Setting up Shop — Creating Your Perfect Woodworking Workshop

Creating Your Workshop

An organized workspace is the key to higher productivity and efficiency. It’s also a much safer environment to work in and will normally encourage good working practices. Plus, when your workshop isn’t a messy and chaotic place to work, you’ll almost certainly derive more pleasure from it.

Setting up your workspace is something that’s worth thinking about before you start on your woodworking endeavors. With a little forward-thinking, you can create a space that can be adapted to a variety of jobs in the future with minimal effort. Failure to plan ahead can leave you little room for expansion, holding you back when you want to be powering forward.

In this chapter, we’ll take a look at how to set up a workshop that’s ideal for your needs, both now and in the future. As well as tackling the basics, we’ll also go over some more advanced ideas and options.

Assessing Your Needs

Before scratching out your ideas on the drawing board, it’s important to assess your needs. As a beginner woodworker, it can be difficult to know what you need now, let alone in the future. However, by planning ahead you can keep a huge number of avenues open to you in the years to come, rather than limiting yourself to your immediate needs.

To start with, think about the following points:

  • What type of projects do you want to embark on? Do you see yourself tackling large-scale projects such as building a shed, erecting partition walls, or crafting large cabinets and wardrobes? Or are you more interested in smaller projects, such as carving, furniture building, or making bespoke picture frames?
  • What materials do you expect to work with? The raw materials you plan to use will also dictate how much space you’ll need for both working and storage. For example, if you’re planning to work with manufactured boards, which measure 8′ by 4′ (2240 mm by 1220 mm) as standard, you’ll need to make sure you have space to maneuver, store, and work on such boards. On the other hand, if you’ll be working with smaller lengths of wood, you can afford to set up a smaller workspace.
  • What kind of tools do you expect to use? Do you plan to work predominantly with hand tools, or do you have a long list of power tools you want to purchase? Have you considered buying larger machines, such as table saws and planers? The size and layout of your workspace will be largely dictated by your largest tools or machines.

Once you’ve figured out what your needs as a woodworker will be, it’ll be easier to start planning your dream workshop.

Where Should You Set up Shop?

Not everyone has the luxury of choosing where they can work on their projects, but that needn’t be a hindrance. With this in mind, let’s take a look at some options.

Woodworking in Your Garage

A garage is a classic location for a home workshop. With easy access to the street, bringing full boards, planks of lumber, and tools in is a piece of cake. Plus, with a mobile bench, you can easily set up outside. With the garage door open, you can be sure of plenty of natural light as well, ideal for working safely and efficiently.

Woodworking Workshop in Garage

Woodworking in a Shed

A shed is another great location for a woodworking shop. Being further from the house, you don’t need to worry so much about noise or fumes from paint or glue affecting you and your family. Some sheds can be extremely spacious and you might even build one from scratch as your first woodworking project. This way, you can ensure it’s set up to suit your needs from the very beginning. Just be sure to check your local building codes.

Woodworking in Your Basement

The basement can be an effective place for a workshop, but you’ll need to ensure it has excellent ventilation and dust extraction — we’ll talk about that a bit more in a bit. Unless it has access from outside, it’s not ideal for larger materials such as full boards or planks. Plus, being so close to your living quarters, noise pollution could be an issue. However, for smaller projects, predominantly using hand tools, a basement can be a great choice. Just be sure that there are no issues with damp — this can cause your lumber to swell and even rot.

Working With Limited Space

Woodworking is a skill that doesn’t necessarily have to take up a lot of space, even if you plan to use machines and work on larger projects. Nowadays, there are a wealth of mobile and fold-up benches and woodworking machines, as well as combi-tools. These can be kept out of the way when you’re done with them or rolled outside when you want to get to work.

For example, check out how the guys at Rockler are able to transform a corner of a 2-car garage into a fully functioning woodworking workshop. The same principles can be applied to even smaller spaces too, especially if you don’t plan to work with larger machines.

How Many Square Feet Do You Need for a Woodworking Shop?

The answer to this really does depend on what you plan to make. However, here are some widely accepted figures:

  • 75 square ft (7 square meters): this is adequate for most beginner woodworkers and can even accommodate some smaller, mobile machines if desired. If you choose to use hand tools mostly, a workshop around this size should be plenty.
  • 125 square ft (about 11.5 square meters): this will provide you with plenty of space to work comfortably and includes room for several machines.

Essential Workshop Equipment and Elements

Workshops come in all shapes and sizes, with different layouts and featuring different machines. However, there are some things that feature in pretty much every woodworking space. Let’s go through them.

Workbench

A good, sturdy workbench is vital in any workshop. This is where much of the work will be carried out, including joint making, tool sharpening, and much more. A classic cabinet-makers bench is ideal. Strong and sturdy, it comes complete with vices and other handy extras. However, it’s possible to build your own workbench or even use a fold-up one. Often located against a wall, preferably next to a window, it can also be in the middle of the room if space allows, making it easier to work on larger workpieces.

Wood Storage Area

If you’re planning to keep a few boards and planks in stock, you’ll need to store them properly. Improper timber storage can lead to planks becoming twisted or warped. An easy solution is to erect five or six upright wall studs as if you were building a partition wall. To these studs, securely attach a number of strong brackets on which you can lay long planks. Ensure the brackets support the plank along the entire length to prevent warping.

In this way, you can create three or four rows of planks, plus additional shelves higher up for items such as glue or paint. Whole manufactured boards can be stored on edge behind this structure if required. To make it easy to bring your boards and lumber in, mount this system in line with the workshop door.

Wood Storage on Shelves

Tool Storage

You can create a simple space for your hand tools on the wall behind your workbench. Fix dowel pegs to a sheet of plywood, and hang saws, clamps, marking tools, hammers, etc. from them. Chisels and other similar tools can slot into specially made brackets.

Shelves

You can never have too many shelves in your workshop. Fix two or three narrow shelves on the wall behind your workbench and use them to store jars of nails, screws, dowels, and other smaller items. This way, you can easily monitor stock levels.

Cupboards and Drawers

These are ideal for larger hand tools and power tools, as well as items that are sensitive to dust. Like shelves, the more the merrier. Lower cabinets are particularly useful for heavier items, making sure you don’t have to struggle to lift them up too high.

Lighting

Proper lighting is essential in any good workshop. Ideally, you’ll have a large window or two, or even a garage door, to let in plenty of natural light. For artificial lighting, go with fluorescent ‘daylight’ tubes that reduce shadows and mimic natural conditions. In this way, you’re more able to accurately match colors and finishes if you’re working late. A bright environment is ideal for a workshop, so if possible, paint the walls white or another lighter color.

Electricity Sockets

Power outlets are another thing you can’t have too many of. If possible, try to space them out along the wall that your workbench backs onto. This makes using power tools easier. It’s good practice to use double sockets so that you can also plug in a vacuum cleaner to attach to your tools if needed. If you’ll use a lot of cordless tools, consider setting up a charging station. Add in USB sockets and a phone holder so you can charge your cell as you work.

Cutting and Assembly Area

Try to keep a section of your workspace clear for setting up trestles to cut longer planks down to size. Ideally, this should be close to your lumber store to prevent you from having to move heavy planks around too much. This space can also be used to assemble your larger projects, such as cabinets and doors.

Dust Extraction System and Extractor

Workshops are dusty places, so it’s good to install a system for taking care of the worst of it. If you will use machines and power tools, this is absolutely essential, as they produce a lot of fine dust compared to hand tools. For most power tools, an industrial vacuum cleaner will work well, and you can even install a separator to prevent damage. For machines, you might need something a little heftier.

If possible, fit an extractor and air filter to keep fine dust and fumes out of your workshop. Both of these can be extremely harmful to your health, so it’s well worth doing all you can to keep the air in your shop clean.

Woodworking Workshop Layout

Now that you’ve seen the essentials as well as some of your options, it’s worth thinking about how you’ll arrange everything in your space. First, you need to decide exactly what tools and machines you’ll want to invest in or may want to invest in in the future. Next, it’s time to get to the drawing board.

Sketch out a scale-drawing of the space you have on grid paper. Then, on another piece of card, sketch out the machines, benches, dust extractors, storage areas, and any other elements you plan to include in your shop. Cut these out so that you can play around with the positioning of each piece of equipment and storage area.

Remember to take into account the size of the materials you’ll work with and the tools you’ll use them on. For example, if you plan to buy a table saw to cut whole boards down to size, you need to ensure your layout allows space to move an 8 x 4 ft board across the length of the machine without hitting anything else.

A Typical Machine and Workshop Layout

One common solution is to set your workbench and any other flat surfaces along the walls. The machines are then situated in the center of your workspace, with their workpiece pathways at right angles to each other. This way you can comfortably work on one machine at a time.

The Perfect Workbench and Accessories

Earlier we talked about how important the workbench is in any workshop. Without a sturdy bench fitted with quality vices, it’s increasingly difficult to produce high-quality woodwork. With that in mind, let’s explore this essential piece of equipment and some of the key accessories to look for.

Construction — What To Look For in a Workbench

A woodworker’s bench will typically be between 2ft 8” and 2ft 10” (800 – 850 mm) tall, though if you’re making your own you can make it as tall as you like. A high-quality workbench should be built entirely from hardwood. While some cheaper models may use softwood for the underframe, the worktop should always be at least 2 inches (50 mm) thick and made from a tough, short-grain hardwood, like beech. Plywood is sometimes used for the worktop to save money, and as long as it has a thick enough veneer, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t do the job well.

The worktop can be flat, though many models feature a shallow tool well, a temporary store for hand tools to prevent them from being swept from the surface by mistake. Many benches are fitted with at least one drawer, though some even have a full cabinet underneath for tool storage. The frame should be strong and stable, without distorting when sideways pressure is applied.

Vices

A good workbench will feature at least one cast-metal woodworking vice located on the front face. Permanently fixed to the bench, this large vice is ideal for a whole host of tasks. With wooden jaws to protect the workpiece, the vice is operated by turning the large metal handle on the front jaw. An end-vice is another nice feature to have. Fixed onto one end of the worktop, it allows longer workpieces to be clamped securely along the length of the bench by using wooden bench stops.

Vice with Wood on Workbench

Folding Benches

If space is tight in your workshop or you plan to only do small-scale projects, you might consider a folding bench instead of a permanent one. Portable and adjustable, they often feature two vice jaws as the worktop, which together with plastic pegs, holds your workpieces tight.

Bench Hook

A bench hook is a simple piece of equipment that’s quick and easy to make yourself. It hooks onto the edge of your bench and holds small pieces of wood square while you cut them with a backsaw. In this way, you get a square cut without damaging the work surface of your bench.

Miter Box and Block

Designed to help you cut the perfect miter (45-degree angle) by hand, the miter box has two raised sides with slots cut in them to guide your saw as you cut workpieces. Again, it protects the surface of your workbench while providing a perfect cut. A miter box works in the same way, but only has one side to guide your saw blade.

Sawing With a Miter Box

Staying Safe in the Workshop

No matter how organized and well-planned, a woodworking workshop can be a dangerous place. However, a few small touches will make it much safer.

  • Smoke alarm and fire extinguisher: wood by its very nature is pretty flammable, and the dust and chips are even more so. Plus, a number of common stains and finishes are also a fire hazard. Fit a smoke alarm and keep a fire extinguisher and fire blanket handy. Also, keep on top of cleaning up after yourself to prevent a build-up of dust, chips, and shavings. This will also keep the floor less slippy.
  • First aid kit: keep it well stocked with bandages, plasters, medicinal alcohol, and all the other basics, and keep it somewhere easy to reach, preferably mounted to a wall.
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE): be sure to stock up on dust masks, safety goggles, and gloves. If you plan to use machines, ear defenders and a respirator are invaluable.

After setting up your workspace, read on and find out in chapter 3 which essential hand tools you will need for your woodworking projects.

 

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