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KHIEM NGUYEN (Age 28, Austin, TX): Inspired by midcentury modern and Japanese design, Nguyen is a true craftsman. His passion for crafting began with photography and led to him becoming an open major in art school so he could "get (his) hands into everything." After college, Nguyen and his fiancée moved to Austin, where they began A & K Woodworking & Design, specializing in furniture and wood crafts.
The dream of a dedicated home shop is a common one among woodworkers. Whether you currently borrow shop space, work in your driveway or side yard, or compete for a corner of your basement with Christmas decorations or your furnace, you may be ready to build your own space that will allow you the freedom of more room and time, and will also keep dust, fumes, and noise under control. Every design/build situation will be unique but there are a series of considerations that you will face in the design and construction phases of your project. Let’s walk through the process and discuss the questions that you will need to ask yourself and others as you approach this project.
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.
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My advice here is to make a detailed list of what the various parts of the build will be (drawings, permits, foundation, framing, electrical, etc.) and decide what you would like to do yourself and what you will need to hire others to do. Get quotes on the work that you would like to hire out and estimate the materials you will need to do your portion. You may want to factor in your time into the cost as well, especially if you will be passing up other income to work on the project. At some lumberyards, you will be able to give detailed drawings to an estimator on staff who will do a material takeoff list for you of what you’ll need and what it will cost. When all the numbers come in, you can put together a budget and plan for an overrun allowance of around 15 percent. If you keep track of the materials and subcontract costs as you go, you can stay on track and make decisions as you go about the latter stages of the project without regretting it later. If it is challenging to obtain funding for a complete build, you may want to stage the build so that initially the frame goes up and the exterior is finished, and then you finish the interior work as you have time or as funds become available.
Lumber storage is spot on, I think especially for a basement shop – I used to store my lumber at the furthest point from the outside door, and it wasn’t until I moved it closest to the door that I realized how much of a difference it could make. And sheet goods are starting to be stored and broken down in the garage more so I don’t have to fight them into the basement.
Popular and easy to work with, cherry is in high demand for its reddish-brown color and ease of staining and finishing. Cherry likely won’t be at the local home center, but should be at a lumberyard for a somewhat expensive price. This hardwood is a very common material for furniture, and is resistant to normal wear-and-tear, but it is best for indoor pieces.
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.
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.
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To plan my shop, I used a modeling program on my computer, but you can use the drawings I created to plan an efficient shop on paper. Download and print the PDF below and arrange them on graph paper to create a plan view of your shop. Take the time to work out the most efficient placement of benches, cabinets, and machines, taking into account infeed and outfeed zones as well as ducting for dust collection.
Let’s face it, one of the most significant costs of your shop will be its foundation. While you’re at it, what about adding space above your shop? There may be regulations preventing you from building living space above your shop if it is in an urban setting or in an outbuilding, but there may be some flexibility depending on where you live. It is in the municipality’s interests to encourage infill housing that uses existing infrastructure. At a minimum, think about including attic trusses to create some space above your shop for drying lumber or storing equipment. Access could be from simple pull-down attic stairs or from the exterior if you don’t want to lose floor space to a stair or ladder. If you’re creating an addition to your house, you may be able to add a couple of rooms you’ve always wanted, such as a family room, office or in-law suite.
Your sense of space and how to use it will be slightly different depending on the focus of your craft. If you are building furniture with hand tools, you will be able to make do with less space (under 300 sq ft.) than if you’re using mainly power tools and building sets of cabinets (over 400 sq ft.). Some 3D modelling with a program like Sketch-Up or some 2D layouts on graph paper with scaled cutouts can allow you to experiment with arranging your space and how much of it you will need. You should include not only the tools, benches and storage that you currently possess but also enough room to tackle new types of projects and new tools that you anticipate needing down the road. When you think you have a layout that works, test it out by mentally working through a range of different projects you might tackle and the needs you will have for material storage, assembly and finishing. Then revise as necessary; this process will allow you to hone in on a general square footage and layout ideas that will set you up to move forward.
In most small shops, once the key machines are in place, others are arranged wherever there is room for them. There typically isn’t enough free space for these tools in the middle of the floor area, although sometimes you can tuck a machine into an unused space. For example, in a shop where the table saw is in the center, a shaper (or a router table or spindle sander) with a table the same height as the saw can be put on the outfeed side of the extension table (see the illustration). Also, building a router table directly into the table saw’s extension table is a great way to save space, as well as make use of the saw’s fence for routing operations.