These are all good tips, and apply to pretty much every shop. Like all things woodworking they need to be tweaked so that it’s right for the individual. For instance, I have a basement shop that’s not tiny but it is still space constrained, so worrying about the optimal layout for my ts/jointer/planer is a little off the mark since I don’t have to walk very far; instead, I want to be sure that related tools can be used *at the same time*. Having to move the planer out of the away so that I can use my TS is crazy if it can be avoided. However, interference between my drill press and my planer is less of an issue because they usually don’t get used at the same phase of a project.
Another important factor to be considered is the durability of the wood, especially in regards to moisture. If the finished project will be exposed to moisture (e.g. outdoor projects) or high humidity or condensation (e.g. in kitchens or bathrooms), then the wood needs to be especially durable in order to prevent rot. Because of their oily qualities, many tropical hardwoods such as teak and mahogany are popular for such applications.
There are benefits to either approach. Sharing a common wall with your house can require some careful soundproofing but can reduce heat loss and exterior finishing costs like siding. A shop located in an addition is more likely to be allowed to have living space or storage space above it, and it may be easier to make use of the existing plumbing and electrical and heating systems of your home to service your shop space. Another advantage of an addition is not having to run to an outbuilding in minus-30-degree weather or a summer downpour.
To make the most of your workshop oasis, look for a water dispenser that offers a choice between chilled and hot water. This will let you enjoy a cold, refreshing drink in the heat of summer rather than a lukewarm bottle that’s been sitting around gathering dust. You’ll also cut down on the amount of plastic your household goes through, which is a boon for the environment. In the winter, the hot water tap will also you to make a cup of tea or a mug of instant coffee on the spot. No matter what your taste, a versatile drink dispenser will keep you hydrated and happy while you work.
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A landscape designer friend of mine tells a story about the college he went to. During his years there, the university embarked upon an ambitious building plan, adding several large structures around the main quad: a dorm, a chemistry lab, and a couple of others. The look of the place, which had remained unchanged for a century, was suddenly transformed, as glass-and-steel modernist structures were interspersed with the earlier ivy-covered stone Victorian-Gothic.
Position #3 is where you will likely spend most of your time in the shop. The diagonally placed workbench is the heart of this plan. The wall-mounted workspace that surrounds the bench forms an ideal “work triangle” within which each of your most commonly needed tools is only one or two steps away. The band saw can be placed outside of the work triangle because it is used slightly less frequently and often needs a little more space around it for your lumber to move.
The table saw also works amazingly well as a table. Mine is big enough to not only hold stuff, but serve as an assembly table when necessary. The table of the table saw is set apart from other tables because it is commonly the only one open and available in the shop. I try to keep it clear enough to actually use, which means that at least part of the top is usually available and ready to be used as a table or maybe even a saw.
I consider it part of my job to answer emails from my fellow woodworkers. Guild members or not, everyone receives a response. Occasionally, I get a question that requires a very detailed answer and that answer in and of itself would make for a decent blog post. That happened this morning when a Guild member asked me for advice on shop layout. I brainstormed some basic tips that I think apply to nearly all wood shops (at least the ones that incorporate some power tools). Of course, shop layout is something that evolves over time and really comes down to one’s personal preferences and tool choice. But here are some simple rules of thumb that came to mind; some more obvious than others. If you have some tips to add, please do so in the comments!
Sanding curves is tricky. Sometimes you need a sanding pad that’s both firm and flexible. A small notepad works great. Just wrap sandpaper around the pad and bend the pad to whatever arc you need. Slip the one end of the sandpaper between the pages to help hold it in place on the pad. Give this a try the next time you’re working on a project that has curves and tough to reach spots.
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 added an accessory mitre gauge to the saw for accurate cut-off work. The Incra Miter1000 showed up under the Christmas tree after the Lee Valley flyer photo with part number mysteriously ended up on the fridge door with a circle around it last December. A great addition, the Incra is light, accurate, and provides adjustable stops for cutting multiple parts to precise length. I will also make a plywood cut-off sled for the saw for squaring larger panels.
Finally, properly preparing your wood surface is super important. It will make a huge difference when it comes times to stain, paint, or finish your wood. There are a lot of tips for wood surface preparation, but sanding the wood is one of the most important steps. And I find it really helpful to do the bulk of my sanding before I start ripping (cutting) and building with my wood since it’s still in whole pieces. You can check out my simple tips for how to sand wood in my how to stain wood tutorial, which is also good to reference if you need to learn how to stain too!
Since most of your assembly will be done on the assembly table, it just makes sense to have your clamps nearby. If you’re short on wall space, try a rolling clamp cart! If you use your workbench for assembly, keep your clamps near the workbench. Check out these two helpful articles for clamp racks: A Simple Utilitarian Clamp Rack and A Parallel Clamp Rack.
Let’s face it, one of the most significant costs of your shop will be its foundation. While you’re at it, what about adding space above your shop? There may be regulations preventing you from building living space above your shop if it is in an urban setting or in an outbuilding, but there may be some flexibility depending on where you live. It is in the municipality’s interests to encourage infill housing that uses existing infrastructure. At a minimum, think about including attic trusses to create some space above your shop for drying lumber or storing equipment. Access could be from simple pull-down attic stairs or from the exterior if you don’t want to lose floor space to a stair or ladder. If you’re creating an addition to your house, you may be able to add a couple of rooms you’ve always wanted, such as a family room, office or in-law suite.
Clamping mitered edges can be a real hassle because they never seems to line up correctly. The easiest way that I’ve found to get around this process is to use painter’s tape as clamps. First set the pieces so that the outer edges are facing up and tape them edge-to-edge. The flip the pieces over so the beveled edges are facing up and glue them together. Complete the process by taping the last two edges together and let sit until completed. The tape removes easily and the glue won’t attach to the tape, making sanding and finishing very simple. Try this tip with this clever project!
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.
There is significant evidence of advanced woodworking in ancient Egypt. Woodworking is depicted in many extant ancient Egyptian drawings, and a considerable amount of ancient Egyptian furniture (such as stools, chairs, tables, beds, chests) has been preserved. Tombs represent a large collection of these artefacts and the inner coffins found in the tombs were also made of wood. The metal used by the Egyptians for woodworking tools was originally copper and eventually, after 2000 BC bronze as ironworking was unknown until much later.
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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.
The standard option for a shop floor is a concrete slab. You’re probably not going to go to the trouble of creating a basement beneath your shop, although it is possible. The weight of most woodworking machines suggests that a concrete floor is the most solid and durable substrate available. It has the potential to be used as thermal mass to store heat from your heating system or from the sun, but it can be tiring and hard on your body to be standing on concrete all the time. You can add a vapour barrier, 2x4 sleepers and a wooden floor above the concrete to ease the tendency of the floor to strain your feet and back, or you can add anti-fatigue mats in key areas where you’ll be standing for longer periods.
Hand tools offer your best chance of finding a real bargain. Until the early 20th century, nearly all woodworking was done with hand tools, and their designs and uses have changed little. Most of the high-end planes on today’s market, for example, are just reproductions of the original designs. And because the originals were mass-produced, they are fairly easy to find at rummage sales and antiques stores. (For more information, refer to Matthew Teague’s article, “Buying Old Tools,” in FWW #180).
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.
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.