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).
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.
When I began to arrange my shop on paper and on the computer screen, I realized that, in a small shop, moving wood is easier than moving machines. So I ignored the idea of setting up the space for workflow—for example, creating adjacent, sequential zones for lumber storage, rough dimensioning, final dimensioning, joinery, and so on. That workflow concept is more appropriate for larger or commercial shops.
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The beauty of a portable A/C unit is that you don’t have to heft it into a window and block off a valuable source of fresh air for keeping paint fumes at bay. Instead, choose a model with a low profile that you can tuck under a table or against a wall when not in use — a model with casters for maximum maneuverability is ideal. Choose a high-powered unit that will condition at least 400 square feet of space and move it where you need it for maximum comfort as you work.
Tired of waiting for finish to dry on one side before finishing the other side? You can purchase standoffs, but it’s also really easy to make them yourself. Simply drive 2-in. drywall screws through 2-in. x 2-in. squares of 3/4-in. thick stock. The screw points will leave a divot in the finish that can be touched up later, but I always let the back side of my project rest on the screws while the finish dries. — Matt Boley. Plus: Check out these 32 other handy hints for frugal shop rats.
Once you’ve planned the basic layout of your workshop and have added all the tools and speciality appliances you need, take a last look at the overall design to make it aesthetically pleasing. Add overhead lighting for general illumination and task lighting over your work stations so you can see your project clearly. For maximum flexibility, you can mount clip-on work lights to nearby shelves and point them where you need them, knowing you’ll be able to move them about as required for different projects.

Because of my son’s disability and my need to teach him just about everything, I have items sorted into bins with handles, labeled with the category (i.e, Sanding, Cutting, Measuring, etc). It’s over-simplified and over-organized, but necessary in our case. One thing nice about it is that we never waste time looking for something; everything has its place.
High-velocity fans are also an important tool in their own right, particularly at your finishing station. Increased air flow will help dissipate fumes from paints and sprays for your safety, and you can train a fan on your project to help paint dry more quickly between coats on humid days. To get the most out of your fan, look for floor fans that are easy to aim or wall-mounted fans that will save space in smaller shops.
As the comic George Carlin might say, a shop is mostly just “a place to put your stuff.” The physical aspect of a shop is indeed simply a space of some kind — a garage, a barn, a teepee — that keeps the rain, rust, and robbers away and houses a collection of implements needed to saw, plane, slice, sand, and pound raw wood into useful objects. But just like the difference between a house and a home, what transforms a building full of tools into a comfortable workshop goes beyond the mere physical aspect.
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