I know this seems really simple and you may already know how to read a tape measure so just hear me out on this one! Often times with woodworking you need to make exact measurements and cuts and it’s rarely pretty even numbers like 15 inches or 15 1/2 inches. It’s usually like 15 5/8 inches or 15 9/16 inches. So, really knowing how to read a tape measure in its entirety is important. And I’ve created a quick post on how to read a tape measure the easy way along with a helpful free printable.
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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 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.
Personally, I think it sucks to have to lug massive pieces of rough lumber and 4′ x 8′ plywood sheets all the way across a shop. Much respect to basement dwellers who have little choice in the matter. But for those with garage shops, you should think about storing your sheetgoods and solid stock near an entrance. This way when you come home from the lumber dealer, you can back up your vehicle and quickly load the stock into the shop.
Often times at first glance a board looks straight and the fact that it is actually bowed or has some warping isn’t always obvious. So the trick to knowing for sure, is to hold the board up towards your face, with the other end on the ground, and look at it at a downward angle (as shown in the below photo). This method will allow you to see if it is bowing at all.

The thickness planer can joint a board's face. On this simple jig, the stock is supported by twin rows of wood screws driven into a platform and adjusted to meet the varying clearances on the underside of the board. The stock rides the sled cup side up. Slide the board slightly sideways to adjust the screws, then seat it firmly on the screw heads for planing.


A shop geared toward woodworking would have lumber storage located at one corner of the triangle. Storage space for wood — both long pieces and flat plywood pieces — should be adequate. Raised storage, such as racks or shelves mounted on the wall, must be sturdy. Wood storage should also be in close proximity to the stationary tools or machines (table saw, jointer, power planer, etc.) to avoid frequently carrying heavy wood across the span of the workspace. Wood storage should be handy and near the area where the heavy woodworking tasks will take place. Keep in mind that a considerable amount of space will be needed around stationary tools such as a table saws and jointers for manipulating large pieces of raw lumber.
This is the one tool in the shop that provides the greatest opportunity to save money, if you are willing to purchase a well made, light duty machine, and take lighter cuts. In the past I have used General 14" planers that can hog off seri­ous cuts all day long. The problem is that these professional units cost over $5000, and they would crush my buddy as we haul them down the stairs (note: don’t be the guy on the bot­tom). After doing a fair amount of research, I purchased the Dewalt DW735 13" thick­ness planer. The unit came with a good manual, and was in a good state of tune. It is light enough for me to carry around the shop with­out excessive grunting, so that made it very simple to install. The planer has a sig­nificant internal fan-assisted chip ejection system. The chips are catapulted out of this planer, so have your dust collector running before you run stock through it. I now have to make more cuts at a lighter cut depth, but I saved about $4500, which makes my budget happy. The planer makes clean cuts, and has two speeds. I don’t see a reason for the two speeds for my type of work, but there is a faster feed rate should you choose to use it. Knife changing is simple and quick.
If you choose to hire a draftsperson or architect, they may charge you based on the square footage of the area you are proposing, by an hourly rate for their time or as a percent­age of the cost of the structure. Costs of building permits will be a percentage of the estimated cost of the structure you are proposing (e.g., $15 permit fee per $1000 or 1.5 percent), or a cost-per-square foot depending on your municipality (e.g., $1.20 per square foot). Design work and permits will both dif­fer depending on the part of the country in which you will be building, so ask the questions as you move ahead. One of the costs that is often overlooked in planning is the increase in annual property tax you will pay once your improved property has been reassessed.
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!
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.
With the advances in modern technology and the demands of industry, woodwork as a field has changed. The development of Computer Numeric Controlled (CNC) Machines, for example, has made us able to mass-produce and reproduce products faster, with less waste, and often more complex in design than ever before. CNC Routers can carve complicated and highly detailed shapes into flat stock, to create signs or art. Rechargeable power tools speed up creation of many projects and require much less body strength than in the past, for example when boring multiple holes. Skilled fine woodworking, however, remains a craft pursued by many. There remains demand for hand crafted work such as furniture and arts, however with rate and cost of production, the cost for consumers is much higher.
One of the misconceptions about planers is that they make lumber straight. They do some straightening, but they don’t make lumber straight. That is what jointers do. Many lumber mills just send rough lumber through the planer allowing the board to exit the machine with the same ups and downs and whoops that is entered with, only now to a consistent thickness. This is especially apparent when gluing up a couple of these roller coaster type of boards and trying to get them to line up. After a couple of those glue-ups, you will swear by lumber that has seen the jointer before the planer, and never skip the jointer.
“I do a lot of finish-sanding freehand, without a sandpaper block, so I can smooth edges and get into nooks and crannies. But the finer grits are usually bonded to thinner paper and, at least for me, the paper is too thin and ends up tearing long before the grit wears out. So I apply duct tape to the back of the sandpaper. The sandpaper is still flexible enough to sand a tight radius and it’s far more durable. You can use this super-strong sandpaper like a shoeshine rag.” — Chuck Merchant

One of the misconceptions about planers is that they make lumber straight. They do some straightening, but they don’t make lumber straight. That is what jointers do. Many lumber mills just send rough lumber through the planer allowing the board to exit the machine with the same ups and downs and whoops that is entered with, only now to a consistent thickness. This is especially apparent when gluing up a couple of these roller coaster type of boards and trying to get them to line up. After a couple of those glue-ups, you will swear by lumber that has seen the jointer before the planer, and never skip the jointer.
High-velocity fans are also an important tool in their own right, particularly at your finishing station. Increased air flow will help dissipate fumes from paints and sprays for your safety, and you can train a fan on your project to help paint dry more quickly between coats on humid days. To get the most out of your fan, look for floor fans that are easy to aim or wall-mounted fans that will save space in smaller shops.
An interesting variation of this layout is displayed in Jim Tolpin’s shop, shown in the photo at right. Tolpin located his jointer to the left of his table saw, its height low enough to allow panels cut on the saw to pass over the jointer. To save space, his portable planer lives beneath the saw. All three tools are oriented toward the garage-style door, which can be opened to allow long boards to be ripped, jointed, or thickness planed.
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