If your shop will be attached to your house or another struc­ture, it will likely need to match its foundation, tying the two structures together so that one does not structurally stress the other if they shift differently. That may dictate a poured concrete or concrete block foundation. Regardless of your foundation type, a cold concrete floor will sap energy away from the rest of the structure if you are not careful, so think about how to insulate it well before you build.
Alternately, a detached shop can often be located closer to your property line and offers you a bit more freedom in terms of the type of foundation you can use. It may give you a sense of welcome separation from your home and open up yard space or allow a deck on the back of your house that would otherwise be lost behind your shop. In an urban setting, if you would like to have a wood stove in your shop you may find it more challenging to find an insurance carrier that allows one in an outbuilding. Also, outbuildings can be subject to more stringent height regulations than additions.
I use binder clips for a lot of things around the shop, and here’s one that I thought I’d share. When I need to make multiple cuts all the same length, I just clamp my jumbo binder clip to my fence and use a 1/4-in.-thick wood scrap pinched in the clip as a stop. Works like a charm! When it’s not in use, I clamp it to the cord so it’s always nearby. — John Muchow
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Some types of wood filler can be hard to get off your hands after they dry, especially if you use your fingers to push it into small cracks and holes. When that happens, I reach for fine grit sandpaper and sand it off my fingers. It’s great for removing dried-on polyurethane glue and canned foam from your hands, too. — Chris James. We’ve got great solutions for removing super glue, too.
That headline struck me as discouraging. As an entry fee, $5,000 seems high enough to exclude a number of potential woodworkers, myself included. Christiana softened the blow by saying that used tools could cut the cost roughly in half. That figure seemed much closer to my experience, which involved buying a mix of new and used tools. Having said that, buying the right used tools is much more difficult than buying from a catalog or dealer who stocks everything needed to build a great shop. It requires a bit of guile and a good plan, but the payoff is worth it. Through careful choices and good fortune, I was able to outfit my shop with a blend of new and used tools for around $2,000.
Hard to determine which stain you need in that bespattered collection of cans? An easy-to-make “stain index,” courtesy of reader Bob Jacek, solves the problem. Section off boards of your favorite woods into squares with masking tape, and apply the different stains across the width of each wood type (pine, oak, birch, etc.). When the stains are dry, brush on lengthwise your regular finishes—polyurethane, water-based polyurethane, oil, orange shellac, etc. You’ll be able to tell how each stain looks with each finish. Label each one. Use both sides of each board, and you’ll have a wooden encyclopedia of stain and finish combinations. Plus: How to stain wood evenly.
In addition to sheer power, look for a model with a built-in thermostat so you can set it and forget it. This convenience feature is well worth it so you don’t have to stop what you’re doing mid-project to manually turn your heater on and off to maintain your desired temp. A good garage heater will mount to the wall or ceiling to save space and will come with a durable housing and full safety screen to keep dust and wood chips from reaching the heating elements and starting a fire.
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Instead of permanently mounting my 6-in. vise to a work-bench, I attached it to scrap plywood so I can clamp it wherever I need it. Stack two pieces of 3/4-in. plywood and screw them together with 1-1/4 in. drywall screws. Mark the vise-mounting holes on the plywood and drill 3/4-in. guide holes through both pieces. Recess the nut by drilling through the bottom sheet with a 1-in. spade bit using the 3/4-in. hole as a guide. Fasten the vise to the plywood with bolts sized to match the vise-mounting holes. If the bolt shafts are too long, cut them off with a hacksaw. — LuAnn Aiu. Plus: Learn how to use vise grips to pull nails.
Marc, would not assumptions for a Festool shop differ considerably? Far fewer big machines, and more carrying lightweight precision machines to the wood, for example. I only have a few Festool machines so far (took quite a while to get past the sticker shock), but I am beginning to see how it could change the way we work. My 400 sq ft shop is getting awfully crowded with floor-standing machines and implementing your guidelines, sound as they are, is difficult.
Other important power tools—A good jigsaw will help get you through many tasks, particularly cutting curves, that would otherwise require a bandsaw. Look for one with blade guides that keep blade deflection to a minimum. A handheld drill is also essential. A quality corded drill is much less expensive than a cordless one, and will never leave you without a charge. Also look for a quality random-orbit sander with a provision for dust collection.

Much like the assembly table, nearly every project in my shop makes extensive use of the table saw. And like it or not, my outfeed table becomes a second storage area for project parts and cut-offs. So I like to have mine located in the middle of the shop for the same reasons as the assembly table. Additionally, it’s nice to have ample space around the tablesaw for those larger workpieces. Unless it’s absolutely necessary, I’m not a fan of storing the table saw against a wall.


Before you buy a single tool, you need to take a hard look at your workshop space. If your workshop is a freestanding building or empty barn, you can simply measure the perimeter and know that you have the entire square footage at your disposal including the wall space. If your workshop is tucked into the back of a garage or a corner of partially finished basement, you’ll need to plan your furnishings with cars and water heaters in mind.
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