Particleboard is a manufactured wood product composed of sawdust, wood chips or wood shavings mixed with a resin. This concoction is layered, compressed, subjected to heat and cut to shape, resulting in a sheet material that can be used for a variety of things. It’s often used as shelving or as an underlayment for carpet. Plastic laminate may be applied to both sides to create a product that can be used to create everything from furniture to cabinets to wall paneling. Head into IKEA and you’ll find acres of particleboard.
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.
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.
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!
To experiment with different wood shop layouts, measure your furniture and equipment to sketch onto your plan in different positions. You can also make cutouts of the footprint of your items so you can easily move them around your floor plan to see how best to arrange them. As you do so, don’t forget to leave adequate spacing around tools and tables.
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.
In a woodworking shop, lumber storage is key, and it’s best to design shelves or racks that are about 50 percent larger than you think you need — you’ll almost certainly acquire more materials as the years go on. To maximize a small space, use walls by mounting shelves to the ceiling and purchasing a sturdy step ladder to help you reach things. A wall covered in standard pegboard and outfitted with hooks allows you to customize hand tool storage and keep your most-used hardware within easy reach.
The number of windows, as well as their sizing and placement, depends on your orientation, view, desire for ventilation, and needs for daylight and solar gain. Orienting more of your windows towards the south side of your shop and placing them high enough that they are shaded by the eaves in summer, but allow lower-angle winter light to come in, will increase your ability to get free light and heat from the sun. If your goal is to take advantage of passive solar opportunities, make sure that you carefully research the type of glass that is in your windows and look for something with a high solar heat gain coefficient. Higher windows generally allow for benches and tools beneath them, and relatively windowless north walls may be a place to arrange wood storage or mechanicals.
I have never worked with my bench up against the wall, because I like to work from all 4 sides of my bench. I do like my machines pushed up against the wall and a large open space in the middle of the shop to facilitate easier movement. I have a Minimax combination machine so by necessity my tablesaw and jointer/planer are bundled together but I would actually prefer they not be (like a Felder machine that breaks apart). I would never put my tablesaw central in my shop, always at one end with a clear entry and egress for the sliding table, space permitting. Putting a tablesaw in the middle always struck me as one thing I’d always have to walk around and/or fight the temptation to stack stuff on it.
Instead of using a container to mix a small amount of epoxy, just make a mixing surface on your workbench using painters tape. Simply lay down strips, overlapping the edges so the epoxy doesn’t get on your bench. When you’re done, peel off the tape and throw it away. This mixing surface will work for more than just epoxy, you can use it for wood glue or any other material you need easy access to while working on a project.
I added an accessory mitre gauge to the saw for accurate cut-off work. The Incra Miter1000 showed up under the Christmas tree after the Lee Valley flyer photo with part number mysteriously ended up on the fridge door with a circle around it last December. A great addition, the Incra is light, accurate, and provides adjustable stops for cutting multiple parts to precise length. I will also make a plywood cut-off sled for the saw for squaring larger panels.
A board is considered “quarter-sawn” when the growth rings run, more or less, perpendicular to the face of the board. Quarter-sawn boards generally have straight grain and are less prone to shrinkage, compared to other boards. These factors don’t come into play with the 2x4s you use to frame a closet—but it does with the shelves and cabinetry you put into that closet; you want those boards to remain straight, flat and stable.
I really appreciate the article. I am always looking for a way to improve my shop and its layout. I currently have a 34′ x 28′ garage which I park two vehicles and still have some room for a table saw, large bench and various smaller benches and cabinets. All of my large power tools are on casters so I can roll them out when I move the cars outside. Right now I am considering keeping my little truck outside permanently and set the shop up more in a fixed layout. This would make working in the shop more enjoyable and much easier to do more complex projects that I currently take on. Maybe this spring. Thanks for the advice.
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Line ’em up — Most other woodshop machines work harmoniously when lined up along the walls, where they are easy to power and connect to dust collection. The amount of space left between these tools depends on the amount of room you have, the size of the stock you work with, and whether or not adjacent tools have tables at the same height. You can always pull a machine away from the wall if additional space is needed. Clearly, these options are not the only possibilities and are contingent upon the mix of machines you have, the shape and size of your shop, and the kind of work you do. The bottom line is if the layout works for you, then that’s the best for your shop (and don’t let anyone tell you any different!).