There are many factors to consider when deciding what type of wood to use for a project. One of the most important is the workability of the wood: the way in which it responds when worked by hand or tools, the quality of the grain, and how it responds to adhesives and finishes. When the workability of wood is high, it offers a lower resistance when cutting and has a diminished blunting effect on tools. Highly workable wood is easier to manipulate into desired forms. If the wood grain is straight and even, it will be much easier to create strong and durable glued joints. Additionally, it will help protect the wood from splitting when nailed or screwed. Coarse grains require a lengthy process of filing and rubbing down the grain to produce a smooth result.
Hardwoods are separated into two categories, temperate and tropical hardwoods, depending on their origin. Temperate hardwoods are found in the regions between the tropics and poles, and are of particular interest to wood workers for their cost-effective aesthetic appeal and sustainable sources. Tropical hardwoods are found within the equatorial belt, including Africa, Asia, and South America. Hardwoods flaunt a higher density, around 65lb/cu ft as a result of slower growing rates and is more stable when drying. As a result of its high density, hardwoods are typically heavier than softwoods but can also be more brittle. While there are an abundant number of hardwood species, only 200 are common enough and pliable enough to be used for woodworking. Hardwoods have a wide variety of properties, making it easy to find a hardwood to suit nearly any purpose, but they are especially suitable for outdoor use due to their strength and resilience to rot and decay. The coloring of hardwoods ranges from light to very dark, making it especially versatile for aesthetic purposes. However, because hardwoods are more closely grained, they are typically harder to work than softwoods. They are also harder to acquire in the United States and, as a result, are more expensive.
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.
Here’s a safe and sound way to make long cuts with a circular saw on plywood clamped to a worktable. Cut about 12 in. into the plywood, then twist a piece of duct tape into a bow tie, with up-and-down adhesive faces. Slide it in the saw kerf and press the tape down above and under the plywood. Now as you finish the cut, the trailing end can’t curl down dangerously as you saw. Hats off to Mike Connelly for simplifying this job. Check out how to make this DIY duct tape wallet.
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.
If your table saw is near a wall and your shop is fairly narrow, positioning the jointer and planer against the opposite wall is reasonable, as shown in option 2 in the illustration. If the shop isn’t long enough to accommodate long workpieces, try to put these machines near an operable doorway, as shown in the illustration and in the photo of Doug Warren’s shop.
If you live where summers get hot and humid, you may need more than a fan to keep cool in your workshop. Fortunately, air conditioners will both dehumidify and cool your space — and you don’t need a traditional window to get the job done. Instead of a residential window unit, consider a freestanding portable air conditioner that you can use as needed on hot days.
Electricity. It’s a rare workshop today that doesn’t need electricity; most need multiple receptacles of high amperage (20 amperes or more). Are there plugs available or will you need to add new lines and circuits? If you need to add wiring, when laying it out keep in mind that there’s no such thing as too many outlets in a workshop. The fewer (as in, ideally, zero) extension cords the better; they’re safety hazards. A good minimum is to have receptacles set at no more than six-foot intervals around the perimeter of the room, and, if possible, flush-mounted floor plugs in the central area.
One of the challenges we all face is how to move machines into a home without damaging the home, the machinery, or yourself. I actually had to bring things through the front door, and across hardwood floors, and turn 90° to descend the stairs into the shop. To protect the floors, I laid down sheets of 1/2" MDF that I could use later. On the wooden stairs, I used three strips of softwood strapping, held with wood screws to the stairs. I mounted a 2x4 baton to the wall studs at the top of the stairs, with a 5/16-inch eye-bolt through it.
A little different from the others, the Wood Shop is geared more towards the “self-helper.” Take the three-hour safety class, available every Saturday, to earn your qualification card. You can then utilize the shop to work on your own projects. A wonderful variety of wood working equipment is available for customer usage for a very reasonable fee. Be sure to check out the available classes where you can learn to make pens, boxes, decorative cutting boards and even rocking chairs. We also produce custom order items to include coin holders, specialized plaques and shadow boxes.
Alternately, a detached shop can often be located closer to your property line and offers you a bit more freedom in terms of the type of foundation you can use. It may give you a sense of welcome separation from your home and open up yard space or allow a deck on the back of your house that would otherwise be lost behind your shop. In an urban setting, if you would like to have a wood stove in your shop you may find it more challenging to find an insurance carrier that allows one in an outbuilding. Also, outbuildings can be subject to more stringent height regulations than additions.
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.
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.
Once the workshop location is determined, it's time to begin planning how to lay it out. First, acknowledge the need to formulate a plan that's realistic in terms of the space allotted. The size of the structure or workspace will place some constraints on how much can be done. Taking into account size limitations, begin fashioning a plan that keeps efficiency in mind.
I agree with all of these tips in a larger shop. In a smaller shop (mine is just under 400-square feet) most things are fairly close together anyway. One of my original principals for shop layout was … how is a machining process performed on a piece of wood? Is the wood stationary while it is machined … or does the wood move through the machine? If the wood is stationary, I have tried to have this set for one side wall of the shop. To be specific, I have four machines in one line with a continuous table to support long pieces that might need cutting from one or all of those machines. The machines in that line are (from left to right) the drill press, the powered miter saw, the square-chisel mortiser and the radial arm saw.
I set an initial budget of $10,000 to build the shop – everything from studs and drywall to hand tools and machinery. The final number was over by $1,000, but I’m still very happy with the result. The shop is now my haven, with a good sound system and good lighting. Every time I go back into the shop, it is exactly the way I left it, because it is my shop!
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.
As the comic George Carlin might say, a shop is mostly just “a place to put your stuff.” The physical aspect of a shop is indeed simply a space of some kind — a garage, a barn, a teepee — that keeps the rain, rust, and robbers away and houses a collection of implements needed to saw, plane, slice, sand, and pound raw wood into useful objects. But just like the difference between a house and a home, what transforms a building full of tools into a comfortable workshop goes beyond the mere physical aspect.