That headline struck me as discouraging. As an entry fee, $5,000 seems high enough to exclude a number of potential woodworkers, myself included. Christiana softened the blow by saying that used tools could cut the cost roughly in half. That figure seemed much closer to my experience, which involved buying a mix of new and used tools. Having said that, buying the right used tools is much more difficult than buying from a catalog or dealer who stocks everything needed to build a great shop. It requires a bit of guile and a good plan, but the payoff is worth it. Through careful choices and good fortune, I was able to outfit my shop with a blend of new and used tools for around $2,000.
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!
If you want to run a business operated by yourself and more than one employee, you may run into zoning issues if your location is zoned for residential use only. It’s common for municipalities to allow and encourage home-based busi­nesses but there will likely be a maximum area that you will be permitted to add for business purposes. If you try to build a shop that will contribute noise and traffic (from employees or deliveries) to an urban neighbourhood, you run the risk of run­ning into opposition from neighbours concerned by the impact your shop will have. Your municipality will have planners with whom you should consult as you begin to define the possibili­ties that your property will allow.
There are benefits to either approach. Sharing a common wall with your house can require some careful soundproofing but can reduce heat loss and exterior fin­ishing costs like siding. A shop located in an addition is more likely to be allowed to have living space or storage space above it, and it may be easier to make use of the existing plumbing and electri­cal and heating systems of your home to service your shop space. Another advantage of an addition is not having to run to an outbuilding in minus-30-degree weather or a summer downpour.
This is a fundamental question. A good place to start is with a survey of your property. Most municipalities have a maximum percentage of your lot that you can build on and standard setbacks from your property lines that you will need to adhere to without needing to request special permission to build. On a photocopy of your survey you can draw in what your local setbacks are in order to define the location within which you will be permitted to build. In a best-case scenario, you will have the space to build without compromising too much on space or location; otherwise, you may need to request a minor variance, which would allow you to circumvent an obsta­cle such as a setback.
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!
Some of the most important decisions in laying out a shop involve the placement of basic machines, such as the table saw and jointer. Deciding where to put them depends in part on the scale of woodworking you do, which determines the clearance area around these machines if you need to handle long stock or large sheet goods. You’ll also want to consider work flow to avoid an excess amount of running around the shop to accomplish tasks, as well as how to power your machines without turning your shop into a snakepit of extension cords.