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.
I know this seems really simple and you may already know how to read a tape measure so just hear me out on this one! Often times with woodworking you need to make exact measurements and cuts and it’s rarely pretty even numbers like 15 inches or 15 1/2 inches. It’s usually like 15 5/8 inches or 15 9/16 inches. So, really knowing how to read a tape measure in its entirety is important. And I’ve created a quick post on how to read a tape measure the easy way along with a helpful free printable.
In my shop I use a large number of Jorgenson F-clamps. I use many of the small clamps, the most useful being the 12" version. Large F-clamps are essential for cinching down parts on bending forms. I also like aluminum bar clamps because they are much lighter than steel clamps, and therefore less likely to damage a carcase should you bang into the wood during a glue-up.
This is the one tool in the shop that provides the greatest opportunity to save money, if you are willing to purchase a well made, light duty machine, and take lighter cuts. In the past I have used General 14" planers that can hog off serious cuts all day long. The problem is that these professional units cost over $5000, and they would crush my buddy as we haul them down the stairs (note: don’t be the guy on the bottom). After doing a fair amount of research, I purchased the Dewalt DW735 13" thickness planer. The unit came with a good manual, and was in a good state of tune. It is light enough for me to carry around the shop without excessive grunting, so that made it very simple to install. The planer has a significant internal fan-assisted chip ejection system. The chips are catapulted out of this planer, so have your dust collector running before you run stock through it. I now have to make more cuts at a lighter cut depth, but I saved about $4500, which makes my budget happy. The planer makes clean cuts, and has two speeds. I don’t see a reason for the two speeds for my type of work, but there is a faster feed rate should you choose to use it. Knife changing is simple and quick.
Temperature and Moisture Control. If your workshop is to be located in a portion of your house that is already comfortably warm, this will not be an issue. But if you’re converting a barn or shed or an unheated space, especially if you live in a climate where winter temperatures make for cold hands, you’ll need to devise a heating strategy. In some climates, air conditioning is a virtual necessity in hot weather.
Basically, I created a linear outfeed area, which includes the miter-saw station with folding wings, tablesaw with folding outfeed table, and my large router table, all in a line along the 20-ft. wall and set at the same height. The miter-saw station converts easily for use with a mortiser—with workpiece support on both sides—and it also accepts a minilathe. I even planned a location for all of the tools, blades, and jigs used with the tablesaw: on the operator side, for easy access.
Short scraps of hardwood are too good to throw away but hard to store neatly. So I bought a 4-ft. tube form made for concrete footings, cut it in half (the cardboard-like material cuts easily) and set the tubes on end. I tack the tubes to a wall or a bench leg so they don’t fall over. With the wood scraps stored upright, it’s easy to find a piece just the right length. Tube forms are available in various diameters for $5 and up at home centers. — Bill Wells. Here’s another brilliant use for these concrete forms.
Personally, I think it sucks to have to lug massive pieces of rough lumber and 4′ x 8′ plywood sheets all the way across a shop. Much respect to basement dwellers who have little choice in the matter. But for those with garage shops, you should think about storing your sheetgoods and solid stock near an entrance. This way when you come home from the lumber dealer, you can back up your vehicle and quickly load the stock into the shop.
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.