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.
One of the best deals on portable power tools, including routers and sometimes planers, comes in the form of factory-reconditioned tools. These are primarily tools that have been repaired at the factory after failing quality inspections or being returned by customers. While they cannot be sold as new, they are identical to new tools in quality and appearance and usually feature the same warranty (be sure to check). Typical savings are anywhere from 15% to 30%, though you sometimes can find even bigger bargains. These tools can be found at Amazon.com and other online tool sellers. It is also possible to buy them through retail stores and, in some cases, directly from the manufacturer’s Web site.
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.
A landscape designer friend of mine tells a story about the college he went to. During his years there, the university embarked upon an ambitious building plan, adding several large structures around the main quad: a dorm, a chemistry lab, and a couple of others. The look of the place, which had remained unchanged for a century, was suddenly transformed, as glass-and-steel modernist structures were interspersed with the earlier ivy-covered stone Victorian-Gothic.
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.