall, because I like to work from all 4 sides of my bench. I do like my machines pushed up against the wall and a large open space in the middle of the shop to facilitate easier movement. I have a Minimax combination machine so by necessity my tablesaw and jointer/planer are bundled together but I would actually prefer they not be (like a Felder machine that breaks apart). I would never put my tablesaw central in my shop, always at one end with a clear entry and egress for the sliding table, space permitting. Putting a tablesaw in the middle always struck me as one thing I’d always have to walk around and/or fight the temptation to stack stuff on it.
Depending on your situation, you may need to upgrade to 200 amp electrical service in order to meet the needs of your house and your shop. It may also be in your interests to add in a separate electrical service meter on your shop so that you can clearly write off electrical use for your business, or in future rent the space out and clearly separate out the utilities for billing your tenant. Generally, you don’t want to skimp on the power to your shop or on the lighting you include.
A receptacle or circuit that is overloaded is a hazard, in particular one fused beyond its limits. Power tools, especially heavy-duty saws, require lots of amperage, and you may need to add a circuit or two to serve the increased demand in your workshop space. Some tools require 220-volt service, so you may want to install a special plug and line to power that high-powered table saw.
Let’s face it, one of the most significant costs of your shop will be its foundation. While you’re at it, what about adding space above your shop? There may be regulations preventing you from building living space above your shop if it is in an urban setting or in an outbuilding, but there may be some flexibility depending on where you live. It is in the municipality’s interests to encourage infill housing that uses existing infrastructure. At a minimum, think about including attic trusses to create some space above your shop for drying lumber or storing equipment. Access could be from simple pull-down attic stairs or from the exterior if you don’t want to lose floor space to a stair or ladder. If you’re creating an addition to your house, you may be able to add a couple of rooms you’ve always wanted, such as a family room, office or in-law suite.
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.
In addition to keeping your workshop comfortable with climate control add-ons, don’t forget to keep your body in optimal condition as you work. A water cooler tucked away in the corner of your workshop will provide a big quality of life boost and allow you to keep at your projects without having to run to the kitchen for a glass of water every time you feel thirsty.
The tablesaw—This tool is the backbone of nearly every shop, and for good reason. It allows unmatched precision in ripping parallel edges and crosscutting at a variety of angles. Most woodworkers find it crucial for the basic milling of stock. It is also suited to many joinery tasks, easily producing tenons, box joints, and—with a reground blade—the tails for dovetail joints.
I looked around at many versions of Taiwanese drill presses. I ended up purchasing the Ridgid DP15501 15" drill press because I liked the way the quill stop was made, the work light, key storage, and the easy access to the belt change system. This machine was also on sale when I needed it, so that made it a slam dunk. Choose the one that suits you, as they’re all very similar. The table is large enough, and the distance to the column is large enough to allow you to do most anything a small shop needs.
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 best deals on portable power tools, including routers and sometimes planers, comes in the form of factory-reconditioned tools. These are primarily tools that have been repaired at the factory after failing quality inspections or being returned by customers. While they cannot be sold as new, they are identical to new tools in quality and appearance and usually feature the same warranty (be sure to check). Typical savings are anywhere from 15% to 30%, though you sometimes can find even bigger bargains. These tools can be found at Amazon.com and other online tool sellers. It is also possible to buy them through retail stores and, in some cases, directly from the manufacturer’s Web site.
Tape measure: I know this isn’t a power tool, but it is the one tool that you should always have with you. It is a pet peeve of mine – if you are planning on building something, or you are actually building it, have a tape measure with you. If you are in the shop, on the job site, or even at Home Depot make sure you have a tape measure with you or at least one very handy (Home Depot probably isn’t the best example, since they have them widely available, but you get the point). Without a tape measure, not much beyond rough work can get done.
Hand tools offer your best chance of finding a real bargain. Until the early 20th century, nearly all woodworking was done with hand tools, and their designs and uses have changed little. Most of the high-end planes on today’s market, for example, are just reproductions of the original designs. And because the originals were mass-produced, they are fairly easy to find at rummage sales and antiques stores. (For more information, refer to Matthew Teague’s article, “Buying Old Tools,” in FWW #180).
Just as a shed or garage can get stifling in the summer heat, winter cold can also make working conditions difficult — if not impossible. To prevent clumsy, stuff fingers from ruining your projects, you need a way to heat your workshop in even the most extremely frigid days of the year. A traditional residential space heater probably won’t cut it, as these are designed to heat single rooms. For a two-car garage or full basement, you’ll need something much bigger.
Lumber storage is spot on, I think especially for a basement shop – I used to store my lumber at the furthest point from the outside door, and it wasn’t until I moved it closest to the door that I realized how much of a difference it could make. And sheet goods are starting to be stored and broken down in the garage more so I don’t have to fight them into the basement.
A while back, I reached for my two containers of epoxy and noticed that the resin in one container had crystallized exactly like honey that’s been in the cupboard too long. The solution is exactly the same too: Set the container in a bowl of hot tap water. After about 15 minutes, I emptied the container and refilled it with hot water. After about a half hour, the epoxy regained its normal consistency. Good as new! — Ken Holte
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I mix a lot of epoxy in small batches, but I’ve seldom had the right size container on hand. I solved this problem by drilling 1-1/2-in. holes in 2×4 scraps with a Forstner bit. The resulting shallow “cups” allow easy mixing without the risk of spilling. When the holes are used up, I just make a new mixing board. — Bill Wells. Save your takeout utensils to use in the shop!
With an orbital sander and good sandpaper you can smooth wood evenly and easily with first-class results. When flush-sanding solid edge-banding, draw a squiggly line across the joint before sanding. The edge-banding will be slightly proud of the plywood veneer, so the pencil marks provide a visual aid to make sure that you’re sanding flat, and that you don’t sand through the plywood’s veneer. As you go, you can also test for a smooth, level transition by gently scraping your fingernails against the transition. If it’s smooth, your fingers will not catch on the seam between the two pieces
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.