After years of digging down under router tables, lifting the entire unit up to change bits, and then fighting to get the plate flush again in the table, I chose to spend the money to purchase a router table, fence, and lift system. I did a thorough review of these systems, and chose the Canadian made Jessem Rout-R-Lift II kit. The system comes with a solid steel stand, a phenolic table, an adjustable extruded aluminum fence, and their base model lift system. For budget reasons, I did not choose the hefty Mast-R-Lift, but I am quite happy with the lighter Rout-R-Lift II. It will last me a couple of lifetimes, so it is the right system at the right price for me in my one-man shop. Hats off to Jessem for making a great lift at a very reasonable price in the middle of a tough economy. The table is durable, and flat. The direct drive lift is smooth and precise. I mated the lift system to a mid-sized model 690 Porter Cable router, which has a fixed speed, and enough power to do anything I need. The Jessem system uses a bayonet type mount for the table inserts, a nice touch that makes swapping the table insert quick and simple. As with all my machines, the router table is connected with the supplied dust port to my shop dust collection system with automated switching.
The #1 shop tip is that the space dictates the layout. Every structure and shop location has subtleties to it, only after you dial those in can you end up at the optimum layout, and in addition to that the kind of work you do is going to dictate how you configure your shop. Casework requires more assembly area and space around your tablesaw for sheet goods, while smaller pieces benefit from having more organization around your bench.
Often times at first glance a board looks straight and the fact that it is actually bowed or has some warping isn’t always obvious. So the trick to knowing for sure, is to hold the board up towards your face, with the other end on the ground, and look at it at a downward angle (as shown in the below photo). This method will allow you to see if it is bowing at all.
Hardwoods are separated into two categories, temperate and tropical hardwoods, depending on their origin. Temperate hardwoods are found in the regions between the tropics and poles, and are of particular interest to wood workers for their cost-effective aesthetic appeal and sustainable sources. Tropical hardwoods are found within the equatorial belt, including Africa, Asia, and South America. Hardwoods flaunt a higher density, around 65lb/cu ft as a result of slower growing rates and is more stable when drying. As a result of its high density, hardwoods are typically heavier than softwoods but can also be more brittle. While there are an abundant number of hardwood species, only 200 are common enough and pliable enough to be used for woodworking. Hardwoods have a wide variety of properties, making it easy to find a hardwood to suit nearly any purpose, but they are especially suitable for outdoor use due to their strength and resilience to rot and decay. The coloring of hardwoods ranges from light to very dark, making it especially versatile for aesthetic purposes. However, because hardwoods are more closely grained, they are typically harder to work than softwoods. They are also harder to acquire in the United States and, as a result, are more expensive.
The planners did an interesting thing, my friend recalls. Instead of commissioning a hugely expensive study to try to predict the new patterns that would result from the opening of the new buildings, rather than devising an anticipated program and laying out a new scheme, the university’s brain trust decided to let the students and faculty, the lifeblood of the university, shape their own arterial flow.
Basically, I created a linear outfeed area, which includes the miter-saw station with folding wings, tablesaw with folding outfeed table, and my large router table, all in a line along the 20-ft. wall and set at the same height. The miter-saw station converts easily for use with a mortiser—with workpiece support on both sides—and it also accepts a minilathe. I even planned a location for all of the tools, blades, and jigs used with the tablesaw: on the operator side, for easy access.
A good portable air conditioner will also remove excess water from the air, which is critical for keeping your stockpile of wood in good shape. Lumber should be stored in dry conditions so it doesn’t warp, so look for efficiency features that allow you to run the unit overnight in the summer as needed —without worrying about blowing up your electricity bills. Other good features to consider include a thermostat and variable settings that allow you to set your workshop temperature to the perfect level for your comfort.
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.
My shop consists of a 9×16 storage building, with 3 feet being used for actual storage! I have a table saw, 13″ planer, lathe, sliding mitre saw, home made router table, small compressor, 5′ 4 drawer bench with vice, table top drill press, 6″ jointer, band saw, shop vac, wall mounted hand tool storage, clamp rack, power tool storage, and no room to turn around! But I put out a few nice pieces! Recently built, a 48″ entry table from 100 yr old milled poplar, coffee table from the same re milled red oak barnwood, and a little triangle shaped corner table from the left over red oak, a 7′ x48″ bookcase from old poplar, a small wall mounted poplar book case, and am presently working on a queen sized bed with a mixture of 100 yr old oak and new kiln dried oak, with drawbored pegging using black walnut from a tree from my yard! I’ve also made several mallets that I find useful from my firewood pile using Cherry, ash, hickory and white and red oak. Building anything in 108 sq ft is a challenge, but patience determination, and decent sales will make it work! One good point is that nothing is out of reach! Except maybe the bathroom!
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.
While many woods can be used for carving, there are some clear favorites, including Aspen, Basswood, Butternut, Black Walnut, and Oak. Because it has almost no grain and is notably soft, Basswood is particularly popular with beginner carvers. It is used in many lower-cost instruments like guitars and electric basses. Aspen is similarly soft, although slightly harder, and readily available and inexpensive. Butternut has a deeper hue than Basswood and Aspen and has a nice grain that is easy to carve, and thus friendly for beginners. It's also suitable for furniture. While more expensive that Basswood, Aspen, and Butternut, Black Walnut is a popular choice for its rich color and grain. Lastly, Oak is a strong, sturdy, and versatile wood for carving with a defined grain. It's also a popular wood for furniture making.
My shop ended up being 23 x 19 feet, for a total of 437 square feet. I put my wood rack in the basement, but outside the walled in shop area. To keep the dust in the shop, a three part strategy was employed. I have a dust collection system, an air filtration system and a shop vacuum for cleaning dust out of machinery. I put up new walls, installed new electrical service, lighting, and two access doors for ease of materials movement. The shop includes two windows so that I can enjoy natural light, and not feel like I am squirreled away in the basement.
As the comic George Carlin might say, a shop is mostly just “a place to put your stuff.” The physical aspect of a shop is indeed simply a space of some kind — a garage, a barn, a teepee — that keeps the rain, rust, and robbers away and houses a collection of implements needed to saw, plane, slice, sand, and pound raw wood into useful objects. But just like the difference between a house and a home, what transforms a building full of tools into a comfortable workshop goes beyond the mere physical aspect.