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!
Keep in mind, there are no perfect boards, but try to always use the straighter boards and avoid warping boards. Also, Brandon and I have found that when it comes to picking out lumber at Home Depot and Lowes, they tend to stock up on fresh boards a few days before the weekend starts (so Thursday/Friday). And then, on Sundays and Mondays, the boards are usually really picked over and there isn’t a good selection. Just another tip to keep in mind!
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.
Click the image at right, and start building the ideal workflow at the bottom where you see the first red arrow. This arrow crosses through one roll-up door of a typical two-car garage. Note that if the right-hand window were not present, you could place lumber storage closer to the entrance, which would also allow for easier passage onto the jointer. Work flows from the jointer to the planer and the table saw, then ideally onto an outfeed table near position #2 in the diagram. From #2, proceed left to the assembly area (pictured below).
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.
Is your cellar damp? If so, you may have to correct that problem before installing your tools and lumber supplies. Insulate pipes to prevent condensation. Make sure your gutters outside keep rainwater running away from the house. Cracks in the cement floor or walls should be filled with hydraulic cement; a high water table may necessitate a sump pump to collect water at a low point and pump it out. Any or all of these circumstances may also require a dehumidifier. In any case, dampness is unacceptable where power tools are to be used because of the risk of electric shock.
Next come two options for the table saw’s trusty sidekick, the jointer, as well as for the thickness planer. Because it’s usual to work between all three tools when dressing lumber, the first option, shown in the illustration, locates the jointer nearest the saw to the right of its extension table with the planer nearby. As with the table saw, it always makes sense to align these tools with the shop’s long axis.