Cutting thick, rough, warped hardwood can be cumbersome and dangerous. To provide some control over this process, I built a chop-saw station with wings that extend to support long boards. Again, anytime you make something that consumes shop space, make a shelf underneath to gain storage. The chop saw sits in a recess so that the deck of the saw is at the same height as the workstation deck.

With these three power tools (and a few hand tools), I feel like I could make about 80% of the jobs that come through my shop on a daily basis. Obviously, some jobs will require more specialized power tools to complete, but these three probably find their way into almost all of my work. With that said, there are a few other tools that I couldn’t imagine being without and I feel need to be added to the list.


In most small shops, once the key machines are in place, others are arranged wherever there is room for them. There typically isn’t enough free space for these tools in the middle of the floor area, although sometimes you can tuck a machine into an unused space. For example, in a shop where the table saw is in the center, a shaper (or a router table or spindle sander) with a table the same height as the saw can be put on the outfeed side of the extension table (see the illustration). Also, building a router table directly into the table saw’s extension table is a great way to save space, as well as make use of the saw’s fence for routing operations.
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.
When I began to arrange my shop on paper and on the computer screen, I realized that, in a small shop, moving wood is easier than moving machines. So I ignored the idea of setting up the space for workflow—for example, creating adjacent, sequential zones for lumber storage, rough dimensioning, final dimensioning, joinery, and so on. That workflow concept is more appropriate for larger or commercial shops.
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Efficiency does not always increase with experience, because as our woodshops grow older, they sometimes become unnecessarily rearranged or cluttered. And if you’re just now setting up your first woodshop, this shop layout should give you a great starting point. Each picture represents one half of a standard two-car garage. Click on the images for a larger view, and if anything is unclear, ask a question in the comments field!

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.
If a poured cement floor prohibits the installation of plug receptacles flush to the floor and you elect to surface-mount a plug, protect the exposed feed wire. A piece of one-by-four stock with a groove cut in its underside and its top edges chamfered, will pose little more tripping risk than a threshold. However, paint its protective covering a bright color to remind you and any other visitors to your shop of its presence.

Some types of wood filler can be hard to get off your hands after they dry, especially if you use your fingers to push it into small cracks and holes. When that happens, I reach for fine grit sandpaper and sand it off my fingers. It’s great for removing dried-on polyurethane glue and canned foam from your hands, too. — Chris James. We’ve got great solutions for removing super glue, too.
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.
High-velocity fans are also an important tool in their own right, particularly at your finishing station. Increased air flow will help dissipate fumes from paints and sprays for your safety, and you can train a fan on your project to help paint dry more quickly between coats on humid days. To get the most out of your fan, look for floor fans that are easy to aim or wall-mounted fans that will save space in smaller shops.

“I do a lot of finish-sanding freehand, without a sandpaper block, so I can smooth edges and get into nooks and crannies. But the finer grits are usually bonded to thinner paper and, at least for me, the paper is too thin and ends up tearing long before the grit wears out. So I apply duct tape to the back of the sandpaper. The sandpaper is still flexible enough to sand a tight radius and it’s far more durable. You can use this super-strong sandpaper like a shoeshine rag.” — Chuck Merchant
The progenitors of Chinese woodworking are considered to be Lu Ban (魯班) and his wife Lady Yun, from the Spring and Autumn period (771 to 476 BC). Lu Ban is said to have introduced the plane, chalk-line, and other tools to China. His teachings were supposedly left behind in the book Lu Ban Jing (魯班經, "Manuscript of Lu Ban"). Despite this, it is believed that the text was written some 1500 years after his death. This book is filled largely with descriptions of dimensions for use in building various items such as flower pots, tables, altars, etc., and also contains extensive instructions concerning Feng Shui. It mentions almost nothing of the intricate glue-less and nail-less joinery for which Chinese furniture was so famous.
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!).
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