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.
There are benefits to either approach. Sharing a common wall with your house can require some careful soundproofing but can reduce heat loss and exterior fin­ishing costs like siding. A shop located in an addition is more likely to be allowed to have living space or storage space above it, and it may be easier to make use of the existing plumbing and electri­cal and heating systems of your home to service your shop space. Another advantage of an addition is not having to run to an outbuilding in minus-30-degree weather or a summer downpour.
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.

My shop consists of a 9×16 storage building, with 3 feet being used for actual storage! I have a table saw, 13″ planer, lathe, sliding mitre saw, home made router table, small compressor, 5′ 4 drawer bench with vice, table top drill press, 6″ jointer, band saw, shop vac, wall mounted hand tool storage, clamp rack, power tool storage, and no room to turn around! But I put out a few nice pieces! Recently built, a 48″ entry table from 100 yr old milled poplar, coffee table from the same re milled red oak barnwood, and a little triangle shaped corner table from the left over red oak, a 7′ x48″ bookcase from old poplar, a small wall mounted poplar book case, and am presently working on a queen sized bed with a mixture of 100 yr old oak and new kiln dried oak, with drawbored pegging using black walnut from a tree from my yard! I’ve also made several mallets that I find useful from my firewood pile using Cherry, ash, hickory and white and red oak. Building anything in 108 sq ft is a challenge, but patience determination, and decent sales will make it work! One good point is that nothing is out of reach! Except maybe the bathroom!
Here’s a nifty tip—with a nifty tip—from faithful reader Don Ayers: Fill snap-capped sports water bottles with glue and stick them upside down in a hunk of 2×6. Now you don’t have to wait for the glue to run into the neck of the bottle, and the cap will control glue flow (and never get lost!). To holster the glue dispensers, cut holes in the base with a spade bit that’s a smidgen larger than the cap’s diameter.
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.
Because workshops are rough and tumble places, the right fan for the job will have an industrial-strength motor and adjustable fan speeds. Easy-to-clean metal blades and a fully encased motor housing are also important features, especially if your shop tends to fill up with sawdust, wood chips and other fine debris. That extra layer of protection will help the fan motor last for years instead of being damaged by particulates.
I really appreciate the article. I am always looking for a way to improve my shop and its layout. I currently have a 34′ x 28′ garage which I park two vehicles and still have some room for a table saw, large bench and various smaller benches and cabinets. All of my large power tools are on casters so I can roll them out when I move the cars outside. Right now I am considering keeping my little truck outside permanently and set the shop up more in a fixed layout. This would make working in the shop more enjoyable and much easier to do more complex projects that I currently take on. Maybe this spring. Thanks for the advice.
When customers visit my shop we usually start by talking about their wood needs. If it is someone’s first time to visit I also try to get to know them, what they are looking for and what they are expecting from me. Half of them are just looking for rough cut wood, while the others are looking for wood that is processed a little bit more, perhaps jointed or planed, or even sanded. During our time together I get to understand their needs and abilities, and our discussion usually turns to the tools they have in their shop.
Lacking a jointer? Use reader Court Kites’ awesome tip to create perfectly matched glue joints on wavy or bowed board edges. Lay the boards on a flat surface, then clamp them across the middle with a bar clamp. Lay two 8-in. long by 1-3/4 in. wide scrap boards across each end and screw them in with four 1-1/4 in. long screws, two per board. Keep the screws well away from your future cutting line!
Table saw: Of all of the tools in the shop, the table saw is the most useful and versatile. It excels at making straight cuts, and with the addition of any of a million jigs, can be made to perform an amazing number of tasks with repeatability and precision. I use the table saw for roughing out smaller parts from larger pieces, all the way through trimming parts to final size. The only limit to the table saw is that the piece needs to be small enough to be pushed through it. Above a certain size, the table saw becomes less useful and even impossible to use as the saw needs to be brought to the piece, instead of the piece being brought to the saw.
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.
Lacking a jointer? Use reader Court Kites’ awesome tip to create perfectly matched glue joints on wavy or bowed board edges. Lay the boards on a flat surface, then clamp them across the middle with a bar clamp. Lay two 8-in. long by 1-3/4 in. wide scrap boards across each end and screw them in with four 1-1/4 in. long screws, two per board. Keep the screws well away from your future cutting line!
Figure out a simple setup for your woodworking space. You don’t need a fancy and expensive workshop or garage to start woodworking. In fact, we’ve never had a workshop or garage (though I do dream of having one haha). In our current town home, we always setup a temporary workshop table in our backyard with a pair of sawhorses and a plywood board from the home improvement store.
If your table saw is near a wall and your shop is fairly narrow, positioning the jointer and planer against the opposite wall is reasonable, as shown in option 2 in the illustration. If the shop isn’t long enough to accommodate long workpieces, try to put these machines near an operable doorway, as shown in the illustration and in the photo of Doug Warren’s shop.
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