I consider it part of my job to answer emails from my fellow woodworkers. Guild members or not, everyone receives a response. Occasionally, I get a question that requires a very detailed answer and that answer in and of itself would make for a decent blog post. That happened this morning when a Guild member asked me for advice on shop layout. I brainstormed some basic tips that I think apply to nearly all wood shops (at least the ones that incorporate some power tools). Of course, shop layout is something that evolves over time and really comes down to one’s personal preferences and tool choice. But here are some simple rules of thumb that came to mind; some more obvious than others. If you have some tips to add, please do so in the comments!
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.
Perhaps the most satisfying move I made was to automate the dust collection system. I used the iVACPro system to link all machines to the dust collector. When I turn on any machine in the shop, the dust collector fires up and whisks the dust into the bin. The system also has a programmable delay to allow the dust to make it to the bin before the dust collector shuts down. I set my system for a five-second delay. The system works flawlessly for my band saw, planer, and router table at 115 volts, and also my table saw and jointer at 240 volts.
Tabletop versus Freestanding Tools. When purchasing some power tools (the list includes the jointer, shaper, sander, and even some models of table and band saw), you may decide to opt for benchtop models. A single bench can then serve, alternately, a range of purposes. Make- ready time is increased significantly, of course, as not only the blades, fences, miter gauges, and the rest must be set but the machine itself has to be positioned and powered. But for the small shop, the infrequently used tool may be quite easily stowed on a shelf out of the way, opening up more space for other tasks.
The #1 shop tip is that the space dictates the layout. Every structure and shop location has subtleties to it, only after you dial those in can you end up at the optimum layout, and in addition to that the kind of work you do is going to dictate how you configure your shop. Casework requires more assembly area and space around your tablesaw for sheet goods, while smaller pieces benefit from having more organization around your bench.
If you live where summers get hot and humid, you may need more than a fan to keep cool in your workshop. Fortunately, air conditioners will both dehumidify and cool your space — and you don’t need a traditional window to get the job done. Instead of a residential window unit, consider a freestanding portable air conditioner that you can use as needed on hot days.
After a permit has been issued, the building inspector will want to be notified at various points during your build in order to do a site visit, walk around and inspect the details to make sure that they meet code requirements. These inspections are commonly at the point where excavation work is complete, when the foundation is completed but before back-filling, when framing and all structural work has been done, after the installation of the insulation and vapour barrier, and then a final inspection after everything is complete. You may need to have a separate plumbing inspector if you’re adding or changing plumbing fixtures, and electrical work will need to be inspected by the appropriate electrical inspector (in Ontario, the Electrical Safety Authority). In my experience, inspectors appreciate good work, a clean, safe site, and are willing to work with homeowners and builders to make sure that the work will meet code and will endure.
The rubber cushion on my old palm sander was wearing thin around the edges. Because of its age, I couldn’t find a replacement pad. As I was drinking my beverage with a foam can cover around it, I realized I could cut the foam to fit the sander and glue it on. I peeled off the old pad, cleaned the metal base and attached the foam with contact cement. Works for clamp-on as well as stick-on sanding squares! You can find can covers at discount and convenience stores. — Allen J. Muldoon
The dream of a dedicated home shop is a common one among woodworkers. Whether you currently borrow shop space, work in your driveway or side yard, or compete for a corner of your basement with Christmas decorations or your furnace, you may be ready to build your own space that will allow you the freedom of more room and time, and will also keep dust, fumes, and noise under control. Every design/build situation will be unique but there are a series of considerations that you will face in the design and construction phases of your project. Let’s walk through the process and discuss the questions that you will need to ask yourself and others as you approach this project.
Depending on your situation, you may need to upgrade to 200 amp electrical service in order to meet the needs of your house and your shop. It may also be in your interests to add in a separate electrical service meter on your shop so that you can clearly write off electrical use for your business, or in future rent the space out and clearly separate out the utilities for billing your tenant. Generally, you don’t want to skimp on the power to your shop or on the lighting you include.
Once you’ve planned the basic layout of your workshop and have added all the tools and speciality appliances you need, take a last look at the overall design to make it aesthetically pleasing. Add overhead lighting for general illumination and task lighting over your work stations so you can see your project clearly. For maximum flexibility, you can mount clip-on work lights to nearby shelves and point them where you need them, knowing you’ll be able to move them about as required for different projects.
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.
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.