Alternately, a detached shop can often be located closer to your property line and offers you a bit more freedom in terms of the type of foundation you can use. It may give you a sense of welcome separation from your home and open up yard space or allow a deck on the back of your house that would otherwise be lost behind your shop. In an urban setting, if you would like to have a wood stove in your shop you may find it more challenging to find an insurance carrier that allows one in an outbuilding. Also, outbuildings can be subject to more stringent height regulations than additions.
Because workshops are rough and tumble places, the right fan for the job will have an industrial-strength motor and adjustable fan speeds. Easy-to-clean metal blades and a fully encased motor housing are also important features, especially if your shop tends to fill up with sawdust, wood chips and other fine debris. That extra layer of protection will help the fan motor last for years instead of being damaged by particulates.
When customers visit my shop we usually start by talking about their wood needs. If it is someone’s first time to visit I also try to get to know them, what they are looking for and what they are expecting from me. Half of them are just looking for rough cut wood, while the others are looking for wood that is processed a little bit more, perhaps jointed or planed, or even sanded. During our time together I get to understand their needs and abilities, and our discussion usually turns to the tools they have in their shop.
Enter the garage heater. These space heaters are specifically designed to warm up wide open areas and to function under much tougher circumstances than you’re likely to find in the average house. A well designed garage heater will offer at least 5,000 watts of heating power — enough to warm 750 square feet of space. A smaller heater might take off a bit of the chill, but to really warm your workshop — and keep it that way — you’ll need a heater of this size.
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!
You may want a garage door if you will need to access your shop with large workpieces or tools, or if you or future owners will ever want to use the space to park a vehicle. Garage doors are notoriously drafty, however, so if you think you can live without one you will probably be warmer. Instead, you could opt for out-swinging double doors. In a small shop you can, at a pinch, rip longer lengths of lumber by feeding the material out of either a strategically placed door or window.
In many workshops, band saws and drill presses are not used constantly, so they can be set back out of the way. Jointers and shapers can also sometimes be set back out of the midway, but keep in mind that the more trouble they are to reposition, the less useful they’ll be. Remember, too, that while jointers and shapers take up relatively little floor space, you need to allow space on either side that is at least the length of your longest workpiece: a four-foot workpiece needs about a ten-foot space (the tool, plus four feet on either side). The longer the pieces to be joined or shaped, the greater the space required on either side.
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.
The number of windows, as well as their sizing and placement, depends on your orientation, view, desire for ventilation, and needs for daylight and solar gain. Orienting more of your windows towards the south side of your shop and placing them high enough that they are shaded by the eaves in summer, but allow lower-angle winter light to come in, will increase your ability to get free light and heat from the sun. If your goal is to take advantage of passive solar opportunities, make sure that you carefully research the type of glass that is in your windows and look for something with a high solar heat gain coefficient. Higher windows generally allow for benches and tools beneath them, and relatively windowless north walls may be a place to arrange wood storage or mechanicals.
Through my cabinet-shop connections, I managed a snappy deal ($200) on a used cabinet saw with a 54-in. commercial rip fence. That price would be hard to match, but it is possible to find a hybrid or used cabinet saw with a high-quality fence for $600 to $1,200. Some of them will run on 120v household current, meaning you won’t have to rewire your shop for 240v service, but be sure to check for compatibility before you buy.
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I place the band saw first in my order of purchases, because I consider it the heart of the shop. Band saws are very safe tools for ripping, re-sawing, cutting curves and more because all of the force is downward, virtually eliminating any chance of unexpected kickbacks. I wanted a saw that had a strong back, dynamically balanced cast iron wheels for smooth operation and flywheel effect, 12" depth of cut, good dust extraction design, a large table and a solid fence. After shopping around, I settled on the General International Model 90-170 14" saw. It is very smooth, comes with an Excalibur fence, and it is light enough (133kg) to move into your basement without crushing someone.
I do not rip on the table saw as a rule, to prevent kick back that periodically occurs when natural wood pinches the blade, turning the wood into a missile. I bought a fairly powerful saw, so this is one place where a lighter saw would be adequate. Essentially, I use the table saw for ripping sheet goods, cutting dados, tenons, and cutting small parts to length – all of which can be done with a 1.5 HP saw. I ended up with a King 3 HP, three-belt drive, 10" table saw. The castings are true, and the King Tru-rip fence reminds me of the Biesmeyer fence used on the Canadian General saws. The model is KC-11FX, and it can be purchased for less than half of the price of other, similar saws. On this purchase, I went with the suggestion of Jeff at Brettwood Machinery – he was right; a very good value saw that runs smooth, and has a decent fence.
Low-tech tools are high on value A basic set of handplanes lets you true edges, flatten panels or wide boards, and achieve finish-ready surfaces. Start with a small cluster of handplanes—low-angle and standard block planes, a No. 4 or 4-1/2 bench plane, and a jointer plane. A set of inexpensive chisels is essential for chopping, paring, and trimming.
Lacking a jointer? Use reader Court Kites’ awesome tip to create perfectly matched glue joints on wavy or bowed board edges. Lay the boards on a ﬂat surface, then clamp them across the middle with a bar clamp. Lay two 8-in. long by 1-3/4 in. wide scrap boards across each end and screw them in with four 1-1/4 in. long screws, two per board. Keep the screws well away from your future cutting line!
Some of the most important decisions in laying out a shop involve the placement of basic machines, such as the table saw and jointer. Deciding where to put them depends in part on the scale of woodworking you do, which determines the clearance area around these machines if you need to handle long stock or large sheet goods. You’ll also want to consider work flow to avoid an excess amount of running around the shop to accomplish tasks, as well as how to power your machines without turning your shop into a snakepit of extension cords.