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.


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.
I am often surprised at what tools woodworkers don’t use or own, especially when they are some of the few that I find essential. Sometimes it’s just the difference between hand tool and power tool guys, but sometimes it’s just from lack of experience or the fact that they haven’t given it too much thought. Most likely they just buy tools as they need them and never really considered what tools would give them the most bang for the buck.
Natural Light. Natural light is best, so any windows that offer illumination to the space should be put to good use. If you have little sunlight in your shop, locate your workbench so that its work surface gets whatever there is. Even the best eyesight is made better by good light, so the close work to be done on a benchtop benefits from the natural light.
Commonly used woodworking tools included axes, adzes, chisels, pull saws, and bow drills. Mortise and tenon joints are attested from the earliest Predynastic period. These joints were strengthened using pegs, dowels and leather or cord lashings. Animal glue came to be used only in the New Kingdom period.[3] Ancient Egyptians invented the art of veneering and used varnishes for finishing, though the composition of these varnishes is unknown. Although different native acacias were used, as was the wood from the local sycamore and tamarisk trees, deforestation in the Nile valley resulted in the need for the importation of wood, notably cedar, but also Aleppo pine, boxwood and oak, starting from the Second Dynasty.[4]

Hard to determine which stain you need in that bespattered collection of cans? An easy-to-make “stain index,” courtesy of reader Bob Jacek, solves the problem. Section off boards of your favorite woods into squares with masking tape, and apply the different stains across the width of each wood type (pine, oak, birch, etc.). When the stains are dry, brush on lengthwise your regular finishes—polyurethane, water-based polyurethane, oil, orange shellac, etc. You’ll be able to tell how each stain looks with each finish. Label each one. Use both sides of each board, and you’ll have a wooden encyclopedia of stain and finish combinations. Plus: How to stain wood evenly.


Shops have value on many different levels. There is the sat­isfaction of having a place to create and work on projects that is hard to quantify, but definitely improves your quality of life. There is the value to your small business of having space in which to work wood and thereby generate income. There is the dollar value of the build itself, which will be a consider­able investment and, finally, there is the resale value of your property after you’ve added your shop. Before you go too far, though, it’s worth asking a local real-estate agent about the potential return on your investment in your area; generally shops won’t add significantly to the value of your property, so it’s worth thinking carefully about what else the space could be used for if you were to sell. The decision about whether it is worth it to build is a matter of balancing all these factors: projected sales balanced against the cost; the cost of build­ing is balanced against what it will be worth when you sell. Woodworking can be a creative outlet, can give you a sense of mastery, and even be a way to give back to your community by donating beautiful pieces to local charities for fundraising auctions, or creating pieces that future gener­ations will inherit. Ultimately, the value of a shop might come down to the emotional and social returns that it will pay you and the people around you for years to come.
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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