Old doors laid across sawhorses make great temporary workbenches, but they take up a lot of space when you’re not using them. Instead of full-size doors, I use bifold doors with hinges so I can fold them up when I’m done working. They’re also easier to haul around in the pickup for on-the-road jobs. — Harry Steele. Here are 12 more simple workbenches you can build.
Shops have value on many different levels. There is the satisfaction of having a place to create and work on projects that is hard to quantify, but definitely improves your quality of life. There is the value to your small business of having space in which to work wood and thereby generate income. There is the dollar value of the build itself, which will be a considerable investment and, finally, there is the resale value of your property after you’ve added your shop. Before you go too far, though, it’s worth asking a local real-estate agent about the potential return on your investment in your area; generally shops won’t add significantly to the value of your property, so it’s worth thinking carefully about what else the space could be used for if you were to sell. The decision about whether it is worth it to build is a matter of balancing all these factors: projected sales balanced against the cost; the cost of building is balanced against what it will be worth when you sell. Woodworking can be a creative outlet, can give you a sense of mastery, and even be a way to give back to your community by donating beautiful pieces to local charities for fundraising auctions, or creating pieces that future generations will inherit. Ultimately, the value of a shop might come down to the emotional and social returns that it will pay you and the people around you for years to come.
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.
Particleboard is a manufactured wood product composed of sawdust, wood chips or wood shavings mixed with a resin. This concoction is layered, compressed, subjected to heat and cut to shape, resulting in a sheet material that can be used for a variety of things. It’s often used as shelving or as an underlayment for carpet. Plastic laminate may be applied to both sides to create a product that can be used to create everything from furniture to cabinets to wall paneling. Head into IKEA and you’ll find acres of particleboard.
Sanding small items is tricky, as they’re hard to clamp in a vise to work on them. So instead of bringing the sandpaper to the workpiece, I bring the workpiece to the sandpaper. I glue sheets of sandpaper to a piece of plywood; 60 and 100-grit on one side and 150 and 220-grit on the other. Spray adhesive works well for this. Since there’s sandpaper on both sides, my sanding board doesn’t slide around on the bench. Check out these small projects!
Is your cellar damp? If so, you may have to correct that problem before installing your tools and lumber supplies. Insulate pipes to prevent condensation. Make sure your gutters outside keep rainwater running away from the house. Cracks in the cement floor or walls should be filled with hydraulic cement; a high water table may necessitate a sump pump to collect water at a low point and pump it out. Any or all of these circumstances may also require a dehumidifier. In any case, dampness is unacceptable where power tools are to be used because of the risk of electric shock.
Line ’em up — Most other woodshop machines work harmoniously when lined up along the walls, where they are easy to power and connect to dust collection. The amount of space left between these tools depends on the amount of room you have, the size of the stock you work with, and whether or not adjacent tools have tables at the same height. You can always pull a machine away from the wall if additional space is needed. Clearly, these options are not the only possibilities and are contingent upon the mix of machines you have, the shape and size of your shop, and the kind of work you do. The bottom line is if the layout works for you, then that’s the best for your shop (and don’t let anyone tell you any different!).
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My advice here is to make a detailed list of what the various parts of the build will be (drawings, permits, foundation, framing, electrical, etc.) and decide what you would like to do yourself and what you will need to hire others to do. Get quotes on the work that you would like to hire out and estimate the materials you will need to do your portion. You may want to factor in your time into the cost as well, especially if you will be passing up other income to work on the project. At some lumberyards, you will be able to give detailed drawings to an estimator on staff who will do a material takeoff list for you of what you’ll need and what it will cost. When all the numbers come in, you can put together a budget and plan for an overrun allowance of around 15 percent. If you keep track of the materials and subcontract costs as you go, you can stay on track and make decisions as you go about the latter stages of the project without regretting it later. If it is challenging to obtain funding for a complete build, you may want to stage the build so that initially the frame goes up and the exterior is finished, and then you finish the interior work as you have time or as funds become available.
I could write a whole post on wood species as each species has unique characteristics and traits. But, one of the most common types of wood used in DIY projects and furniture building is pine wood (a softwood). Pine is an affordable and readily available option at your local home improvement store and it comes in many sizes. I highly recommend using pine for beginner woodworking projects. Then, as you improve your skill, try working with some different wood species!
When it comes to woodworking for beginners, I think it’s important to just learn how to use a few of the most essential woodworking tools for beginners. There are so many awesome tools available on the market today, it can be quite overwhelming as well as expensive to try to buy them all and know how to use them. Once you learn the basics of the most essential tools you will be able to start building in no time and feel comfortable learning any other new tools in the future.
Depending on your situation, you may need to upgrade to 200 amp electrical service in order to meet the needs of your house and your shop. It may also be in your interests to add in a separate electrical service meter on your shop so that you can clearly write off electrical use for your business, or in future rent the space out and clearly separate out the utilities for billing your tenant. Generally, you don’t want to skimp on the power to your shop or on the lighting you include.
Finally, as I shared in my post last week on how I learned woodworking, I learned how to use power tools by watching YouTube videos and then just trying them out for myself. I highly recommend this method to learn how to use your power tools. There are lots of videos on specific models of tools too. So, watch a few how-to videos and very importantly, review the tool manual and safety guide for your own tools. Then, go ahead and try the tool out yourself and start using it!
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.