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!
The frost generated by Canadian winters wreak havoc on structures through their foundations. According to code conventional foundations and footings must rest below the reach of frost on undisturbed soil (in most provinces, this is safely considered to be 4 ft. below ground level or grade), bear directly on bedrock, or be frost-protected. A shallow foundation may be possible in your area in an outbuilding if you can get an engineer to design and stamp plans for insulating the area directly beside your shallow foundation wall so that frost will not form beneath the footing area and cause damage. A slab-on-grade foundation for an outbuilding is another option that will need to be designed by an engineer so that the concrete slab will structurally bear the weight of the shop structure you build above it.
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.
In my shop I use a large number of Jorgenson F-clamps. I use many of the small clamps, the most useful being the 12" version. Large F-clamps are essential for cinching down parts on bending forms. I also like aluminum bar clamps because they are much lighter than steel clamps, and therefore less likely to damage a carcase should you bang into the wood during a glue-up.
Once the workshop location is determined, it's time to begin planning how to lay it out. First, acknowledge the need to formulate a plan that's realistic in terms of the space allotted. The size of the structure or workspace will place some constraints on how much can be done. Taking into account size limitations, begin fashioning a plan that keeps efficiency in mind.
I could not consider a 12" jointer, given that the equipment had to be moved down the stairs to my basement, and the cost would blow my budget. What I wanted in an 8" jointer was true tables, a fence that is solid and easy to adjust, a cut depth gauge that is reliable, and long tables that aid in flattening longer bowed planks. I have found that the Taiwanese tools have come a long way in the past 20 years. I purchased the King KC-80FX 8-inch jointer, with lever adjust parallelogram tables. The system arrived in a good state of tune, and the well-written manual includes a full parts list and exploded parts diagrams. The tables were extremely heavy; more about getting things down the stairs later. The jointer is reasonably priced, it runs smoothly and it is well made.
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.