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Timely article indeed. I’ve been playing with the shop layout tool on Grizzly’s website (http://www.grizzly.com/workshopplanner) which helps you see how tools fit in a specific shop size. However, your insight and experience really helps with ergonomic considerations. When I first built my shop, the first thing I did was installing a wall mounted work bench – as my fore fathers had all done – Big Mistake! Soon-to-be project: ripping it out and building a mobile work bench on wheels (like the one you have pictured).

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If your shop is long and narrow, option 2 provides maximum space to the left of the fence for handling large sheets of plywood. If you often work with full sheets of plywood or other sheet goods, you might want to build the table saw into an extension table surround, as San Diego woodworker Pat Curci did in his small shop (see the photo). The surround offers support for large panels, as well as provides an ample work surface near the saw.

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I have never worked with my bench up against the wall, because I like to work from all 4 sides of my bench. I do like my machines pushed up against the wall and a large open space in the middle of the shop to facilitate easier movement. I have a Minimax combination machine so by necessity my tablesaw and jointer/planer are bundled together but I would actually prefer they not be (like a Felder machine that breaks apart). I would never put my tablesaw central in my shop, always at one end with a clear entry and egress for the sliding table, space permitting. Putting a tablesaw in the middle always struck me as one thing I’d always have to walk around and/or fight the temptation to stack stuff on it.
I wanted to have numerous outlets, and have enough elec­trical service that I did not have to worry about overloading circuits. There was already some lighting, so I simply picked off that line and added additional lights to keep things bright and cozy. I ran a 240V line for the table saw and jointer with a dedicated breaker. For wall outlets, I ran 14-3 wire, and split all the plugs, so that I can run one machine on the upper plug, and another on the lower plug of any outlet.
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.
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Sanding small items is tricky, as they’re hard to clamp in a vise to work on them. So instead of bringing the sandpaper to the workpiece, I bring the workpiece to the sandpaper. I glue sheets of sandpaper to a piece of plywood; 60 and 100-grit on one side and 150 and 220-grit on the other. Spray adhesive works well for this. Since there’s sandpaper on both sides, my sanding board doesn’t slide around on the bench. Check out these small projects!
Use the corners — Some machines are perfectly content to live in a corner, including the bandsaw, scrollsaw, disc or combination sander, and lathe (see the illustration). Orienting the lathe’s tailstock end into a corner will leave room for outboard turning. Pulling the bandsaw away from the wall allows the necessary clearance to cut large curved parts, while locating it near a doorway or window permits resawing of long planks.
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.
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To plan my shop, I used a modeling program on my computer, but you can use the drawings I created to plan an efficient shop on paper. Download and print the PDF below and arrange them on graph paper to create a plan view of your shop. Take the time to work out the most efficient placement of benches, cabinets, and machines, taking into account infeed and outfeed zones as well as ducting for dust collection.
Well you can only do so much with your given space. These guidelines are just general best-practices, but that certainly doesn’t mean everyone will be able to execute them to the letter. Even I make concessions for my personal situation. And yes, there would be differences in a Festool shop. I imagine everything would simply revolve around an MFT. :)
Radial-arm saws, sliding compound miter saws, and powered miter boxes (chop boxes) used for crosscutting long boards are best located against the longest wall of the shop, as shown in the first option in the illustration. If the saw is to become a stationary machine, it’s typical to mount or build it into a long, narrow support table fitted with a fence.
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