Through my cabinet-shop connections, I managed a snappy deal ($200) on a used cabinet saw with a 54-in. commercial rip fence. That price would be hard to match, but it is possible to find a hybrid or used cabinet saw with a high-quality fence for $600 to $1,200. Some of them will run on 120v household current, meaning you won’t have to rewire your shop for 240v service, but be sure to check for compatibility before you buy.
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Personally, I think it sucks to have to lug massive pieces of rough lumber and 4′ x 8′ plywood sheets all the way across a shop. Much respect to basement dwellers who have little choice in the matter. But for those with garage shops, you should think about storing your sheetgoods and solid stock near an entrance. This way when you come home from the lumber dealer, you can back up your vehicle and quickly load the stock into the shop.
Your sense of space and how to use it will be slightly different depending on the focus of your craft. If you are building furniture with hand tools, you will be able to make do with less space (under 300 sq ft.) than if you’re using mainly power tools and building sets of cabinets (over 400 sq ft.). Some 3D mod­elling with a program like Sketch-Up or some 2D layouts on graph paper with scaled cutouts can allow you to experi­ment with arranging your space and how much of it you will need. You should include not only the tools, benches and storage that you currently possess but also enough room to tackle new types of projects and new tools that you antici­pate needing down the road. When you think you have a layout that works, test it out by mentally working through a range of different projects you might tackle and the needs you will have for material storage, assembly and finishing. Then revise as necessary; this process will allow you to hone in on a general square footage and layout ideas that will set you up to move forward.
Personally, I think it sucks to have to lug massive pieces of rough lumber and 4′ x 8′ plywood sheets all the way across a shop. Much respect to basement dwellers who have little choice in the matter. But for those with garage shops, you should think about storing your sheetgoods and solid stock near an entrance. This way when you come home from the lumber dealer, you can back up your vehicle and quickly load the stock into the shop.
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.
Hard to determine which stain you need in that bespattered collection of cans? An easy-to-make “stain index,” courtesy of reader Bob Jacek, solves the problem. Section off boards of your favorite woods into squares with masking tape, and apply the different stains across the width of each wood type (pine, oak, birch, etc.). When the stains are dry, brush on lengthwise your regular finishes—polyurethane, water-based polyurethane, oil, orange shellac, etc. You’ll be able to tell how each stain looks with each finish. Label each one. Use both sides of each board, and you’ll have a wooden encyclopedia of stain and finish combinations. Plus: How to stain wood evenly.
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Keep in mind, there are no perfect boards, but try to always use the straighter boards and avoid warping boards. Also, Brandon and I have found that when it comes to picking out lumber at Home Depot and Lowes, they tend to stock up on fresh boards a few days before the weekend starts (so Thursday/Friday). And then, on Sundays and Mondays, the boards are usually really picked over and there isn’t a good selection. Just another tip to keep in mind!
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.
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.

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.


Electricity. It’s a rare workshop today that doesn’t need electricity; most need multiple receptacles of high amperage (20 amperes or more). Are there plugs available or will you need to add new lines and circuits? If you need to add wiring, when laying it out keep in mind that there’s no such thing as too many outlets in a workshop. The fewer (as in, ideally, zero) extension cords the better; they’re safety hazards. A good minimum is to have receptacles set at no more than six-foot intervals around the perimeter of the room, and, if possible, flush-mounted floor plugs in the central area.


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To make the most of your workshop oasis, look for a water dispenser that offers a choice between chilled and hot water. This will let you enjoy a cold, refreshing drink in the heat of summer rather than a lukewarm bottle that’s been sitting around gathering dust. You’ll also cut down on the amount of plastic your household goes through, which is a boon for the environment. In the winter, the hot water tap will also you to make a cup of tea or a mug of instant coffee on the spot. No matter what your taste, a versatile drink dispenser will keep you hydrated and happy while you work.

With two varieties, red and white, oak is known to be easy to work with and relatively strong. However, furniture makers often opt for white oak over red oak for its attractive figure and moisture-resistance.[12] Depending on the kind needed, oak can probably be found at a local home center or a lumberyard for a bit pricier than other hardwoods.[12][13]
You may want a garage door if you will need to access your shop with large workpieces or tools, or if you or future owners will ever want to use the space to park a vehicle. Garage doors are notoriously drafty, however, so if you think you can live without one you will probably be warmer. Instead, you could opt for out-swinging double doors. In a small shop you can, at a pinch, rip longer lengths of lumber by feeding the material out of either a strategically placed door or window.
Chop saw (compound miter saw): I do a mix of woodworking from furniture to built-ins and even finish carpentry, and I find myself regularly using the chop saw. Even if used for nothing more than roughly cutting a long board into two shorter ones to fit in a car, this tool earns its keep. It is especially useful (with the help of an outfeed table) on long pieces that are precarious to push through a table saw. But, since a table saw with a jig can perform many of the same functions, this tool doesn’t make it to the essential list. With that said, I expect to have a chop saw wherever I am working, whether it be in the shop or at an install. If this was a post about on-site woodworking and trim carpentry, the chop saw might be the #1 tool.
The thickness planer—A thickness planer will significantly expand the creativity and craftsmanship of your work by allowing you to buy roughsawn stock and use wood of any thickness in your designs. Nowadays, a new planer often represents a better value than a used model. In recent years, DeWalt and Ridgid have introduced portable planers with chip-ejection fans, which work as a built-in dust collector. Dust collection is important for all tools, but essential for thickness planers. This feature can help delay the expense of a dust collector and thus reduce the overall cost of a planer. Speaking of dust collection, I should mention that I don’t use a dedicated dust collector in my shop. I use a shop vac with a small hose for my sanders and a larger-diameter hose for the tablesaw and router table, and I depend on the built-in chipejection fan for my thickness planer.
Shops have value on many different levels. There is the sat­isfaction of having a place to create and work on projects that is hard to quantify, but definitely improves your quality of life. There is the value to your small business of having space in which to work wood and thereby generate income. There is the dollar value of the build itself, which will be a consider­able investment and, finally, there is the resale value of your property after you’ve added your shop. Before you go too far, though, it’s worth asking a local real-estate agent about the potential return on your investment in your area; generally shops won’t add significantly to the value of your property, so it’s worth thinking carefully about what else the space could be used for if you were to sell. The decision about whether it is worth it to build is a matter of balancing all these factors: projected sales balanced against the cost; the cost of build­ing is balanced against what it will be worth when you sell. Woodworking can be a creative outlet, can give you a sense of mastery, and even be a way to give back to your community by donating beautiful pieces to local charities for fundraising auctions, or creating pieces that future gener­ations will inherit. Ultimately, the value of a shop might come down to the emotional and social returns that it will pay you and the people around you for years to come.
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’m helping my son (who is significantly disabled) get started with a business idea that he had — one that I’d think was brilliant even if I weren’t his Mom — brilliant enough that I’ve “retired” from my law practice and moved us from MO to GA. Having lost 99.9% of ALL of my tools in the move (even the big ticket items, nearly 30 years collection — stolen by the mover!) I am now re-investing in tools, limiting my purchases to what we must have rather than all the fun stuff I used to have. . . .(So sad).


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. 
If your shop is long and narrow, option 2 provides maximum space to the left of the fence for handling large sheets of plywood. If you often work with full sheets of plywood or other sheet goods, you might want to build the table saw into an extension table surround, as San Diego woodworker Pat Curci did in his small shop (see the photo). The surround offers support for large panels, as well as provides an ample work surface near the saw.
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