Chop saw (compound miter saw): I do a mix of woodworking from furniture to built-ins and even finish carpentry, and I find myself regularly using the chop saw. Even if used for nothing more than roughly cutting a long board into two shorter ones to fit in a car, this tool earns its keep. It is especially useful (with the help of an outfeed table) on long pieces that are precarious to push through a table saw. But, since a table saw with a jig can perform many of the same functions, this tool doesn’t make it to the essential list. With that said, I expect to have a chop saw wherever I am working, whether it be in the shop or at an install. If this was a post about on-site woodworking and trim carpentry, the chop saw might be the #1 tool.
There are benefits to either approach. Sharing a common wall with your house can require some careful soundproofing but can reduce heat loss and exterior fin­ishing costs like siding. A shop located in an addition is more likely to be allowed to have living space or storage space above it, and it may be easier to make use of the existing plumbing and electri­cal and heating systems of your home to service your shop space. Another advantage of an addition is not having to run to an outbuilding in minus-30-degree weather or a summer downpour.
For many of us, the moment we learned that a 2×4 board is actually 1.5 inches x 3.5 inches was simply mind-blowing. The reason for this apparent contradiction is that the board has been planed down to eliminate irregularities. At one point, many years ago, 2x4s actually were 2 inches x 4 inches, but their rough surfaces made them difficult to stock and handle. The old terms, such as 2×4 or 4×4, are still used, and are known as the “nominal” size of the board. These nominal sizes are used because they are easier to say and they stick to tradition. Now, thanks to a lawsuit, most big box stores list the nominal and actual sizes of lumber.
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.
My advice here is to make a detailed list of what the various parts of the build will be (drawings, permits, foun­dation, framing, electrical, etc.) and decide what you would like to do yourself and what you will need to hire others to do. Get quotes on the work that you would like to hire out and estimate the materials you will need to do your por­tion. You may want to factor in your time into the cost as well, especially if you will be passing up other income to work on the project. At some lumberyards, you will be able to give detailed drawings to an estimator on staff who will do a material takeoff list for you of what you’ll need and what it will cost. When all the numbers come in, you can put together a budget and plan for an overrun allowance of around 15 percent. If you keep track of the materials and subcontract costs as you go, you can stay on track and make decisions as you go about the latter stages of the project without regretting it later. If it is challenging to obtain fund­ing for a complete build, you may want to stage the build so that initially the frame goes up and the exterior is finished, and then you finish the interior work as you have time or as funds become available.
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.
In this video Dave Heller shares a detailed tutorial on making fancy London-style dovetails with a mitered corner. The London-style dovetail originated in, well, London where cabinetmakers sought to show off their joinery skills by cutting the finest pins possible. Adding a miter to dovetails is very useful for wrapping a dovetailed skirt around a tool chest, or for adding embellishment to a cupboard's carcass. In the very near future I'll be releasing the last video,
Efficiency does not always increase with experience, because as our woodshops grow older, they sometimes become unnecessarily rearranged or cluttered. And if you’re just now setting up your first woodshop, this shop layout should give you a great starting point. Each picture represents one half of a standard two-car garage. Click on the images for a larger view, and if anything is unclear, ask a question in the comments field!

This site uses affiliate links. Given this, please assume that any links leading you to products or services are affiliate links that we will receive compensation from. However, there are millions of products and services on the web, and I only promote those products or services that I would use personally. The Wood Whisperer abides by word of mouth marketing standards and holds integrity in the highest regard. Should I ever be compensated to write, I will make full disclosure. I always give honest opinions, findings, and experiences on products. The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely our own. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer, provider or party in question. All content on The Wood Whisperer is copyrighted, and may not be reprinted in full form without my written consent.


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!

Afrormosia Alder Andiroba Anigre Ash Apple Aspen Avodire Balsa Beech Bilinga Birch African Blackwood Australian Blackwood Boxwood Bubinga Camphor Cedrela Cherry Chestnut Cocobolo Cumaru Ebony Elm Eucalyptus Hazel Hickory Hornbeam Idigbo Imbuia Ipê Iroko Jarra Jelutong Lignum vitae Linden (lime, basswood) Merbau Mahogany (American, African) Maple Meranti Oak Padauk Pear Plum Poplar Purpleheart Ovankol Ramin Red Quebracho Rosewood Rubberwood Sapele Teak Totara Utile Walnut Wenge Willow Zebrano
This style of saw will provide more power than a contractor-type saw and have the high-quality rip fence you need to do good work. However, because they are favored by professionals and serious amateurs, cabinet saws are harder to find on the used market. Scour the classifieds and online sales (be sure to check industrial auction sites as well), and do some networking. Check the bulletin board at your hardwood supplier and ask the proprietors if they know of anyone selling a saw. Also call local cabinet shops. They sometimes have a surplus tool sitting idle that they’d be willing to sell. Take your time in this step. A careful investment will pay dividends in the long run, but a well-intentioned compromise can cause long-term frustration.
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.
×