The standard option for a shop floor is a concrete slab. You’re probably not going to go to the trouble of creating a basement beneath your shop, although it is possible. The weight of most woodworking machines suggests that a concrete floor is the most solid and durable substrate available. It has the potential to be used as thermal mass to store heat from your heating system or from the sun, but it can be tiring and hard on your body to be standing on concrete all the time. You can add a vapour barrier, 2x4 sleepers and a wooden floor above the concrete to ease the tendency of the floor to strain your feet and back, or you can add anti-fatigue mats in key areas where you’ll be standing for longer periods.
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!
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.
For all of my planning, I must admit there simply was no room in my shop for some tools. I struggled to find a place for my wide jointer and eventually decided against shoehorning it in, instead making a fixture for my router table that joints edges quite well. My scrollsaw, the bulk of my wood supply, and some storage cabinets didn’t make the cut either. These remain in a nearby room.
With the advances in modern technology and the demands of industry, woodwork as a field has changed. The development of Computer Numeric Controlled (CNC) Machines, for example, has made us able to mass-produce and reproduce products faster, with less waste, and often more complex in design than ever before. CNC Routers can carve complicated and highly detailed shapes into flat stock, to create signs or art. Rechargeable power tools speed up creation of many projects and require much less body strength than in the past, for example when boring multiple holes. Skilled fine woodworking, however, remains a craft pursued by many. There remains demand for hand crafted work such as furniture and arts, however with rate and cost of production, the cost for consumers is much higher.
When I began to arrange my shop on paper and on the computer screen, I realized that, in a small shop, moving wood is easier than moving machines. So I ignored the idea of setting up the space for workflow—for example, creating adjacent, sequential zones for lumber storage, rough dimensioning, final dimensioning, joinery, and so on. That workflow concept is more appropriate for larger or commercial shops.
Cutting a miter joint that closes up perfectly and maintains a 90 degree angle is really satisfying. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen. Here’s a quick fix for a slightly open miter joint; rub the shank of a screwdriver along the miter at a steep angle, from both sides of the joint. Chances are, you’ll be the only one that knows it wasn’t perfect to begin with! Try this amazing miter project!
Let’s be clear about one thing: No workshop is perfect for everyone. If there were, I could simply give you a precise plan to follow with clear dimensions. Every person who comes to the hobby, avocation, or profession of woodworking has his own particular collection of tools and his own peculiar work style, skills, and desires for the kind of woodworking he wants to do that gives him a unique approach as to how he will lay out a shop: where the tools should go, where lumber and supplies are stored, and how much bench area he needs.