My contention has always been that you can build a serviceable shop in your home, develop your hand skills, and make fine furniture. In the past year, I had an opportunity to build a shop from the ground up after moving to a new home. I found a house with an unfinished basement, and set to work. In this article, I will discuss everything from layout, to electrical, to equipment selection. I intend to name names with respect to equipment, so that readers will know what I chose. Everyone’s budget will be different, but I think almost everyone will be able to treat this as a starting point, and adjust accordingly, depending on their own budget.
For one thing, the rearrange-it-later approach may simply mean that once you’re set up, the haphazard plan becomes the permanent plan, thanks to sheer inertia (it is a pain to move furniture, after all, especially when some of it is as heavy and awkward as workbenches and stationary tools). For another, too little advance planning may mean you buy a power tool that’s too big for your space.
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.
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.
Tabletop versus Freestanding Tools. When purchasing some power tools (the list includes the jointer, shaper, sander, and even some models of table and band saw), you may decide to opt for benchtop models. A single bench can then serve, alternately, a range of purposes. Make- ready time is increased significantly, of course, as not only the blades, fences, miter gauges, and the rest must be set but the machine itself has to be positioned and powered. But for the small shop, the infrequently used tool may be quite easily stowed on a shelf out of the way, opening up more space for other tasks.
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.
Usually ducting is well covered and one of the first things considered, however, most people initially neglect clean up when designing shops. With growth, I have a very cluttered shop that makes pulling shop vacs around frustrating especially if you’re at the wrong end of a 5m flexible hose without having to struggle with the vac (the practice of in no doubt exacerbated by those ridiculous vacuuming ads on TV). As my setup is retro fitted, it may not be pretty as it is ducted overhead, but it is productive. I have a centralised heavy duty ‘shop vac’ (rigged with a Dust Deputy) and 50mm stormwater piping radiating to selective parts (corners) of the workshop. I use 50mm water diverters to act as blast-gates to control the flow of air (I have a bank of them running down one full side of the workshop spaced about 5m apart). When I need to clean a part of the shop I plug the vac into the appropriate overhead vent, organise the diverters and attach a 5m flexible hose to the working end. I have the vac on a remote (one of those that control power points – all my dust extraction is controlled by these – after modifying any proprietary mag switches) and I can vacuum any part of my workshop without having to go and manually switch the vac on. I have bought some cheap off market flexible hoses and spread them at the extremities of the workshop. Each outlet will accept the hose. Hint – I bought a fairly low end 3D printer ($800 (Aust)) and I can print any sized coupling to accommodate all those non-standard ‘shop vac’ hoses/fittings to accept my proprietary shop vac accessories. Duct tape is now reserved for the few threaded non-standard couplings.
Afrormosia Alder Andiroba Anigre Ash Apple Aspen Avodire Balsa Beech Bilinga Birch African Blackwood Australian Blackwood Boxwood Bubinga Camphor Cedrela Cherry Chestnut Cocobolo Cumaru Ebony Elm Eucalyptus Hazel Hickory Hornbeam Idigbo Imbuia Ipê Iroko Jarra Jelutong Lignum vitae Linden (lime, basswood) Merbau Mahogany (American, African) Maple Meranti Oak Padauk Pear Plum Poplar Purpleheart Ovankol Ramin Red Quebracho Rosewood Rubberwood Sapele Teak Totara Utile Walnut Wenge Willow Zebrano
Well you can only do so much with your given space. These guidelines are just general best-practices, but that certainly doesn’t mean everyone will be able to execute them to the letter. Even I make concessions for my personal situation. And yes, there would be differences in a Festool shop. I imagine everything would simply revolve around an MFT. :)
The tablesaw—This tool is the backbone of nearly every shop, and for good reason. It allows unmatched precision in ripping parallel edges and crosscutting at a variety of angles. Most woodworkers find it crucial for the basic milling of stock. It is also suited to many joinery tasks, easily producing tenons, box joints, and—with a reground blade—the tails for dovetail joints.
First, let’s take a look at four placement options for the table saw, the machine that is at the heart of most woodshops. The first option (see the illustration) places it in the center of the shop, which lends maximum space and flexibility for ripping and panel sawing, as well as crosscutting long boards. The main requirement here is a shop that’s at least long and wide enough to allow room for the workpiece, both on the infeed and outfeed sides.