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 table saw also works amazingly well as a table. Mine is big enough to not only hold stuff, but serve as an assembly table when necessary. The table of the table saw is set apart from other tables because it is commonly the only one open and available in the shop. I try to keep it clear enough to actually use, which means that at least part of the top is usually available and ready to be used as a table or maybe even a saw.

Although refrigerators long ago rendered them obsolete, antique oak ice boxes remain popular with collectors, even though they’re expensive and hard to find. This do-it-yourself version is neither: it’s both inexpensive and easy to build. An authentic reproduction of an original, the project is especially popular when used as a bar, but it has many


My hand tools are stored in a cabinet built into my bench but my shop supplies, air tools, and a plethora of “misc stuff” is in a cabinet on the other side of the shop, and my clamps are mounted on a wall adjacent to my bench, where conventional wisdom says tools should be. I just like it that way. I run my DC overhead and drop down… because my floor is on a slab. My bandsaw is mobile so I can pull it out of a semi-alcove for resawing, otherwise it stays in place for small operations (20″ bandsaws are cumbersome to move, even on leveling casters).

Plan to invest in a set of bench chisels, both standard and low-angle block planes, a No. 4 or 4-1⁄2 smoothing plane, and a No. 6 jack or No. 7 jointer. Between them, these planes will true edges, flatten glue-ups that are wider than your thickness planer, and tame tricky grain that would tear out with a mechanized planer. They also do fine trimming better than any other tools.
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.
I have a 3 car garage, 1-2 car bay, 1 single bay. I made some simple saddle brackets that hang on the outside of the garage door track (V shaped with the top of the V having a cleat that stabilizes the bracket against the top of the track, stove bolts hold the brackets to the track without interfering with the door). Through the bottom of the brackets are drilled holes to hold 3/4″ EMT metal conduit. This is available in 10 ft lengths which is enough to span the single bay track width. I used cotter pins to hold the conduit in the brackets. Eye bolts that slide over the conduit can then be mounted to a 2 bulb flourescent light fixture and bingo, you have lighting that works with the garage door up or down. I did this for my single bay which is where I have my tablesaw and bench/outfeed table. I centered the light at the tablesaw/outfeed table juncture and it makes for awesome lighting for both surfaces.

Short scraps of hardwood are too good to throw away but hard to store neatly. So I bought a 4-ft. tube form made for concrete footings, cut it in half (the cardboard-like material cuts easily) and set the tubes on end. I tack the tubes to a wall or a bench leg so they don’t fall over. With the wood scraps stored upright, it’s easy to find a piece just the right length. Tube forms are available in various diameters for $5 and up at home centers. — Bill Wells. Here’s another brilliant use for these concrete forms.
It has made me really think about doing things in an order which optimizes the switching around of machinery. One thing I did do which has really helped and that I would add to your list is SOUND PROOFING! Didn’t mean to yell there.. lol. Sound proofing has has allowed me to keep the workshop operations from bothering the rest of the family when I am in my man-room.
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.
Short scraps of hardwood are too good to throw away but hard to store neatly. So I bought a 4-ft. tube form made for concrete footings, cut it in half (the cardboard-like material cuts easily) and set the tubes on end. I tack the tubes to a wall or a bench leg so they don’t fall over. With the wood scraps stored upright, it’s easy to find a piece just the right length. Tube forms are available in various diameters for $5 and up at home centers. — Bill Wells. Here’s another brilliant use for these concrete forms.
Great suggestions for a large workshop where there is floor space… the shop I wish I had!!! My shop is a one car garage 23 X 13, which poses a real problem when it comes to workflow and tool positioning. I use your philosophy in reverse Marc; meaning, all my tools are on casters and I store my tools at one end of the shop in an order that allows me to bring the right tool or two into the centre of the shop to use. Bring the tool to the wood.
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.
You need an out-feed table to support work exiting the table saw and band saw. By placing the tools close together, I was able to make one out-feed table that works for both tools. I put four pivoting wheels on the table, allowing me to shift the table in any direction. By placing a shelf below the table, I gained some much needed storage space for portable power tools. Finally, since this is a large work surface, the table also serves as a true, flat assembly table.
Always nice to see project ideas. Yet, to make a living while woodworking all projects need to be scaled up so that one can actually earn enough to survive and compete against the flood of Chinese imports and others. Substitute products made from plastic, metal or wood are a common place and normally cheaper due to mass production and human rights violations. Politicians don’t care about the disappearance of many of America’s Cottage Industries and most consumers don’t care as well.
In each case, we shuffled the bench, jointer, table saw, and band saw across to the top of the stairs, and then tied a rope around each to act as a safety while sliding the machines down the strapping on the stairs. Yeah, the table saw hit the wall, and the promise of a good mud and paint job saved my bacon. The rope worked well, and we were able to get everything down the stairs nice and slowly with­out any major issues.

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.

×