Woodworking was essential to the Romans. It provided, sometimes the only, material for buildings, transportation, tools, and household items. Wood also provided pipes, dye, waterproofing materials, and energy for heat.:1Although most examples of Roman woodworking have been lost,:2 the literary record preserved much of the contemporary knowledge. Vitruvius dedicates an entire chapter of his De architectura to timber, preserving many details. Pliny, while not a botanist, dedicated six books of his Natural History to trees and woody plants, providing a wealth of information on trees and their uses.
In addition to sheer power, look for a model with a built-in thermostat so you can set it and forget it. This convenience feature is well worth it so you don’t have to stop what you’re doing mid-project to manually turn your heater on and off to maintain your desired temp. A good garage heater will mount to the wall or ceiling to save space and will come with a durable housing and full safety screen to keep dust and wood chips from reaching the heating elements and starting a fire.
Because workshops are rough and tumble places, the right fan for the job will have an industrial-strength motor and adjustable fan speeds. Easy-to-clean metal blades and a fully encased motor housing are also important features, especially if your shop tends to fill up with sawdust, wood chips and other fine debris. That extra layer of protection will help the fan motor last for years instead of being damaged by particulates.
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I could write a whole post on wood species as each species has unique characteristics and traits. But, one of the most common types of wood used in DIY projects and furniture building is pine wood (a softwood). Pine is an affordable and readily available option at your local home improvement store and it comes in many sizes. I highly recommend using pine for beginner woodworking projects. Then, as you improve your skill, try working with some different wood species!
Not long ago, I needed to make some angled wood parts to build a new soffit on my garage. I didn’t have the customary tool for the job, but I had some steel joining plates. I screwed through one of the holes in the plate, set my angle, then added another screw to lock the angle. I could then use it as a template to mark all the pieces at the same angle and cut them with my circular saw. — Ryan Bartsch
I’m 91 years old, but I still enjoy spending time in the wood shop. I like to make wooden toys and give them to my great-grandkids and charity groups. One trick I’ve learned over the years is to use emery boards—the kind for filing fingernails— to sand small parts. Emery boards come in different sizes, and some are more abrasive than others, so I keep an assortment on hand. — Joe Aboussleman
I agree with all of these tips in a larger shop. In a smaller shop (mine is just under 400-square feet) most things are fairly close together anyway. One of my original principals for shop layout was … how is a machining process performed on a piece of wood? Is the wood stationary while it is machined … or does the wood move through the machine? If the wood is stationary, I have tried to have this set for one side wall of the shop. To be specific, I have four machines in one line with a continuous table to support long pieces that might need cutting from one or all of those machines. The machines in that line are (from left to right) the drill press, the powered miter saw, the square-chisel mortiser and the radial arm saw.
Plan to invest in a set of bench chisels, both standard and low-angle block planes, a No. 4 or 4-1⁄2 smoothing plane, and a No. 6 jack or No. 7 jointer. Between them, these planes will true edges, flatten glue-ups that are wider than your thickness planer, and tame tricky grain that would tear out with a mechanized planer. They also do fine trimming better than any other tools.
Along with stone, clay and animal parts, wood was one of the first materials worked by early humans. Microwear analysis of the Mousterian stone tools used by the Neanderthals show that many were used to work wood. The development of civilization was closely tied to the development of increasingly greater degrees of skill in working these materials.
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.
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The router—The router is the master when it comes to flexibility. Its potential far exceeds trimming and decorative edge treatments. A router will cut mortises, rabbets, and dadoes, and adding a router table builds in even more versatility, including biscuit joinery and raised-panel doors. But where the router distinguishes itself from all other tools is in its ability to produce identical parts using a pattern.
Just as a shed or garage can get stifling in the summer heat, winter cold can also make working conditions difficult — if not impossible. To prevent clumsy, stuff fingers from ruining your projects, you need a way to heat your workshop in even the most extremely frigid days of the year. A traditional residential space heater probably won’t cut it, as these are designed to heat single rooms. For a two-car garage or full basement, you’ll need something much bigger.
Softwood is most commonly found in the regions of the world with lower temperatures and is typically less durable, lighter in weight, and more vulnerable to pests and fungal attacks in comparison to hardwoods. They typically have a paler color and a more open grain than hardwoods, which contributes to the tendency of felled softwood to shrink and swell as it dries. Softwoods usually have a lower density, around 25-37lb/cu ft, which can compromise its strength. Density, however, does vary within both softwoods and hardwoods depending on the wood's geographical origin and growth rate. However, the lower density of softwoods also allows it to have a greater strength with lighter weight. In the United States, softwoods are typically cheaper and more readily available and accessible. Most softwoods are suitable for general construction, especially framing, trim, and finish work, and carcassing.
This will be a personal matter, depending on whether it will be helpful for finishing or sharpening. However, it is a good idea to look beyond your current use of this space to the next owner. Would it be beneficial to add plumbing hookups so that the shop could someday be an apartment, or an art studio, or an extension to your house? It could add to the resale value of your house to be able to create as flexible an area as possible by roughing in a bathroom and even a kitchenette area if you can. If this is done when wall cavities are open or before the slab is poured, your forethought could pay dividends but not cost much up front.
Finally, as I shared in my post last week on how I learned woodworking, I learned how to use power tools by watching YouTube videos and then just trying them out for myself. I highly recommend this method to learn how to use your power tools. There are lots of videos on specific models of tools too. So, watch a few how-to videos and very importantly, review the tool manual and safety guide for your own tools. Then, go ahead and try the tool out yourself and start using it!
For one thing, the rearrange-it-later approach may simply mean that once you’re set up, the haphazard plan becomes the permanent plan, thanks to sheer inertia (it is a pain to move furniture, after all, especially when some of it is as heavy and awkward as workbenches and stationary tools). For another, too little advance planning may mean you buy a power tool that’s too big for your space.
Even if you buy your lumber already planed, you will still encounter many circumstances that require the use of a planer. For example, you might want to build a simple and delicate jewelry box out of small scrap pieces lying around the shop, and you will end up making a small and clunky jewelry box because all of your lumber is 3/4″ thick, and that’s how it is going to stay. That is just the first example. Think about all of the other times that you will pick up a piece of lumber in the shop and it will be the wrong thickness, either just slightly wrong or in an entirely different size category. A planer is a real problem solver and can fix all of that.
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.