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.
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.
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.
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.
Here’s a safe and sound way to make long cuts with a circular saw on plywood clamped to a worktable. Cut about 12 in. into the plywood, then twist a piece of duct tape into a bow tie, with up-and-down adhesive faces. Slide it in the saw kerf and press the tape down above and under the plywood. Now as you finish the cut, the trailing end can’t curl down dangerously as you saw. Hats off to Mike Connelly for simplifying this job. Check out how to make this DIY duct tape wallet.
I set an initial budget of $10,000 to build the shop – everything from studs and drywall to hand tools and machinery. The final number was over by $1,000, but I’m still very happy with the result. The shop is now my haven, with a good sound system and good lighting. Every time I go back into the shop, it is exactly the way I left it, because it is my shop!
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).
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.
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A board is considered “quarter-sawn” when the growth rings run, more or less, perpendicular to the face of the board. Quarter-sawn boards generally have straight grain and are less prone to shrinkage, compared to other boards. These factors don’t come into play with the 2x4s you use to frame a closet—but it does with the shelves and cabinetry you put into that closet; you want those boards to remain straight, flat and stable.
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.