My contention has always been that you can build a serviceable shop in your home, develop your hand skills, and make fine furniture. In the past year, I had an opportunity to build a shop from the ground up after moving to a new home. I found a house with an unfinished basement, and set to work. In this article, I will discuss everything from layout, to electrical, to equipment selection. I intend to name names with respect to equipment, so that readers will know what I chose. Everyone’s budget will be different, but I think almost everyone will be able to treat this as a starting point, and adjust accordingly, depending on their own budget.
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.

Tape measure: I know this isn’t a power tool, but it is the one tool that you should always have with you. It is a pet peeve of mine – if you are planning on building something, or you are actually building it, have a tape measure with you. If you are in the shop, on the job site, or even at Home Depot make sure you have a tape measure with you or at least one very handy (Home Depot probably isn’t the best example, since they have them widely available, but you get the point). Without a tape measure, not much beyond rough work can get done.
Is your cellar damp? If so, you may have to correct that problem before installing your tools and lumber supplies. Insulate pipes to prevent condensation. Make sure your gutters outside keep rainwater running away from the house. Cracks in the cement floor or walls should be filled with hydraulic cement; a high water table may necessitate a sump pump to collect water at a low point and pump it out. Any or all of these circumstances may also require a dehumidifier. In any case, dampness is unacceptable where power tools are to be used because of the risk of electric shock.
My hand tools are stored in a cabinet built into my bench but my shop supplies, air tools, and a plethora of “misc stuff” is in a cabinet on the other side of the shop, and my clamps are mounted on a wall adjacent to my bench, where conventional wisdom says tools should be. I just like it that way. I run my DC overhead and drop down… because my floor is on a slab. My bandsaw is mobile so I can pull it out of a semi-alcove for resawing, otherwise it stays in place for small operations (20″ bandsaws are cumbersome to move, even on leveling casters).
The second corner of the triangle is in the center of the room and, in our case, is where the workbench is located. Following work progress in sequence, the workbench is typically the second workstation where medium-duty work is done after heavier preparatory or wood-milling steps are finished. The workbench is where work is typically done using hand tools or smaller power tools such as hand drills, routers and joinery tools.
Popular and easy to work with, cherry is in high demand for its reddish-brown color and ease of staining and finishing. Cherry likely won’t be at the local home center, but should be at a lumberyard for a somewhat expensive price.[12] This hardwood is a very common material for furniture, and is resistant to normal wear-and-tear, but it is best for indoor pieces.[13]
Second, learning how to read lumber dimensions, like knowing what 1×2 or 2×12 actually means, is really important. Understanding softwood lumber dimensions will help you to read woodworking build plans, shop for lumber, and understand the general measurements for your projects. I’ve provided a simple explanation to lumber sizes along with a free lumber size chart printable here!

“I do a lot of finish-sanding freehand, without a sandpaper block, so I can smooth edges and get into nooks and crannies. But the finer grits are usually bonded to thinner paper and, at least for me, the paper is too thin and ends up tearing long before the grit wears out. So I apply duct tape to the back of the sandpaper. The sandpaper is still flexible enough to sand a tight radius and it’s far more durable. You can use this super-strong sandpaper like a shoeshine rag.” — Chuck Merchant
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
If you choose to hire a draftsperson or architect, they may charge you based on the square footage of the area you are proposing, by an hourly rate for their time or as a percent­age of the cost of the structure. Costs of building permits will be a percentage of the estimated cost of the structure you are proposing (e.g., $15 permit fee per $1000 or 1.5 percent), or a cost-per-square foot depending on your municipality (e.g., $1.20 per square foot). Design work and permits will both dif­fer depending on the part of the country in which you will be building, so ask the questions as you move ahead. One of the costs that is often overlooked in planning is the increase in annual property tax you will pay once your improved property has been reassessed.
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.
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