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).
My shop ended up being 23 x 19 feet, for a total of 437 square feet. I put my wood rack in the basement, but outside the walled in shop area. To keep the dust in the shop, a three part strategy was employed. I have a dust collection system, an air filtration system and a shop vacuum for cleaning dust out of machinery. I put up new walls, installed new electrical service, lighting, and two access doors for ease of materials movement. The shop includes two windows so that I can enjoy natural light, and not feel like I am squirreled away in the basement.
While many woods can be used for carving, there are some clear favorites, including Aspen, Basswood, Butternut, Black Walnut, and Oak. Because it has almost no grain and is notably soft, Basswood is particularly popular with beginner carvers. It is used in many lower-cost instruments like guitars and electric basses. Aspen is similarly soft, although slightly harder, and readily available and inexpensive. Butternut has a deeper hue than Basswood and Aspen and has a nice grain that is easy to carve, and thus friendly for beginners. It's also suitable for furniture. While more expensive that Basswood, Aspen, and Butternut, Black Walnut is a popular choice for its rich color and grain. Lastly, Oak is a strong, sturdy, and versatile wood for carving with a defined grain. It's also a popular wood for furniture making.
Shops have value on many different levels. There is the satisfaction of having a place to create and work on projects that is hard to quantify, but definitely improves your quality of life. There is the value to your small business of having space in which to work wood and thereby generate income. There is the dollar value of the build itself, which will be a considerable investment and, finally, there is the resale value of your property after you’ve added your shop. Before you go too far, though, it’s worth asking a local real-estate agent about the potential return on your investment in your area; generally shops won’t add significantly to the value of your property, so it’s worth thinking carefully about what else the space could be used for if you were to sell. The decision about whether it is worth it to build is a matter of balancing all these factors: projected sales balanced against the cost; the cost of building is balanced against what it will be worth when you sell. Woodworking can be a creative outlet, can give you a sense of mastery, and even be a way to give back to your community by donating beautiful pieces to local charities for fundraising auctions, or creating pieces that future generations will inherit. Ultimately, the value of a shop might come down to the emotional and social returns that it will pay you and the people around you for years to come.
You may want a garage door if you will need to access your shop with large workpieces or tools, or if you or future owners will ever want to use the space to park a vehicle. Garage doors are notoriously drafty, however, so if you think you can live without one you will probably be warmer. Instead, you could opt for out-swinging double doors. In a small shop you can, at a pinch, rip longer lengths of lumber by feeding the material out of either a strategically placed door or window.
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.
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Next come two options for the table saw’s trusty sidekick, the jointer, as well as for the thickness planer. Because it’s usual to work between all three tools when dressing lumber, the first option, shown in the illustration, locates the jointer nearest the saw to the right of its extension table with the planer nearby. As with the table saw, it always makes sense to align these tools with the shop’s long axis.