Whether you plan to build your personal wood shop in a one or two car garage, basement or an alternative outbuilding, getting the layout right and outfitting your space with the best tools and accessories is a must.
While the exact details of your plan will depend on exactly what your hobbies are, there are best practices to follow to make sure your workshop functions well for you — and is a fun, comfortable place to spend your time.
To get started on designing the perfect workshop of your own, consider these tips about using your space and furnish your small shop so you are free to move about and be as creative as you want to be. Here’s what you should know about wood shop layouts.
The Basics – Power Tools for your Workspace
While this article is focused on some other products you may not have considered, here are a few of the basic tools any woodshop needs:
• Table saw & Outfeed Table
• Miter saw & Chopsaw
• Dust Collector for dust collection
• Drill Press
• Hand Tools
• Lumber Rack for short and long boards
• Radial Arm Saw
• Circular Saw
• Shop Vacuum to clean your shop floor
• Benchtop Tools
• Router & Router Table
• Plus any other tools you need or prefer
Wood Shop Layouts – Design Your Work Flow
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.
To make sure you account for any existing obstructions, it’s a good idea to make a measured drawing of your workshop area on graph paper, noting existing furniture, built-ins and large items on the plan as you go. For example, a common one-car garage workshop layout has built-in tool cabinets and shelves around the perimeter where they won’t impede parking, but you may also have to get clever about folding work tables and saw horses that you can set up as needed in the middle of the garage when you’re working on a project (and cars are parked outside).
Working Triangles in the Wood Shop
If you’ve heard of working triangles in kitchen design, the concept works the same way in a workshop. In general, you’ll experience the best traffic flow and least friction as you work if your shop is designed with three mobile bases that you can move among during a project.
In a wood shop, this generally consists of a:
Materials Storage Space
Rather than have these three stations lined up along one wall, you should try to have them form a triangle to keep everything within reach. The easiest way to do this is to have lumber storage on one wall and a finishing area on the adjacent wall, with a workbench in the middle of the room, placed as you would a kitchen island.
Planning for Clearance
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.
In general, a table saw requires at least eight feet in front and behind to accommodate standard sheet goods and four feet side to side. A work table should provide four feet clearance on all sides, and pathways between tables, benches and storage units should be three feet wide. Proper clearance will allow you to move about with ease while you work.
Plan Carefully for Storage
In a woodworking shop, lumber storage is key, and it’s best to design shelves or racks that are about 50 percent larger than you think you need — you’ll almost certainly acquire more materials as the years go on. To maximize a small space, use walls by mounting shelves to the ceiling and purchasing a sturdy step ladder to help you reach things. A wall covered in standard pegboard and outfitted with hooks allows you to customize hand tool storage and keep your most-used hardware within easy reach.
You might also consider lining a wall or two with inexpensive cabinets and countertops to make use of the space between your work surface and the floor that might otherwise go unused. Likewise, short rolling carts or cabinets can tuck under a work bench when not in use and provide lots of extra storage.
5 Other Must-Have Products You Should Consider
Even though there are lots of ways to arrange your workshop tools and storage, there are some appliances you definitely want to add to boost your enjoyment of your space. When planning your workshop layout, be sure to leave space for these all-important products.
1. High-Velocity Wall or Floor Fans
When you design your workshop setup, climate control often gets ignored — and that’s a huge mistake! If your workshop or hobby room is in an unconditioned space like a garage or basement, you could find that it’s brutally uncomfortable to work in there during warm weather. You’ll be much happier with a solid fan — or several — to keep air moving for your comfort.
Because workshops are rough and tumble places, the right fan for the job will have an industrial-strength motor and adjustable fan speeds. Easy-to-clean metal blades and a fully encased motor housing are also important features, especially if your shop tends to fill up with sawdust, wood chips, and other fine debris. That extra layer of protection will help the fan motor last for years instead of being damaged by particulates.
High-velocity fans are also an important tool in their own right, particularly at your finishing station. Increased air flow will help dissipate fumes from paints and sprays for your safety, and you can train a fan on your project to help paint dry more quickly between coats on humid days.
To get the most out of your fan, look for floor fans that are easy to aim or wall-mounted fans that will save space in smaller shops.
If you live where summers get hot and humid, you may need more than a fan to keep cool in your workshop. Fortunately, air conditioners will both dehumidify and cool your space — and you don’t need a traditional window to get the job done. Instead of a residential window unit, consider a freestanding portable air conditioner that you can use as needed on hot days.
The beauty of a portable A/C unit is that you don’t have to heft it into a window and block off a valuable source of fresh air for keeping paint fumes at bay. Instead, choose a model with a low profile that you can tuck under a table or against a wall when not in use — a model with casters for maximum maneuverability is ideal. Choose a high-powered unit that will condition at least 400 square feet of space and move it where you need it for maximum comfort as you work.
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.
Just as a shed or garage can get stifling in the summer heat, winter cold can also make working conditions difficult — if not impossible. To prevent clumsy, stuff fingers from ruining your projects, you need a way to heat your workshop in even the most extremely frigid days of the year. A traditional residential space heater probably won’t cut it, as these are designed to heat single rooms. For a two-car garage or full basement, you’ll need something much bigger.
Enter the garage heater. These space heaters are specifically designed to warm up wide open areas and to function under much tougher circumstances than you’re likely to find in the average house.
A well-designed garage heater will offer at least 5,000 watts of heating power — enough to warm 750 square feet of space. A smaller heater might take off a bit of the chill, but to really warm your workshop — and keep it that way — you’ll need a heater of this size.
In addition to sheer power, look for a model with a built-in thermostat so you can set it and forget it. This convenience feature is well worth it so you don’t have to stop what you’re doing mid-project to manually turn your heater on and off to maintain your desired temp.
A good garage heater will mount to the wall or ceiling to save space and will come with a durable housing and full safety screen to keep dust and wood chips from reaching the heating elements and starting a fire.
In addition to keeping your workshop comfortable with climate control add-ons, don’t forget to keep your body in optimal condition as you work. A water cooler tucked away in the corner of your workshop will provide a big quality of life boost and allow you to keep at your projects without having to run to the kitchen for a glass of water every time you feel thirsty.
To make the most of your workshop oasis, look for a water dispenser that offers a choice between chilled and hot water.
This will let you enjoy a cold, refreshing drink in the heat of summer rather than a lukewarm bottle that’s been sitting around gathering dust. You’ll also cut down on the amount of plastic your household goes through, which is a boon for the environment.
In the winter, the hot water tap will also you to make a cup of tea or a mug of instant coffee on the spot. No matter what your taste, a versatile drink dispenser will keep you hydrated and happy while you work.
For the next step up in convenience, consider adding a dedicated beverage cooler to your workshop as well. Though many people set up an old refrigerator in the garage for extra soda and beer, a dedicated mini-fridge will help you save on electricity, since new models are far more efficient than old ones.
You can pack your beverage cooler with your favorite soft drinks for a pick-me-up while you work or use it to store a lunch to enjoy on a break —all without tracking dirt and or grease into your clean kitchen.
A great freestanding beverage cooler should come equipped with a thermostat that lets you control the temperature to your liking — the colder the better for carbonated drinks, which tend to taste best when served at a frosty 34 degrees.
If you plan to store adult beverages in your cooler, look for a model with a lock to keep your drinks away from children and teens. You’ll also want a model that allows you to reverse the way the door swings when you set it up, as this will provide flexibility in your workshop layout to help maximize your space.
Once you’ve planned the basic layout of your workshop and have added all the tools and specialty appliances you need, take a last look at the overall design to make it aesthetically pleasing.
Add overhead lighting for general illumination and task lighting over your work stations so you can see your project clearly. For maximum flexibility, you can mount clip-on work lights to nearby shelves and point them where you need them, knowing you’ll be able to move them about as required for different projects.
Finally, think about the overall color and feel of your workshop. A fresh coat of bright white paint will help your lighting go farther, but you might also consider adding a splash of color for fun.
An accent wall or an epoxy floor coating are good ways to upgrade your workshop from drab to fab without adding fussy decorations that will get in the way of business.
Ultimately, your workshop should be a place that inspires you to be creative and to do your best work. When you take the time to plan the space for maximum efficiency and comfort, you’ll love spending time there — and that means you’ll get more done, whether it’s fixing up a car or building a new piece of furniture.
No matter how you use your workshop, you should enjoy the time you get to work with your hands and make something brand new. So what are you waiting for? Get started designing your perfect workshop today.
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