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.

How do you divide 11-3/8-in. (or any other mathematically difficult number) into equal parts without dividing fractions? Simple. Angle your tape across the workpiece until it reads an easily-divisible dimension and make your marks with the tape angled. For example, say you want to divide an 11-3/8-in. board into three equal parts. Angle the tape until it reads 12-in., and then make marks at “4” and “8”. Plus: More measuring tips and tricks.

My shop consists of a 9×16 storage building, with 3 feet being used for actual storage! I have a table saw, 13″ planer, lathe, sliding mitre saw, home made router table, small compressor, 5′ 4 drawer bench with vice, table top drill press, 6″ jointer, band saw, shop vac, wall mounted hand tool storage, clamp rack, power tool storage, and no room to turn around! But I put out a few nice pieces! Recently built, a 48″ entry table from 100 yr old milled poplar, coffee table from the same re milled red oak barnwood, and a little triangle shaped corner table from the left over red oak, a 7′ x48″ bookcase from old poplar, a small wall mounted poplar book case, and am presently working on a queen sized bed with a mixture of 100 yr old oak and new kiln dried oak, with drawbored pegging using black walnut from a tree from my yard! I’ve also made several mallets that I find useful from my firewood pile using Cherry, ash, hickory and white and red oak. Building anything in 108 sq ft is a challenge, but patience determination, and decent sales will make it work! One good point is that nothing is out of reach! Except maybe the bathroom!

Shop layout is all about making the best use of space. Place your machines so that you have adequate “safe space” that you need to work around them. The “buffer area” beyond that is the amount of room you need to run large stock though a given machine, keeping in mind that buffer areas can overlap between machines. If you want to get more organized, buy some 1/4-inch squared paper, make scale models of each machine including the safe space around each, and place them on your model shop layout. Remember that buffer areas need to be long enough to put an 8' sheet through a table saw, or a 6' plank through your planer, for instance. I raised my planer, so that I can use the area above my router table to pass long planks through the planer – all it takes is some modelling, and a little shuffling, and you will find the layout that works for you. Each space will have chal­lenges; I had the area under the stairs that was wasted space, so I installed the dust collector there.
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.

Historically, woodworkers relied upon the woods native to their region, until transportation and trade innovations made more exotic woods available to the craftsman. Woods are typically sorted into three basic types: hardwoods typified by tight grain and derived from broadleaf trees, softwoods from coniferous trees, and man-made materials such as plywood and MDF.
Basically, I created a linear outfeed area, which includes the miter-saw station with folding wings, tablesaw with folding outfeed table, and my large router table, all in a line along the 20-ft. wall and set at the same height. The miter-saw station converts easily for use with a mortiser—with workpiece support on both sides—and it also accepts a minilathe. I even planned a location for all of the tools, blades, and jigs used with the tablesaw: on the operator side, for easy access.
A landscape designer friend of mine tells a story about the college he went to. During his years there, the university embarked upon an ambitious building plan, adding several large structures around the main quad: a dorm, a chemistry lab, and a couple of others. The look of the place, which had remained unchanged for a century, was suddenly transformed, as glass-and-steel modernist structures were interspersed with the earlier ivy-covered stone Victorian-Gothic.

If a poured cement floor prohibits the installation of plug receptacles flush to the floor and you elect to surface-mount a plug, protect the exposed feed wire. A piece of one-by-four stock with a groove cut in its underside and its top edges chamfered, will pose little more tripping risk than a threshold. However, paint its protective covering a bright color to remind you and any other visitors to your shop of its presence.

I mix a lot of epoxy in small batches, but I’ve seldom had the right size container on hand. I solved this problem by drilling 1-1/2-in. holes in 2×4 scraps with a Forstner bit. The resulting shallow “cups” allow easy mixing without the risk of spilling. When the holes are used up, I just make a new mixing board. — Bill Wells. Save your takeout utensils to use in the shop!
The rubber cushion on my old palm sander was wearing thin around the edges. Because of its age, I couldn’t find a replacement pad. As I was drinking my beverage with a foam can cover around it, I realized I could cut the foam to fit the sander and glue it on. I peeled off the old pad, cleaned the metal base and attached the foam with contact cement. Works for clamp-on as well as stick-on sanding squares! You can find can covers at discount and convenience stores. — Allen J. Muldoon
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.

Since most of your assembly will be done on the assembly table, it just makes sense to have your clamps nearby. If you’re short on wall space, try a rolling clamp cart! If you use your workbench for assembly, keep your clamps near the workbench. Check out these two helpful articles for clamp racks: A Simple Utilitarian Clamp Rack and A Parallel Clamp Rack.

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.
Other important power tools—A good jigsaw will help get you through many tasks, particularly cutting curves, that would otherwise require a bandsaw. Look for one with blade guides that keep blade deflection to a minimum. A handheld drill is also essential. A quality corded drill is much less expensive than a cordless one, and will never leave you without a charge. Also look for a quality random-orbit sander with a provision for dust collection.
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.
There are a few things particleboard is NOT. It’s not medium density fiberboard (MDF)—a material with greater density and weight composed of more uniform particles. It’s NOT oriented strand board (OSB), a material composed of large wood chips and strands that’s structurally equivalent to plywood. It does NOT have great nail or screw holding ability, nor is it all that water resistant; water can quickly cause the material to swell and lose structural integrity. But if you need something flat and cheap for use in a dry place, particleboard will do you proud. Learn how to make a plastic laminate tabletop with a particleboard substrate.
Before you buy a single tool, you need to take a hard look at your workshop space. If your workshop is a freestanding building or empty barn, you can simply measure the perimeter and know that you have the entire square footage at your disposal including the wall space. If your workshop is tucked into the back of a garage or a corner of partially finished basement, you’ll need to plan your furnishings with cars and water heaters in mind.