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).
You have a few options for planning your shop space: The first is simply to photocopy the two-dimensional models and use them to create a scale layout of your shop floor. You also can go to my Web site ( and download two-dimensional images of each tool to be used either on paper or on the computer. As a third alternative, you can download the same modeling program I used, and create three-dimensional plans.
For all of my planning, I must admit there simply was no room in my shop for some tools. I struggled to find a place for my wide jointer and eventually decided against shoehorning it in, instead making a fixture for my router table that joints edges quite well. My scrollsaw, the bulk of my wood supply, and some storage cabinets didn’t make the cut either. These remain in a nearby room.
The #1 shop tip is that the space dictates the layout. Every structure and shop location has subtleties to it, only after you dial those in can you end up at the optimum layout, and in addition to that the kind of work you do is going to dictate how you configure your shop. Casework requires more assembly area and space around your tablesaw for sheet goods, while smaller pieces benefit from having more organization around your bench.
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.
Once you’ve planned the basic layout of your workshop and have added all the tools and speciality appliances you need, take a last look at the overall design to make it aesthetically pleasing. Add overhead lighting for general illumination and task lighting over your work stations so you can see your project clearly. For maximum flexibility, you can mount clip-on work lights to nearby shelves and point them where you need them, knowing you’ll be able to move them about as required for different projects.
Minor variances are applications to your municipality to suspend a particular by-law to allow your project to proceed, based on common sense or precedents set by other buildings in your area. If your municipal committee of adjustment denies permission because a neighbour voices concern over the development, you would have to appeal the decision to the municipal board of your particular province. In that case, you may be better off looking for another piece of property with an existing structure that you could renovate, more relaxed zoning regula­tions, a larger lot, or more congenial neighbours. 
A good portable air conditioner will also remove excess water from the air, which is critical for keeping your stockpile of wood in good shape. Lumber should be stored in dry conditions so it doesn’t warp, so look for efficiency features that allow you to run the unit overnight in the summer as needed —without worrying about blowing up your electricity bills. Other good features to consider include a thermostat and variable settings that allow you to set your workshop temperature to the perfect level for your comfort.
Unless you’re a big fan of frequent shop remodeling, planning the layout of your workshop early in its development will save you a lot of time and trouble and also can keep you from spending years in an uncomfortable, poorly organized space. And if you already work in a shop that’s as organized as a trailer park after a tornado, careful planning and a little remodeling is likely to help you make a quantum leap.