I’m 91 years old, but I still enjoy spending time in the wood shop. I like to make wooden toys and give them to my great-grandkids and charity groups. One trick I’ve learned over the years is to use emery boards—the kind for filing fingernails— to sand small parts. Emery boards come in different sizes, and some are more abrasive than others, so I keep an assortment on hand. — Joe Aboussleman
When you design your workshop setup, climate control often gets ignored — and that’s a huge mistake! If your workshop or hobby room is in an unconditioned space like a garage or basement, you could find that it’s brutally uncomfortable to work in there during warm weather. You’ll be much happier with a solid fan — or several — to keep air moving for your comfort.
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.
Even if you buy your lumber already planed, you will still encounter many circumstances that require the use of a planer. For example, you might want to build a simple and delicate jewelry box out of small scrap pieces lying around the shop, and you will end up making a small and clunky jewelry box because all of your lumber is 3/4″ thick, and that’s how it is going to stay. That is just the first example. Think about all of the other times that you will pick up a piece of lumber in the shop and it will be the wrong thickness, either just slightly wrong or in an entirely different size category. A planer is a real problem solver and can fix all of that.
I’m helping my son (who is significantly disabled) get started with a business idea that he had — one that I’d think was brilliant even if I weren’t his Mom — brilliant enough that I’ve “retired” from my law practice and moved us from MO to GA. Having lost 99.9% of ALL of my tools in the move (even the big ticket items, nearly 30 years collection — stolen by the mover!) I am now re-investing in tools, limiting my purchases to what we must have rather than all the fun stuff I used to have. . . .(So sad).
In most small shops, once the key machines are in place, others are arranged wherever there is room for them. There typically isn’t enough free space for these tools in the middle of the floor area, although sometimes you can tuck a machine into an unused space. For example, in a shop where the table saw is in the center, a shaper (or a router table or spindle sander) with a table the same height as the saw can be put on the outfeed side of the extension table (see the illustration). Also, building a router table directly into the table saw’s extension table is a great way to save space, as well as make use of the saw’s fence for routing operations.
Click the image at right, and start building the ideal workflow at the bottom where you see the first red arrow. This arrow crosses through one roll-up door of a typical two-car garage. Note that if the right-hand window were not present, you could place lumber storage closer to the entrance, which would also allow for easier passage onto the jointer. Work flows from the jointer to the planer and the table saw, then ideally onto an outfeed table near position #2 in the diagram. From #2, proceed left to the assembly area (pictured below).
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.
Second, learning how to read lumber dimensions, like knowing what 1×2 or 2×12 actually means, is really important. Understanding softwood lumber dimensions will help you to read woodworking build plans, shop for lumber, and understand the general measurements for your projects. I’ve provided a simple explanation to lumber sizes along with a free lumber size chart printable here!
To experiment with different wood shop layouts, measure your furniture and equipment to sketch onto your plan in different positions. You can also make cutouts of the footprint of your items so you can easily move them around your floor plan to see how best to arrange them. As you do so, don’t forget to leave adequate spacing around tools and tables.
For one thing, the rearrange-it-later approach may simply mean that once you’re set up, the haphazard plan becomes the permanent plan, thanks to sheer inertia (it is a pain to move furniture, after all, especially when some of it is as heavy and awkward as workbenches and stationary tools). For another, too little advance planning may mean you buy a power tool that’s too big for your space.
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.