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).

If you have a fixed-in-place cutoff saw (a radial-arm, miter saw, or sawbuck, for example), it can, unlike the table saw, be conveniently positioned against a wall. Don’t set it in a corner, however, as you’ll need space on either side of the blade. Figure into your plan a two-foot-deep, three-foot-wide space for the saw itself and tables or other supports flanking the tool. Allow enough space directly in front of the saw for the operator to be able to comfortably line up and operate the saw.


In a woodworking shop, lumber storage is key, and it’s best to design shelves or racks that are about 50 percent larger than you think you need — you’ll almost certainly acquire more materials as the years go on. To maximize a small space, use walls by mounting shelves to the ceiling and purchasing a sturdy step ladder to help you reach things. A wall covered in standard pegboard and outfitted with hooks allows you to customize hand tool storage and keep your most-used hardware within easy reach.
Among early finds of wooden tools are the worked sticks from Kalambo Falls, Clacton-on-Sea and Lehringen. The spears from Schöningen (Germany) provide some of the first examples of wooden hunting gear. Flint tools were used for carving. Since Neolithic times, carved wooden vessels are known, for example, from the Linear Pottery culture wells at Kückhofen and Eythra.
Natural Light. Natural light is best, so any windows that offer illumination to the space should be put to good use. If you have little sunlight in your shop, locate your workbench so that its work surface gets whatever there is. Even the best eyesight is made better by good light, so the close work to be done on a benchtop benefits from the natural light.
There are a few things particleboard is NOT. It’s not medium density fiberboard (MDF)—a material with greater density and weight composed of more uniform particles. It’s NOT oriented strand board (OSB), a material composed of large wood chips and strands that’s structurally equivalent to plywood. It does NOT have great nail or screw holding ability, nor is it all that water resistant; water can quickly cause the material to swell and lose structural integrity. But if you need something flat and cheap for use in a dry place, particleboard will do you proud. Learn how to make a plastic laminate tabletop with a particleboard substrate.
Woodworking was essential to the Romans. It provided, sometimes the only, material for buildings, transportation, tools, and household items. Wood also provided pipes, dye, waterproofing materials, and energy for heat.[5]:1Although most examples of Roman woodworking have been lost,[5]:2 the literary record preserved much of the contemporary knowledge. Vitruvius dedicates an entire chapter of his De architectura to timber, preserving many details.[6] Pliny, while not a botanist, dedicated six books of his Natural History to trees and woody plants, providing a wealth of information on trees and their uses.[7]
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.
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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