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.
For many of us, the moment we learned that a 2×4 board is actually 1.5 inches x 3.5 inches was simply mind-blowing. The reason for this apparent contradiction is that the board has been planed down to eliminate irregularities. At one point, many years ago, 2x4s actually were 2 inches x 4 inches, but their rough surfaces made them difficult to stock and handle. The old terms, such as 2×4 or 4×4, are still used, and are known as the “nominal” size of the board. These nominal sizes are used because they are easier to say and they stick to tradition. Now, thanks to a lawsuit, most big box stores list the nominal and actual sizes of lumber.
With the advances in modern technology and the demands of industry, woodwork as a field has changed. The development of Computer Numeric Controlled (CNC) Machines, for example, has made us able to mass-produce and reproduce products faster, with less waste, and often more complex in design than ever before. CNC Routers can carve complicated and highly detailed shapes into flat stock, to create signs or art. Rechargeable power tools speed up creation of many projects and require much less body strength than in the past, for example when boring multiple holes. Skilled fine woodworking, however, remains a craft pursued by many. There remains demand for hand crafted work such as furniture and arts, however with rate and cost of production, the cost for consumers is much higher.
Radial-arm saws, sliding compound miter saws, and powered miter boxes (chop boxes) used for crosscutting long boards are best located against the longest wall of the shop, as shown in the first option in the illustration. If the saw is to become a stationary machine, it’s typical to mount or build it into a long, narrow support table fitted with a fence.
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.
Clamping up four mitered corners is tricky. You can buy specialty clamps for this, but I make my own. Here’s how to do it. Start with a long 1×4, as it’s easier (and safer) to clamp for making the angled cuts than a short piece. Mark out the blocks, and then drill a 1-in. diameter hole in the center of each one. The hole prevents the blocks from getting glued to your project. Cut 45-degree angles tangent to the hole, and then cut the blocks free from the long board. We’ll walk you through how to make one for your home shop.
Particleboard is a manufactured wood product composed of sawdust, wood chips or wood shavings mixed with a resin. This concoction is layered, compressed, subjected to heat and cut to shape, resulting in a sheet material that can be used for a variety of things. It’s often used as shelving or as an underlayment for carpet. Plastic laminate may be applied to both sides to create a product that can be used to create everything from furniture to cabinets to wall paneling. Head into IKEA and you’ll find acres of particleboard.
If your shop will be attached to your house or another structure, it will likely need to match its foundation, tying the two structures together so that one does not structurally stress the other if they shift differently. That may dictate a poured concrete or concrete block foundation. Regardless of your foundation type, a cold concrete floor will sap energy away from the rest of the structure if you are not careful, so think about how to insulate it well before you build.
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!
Before you buy a single tool, you need to take a hard look at your workshop space. If your workshop is a freestanding building or empty barn, you can simply measure the perimeter and know that you have the entire square footage at your disposal including the wall space. If your workshop is tucked into the back of a garage or a corner of partially finished basement, you’ll need to plan your furnishings with cars and water heaters in mind.