Woodworking Shop Layout Basics

The way a woodworker's shop is arranged is as personal as the woodworker. However, there tend to be some basic tips to keep in mind when laying out your workshop. This post will explore some of the things to consider when laying out your shop.

Workflow

One of the main things to consider is the flow of materials and parts through your shop. While this is of greater importantance if you're trying to run a business (time is money and all that), its also worth thinking about if you're a hobbiest. Your time in the shop may be limited, so minimizing the time spent moving stuff around and maximizing the time doing stuff can be important.

For example, the first thing most woodworkers do when starting a project is cut lumber to rough size and prepare it for use (face jointing, thickness planing, etc.). For this set of operations, it is useful to put all of the tools used near one another: the jointer, planer, chop saw and table saw.

If you make a lot of frames or other parts where you are mitering pieces together, it may make sense to have your miter saw near your workbench.

When you're cutting joints for a project, keep track of the tools you go to time and again and put them close to your workbench. If you're always at the table saw or drill press, make sure that those tools are near the work bench.

Tool Height

Remember to think three-dimensionally when arranging your shop. Most shop layout programs only show you a top down view of your workshop. Often, with a little creativity, tools that would otherwise need a lot of floor space can be placed closer together by arranging their infeed or outfeed areas such that they avoid interfering each other.

For example, the outfeed for my surface planer passes underneath my drill press table. A jointer can often be placed right next to a table saw because it's beds are lower and does not project above the surface of the table saw.

On the flip side, instead of arranging tools so they avoid each other, placing them at the same height can also have benefits. A classic example is to set the height of a workbench or assembly table the same as your table saw. This allows you to use the workbench as an infeed or outfeed table, such as when working with large sheets of plywood.

Assembly Space

Finding a place to assemble your projects can sometimes be a challenge. You need enough space to lay out your parts, clamps, glue, mallets, etc. as well as room for the final assembly. Depending on the size of your shop, you can employ several strategies:

  • Use the table saw. If you think about it, the table saw has a rather large work surface. If you cover it with a piece of plywood or cardboard, there is plenty of room to work on.
  • Use the floor. If your project is large, trying to assemble it on a bench might just be an exercise in frustration. Consider clearing some space on the floor and assemble your project there.
  • Use a folding table. Many times, you just need some temporary space to assemble a project, but not often enough to justify a permanent space in your shop. A folding table or two makes a great assembly table. And I'm not talking about a wobbly card table but the heavier duty tables with the flip down legs.
  • Build a knock down table. A pair of saw horses and a piece of plywood also works well as a temporary table. And the whole thing comes apart and is stored in a very small space when you're not using it. This is especially true if your saw horses fold up.

Wall Space

While it is always nice to have additional square footage in a shop, most woodworkers will tell you that wall space is an equally precious commodity. Placing a machine up against the wall means that you can no longer hang something there or place an assembly there, out of the way, while the glue dries.

In addition, placing too many things up against the wall may make it difficult to get to an electrical outlet when you need to plug in a portable power tool.

At the very least, consider putting your tools on wheels. This way, they can be pulled away from the wall when in use or when then need to be moved out the way. When you're done, you can just roll them back into place.

Part Storage

In my workshop, one of the things I always struggle with is where to put the parts for my project while I'm working on one of them. Having a place to put your project parts that is safely out of the way should be a consideration in your shop design.

Separate Bench. Sometimes, all you need is a separate workbench near your main bench. Project parts can be laid out on the auxilliary bench while you work on one of them at your main workbench.

Roll Around Cart. If you have the space, a roll around cart is a great solution for part storage. Parts for a project can be kept on the cart and moved from machine to machine or to your workbench. No need to pick up a set of parts and stage them at the next tool, hoping that you don't drop them or bang them into something on the way there.

These are just a few things to consider when planning your own workshop. Several excellent books have been written on shop layout and design, so I've only hit on some of the highlights.

What do you consider important when designing a woodworking shop?

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