To plan my shop, I used a modeling program on my computer, but you can use the drawings I created to plan an efficient shop on paper. Download and print the PDF below and arrange them on graph paper to create a plan view of your shop. Take the time to work out the most efficient placement of benches, cabinets, and machines, taking into account infeed and outfeed zones as well as ducting for dust collection.
An interesting variation of this layout is displayed in Jim Tolpin’s shop, shown in the photo at right. Tolpin located his jointer to the left of his table saw, its height low enough to allow panels cut on the saw to pass over the jointer. To save space, his portable planer lives beneath the saw. All three tools are oriented toward the garage-style door, which can be opened to allow long boards to be ripped, jointed, or thickness planed.
One of the challenges we all face is how to move machines into a home without damaging the home, the machinery, or yourself. I actually had to bring things through the front door, and across hardwood floors, and turn 90° to descend the stairs into the shop. To protect the floors, I laid down sheets of 1/2" MDF that I could use later. On the wooden stairs, I used three strips of softwood strapping, held with wood screws to the stairs. I mounted a 2x4 baton to the wall studs at the top of the stairs, with a 5/16-inch eye-bolt through it.
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With these three power tools (and a few hand tools), I feel like I could make about 80% of the jobs that come through my shop on a daily basis. Obviously, some jobs will require more specialized power tools to complete, but these three probably find their way into almost all of my work. With that said, there are a few other tools that I couldn’t imagine being without and I feel need to be added to the list.
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.
The layout of a workshop will be based, in part, on how it will be used — whether for carpentry, fine woodworking, metalwork or other activities. Regardless of category, however, it's important to keep in mind the principles of efficiency and organization. A layout that's clearly thought out in terms of functionality will make all the difference in creating a workspace that offers a pleasant surrounding as well as a space that's conducive to work.
Electricity. It’s a rare workshop today that doesn’t need electricity; most need multiple receptacles of high amperage (20 amperes or more). Are there plugs available or will you need to add new lines and circuits? If you need to add wiring, when laying it out keep in mind that there’s no such thing as too many outlets in a workshop. The fewer (as in, ideally, zero) extension cords the better; they’re safety hazards. A good minimum is to have receptacles set at no more than six-foot intervals around the perimeter of the room, and, if possible, flush-mounted floor plugs in the central area.
Finally, think about the overall color and feel of your workshop. A fresh coat of bright white paint will help your lighting go farther, but you might also consider adding a splash of color for fun. An accent wall or an epoxy floor coating are good ways to upgrade your workshop from drab to fab without adding fussy decorations that will get in the way of business.
In each case, we shuffled the bench, jointer, table saw, and band saw across to the top of the stairs, and then tied a rope around each to act as a safety while sliding the machines down the strapping on the stairs. Yeah, the table saw hit the wall, and the promise of a good mud and paint job saved my bacon. The rope worked well, and we were able to get everything down the stairs nice and slowly without any major issues.
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.
Natural Light. Natural light is best, so any windows that offer illumination to the space should be put to good use. If you have little sunlight in your shop, locate your workbench so that its work surface gets whatever there is. Even the best eyesight is made better by good light, so the close work to be done on a benchtop benefits from the natural light.
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!
I could not consider a 12" jointer, given that the equipment had to be moved down the stairs to my basement, and the cost would blow my budget. What I wanted in an 8" jointer was true tables, a fence that is solid and easy to adjust, a cut depth gauge that is reliable, and long tables that aid in flattening longer bowed planks. I have found that the Taiwanese tools have come a long way in the past 20 years. I purchased the King KC-80FX 8-inch jointer, with lever adjust parallelogram tables. The system arrived in a good state of tune, and the well-written manual includes a full parts list and exploded parts diagrams. The tables were extremely heavy; more about getting things down the stairs later. The jointer is reasonably priced, it runs smoothly and it is well made.
Timely article indeed. I’ve been playing with the shop layout tool on Grizzly’s website (http://www.grizzly.com/workshopplanner) which helps you see how tools fit in a specific shop size. However, your insight and experience really helps with ergonomic considerations. When I first built my shop, the first thing I did was installing a wall mounted work bench – as my fore fathers had all done – Big Mistake! Soon-to-be project: ripping it out and building a mobile work bench on wheels (like the one you have pictured).
After years of digging down under router tables, lifting the entire unit up to change bits, and then fighting to get the plate flush again in the table, I chose to spend the money to purchase a router table, fence, and lift system. I did a thorough review of these systems, and chose the Canadian made Jessem Rout-R-Lift II kit. The system comes with a solid steel stand, a phenolic table, an adjustable extruded aluminum fence, and their base model lift system. For budget reasons, I did not choose the hefty Mast-R-Lift, but I am quite happy with the lighter Rout-R-Lift II. It will last me a couple of lifetimes, so it is the right system at the right price for me in my one-man shop. Hats off to Jessem for making a great lift at a very reasonable price in the middle of a tough economy. The table is durable, and flat. The direct drive lift is smooth and precise. I mated the lift system to a mid-sized model 690 Porter Cable router, which has a fixed speed, and enough power to do anything I need. The Jessem system uses a bayonet type mount for the table inserts, a nice touch that makes swapping the table insert quick and simple. As with all my machines, the router table is connected with the supplied dust port to my shop dust collection system with automated switching.
Chop saw (compound miter saw): I do a mix of woodworking from furniture to built-ins and even finish carpentry, and I find myself regularly using the chop saw. Even if used for nothing more than roughly cutting a long board into two shorter ones to fit in a car, this tool earns its keep. It is especially useful (with the help of an outfeed table) on long pieces that are precarious to push through a table saw. But, since a table saw with a jig can perform many of the same functions, this tool doesn’t make it to the essential list. With that said, I expect to have a chop saw wherever I am working, whether it be in the shop or at an install. If this was a post about on-site woodworking and trim carpentry, the chop saw might be the #1 tool.
The progenitors of Chinese woodworking are considered to be Lu Ban (魯班) and his wife Lady Yun, from the Spring and Autumn period (771 to 476 BC). Lu Ban is said to have introduced the plane, chalk-line, and other tools to China. His teachings were supposedly left behind in the book Lu Ban Jing (魯班經, "Manuscript of Lu Ban"). Despite this, it is believed that the text was written some 1500 years after his death. This book is filled largely with descriptions of dimensions for use in building various items such as flower pots, tables, altars, etc., and also contains extensive instructions concerning Feng Shui. It mentions almost nothing of the intricate glue-less and nail-less joinery for which Chinese furniture was so famous.
I agree with all of these tips in a larger shop. In a smaller shop (mine is just under 400-square feet) most things are fairly close together anyway. One of my original principals for shop layout was … how is a machining process performed on a piece of wood? Is the wood stationary while it is machined … or does the wood move through the machine? If the wood is stationary, I have tried to have this set for one side wall of the shop. To be specific, I have four machines in one line with a continuous table to support long pieces that might need cutting from one or all of those machines. The machines in that line are (from left to right) the drill press, the powered miter saw, the square-chisel mortiser and the radial arm saw.
Just as a shed or garage can get stifling in the summer heat, winter cold can also make working conditions difficult — if not impossible. To prevent clumsy, stuff fingers from ruining your projects, you need a way to heat your workshop in even the most extremely frigid days of the year. A traditional residential space heater probably won’t cut it, as these are designed to heat single rooms. For a two-car garage or full basement, you’ll need something much bigger.
Examples of Bronze Age wood-carving include tree trunks worked into coffins from northern Germany and Denmark and wooden folding-chairs. The site of Fellbach-Schmieden in Germany has provided fine examples of wooden animal statues from the Iron Age. Wooden idols from the La Tène period are known from a sanctuary at the source of the Seine in France.
Next come two options for the table saw’s trusty sidekick, the jointer, as well as for the thickness planer. Because it’s usual to work between all three tools when dressing lumber, the first option, shown in the illustration, locates the jointer nearest the saw to the right of its extension table with the planer nearby. As with the table saw, it always makes sense to align these tools with the shop’s long axis.