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.
Hard to determine which stain you need in that bespattered collection of cans? An easy-to-make “stain index,” courtesy of reader Bob Jacek, solves the problem. Section off boards of your favorite woods into squares with masking tape, and apply the different stains across the width of each wood type (pine, oak, birch, etc.). When the stains are dry, brush on lengthwise your regular finishes—polyurethane, water-based polyurethane, oil, orange shellac, etc. You’ll be able to tell how each stain looks with each finish. Label each one. Use both sides of each board, and you’ll have a wooden encyclopedia of stain and finish combinations. Plus: How to stain wood evenly.
Other important power tools—A good jigsaw will help get you through many tasks, particularly cutting curves, that would otherwise require a bandsaw. Look for one with blade guides that keep blade deflection to a minimum. A handheld drill is also essential. A quality corded drill is much less expensive than a cordless one, and will never leave you without a charge. Also look for a quality random-orbit sander with a provision for dust collection.

To experiment with different wood shop layouts, measure your furniture and equipment to sketch onto your plan in different positions. You can also make cutouts of the footprint of your items so you can easily move them around your floor plan to see how best to arrange them. As you do so, don’t forget to leave adequate spacing around tools and tables.


Lumber storage is spot on, I think especially for a basement shop – I used to store my lumber at the furthest point from the outside door, and it wasn’t until I moved it closest to the door that I realized how much of a difference it could make. And sheet goods are starting to be stored and broken down in the garage more so I don’t have to fight them into the basement.
With an orbital sander and good sandpaper you can smooth wood evenly and easily with first-class results. When flush-sanding solid edge-banding, draw a squiggly line across the joint before sanding. The edge-banding will be slightly proud of the plywood veneer, so the pencil marks provide a visual aid to make sure that you’re sanding flat, and that you don’t sand through the plywood’s veneer. As you go, you can also test for a smooth, level transition by gently scraping your fingernails against the transition. If it’s smooth, your fingers will not catch on the seam between the two pieces
Before you buy a single tool, you need to take a hard look at your workshop space. If your workshop is a freestanding building or empty barn, you can simply measure the perimeter and know that you have the entire square footage at your disposal including the wall space. If your workshop is tucked into the back of a garage or a corner of partially finished basement, you’ll need to plan your furnishings with cars and water heaters in mind.
I’m helping my son (who is significantly disabled) get started with a business idea that he had — one that I’d think was brilliant even if I weren’t his Mom — brilliant enough that I’ve “retired” from my law practice and moved us from MO to GA. Having lost 99.9% of ALL of my tools in the move (even the big ticket items, nearly 30 years collection — stolen by the mover!) I am now re-investing in tools, limiting my purchases to what we must have rather than all the fun stuff I used to have. . . .(So sad).
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.
Clamping up four mitered corners is tricky. You can buy specialty clamps for this, but I make my own. Here’s how to do it. Start with a long 1×4, as it’s easier (and safer) to clamp for making the angled cuts than a short piece. Mark out the blocks, and then drill a 1-in. diameter hole in the center of each one. The hole prevents the blocks from getting glued to your project. Cut 45-degree angles tangent to the hole, and then cut the blocks free from the long board. We’ll walk you through how to make one for your home shop.

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With these three power tools (and a few hand tools), I feel like I could make about 80% of the jobs that come through my shop on a daily basis. Obviously, some jobs will require more specialized power tools to complete, but these three probably find their way into almost all of my work. With that said, there are a few other tools that I couldn’t imagine being without and I feel need to be added to the list.

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.


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Sanding curves is tricky. Sometimes you need a sanding pad that’s both firm and flexible. A small notepad works great. Just wrap sandpaper around the pad and bend the pad to whatever arc you need. Slip the one end of the sandpaper between the pages to help hold it in place on the pad. Give this a try the next time you’re working on a project that has curves and tough to reach spots.

Unless you’re a big fan of frequent shop remodeling, planning the layout of your workshop early in its development will save you a lot of time and trouble and also can keep you from spending years in an uncomfortable, poorly organized space. And if you already work in a shop that’s as organized as a trailer park after a tornado, careful planning and a little remodeling is likely to help you make a quantum leap.

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