My contention has always been that you can build a serviceable shop in your home, develop your hand skills, and make fine furniture. In the past year, I had an opportunity to build a shop from the ground up after moving to a new home. I found a house with an unfinished basement, and set to work. In this article, I will discuss everything from layout, to electrical, to equipment selection. I intend to name names with respect to equipment, so that readers will know what I chose. Everyone’s budget will be different, but I think almost everyone will be able to treat this as a starting point, and adjust accordingly, depending on their own budget.
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.
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.
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The dream of a dedicated home shop is a common one among woodworkers. Whether you currently borrow shop space, work in your driveway or side yard, or compete for a corner of your basement with Christmas decorations or your furnace, you may be ready to build your own space that will allow you the freedom of more room and time, and will also keep dust, fumes, and noise under control. Every design/build situation will be unique but there are a series of considerations that you will face in the design and construction phases of your project. Let’s walk through the process and discuss the questions that you will need to ask yourself and others as you approach this project.
Before you bid in an online auction, check the site’s rules of operation. At some sites, a winning bid is a binding contract, which can be a problem if you can’t inspect the tool before you purchase it. Don’t forget shipping costs. In some cases they can exceed the cost of the tool. Also, make sure the tool you’re buying will run on the power you have in your shop. Many former industrial tools run on 240v single-phase power. If your shop doesn’t have 240v service, you’ll need to factor in the cost of upgrading before deciding to buy. You don’t want to saddle yourself with a tool you can’t use, no matter how good the price.
In addition to sheer power, look for a model with a built-in thermostat so you can set it and forget it. This convenience feature is well worth it so you don’t have to stop what you’re doing mid-project to manually turn your heater on and off to maintain your desired temp. A good garage heater will mount to the wall or ceiling to save space and will come with a durable housing and full safety screen to keep dust and wood chips from reaching the heating elements and starting a fire.
Fir, also known as Douglas Fir, is very inexpensive and common at local home centers. It has a characteristic straight, pronounced grain with a red-brown tint. However, its grain pattern is relatively plain and it does not stain well, so Fir is commonly used when the finished product will be painted. While commonly used for building, this softwood would also be suitable for furniture-making as well.
Much like the assembly table, nearly every project in my shop makes extensive use of the table saw. And like it or not, my outfeed table becomes a second storage area for project parts and cut-offs. So I like to have mine located in the middle of the shop for the same reasons as the assembly table. Additionally, it’s nice to have ample space around the tablesaw for those larger workpieces. Unless it’s absolutely necessary, I’m not a fan of storing the table saw against a wall.
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!
This is a fundamental question. A good place to start is with a survey of your property. Most municipalities have a maximum percentage of your lot that you can build on and standard setbacks from your property lines that you will need to adhere to without needing to request special permission to build. On a photocopy of your survey you can draw in what your local setbacks are in order to define the location within which you will be permitted to build. In a best-case scenario, you will have the space to build without compromising too much on space or location; otherwise, you may need to request a minor variance, which would allow you to circumvent an obstacle such as a setback.
My hand tools are stored in a cabinet built into my bench but my shop supplies, air tools, and a plethora of “misc stuff” is in a cabinet on the other side of the shop, and my clamps are mounted on a wall adjacent to my bench, where conventional wisdom says tools should be. I just like it that way. I run my DC overhead and drop down… because my floor is on a slab. My bandsaw is mobile so I can pull it out of a semi-alcove for resawing, otherwise it stays in place for small operations (20″ bandsaws are cumbersome to move, even on leveling casters).
Gone are the days when you could apply for a building permit based on a sketch on the back of a cigarette package. In provinces like Ontario, design work must be undertaken by an insured designer registered under the provincial building code or by the owner of the property. You can do the drawings as the owner if you can demonstrate effectively through your drawings that your structure will comply with the technical requirements of the building code in a clear and concise way. You will be required to submit detailed drawings, including the following:
My advice here is to make a detailed list of what the various parts of the build will be (drawings, permits, foundation, framing, electrical, etc.) and decide what you would like to do yourself and what you will need to hire others to do. Get quotes on the work that you would like to hire out and estimate the materials you will need to do your portion. You may want to factor in your time into the cost as well, especially if you will be passing up other income to work on the project. At some lumberyards, you will be able to give detailed drawings to an estimator on staff who will do a material takeoff list for you of what you’ll need and what it will cost. When all the numbers come in, you can put together a budget and plan for an overrun allowance of around 15 percent. If you keep track of the materials and subcontract costs as you go, you can stay on track and make decisions as you go about the latter stages of the project without regretting it later. If it is challenging to obtain funding for a complete build, you may want to stage the build so that initially the frame goes up and the exterior is finished, and then you finish the interior work as you have time or as funds become available.
In many workshops, band saws and drill presses are not used constantly, so they can be set back out of the way. Jointers and shapers can also sometimes be set back out of the midway, but keep in mind that the more trouble they are to reposition, the less useful they’ll be. Remember, too, that while jointers and shapers take up relatively little floor space, you need to allow space on either side that is at least the length of your longest workpiece: a four-foot workpiece needs about a ten-foot space (the tool, plus four feet on either side). The longer the pieces to be joined or shaped, the greater the space required on either side.
In general, a table saw requires at least eight feet in front and behind to accommodate standard sheet goods and four feet side to side. A work table should provide four feet clearance on all sides, and pathways between tables, benches and storage units should be three feet wide. Proper clearance will allow you to move about with ease while you work.