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Along with stone, clay and animal parts, wood was one of the first materials worked by early humans. Microwear analysis of the Mousterian stone tools used by the Neanderthals show that many were used to work wood. The development of civilization was closely tied to the development of increasingly greater degrees of skill in working these materials.
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The thickness planer—A thickness planer will significantly expand the creativity and craftsmanship of your work by allowing you to buy roughsawn stock and use wood of any thickness in your designs. Nowadays, a new planer often represents a better value than a used model. In recent years, DeWalt and Ridgid have introduced portable planers with chip-ejection fans, which work as a built-in dust collector. Dust collection is important for all tools, but essential for thickness planers. This feature can help delay the expense of a dust collector and thus reduce the overall cost of a planer. Speaking of dust collection, I should mention that I don’t use a dedicated dust collector in my shop. I use a shop vac with a small hose for my sanders and a larger-diameter hose for the tablesaw and router table, and I depend on the built-in chipejection fan for my thickness planer.
Alternately, a detached shop can often be located closer to your property line and offers you a bit more freedom in terms of the type of foundation you can use. It may give you a sense of welcome separation from your home and open up yard space or allow a deck on the back of your house that would otherwise be lost behind your shop. In an urban setting, if you would like to have a wood stove in your shop you may find it more challenging to find an insurance carrier that allows one in an outbuilding. Also, outbuildings can be subject to more stringent height regulations than additions.
The frost generated by Canadian winters wreak havoc on structures through their foundations. According to code conventional foundations and footings must rest below the reach of frost on undisturbed soil (in most provinces, this is safely considered to be 4 ft. below ground level or grade), bear directly on bedrock, or be frost-protected. A shallow foundation may be possible in your area in an outbuilding if you can get an engineer to design and stamp plans for insulating the area directly beside your shallow foundation wall so that frost will not form beneath the footing area and cause damage. A slab-on-grade foundation for an outbuilding is another option that will need to be designed by an engineer so that the concrete slab will structurally bear the weight of the shop structure you build above it.
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.
Because of my son’s disability and my need to teach him just about everything, I have items sorted into bins with handles, labeled with the category (i.e, Sanding, Cutting, Measuring, etc). It’s over-simplified and over-organized, but necessary in our case. One thing nice about it is that we never waste time looking for something; everything has its place.
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.
You need an out-feed table to support work exiting the table saw and band saw. By placing the tools close together, I was able to make one out-feed table that works for both tools. I put four pivoting wheels on the table, allowing me to shift the table in any direction. By placing a shelf below the table, I gained some much needed storage space for portable power tools. Finally, since this is a large work surface, the table also serves as a true, flat assembly table.
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.
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.