Unless you’re a big fan of frequent shop remodeling, planning the layout of your workshop early in its development will save you a lot of time and trouble and also can keep you from spending years in an uncomfortable, poorly organized space. And if you already work in a shop that’s as organized as a trailer park after a tornado, careful planning and a little remodeling is likely to help you make a quantum leap.
I place the band saw first in my order of purchases, because I consider it the heart of the shop. Band saws are very safe tools for ripping, re-sawing, cutting curves and more because all of the force is downward, virtually eliminating any chance of unexpected kickbacks. I wanted a saw that had a strong back, dynamically balanced cast iron wheels for smooth operation and flywheel effect, 12" depth of cut, good dust extraction design, a large table and a solid fence. After shopping around, I settled on the General International Model 90-170 14" saw. It is very smooth, comes with an Excalibur fence, and it is light enough (133kg) to move into your basement without crushing someone.
If you want to run a business operated by yourself and more than one employee, you may run into zoning issues if your location is zoned for residential use only. It’s common for municipalities to allow and encourage home-based businesses but there will likely be a maximum area that you will be permitted to add for business purposes. If you try to build a shop that will contribute noise and traffic (from employees or deliveries) to an urban neighbourhood, you run the risk of running into opposition from neighbours concerned by the impact your shop will have. Your municipality will have planners with whom you should consult as you begin to define the possibilities that your property will allow.
Table saw: Of all of the tools in the shop, the table saw is the most useful and versatile. It excels at making straight cuts, and with the addition of any of a million jigs, can be made to perform an amazing number of tasks with repeatability and precision. I use the table saw for roughing out smaller parts from larger pieces, all the way through trimming parts to final size. The only limit to the table saw is that the piece needs to be small enough to be pushed through it. Above a certain size, the table saw becomes less useful and even impossible to use as the saw needs to be brought to the piece, instead of the piece being brought to the saw.
This will be a personal matter, depending on whether it will be helpful for finishing or sharpening. However, it is a good idea to look beyond your current use of this space to the next owner. Would it be beneficial to add plumbing hookups so that the shop could someday be an apartment, or an art studio, or an extension to your house? It could add to the resale value of your house to be able to create as flexible an area as possible by roughing in a bathroom and even a kitchenette area if you can. If this is done when wall cavities are open or before the slab is poured, your forethought could pay dividends but not cost much up front.
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.
Usually ducting is well covered and one of the first things considered, however, most people initially neglect clean up when designing shops. With growth, I have a very cluttered shop that makes pulling shop vacs around frustrating especially if you’re at the wrong end of a 5m flexible hose without having to struggle with the vac (the practice of in no doubt exacerbated by those ridiculous vacuuming ads on TV). As my setup is retro fitted, it may not be pretty as it is ducted overhead, but it is productive. I have a centralised heavy duty ‘shop vac’ (rigged with a Dust Deputy) and 50mm stormwater piping radiating to selective parts (corners) of the workshop. I use 50mm water diverters to act as blast-gates to control the flow of air (I have a bank of them running down one full side of the workshop spaced about 5m apart). When I need to clean a part of the shop I plug the vac into the appropriate overhead vent, organise the diverters and attach a 5m flexible hose to the working end. I have the vac on a remote (one of those that control power points – all my dust extraction is controlled by these – after modifying any proprietary mag switches) and I can vacuum any part of my workshop without having to go and manually switch the vac on. I have bought some cheap off market flexible hoses and spread them at the extremities of the workshop. Each outlet will accept the hose. Hint – I bought a fairly low end 3D printer ($800 (Aust)) and I can print any sized coupling to accommodate all those non-standard ‘shop vac’ hoses/fittings to accept my proprietary shop vac accessories. Duct tape is now reserved for the few threaded non-standard couplings.
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.
One of the misconceptions about planers is that they make lumber straight. They do some straightening, but they don’t make lumber straight. That is what jointers do. Many lumber mills just send rough lumber through the planer allowing the board to exit the machine with the same ups and downs and whoops that is entered with, only now to a consistent thickness. This is especially apparent when gluing up a couple of these roller coaster type of boards and trying to get them to line up. After a couple of those glue-ups, you will swear by lumber that has seen the jointer before the planer, and never skip the jointer.
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Historically, woodworkers relied upon the woods native to their region, until transportation and trade innovations made more exotic woods available to the craftsman. Woods are typically sorted into three basic types: hardwoods typified by tight grain and derived from broadleaf trees, softwoods from coniferous trees, and man-made materials such as plywood and MDF.
One of the best deals on portable power tools, including routers and sometimes planers, comes in the form of factory-reconditioned tools. These are primarily tools that have been repaired at the factory after failing quality inspections or being returned by customers. While they cannot be sold as new, they are identical to new tools in quality and appearance and usually feature the same warranty (be sure to check). Typical savings are anywhere from 15% to 30%, though you sometimes can find even bigger bargains. These tools can be found at Amazon.com and other online tool sellers. It is also possible to buy them through retail stores and, in some cases, directly from the manufacturer’s Web site.
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.
If your table saw is near a wall and your shop is fairly narrow, positioning the jointer and planer against the opposite wall is reasonable, as shown in option 2 in the illustration. If the shop isn’t long enough to accommodate long workpieces, try to put these machines near an operable doorway, as shown in the illustration and in the photo of Doug Warren’s shop.