I set an initial budget of $10,000 to build the shop – everything from studs and drywall to hand tools and machinery. The final number was over by $1,000, but I’m still very happy with the result. The shop is now my haven, with a good sound system and good lighting. Every time I go back into the shop, it is exactly the way I left it, because it is my shop!
Once the workshop location is determined, it's time to begin planning how to lay it out. First, acknowledge the need to formulate a plan that's realistic in terms of the space allotted. The size of the structure or workspace will place some constraints on how much can be done. Taking into account size limitations, begin fashioning a plan that keeps efficiency in mind.
These are all good tips, and apply to pretty much every shop. Like all things woodworking they need to be tweaked so that it’s right for the individual. For instance, I have a basement shop that’s not tiny but it is still space constrained, so worrying about the optimal layout for my ts/jointer/planer is a little off the mark since I don’t have to walk very far; instead, I want to be sure that related tools can be used *at the same time*. Having to move the planer out of the away so that I can use my TS is crazy if it can be avoided. However, interference between my drill press and my planer is less of an issue because they usually don’t get used at the same phase of a project.
There is significant evidence of advanced woodworking in ancient Egypt. Woodworking is depicted in many extant ancient Egyptian drawings, and a considerable amount of ancient Egyptian furniture (such as stools, chairs, tables, beds, chests) has been preserved. Tombs represent a large collection of these artefacts and the inner coffins found in the tombs were also made of wood. The metal used by the Egyptians for woodworking tools was originally copper and eventually, after 2000 BC bronze as ironworking was unknown until much later.
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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.
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.
If you have a fixed-in-place cutoff saw (a radial-arm, miter saw, or sawbuck, for example), it can, unlike the table saw, be conveniently positioned against a wall. Don’t set it in a corner, however, as you’ll need space on either side of the blade. Figure into your plan a two-foot-deep, three-foot-wide space for the saw itself and tables or other supports flanking the tool. Allow enough space directly in front of the saw for the operator to be able to comfortably line up and operate the saw.
The progenitors of Chinese woodworking are considered to be Lu Ban (魯班) and his wife Lady Yun, from the Spring and Autumn period (771 to 476 BC). Lu Ban is said to have introduced the plane, chalk-line, and other tools to China. His teachings were supposedly left behind in the book Lu Ban Jing (魯班經, "Manuscript of Lu Ban"). Despite this, it is believed that the text was written some 1500 years after his death. This book is filled largely with descriptions of dimensions for use in building various items such as flower pots, tables, altars, etc., and also contains extensive instructions concerning Feng Shui. It mentions almost nothing of the intricate glue-less and nail-less joinery for which Chinese furniture was so famous.
This is the one tool in the shop that provides the greatest opportunity to save money, if you are willing to purchase a well made, light duty machine, and take lighter cuts. In the past I have used General 14" planers that can hog off serious cuts all day long. The problem is that these professional units cost over $5000, and they would crush my buddy as we haul them down the stairs (note: don’t be the guy on the bottom). After doing a fair amount of research, I purchased the Dewalt DW735 13" thickness planer. The unit came with a good manual, and was in a good state of tune. It is light enough for me to carry around the shop without excessive grunting, so that made it very simple to install. The planer has a significant internal fan-assisted chip ejection system. The chips are catapulted out of this planer, so have your dust collector running before you run stock through it. I now have to make more cuts at a lighter cut depth, but I saved about $4500, which makes my budget happy. The planer makes clean cuts, and has two speeds. I don’t see a reason for the two speeds for my type of work, but there is a faster feed rate should you choose to use it. Knife changing is simple and quick.
Jointer: I use my jointer a lot. When preparing rough lumber it sees as much action as the planer. As a matter of fact, almost every piece of lumber in my shop gets surfaced on the wide face to straighten things out before it even heads to the planer. Without the jointer, my life would just be a crooked, twisty mess of painful attempts to make things seem straight.
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.
If a poured cement floor prohibits the installation of plug receptacles flush to the floor and you elect to surface-mount a plug, protect the exposed feed wire. A piece of one-by-four stock with a groove cut in its underside and its top edges chamfered, will pose little more tripping risk than a threshold. However, paint its protective covering a bright color to remind you and any other visitors to your shop of its presence.
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.
Marc, would not assumptions for a Festool shop differ considerably? Far fewer big machines, and more carrying lightweight precision machines to the wood, for example. I only have a few Festool machines so far (took quite a while to get past the sticker shock), but I am beginning to see how it could change the way we work. My 400 sq ft shop is getting awfully crowded with floor-standing machines and implementing your guidelines, sound as they are, is difficult.
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.
If you choose to hire a draftsperson or architect, they may charge you based on the square footage of the area you are proposing, by an hourly rate for their time or as a percentage of the cost of the structure. Costs of building permits will be a percentage of the estimated cost of the structure you are proposing (e.g., $15 permit fee per $1000 or 1.5 percent), or a cost-per-square foot depending on your municipality (e.g., $1.20 per square foot). Design work and permits will both differ depending on the part of the country in which you will be building, so ask the questions as you move ahead. One of the costs that is often overlooked in planning is the increase in annual property tax you will pay once your improved property has been reassessed.
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!
The router—The router is the master when it comes to flexibility. Its potential far exceeds trimming and decorative edge treatments. A router will cut mortises, rabbets, and dadoes, and adding a router table builds in even more versatility, including biscuit joinery and raised-panel doors. But where the router distinguishes itself from all other tools is in its ability to produce identical parts using a pattern.
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Your sense of space and how to use it will be slightly different depending on the focus of your craft. If you are building furniture with hand tools, you will be able to make do with less space (under 300 sq ft.) than if you’re using mainly power tools and building sets of cabinets (over 400 sq ft.). Some 3D modelling with a program like Sketch-Up or some 2D layouts on graph paper with scaled cutouts can allow you to experiment with arranging your space and how much of it you will need. You should include not only the tools, benches and storage that you currently possess but also enough room to tackle new types of projects and new tools that you anticipate needing down the road. When you think you have a layout that works, test it out by mentally working through a range of different projects you might tackle and the needs you will have for material storage, assembly and finishing. Then revise as necessary; this process will allow you to hone in on a general square footage and layout ideas that will set you up to move forward.
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.