My contention has always been that you can build a serviceable shop in your home, develop your hand skills, and make fine furniture. In the past year, I had an opportunity to build a shop from the ground up after moving to a new home. I found a house with an unfinished basement, and set to work. In this article, I will discuss everything from layout, to electrical, to equipment selection. I intend to name names with respect to equipment, so that readers will know what I chose. Everyone’s budget will be different, but I think almost everyone will be able to treat this as a starting point, and adjust accordingly, depending on their own budget.
Fir, also known as Douglas Fir, is very inexpensive and common at local home centers. It has a characteristic straight, pronounced grain with a red-brown tint. However, its grain pattern is relatively plain and it does not stain well, so Fir is commonly used when the finished product will be painted. While commonly used for building, this softwood would also be suitable for furniture-making as well.
Here’s a nifty tip—with a nifty tip—from faithful reader Don Ayers: Fill snap-capped sports water bottles with glue and stick them upside down in a hunk of 2×6. Now you don’t have to wait for the glue to run into the neck of the bottle, and the cap will control glue flow (and never get lost!). To holster the glue dispensers, cut holes in the base with a spade bit that’s a smidgen larger than the cap’s diameter.
In this video Dave Heller shares an introduction to wood veneering and wood inlay for furniture making. What is veneering and inlay? They are traditional methods used to embellish and beautify furniture. Veneering is the process of gluing thin slices of attractive (and often rare) wood onto core panels. Inlay involves insetting wood, precious stones, etc. into the wood. Here's a prime example of one of Dave's boxes that incorporates both techniques: Here is an example
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.
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.