The planners did an interesting thing, my friend recalls. Instead of commissioning a hugely expensive study to try to predict the new patterns that would result from the opening of the new buildings, rather than devising an anticipated program and laying out a new scheme, the university’s brain trust decided to let the students and faculty, the lifeblood of the university, shape their own arterial flow.
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When I began to arrange my shop on paper and on the computer screen, I realized that, in a small shop, moving wood is easier than moving machines. So I ignored the idea of setting up the space for workflow—for example, creating adjacent, sequential zones for lumber storage, rough dimensioning, final dimensioning, joinery, and so on. That workflow concept is more appropriate for larger or commercial shops.
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!
In general, a table saw requires at least eight feet in front and behind to accommodate standard sheet goods and four feet side to side. A work table should provide four feet clearance on all sides, and pathways between tables, benches and storage units should be three feet wide. Proper clearance will allow you to move about with ease while you work.
Great suggestions for a large workshop where there is floor space… the shop I wish I had!!! My shop is a one car garage 23 X 13, which poses a real problem when it comes to workflow and tool positioning. I use your philosophy in reverse Marc; meaning, all my tools are on casters and I store my tools at one end of the shop in an order that allows me to bring the right tool or two into the centre of the shop to use. Bring the tool to the wood.
In each case, we shuffled the bench, jointer, table saw, and band saw across to the top of the stairs, and then tied a rope around each to act as a safety while sliding the machines down the strapping on the stairs. Yeah, the table saw hit the wall, and the promise of a good mud and paint job saved my bacon. The rope worked well, and we were able to get everything down the stairs nice and slowly without any major issues.
The table saw is best suited for making rip cuts, which are cuts along the length of the board, but with a crosscutting jig, the table saw can do just as well on crosscuts, which are cuts across the board. I even use the table saw for resawing thick lumber into thinner boards. The bandsaw is usually the tool for resawing, but any lumber under 6″ wide can be resawn on a 10″ table saw by cutting from both sides of the board.
Shops can range from functional spaces adorned with unpainted wallboard to beautifully finished, painted, and trimmed-out spaces. Ultimately, I think it depends on your budget and how important your surroundings are to your mindset as you’re working, or to your clients’ if they will be viewing your shop. If finishing your shop will improve the quality of the work that you will produce, thereby relaxing or inspiring you, or showcase for your clients the quality of the work of which you are capable, it may be a worthwhile investment. A more finished space may also allow for activities like parties or even a weekly poker game (as long as drinks stay off the tools).
This is the one tool in the shop that provides the greatest opportunity to save money, if you are willing to purchase a well made, light duty machine, and take lighter cuts. In the past I have used General 14" planers that can hog off serious cuts all day long. The problem is that these professional units cost over $5000, and they would crush my buddy as we haul them down the stairs (note: don’t be the guy on the bottom). After doing a fair amount of research, I purchased the Dewalt DW735 13" thickness planer. The unit came with a good manual, and was in a good state of tune. It is light enough for me to carry around the shop without excessive grunting, so that made it very simple to install. The planer has a significant internal fan-assisted chip ejection system. The chips are catapulted out of this planer, so have your dust collector running before you run stock through it. I now have to make more cuts at a lighter cut depth, but I saved about $4500, which makes my budget happy. The planer makes clean cuts, and has two speeds. I don’t see a reason for the two speeds for my type of work, but there is a faster feed rate should you choose to use it. Knife changing is simple and quick.
Figure out a simple setup for your woodworking space. You don’t need a fancy and expensive workshop or garage to start woodworking. In fact, we’ve never had a workshop or garage (though I do dream of having one haha). In our current town home, we always setup a temporary workshop table in our backyard with a pair of sawhorses and a plywood board from the home improvement store.
After years of digging down under router tables, lifting the entire unit up to change bits, and then fighting to get the plate flush again in the table, I chose to spend the money to purchase a router table, fence, and lift system. I did a thorough review of these systems, and chose the Canadian made Jessem Rout-R-Lift II kit. The system comes with a solid steel stand, a phenolic table, an adjustable extruded aluminum fence, and their base model lift system. For budget reasons, I did not choose the hefty Mast-R-Lift, but I am quite happy with the lighter Rout-R-Lift II. It will last me a couple of lifetimes, so it is the right system at the right price for me in my one-man shop. Hats off to Jessem for making a great lift at a very reasonable price in the middle of a tough economy. The table is durable, and flat. The direct drive lift is smooth and precise. I mated the lift system to a mid-sized model 690 Porter Cable router, which has a fixed speed, and enough power to do anything I need. The Jessem system uses a bayonet type mount for the table inserts, a nice touch that makes swapping the table insert quick and simple. As with all my machines, the router table is connected with the supplied dust port to my shop dust collection system with automated switching.
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.
Let’s be clear about one thing: No workshop is perfect for everyone. If there were, I could simply give you a precise plan to follow with clear dimensions. Every person who comes to the hobby, avocation, or profession of woodworking has his own particular collection of tools and his own peculiar work style, skills, and desires for the kind of woodworking he wants to do that gives him a unique approach as to how he will lay out a shop: where the tools should go, where lumber and supplies are stored, and how much bench area he needs.