The router—The router is the master when it comes to flexibility. Its potential far exceeds trimming and decorative edge treatments. A router will cut mortises, rabbets, and dadoes, and adding a router table builds in even more versatility, including biscuit joinery and raised-panel doors. But where the router distinguishes itself from all other tools is in its ability to produce identical parts using a pattern.
I consider it part of my job to answer emails from my fellow woodworkers. Guild members or not, everyone receives a response. Occasionally, I get a question that requires a very detailed answer and that answer in and of itself would make for a decent blog post. That happened this morning when a Guild member asked me for advice on shop layout. I brainstormed some basic tips that I think apply to nearly all wood shops (at least the ones that incorporate some power tools). Of course, shop layout is something that evolves over time and really comes down to one’s personal preferences and tool choice. But here are some simple rules of thumb that came to mind; some more obvious than others. If you have some tips to add, please do so in the comments!
Old doors laid across sawhorses make great temporary workbenches, but they take up a lot of space when you’re not using them. Instead of full-size doors, I use bifold doors with hinges so I can fold them up when I’m done working. They’re also easier to haul around in the pickup for on-the-road jobs. — Harry Steele. Here are 12 more simple workbenches you can build.
Hardwoods are separated into two categories, temperate and tropical hardwoods, depending on their origin. Temperate hardwoods are found in the regions between the tropics and poles, and are of particular interest to wood workers for their cost-effective aesthetic appeal and sustainable sources. Tropical hardwoods are found within the equatorial belt, including Africa, Asia, and South America. Hardwoods flaunt a higher density, around 65lb/cu ft as a result of slower growing rates and is more stable when drying. As a result of its high density, hardwoods are typically heavier than softwoods but can also be more brittle. While there are an abundant number of hardwood species, only 200 are common enough and pliable enough to be used for woodworking. Hardwoods have a wide variety of properties, making it easy to find a hardwood to suit nearly any purpose, but they are especially suitable for outdoor use due to their strength and resilience to rot and decay. The coloring of hardwoods ranges from light to very dark, making it especially versatile for aesthetic purposes. However, because hardwoods are more closely grained, they are typically harder to work than softwoods. They are also harder to acquire in the United States and, as a result, are more expensive.
Typically furniture such as tables and chairs is made using solid stock from hardwoods due to its strength and resistance to warping. Additionally, they also have a greater variety of grain patterns and color and take a finish better which allows the woodworker to exercise a great deal of artistic liberty. Hardwoods can be cut more cleanly and leave less residue on sawblades and other woodworking tools. Cabinet/fixture makers employ the use of plywood and other man made panel products. Some furniture, such as the Windsor chair involve green woodworking, shaping with wood while it contains its natural moisture prior to drying.
The table saw also works amazingly well as a table. Mine is big enough to not only hold stuff, but serve as an assembly table when necessary. The table of the table saw is set apart from other tables because it is commonly the only one open and available in the shop. I try to keep it clear enough to actually use, which means that at least part of the top is usually available and ready to be used as a table or maybe even a saw.
Line ’em up — Most other woodshop machines work harmoniously when lined up along the walls, where they are easy to power and connect to dust collection. The amount of space left between these tools depends on the amount of room you have, the size of the stock you work with, and whether or not adjacent tools have tables at the same height. You can always pull a machine away from the wall if additional space is needed. Clearly, these options are not the only possibilities and are contingent upon the mix of machines you have, the shape and size of your shop, and the kind of work you do. The bottom line is if the layout works for you, then that’s the best for your shop (and don’t let anyone tell you any different!).
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.
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.
Tired of waiting for finish to dry on one side before finishing the other side? You can purchase standoffs, but it’s also really easy to make them yourself. Simply drive 2-in. drywall screws through 2-in. x 2-in. squares of 3/4-in. thick stock. The screw points will leave a divot in the finish that can be touched up later, but I always let the back side of my project rest on the screws while the finish dries. — Matt Boley. Plus: Check out these 32 other handy hints for frugal shop rats.
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
These are all good tips, and apply to pretty much every shop. Like all things woodworking they need to be tweaked so that it’s right for the individual. For instance, I have a basement shop that’s not tiny but it is still space constrained, so worrying about the optimal layout for my ts/jointer/planer is a little off the mark since I don’t have to walk very far; instead, I want to be sure that related tools can be used *at the same time*. Having to move the planer out of the away so that I can use my TS is crazy if it can be avoided. However, interference between my drill press and my planer is less of an issue because they usually don’t get used at the same phase of a project.
Finally, properly preparing your wood surface is super important. It will make a huge difference when it comes times to stain, paint, or finish your wood. There are a lot of tips for wood surface preparation, but sanding the wood is one of the most important steps. And I find it really helpful to do the bulk of my sanding before I start ripping (cutting) and building with my wood since it’s still in whole pieces. You can check out my simple tips for how to sand wood in my how to stain wood tutorial, which is also good to reference if you need to learn how to stain too!
Make sure to run ground wires wrapped around all lengths of flexible exhaust hose to prevent static build up, which can spark and potentially ignite. I chose the King 1.5 HP dust collector, with a 115 volt motor, so I did not need special wiring for it. A shop vac is a must, as well, used to vacuum out machinery, and to remove dust from furniture prior to finishing. Finally, an air filtration system was installed to clear the air of tiny airborne particles. The King KAC 650 unit I installed does a nice job, has a remote control, and a programmable delay – I usually have the air cleaner run for a timed two hours when I leave the shop.
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If you work with rough lumber, a planer will be absolutely necessary, except for the most rustic of projects. Every piece of rough cut lumber ends up somewhat not straight, not flat and not consistent in thickness, either from variations during the sawing or from stresses which occur while the wood dries. The planer, combined with the jointer, is a one-two punch to remove these variations and produce straight, flat and consistently thick lumber. The reason the planer is ahead of the jointer on this list is that some lumber is straight enough and flat enough to plane without jointing if the job is a little less finicky, thereby skipping the jointer.
To make sure you account for any existing obstructions, it’s a good idea to make a measured drawing of your workshop area on graph paper, noting existing furniture, built-ins and large items on the plan as you go. For example, a common one-car garage workshop layout has built-in tool cabinets and shelves around the perimeter where they won’t impede parking, but you may also have to get clever about folding work tables and saw horses that you can set up as needed in the middle of the garage when you’re working on a project (and cars are parked outside).