Introduction: Setting Up a Workshop
This Instructable on Setting Up a Workshop is brought to you by WoodSkills.
I currently design+build furniture in this workshop. Over the years I have embraced hand tools and work in a hybrid environment of hand and power tools. The distinct advantage of using hand tools in your work is a relatively noise-free and dust-free environment. Hand tools also demand much less space than power tools and stationary machinery. For more of my woodworking plans, woodworking courses, books and tutorials and WOODSKILLS Magazine, please visit WoodSkills
The first step in setting up a workshop is to establish your needs. A suitable location for the workshop must be determined. Workshops can be located in any part of the home or garage, but ideally the basement or garage are very suitable locations. You should plan for future expansion prior to designing a workshop, since at some point in the future you will outgrow your present shop. Many factors are taken into consideration in designing a workshop. Storage, lighting, ventilation, power requirements, and noise reduction are important considerations.
The typical woodworking shop requires a lumber storage area, a workbench, tool storage, stationary machine area, and a finishing area. Ample space should be provided to move between the bench and walls, and to provide the necessary clearance to be able to use long, wide boards and panels.
Efficient dust collection is a major consideration in a workshop design. Unless you are using only hand tools, most power tools and powered sanding operations create large amounts of airborne dust which is easily inhaled. The addition of dust collection at the source will eliminate most airborne dust.
If a workshop is not feasible at this time, a small work area in a corner of the home is perfectly suitable. The minimum requirement of a workbench and hand tools is all that is necessary for one to begin woodworking.
A view of a typical workshop can be seen with placement of workstations, workbenches and machines is important in determining shop efficiency. A glimpse of dust collection piping to a stationary machine is also visible in the far right of this photo. The last photo shows a set of shop stairs and a knee wall separating the stairs from the workshop area. In the design of my latest workshop, it was more cost-effective to have the workshop on two levels rather than one large area. This would make efficient use of the footprint of the workshop building. In light of this, a set of stairs to and from each level was a requirement. The upper level is used for work with smaller machinery and hand tools whereas the lower level is for the processing and storage of lumber. Noisy dust collection systems are also situated in the lower level thereby significantly decreasing the noise levels in the quieter upper shop level.
The tablesaw is often thought of the mainstay of a woodworking shop. In this particular shop design, the tablesaw is centrally located to make it accessible from all around. Large, long boards and sheet goods can also be manouvered by leaving sufficient space around the tablesaw. This rule also applies to other stationary machinery.
Step 1: Dust Collection Pt. 1
Dust collection is becoming increasingly important in the workshop. Airborne dust generated when wood is machined or cut has been proven to be a contributing factor in lung ailments, etc. With this in mind, the best method to prevent airborne dust from being generated is to collect it at the source or right at the woodworking machine. A modern dust collection system is composed of central ducts or pipes and flexible tubing leading to a central dust collector. This system of pipes and flexible tubing originates from the heavy dust generators in the shop, typically the router table, the tablesaw, the thickness planer, jointer, bandsaw and sanding machines.
The cost of centralized dust collection has been dropping over the past few years, and a decent system can now be installed for under a thousand dollars. The capacity of the system is directly related to whether one machine or multiple machines will be used at a time.
The shop size and length of ducting is also a factor in determining dust collection capacity. Dust collectors typically work on moving high volumes of air at lower suction as opposed to a conventional shop vacuum cleaner with low volume and high suction.
In light of this, the ductwork and flexible tubing has been standardized at 4 inches for an average workshop dust collection system. The 4 inch diameter ducting is ample enough to move higher volumes of wood dust and chips to the central dust collector.
Shown is a plastic blast gate in line with a flexible,black 4 in. hose and 4 in. solid ducting. The plastic flexible hose is connected to a 15 in. capacity planer. The 4 in. diameter ductwork and tubing of workshop dust collection systems is in stark contrast to the 1.5 inch diameter size of conventional shop vacuum cleaners which are designed to have high suction. Dust collectors consist of a motor, an impeller blade, a shroud and a bag or cartridge system. The motor size is the determining factor in the capacity of the dust collector. Dust collector motor sizes typically range from 1 HP to 2 HP for the average workshop. Although it seems economical to initially purchase a 1 HP collector, you will find that your needs will quickly outgrow the unit. In our opinion, the 1.5 HP dust collector is the best compromise initially. The cost is not excessive, yet it provides enough capacity for unanticipated growth in shop size, an increase in the number of machines in the shop, and the distance between machines or pipe run lengths.
1 HP dust collectors are primarily designed to be wheeled around to the machine you are presently using. On the other hand, 1.5 HP and above dust collectors can be set up centrally as demonstrated in the photographs, to be ducted to multiple machines. Each machine in turn has a plastic or metal blast gate which turns the vacuum on or off to the machine. Very large capacity systems from 5 HP and up are available which allow three or more machines to be used simultaneously. Blast gates are either made of metal or plastic and either type is equally sufficient for use in the workshop.
Also shown, a metal blast gate in line with a flexible 4 in. hose and 4 in. solid ducting attached to the dust port of a 6 in. jointer. The plastic flexible hose is connected to a small 6 in. capacity jointer. A router table with integral dust collection, tubing and blast gate can be seen in the fourth photo.
Step 2: Dust Collection Pt. 2
Dust collection is critical in a woodworking environment. The process of preparing and dimensioning lumber using machines produces copious amounts of dust and shavings. If the dust is not removed at the source, it will become airborne and infiltrate the air you breathe. Fine wood dust causes health problems and should be avoided, especially if you are woodworking for long periods of time. Thickness planers typically produce a large amount of shavings. Low velocity and high volume dust collectors excel at quickly removing the chips from the planer. Alternatively, routers, tablesaws and bandsaws generate large amounts of fine dust which is also handled efficiently by large capacity DC systems.
The first two photos are of 1.5 HP single stage dust collectors used in a small shop. This dust collector is attached to a cyclone lid setup. Blast gates controlling the input to the dust collector can also be seen. The blast gates are located a short distance from the dust port of each machine. Typically, only one blast gate is open when dust collectors under 2 HP are used. This creates the maximum velocity and volume to effectively evacuate the dust from a stationary machine. The photos also demonstrate how flexible 4 inch piping is connected to common woodworking machines, in this case a 13 in. portable thickness planer and a 15 in. heavy duty thickness planer. The machines each have a blast gate to control dust collection.
Capturing dust at the source will create a healthier environment for your woodworking. If not captured, the dust will become airborne and begin to settle on all horizontal surfaces. In a very short time, your woodworking workshop will begin to collect a layer of dust. There are several reasons why this is not advisable, notably health, fire safety and your insurance premiums. You will likely find that effective dust collection helps to create a clean, safe workshop environment and will also result in lower insurance premiums.
Step 3: Bandsaw Dust Collection
Bandsaws often pose a challenge to dust collection. Fine dust is created and follows the blade and bandsaw wheel motion. Factory dust ports located under the bandsaw table only succeed in capturing a portion of the fine dust generated. The need for another dust port at the apex of the lower wheel becomes critical to capture all the fine dust before it exits the lower wheel cover housing. In this photo I have designed and adapted a dust port flange to the lower wheel cover of a standard 14 inch bandsaw. The removal of dust is greatly improved with this additional dust port.
Shown is a photo of a vacuum fitting, hose and blast gate attached to a bandsaw. Also, another photo of vacuum fittings, hoses and a blast gate attached to a bandsaw. A magnetic dust chute which clips on to the bandsaw casting is at the front.
Step 4: Shop Size and Layout
If the shop is to be used primarily for woodworking, the minimum recommended area for the workshop is 75 square feet. An ideal shop would measure 125 square feet, to this area would be added a lumber storage area. The size of the shop is determined by the number of stationary power tools that it will hold.
The main workbench in the shop should be designed for both sitting with access to a stool, and for standing. The workbench should be located approximately 4 feet from stationary machines.
The machines should be spaced a minimum of 3 feet apart. If space is limited, install rolling bases on the equipment. Machines should be placed as to not impede traffic flow. Material, both raw lumber and finished goods, needs to be moved into and out of the shop. Provide a large door or a window for this. Machines used in a sequence should be placed close together. Allow ample clearance for doorways. Tools can be placed on pegboards mounted to walls, or in separate freestanding tool cabinets.
Proper lighting in a workshop is very important, and natural ambient light or sunlight is ideal. Place machines or workbenches so that bright sunlight will not shine directly into your eyes. Reflected light can be an asset in any shop. Paint the ceiling and walls white or off-white as to reflect maximum light. Shown is a typical workshop floor plan.
A general floor plan for your workshop should be drawn up. All equipment should be positioned to provide maximum flexibility and with the ability for you to manoeuvre around the machines and your workbench or workbenches. If you have a large space available to you, plan for future additional equipment. A lumber storage area is important, and can be either situated in the workshop or outside. Photo shows a recent view of my current woodworking workshop.
Step 5: Workshop Electrical
Make sure the workshop has adequate electrical service and plenty of lighting. Ideally, a medium sized workshop will have its own electrical sub-panel also known as a pony panel. This panel serves the receptacles and lighting for the workshop and can be readily turned off if necessary.
The sub-panel should be wired for the maximum amperage drawn in the workshop and this includes lighting. It is prudent to consider that 2 machines will be operating simultaneously as is the case when a machine and dust collector are running at the same time. In this case the amperage drawn will increase considerably.
Shown is an electrical sub-panel for the workshop. This particular sub-panel or pony panel is located next to an alarm system control box with attached motion sensor.
Another consideration in a workshop is the location of electrical outlets. The normal height of an electrical outlet in a home is about one foot from the floor. In a workshop, it is preferred to have the outlets approximately 4 feet off the ground. This is well above the height of workbench surfaces and it will be much easier to plug small tools in. Consider the location of electrical outlets if designing your own workshop. The quantity and horizontal spacing of electrical outlets in a dedicated workshop should also be greater than in a home space. It is best to have no more than 2-3 outlets per circuit breaker since power tools typically draw much startup and operating current.
It is also wise to install dedicated 220V circuits as heavy duty machinery will inevitably need this as a power requirement. Many types of machinery also have an option to be wired for 110V or 220V power. 220V power draws less current and allows motors to start up quicker and more efficiently. In my own workshop, I have at least (4) dedicated 220V circuits. Each of these electrical circuits has a dedicated circuit breaker in the electrical panel, sub-panel or pony panel. It is also recommended to label each of the electrical outlets to determine which circuit they are on. This will help eliminate overloading an individual circuit and breaker.
Shop lighting should be set up on its own circuit breaker. This prevents the lighting from turning off in the event a tool triggers a circuit breaker. More dedicated circuits and circuit breakers also allow a problem to be isolated in the event a circuit breaker trips.
Step 6: Workshop Access and Lighting
Another consideration is the ease or difficulty in transporting materials into and out of the workshop. Large doors or windows can facilitate the movement of lumber and finished goods into and out of the workshop. When designing a workshop, it is important to consider the dimensions of doors and windows of the workshop.
Ventilation is also important, and sometimes a common household fan placed in a window of the shop or in the vicinity can satisfy the ventilation requirement. Safety considerations include a non-slip floor, adequate lighting, and room to manoeuvre around equipment.
Fluorescent lighting provides more light than incandescent lighting and is less expensive to operate. Some fixtures come with wires to plug into a receptacle, other fixtures need to be permanently wired.
Grounded receptacles are of primary importance and guard against shock. If the workshop is located in the basement, receptacles should be considered. GFCI receptacles sense small changes in current flow, similar to a short circuit, and disable the power instantly. Portable clip-on spot lamps can be used in proximity of the workbench or stationary machines, to serve as task lighting.
The photos show how banks of fluorescent lighting are used in a typical woodworking workshop, my current workshop. The banks can be switched on and off separately and the concentration of light creates a bright environment. The incidence of injuries is greatly reduced if the work are has large amounts of light. You are also less apt to make mistakes since the work pieces are easily seen. When finishing a project, a bright, well-lit environment shows any surface flaws better. In my workshop design, the amount of windows was increased to bring in more ambient light. On bright days, I hardly ever turn on any of the fluorescent banks of light. Task lighting is important when doing hand work such as sawing and laying out dovetail joinery. I have a portable lamp attached to each of my four workbenches.
Step 7: Workshop Storage
Storage is an essential requirement in a workshop. Without storage, tools would need to be left on workbenches and other work surfaces. Compartmentalizing and arranging your tools for quick access is a excellent strategy for a workshop design. Tool cabinets can be located along the surfaces of walls. Tool cabinets are typically designed with a low profile so they do not extend out into the workshop excessively. Workshop cabinets also serve to keep dust away from metal tools. Dust on tools can stick to the metal if the air moisture in a workshop environment is high. Dust attracts moisture and causes rust and tarnishing to occur. For this reason, I keep most of my tools in enclosed cabinets. Each tool has its own place within a cabinet to keep me from searching for the tool.
The first photo shows one half of a matching pair of wall mounted cabinets for hand planes. These are not difficult to build and have mitered frame and panel doors with a hardboard panel. The cabinet itself has rabbet joints reinforced with biscuits. The shelves are dadoed into the sides of the cabinet. The partitions are custom sized for the individual hand planes.
Second photo shows a typical wall mounted cabinet for chisels and marking tools, the door has a shatterproof lexan (polycarbonate) panel. The cabinet is made of oak, the door is a mitered frame and panel construction reinforced with biscuits.
Third photo shows a wall-mounted plane rack. This particular plane rack is directly located above a workbench in order to quickly access the different hand planes available. Small wall-mounted cabinet designed to hold router bits, drill bits, sandpaper and assorted hardware.
Next or fourth photo shows another version of the wall mounted cabinet shown earlier, but for drill bits, router bits and layout tools. Construction is very similar to the previous wall cabinets. The front door is necessary to keep dust out of the cabinet. This cabinet is made from extra pine pieces lying around the workshop.
A wall mounted pegboard is shown last. The pegboard is for clamps, small tools, measuring tools, levels and accessories. Quick access is an important feature of the wall-mounted pegboard.
Step 8: Basement Workshop
A basement workshop is ideal because heat is already provided from the home through existing ducting; as opposed to a garage or detached workshop building. Headroom of the basement workshop should be at a minimum of 80 inches of vertical clearance which is beneath pipes and heating ducts. Verify that the basement is structurally sound, and there is not a leaking foundation in the home. Any moisture problems must be solved before setting up a workshop. Moisture can create problems such as rust on machinery or lumber which will never be at the correct EMC. Installing a dehumidifier can solve some moisture problems and keep it within an acceptable range. Power tools should always be used in a dry location. Damp floors greatly increase the risk of electric shock because damp concrete provides excellent electrical conduction from the tool right into the ground. It was mentioned earlier to install GFCI receptacles which sense if there is a dangerous ground path created and trips a breaker within the receptacle.
Windows can be enlarged and replaced to provide more light to the workshop, otherwise adequate artificial lighting will need to be installed in the workshop area. Most building codes mandate that a basement have secondary stairs to the upper floor. A stairwell with minimum steepness, and which is turned or split in the middle with a landing, is much safer than a steep, narrow, straight stairwell. A door that allows access to the basement directly from outside is preferable but not necessary. Central heating will provide more than enough heat for the basement workshop, and additional heating ducts can be installed if necessary. Double-tube fluorescent lamps provide the best, brightest lighting, and are the most economical to operate continuously. A wood floor could be laid over the concrete floor to provide more comfort.
Shown is an illustration of a wider, split stairwell. Although this stairwell includes a turn, it is much safer than the straight, narrow type. The landing serves to break a fall and to rest heavier pieces as they are being brought in or removed from the basement workshop.
I added the series of four photos to demonstrate how an area of a basement can be converted into a workshop space for woodworking. This is vintage digital photography of one of my early workshops over 20 years ago. The workshop was enclosed with walls and a door to contain any dust generated and isolate it from the rest of the basement. A window was added later to allow ambient light from the rest of the basement to enter the workshop area.
Step 9: The Workbench Pt. 1
The workbench is essentially a structurally rigid table to work on. It must be extremely reliable, both strong and rigid. The top should be very flat, and deep enough (from front to back) to accommodate your work. The overall height of the workbench should be emphasized, as it should be convenient for you to work on comfortably.
Workbenches can be purchased, but if you design and build one, it is best to follow an existing plan as many sensible details have already been incorporated into the design. Common features of a workbench are a tool recess at the rear of the top running lengthwise along the tabletop. The tool recess is to ensure that tools do not protrude into the workpiece above the level of the table top.
Other common features of the typical woodworking workbench are drawers or shelves under the work area, and two vises. Vises are very important because holding the workpiece firmly is essential to a good job. Often there is a vise (face vise) at the front of the bench and another at the end of the bench (tail vise or shoulder vise). These vises work in conjunction with bench dogs to hold long or wide material firmly to the work surface.
The bench dog, shown in the second photo, is basically a square or round, wood or metal peg which is inserted at predefined holes in the surface of the workbench. Despite all this, ripping (sawing lumber along the grain) and working large boards is usually awkward on the workbench. A pair of sawhorses is invaluable in the shop, on which you can rest the workpiece with plenty of overhang. A sawhorse is also handy in cross-cutting (sawing across the grain). Storage is another essential requirement of the workshop. Storage is used for hand tools, portable power tools, finishing materials, and small hardware.
The third photo illustrates a typical woodworking bench with a front vise and storage underneath in a workshop setting. The height of the workbench should be adjusted for your individual comfort, because it is most often used by yourself. Stand straight and rest the palms of your hands on a surface just high enough so that your elbows are slightly bent. This is your proper upper work height, and the bench should measure this distance from the floor. Bench heights range from 30 to 36 inches high. Tools should be in close proximity to the bench, ideally the wall behind the bench.
A workbench should be comfortable and highly functional. The workbench can be placed in the middle of the shop; you can then work on four sides of the bench. This arrangement leaves plenty of space for manoeuvring large workpieces around the bench. The workbench can also be placed against a wall or on the two sides of a corner. This arrangement leaves less room to manoeuvre large workpieces, but it offers accessible wall space for storing tools.
You can also take advantage of natural light if the bench is placed under or near a window. One of the photos below is that of a small compact bench which is well suited to working with smaller workpieces. At the front and side of the workbench vises are located which in conjunction with bench dogs are used to hold your work firmly down.
The tool tray running lengthwise at the back of the workbench is visible. This bench does not include any shelving or drawers beneath the bench top, but it is straightforward to construct or available to purchase, and is the ideal first small workbench for hand tool based operations.
The fourth photo is of a typical cabinetmakers workbench. This bench is much larger and has a tool drawer incorporated into the bench top. The side vise is actually a shoulder vise and offers more flexibility than the standard side vise. The length of the workbench offers the woodworker more flexibility in using longer work pieces.
The last photo shows a collection of bench jigs used to fasten work to the workbench surface. The bench jigs are designed to fit into pre-existing bench dog holes. The wide area of the jig surfaces keeps work pieces from rotating and makes it easier to hand plane small and medium-sized boards.
Step 10: The Workbench Pt. 2
The photos show typical metal woodworking vises which are attached to the underside of the bench top. Replaceable wood blocks are commonly attached to both faces of the metal jaws to prevent marring of the work piece from the metal jaws. Slide-up bars, which are essentially dogs, are located in the outward jaw. This vise dog is used to secure long pieces of lumber against other dogs inserted in the bench top. A bench dog is inserted at the appropriate place on the bench, and the dog in the vise is raised to clamp the stock flat on the bench top. This clamping system lies flush with the bench top, and permits long planing strokes or sanding operations.
The metal vises below can be purchased in different sizes, depending on the size of the average work piece you will be working with. Workbenches are traditionally made from hardwoods like beech or maple, and many excellent models can be purchased.
Workbenches are expensive to purchase, whereas an inexpensive home-made version can be created for your exact requirements. If a solid hardwood bench top is not financially feasible, laminating two sheets of 3/4" hardwood plywood in 24" deep by 48" or 60" long dimensions is a practical, sturdy alternative. The frame for the workbench is typically bolted together, as carriage bolts can periodically be tightened up.
The second photo is a large capacity quick-release vise located at front left of bench. This vise has added hardwood jaws to eliminate metal contact with the wood being clamped.
Third photo shows a pair of back to back workbenches constructed of pine with a hardwood plywood surface. These benches each have two drawers and a metal vise. This type of workbench with integrated tool storage is ideal for a small shop. I built these two workbenches over 20 years ago and have moved them to each of my shops and they are in use to this day in my most recent workshop as can be seen in the third photo.
Fourth photo shows a top view of the two matching workbenches placed back to back to increase the available surface area of the tabletops. A dovetail jig is in the lower right hand corner. Task lighting is also set up for this bench.
Fifth photo shows the front view of another heavy-duty shop-built workbench. A heavy duty vise is installed at the left of the bench. This bench also has two rows of 3/4 in. holes for the insertion of removable bench dogs. The bench is constructed of pine with a hardwood plywood laminated top.
Sixth photo shows the top left view of the shop-built workbench. A heavy duty vise is installed at the left of the bench. This bench has a row of 3/4 in. holes for the removable Veritas surface vise system shown above. The removable, adjustable Veritas surface vise is an effective substitute for a tail vise.
Seventh photo shows the top right view of main workbench. As an effective substitute for a tail vise, this
bench has a row of 3/4 in. holes for the removable Veritas surface vise system shown in the photo.
The last photo in the series shows a sliding deadman installed on the main shop-built workbench. The sliding deadman allows you to effectively support a longer board which is clamped into the face vise. The sliding deadman slides along, is removable, and can handle boards and wider panels with ease. This feature allows a person to effectively plane the edge of a long board without additional assistance.
Step 11: Workshop Safety
Safety rules for a workshop can be summed up in one sentence. Treat your tools with understanding and respect.
1. Read instructions carefully, practice, and proceed slowly.
2. Do not be afraid of tools. If tools are correctly used, they will greatly increase your workmanship qualities.
3. Always concentrate completely on the task at hand.
4. Keep your shop neat and dry. A messy shop quickly becomes a hazardous area for accidents.
5. Always unplug power tools when not in use. Always unplug tools when changing bits or blades.
6. Most high-speed operations such as cutting with a tablesaw and routing produce wood chips and are very noisy. Safety glasses and hearing protectors protect against these hazards.
7. Do not remove or bypass the safety devices added to machinery such as tablesaws and jointers. Blade guards and splitters are there for a reason.
8. Keep a fire extinguisher in the workshop. There are different classes of fire extinguisher (A,B,C) to choose for wood and paper fires to chemical fires.
The second photo shows safety goggles and the third photo shows a variety of common safety glasses.
The next or fourth photo shows an overhead blade guard for the tablesaw. This safety feature serves to prevent the hands and fingers of the operator from entering the danger zone close to the saw blade. This blade guard is adjusted to be close to the piece being cut.
The fifth photo shows a tablesaw splitter. This safety device serves to keep any lumber exiting the blade from binding and causing kickback. It keeps the saw kerf open for the whole saw cut. The serrated pawls keep any lumber from kicking back.
Safety glasses are perfectly acceptable for the workshop since they provide shatterproof protection for the eyes. Ideally, safety goggles should be worn as they provide shatterproof glass protection for the eyes. Safety glasses and goggles should also be tight fitting and sealed against dust. Dust is second nature to a woodworking shop and it permeates almost every open surface, both vertical and horizontal.
Wearing sealed safety goggles ensures that dust will not coat the inside of the goggles and hinder vision at a critical time. Eye safety gear is fairly inexpensive, and this should be the first piece of safety gear purchased.
The substances used in the average workshop carry relatively few risks to health, especially if you are in contact with them for only a short time. On the other hand, many people are affected by wood dust. Some people are affected by dust from certain woods; others are instead affected by dust from woods in the form of allergic reactions. Allergic reactions can range from wheezing, shortage of breath to skin rashes.
Allergies can also be developed by constant exposure to wood dust, especially if the dust is very fine. The finer the dust is; the greater the likelihood of it being inhaled and aggravating the throat and lungs. Wood dust particles can be very fine, this fine dust floats in the air for a long time before settling. This dust is also called airborne dust. If you feel sick when working with a particular wood or woods, consider an alternative wood. You may be able to use an alternative method of working or matching the wood, for example planing instead of sanding.
Shown next is a photo of dust masks, which are used to prevent the inhaling of fine wood dust. The top dust mask is a regular paper dust mask, whereas the bottom mask is of the cartridge type which allows filtered air to enter the mouth area.
The dust mask or respirator is an equally important component of safety in the workshop. The woodworker should form a habit of wearing a dust mask when performing operations which generate much dust. The simplest dust mask is a paper mask which covers the nose and mouth and which is also disposable. The paper dust mask is very economical and can be purchased in large quantities. The dust mask is held on with an elastic band around the head. The next version of the dust mask also covers the nose and mouth, but has instead, a small air cartridge which can also be replaced. The benefit if this system is a better fitting dust mask and the provision for the woodworker to breathe easier, since air is expelled through a valve system.
At the other extreme, and for woodworkers who need maximum dust protection, is the air helmet. This is a helmet worn over the head, and is effectively a sealed chamber in which you breathe in. The actual air you breathe is transferred to and from an air pack which fastens to your waist or to your back. This is a self-contained breathing apparatus, with built-in dust and fume filtering.
Another fairly new development in shop dust control is the ceiling mounted dust filtration unit. An air cleaner unit is a self-contained 2-3 stage dust filtration system powered by a small, quiet motor which is sealed from the environment. This design effectively removes most airborne dust in a reasonable time frame. The cost is somewhat expensive initially, but only the bag filter unit needs replacement after a long period. The other filters can be effectively vacuumed or washed. Shown is a shop-made ceiling mounted three stage air cleaner unit. The shop-built air cleaner uses integrated squirrel-cage blowers and triple filter system.
A fairly recent innovation in shop dust control is the downdraft table. This table consists of a large blower assembly, typically a furnace fan and squirrel cage blower assembly enclosed within a sealed area. The blower serves to supply a vacuum to the surface or top of the table. This is accomplished through a series of holes equally spaced throughout the top.
The shop-built downdraft table in the photo is made to serve as an outfeed table and also to serve as a whole shop air filter. The whole shop air filter function is accomplished through a timer on the side which keeps the blower running for a period of time after some dusty woodworking operations such as sanding. This downdraft table is a good example of maximizing space within a shop environment. The downdraft table, outfeed table and whole shop air filter are combined into one unit.
Next photo shows a cartridge type dust mask. This dust mask utilizes a filter system, and is oriented to keep dust away from the opening. A dust mask and goggles or safety glasses should be mandatory safety items in any woodworking shop. Also shown is a photo of a series of different types of hearing protectors.
The noise levels generated by some power tools can reach upwards of 115db.The use of hearing protectors are highly recommended in a noisy workshop. Depending on the type of woodworking you perform, either completely hand-tool based or with the use of powered tools, hearing protection might or might not be necessary.
If you perform router or table saw work, the noise levels in decibels can be extremely high, slowly deteriorating and damaging your hearing. Some hearing protectors are more comfortable than others, and should always be tested in conjunction with eye safety gear. A low cost alternative to earmuff style protection are common earplugs.
These plugs can achieve a high level of noise reduction, upwards of 25db. These plugs are disposable, but ideally earmuff style protection offers the greatest protection, as the ears are then completely enclosed against loud noise.
It is sometimes best to get into the habit of wearing safety head and face gear.
Safety glasses and ear protection should be worn as often as possible while working in a woodworking shop environment. Certain woodworking operations can be grouped to use one machine, and the required safety gear can then be worn at that time.
Disposal of oily rags and rags soaked in finishing materials becomes important in a woodworking shop environment. The temperature of oily rags when bunched together gradually increases to the point of spontaneous self-combustion. This is directly related to the chemical drying action of the oily finish itself. All oil based finish containers utilizing chemical driers such as boiled linseed oil have large warning markings on the can to point this out.
As a precaution, all woodworking shop environments utilizing these types of finishes, or chemical finishes of any nature should have an oily waste rag container in the shop. The oily waste cans seal the rags from ambient oxygen and therefore keep the rags from self-igniting. Many woodworking shops have burned down when this relatively simple step has been overlooked. The photo shows a typical oily waste can container. The oily waste can container is used to contain and dispose of oily rags used to apply finish to wood.
It is critical to keep at least one fire extinguisher in the workshop. There are different classes of fire extinguisher (A,B,C) to choose for wood and paper fires to chemical fires. Most insurance companies mandate that woodworking shops have fire extinguishers readily accessible. In my own 2-level woodworking shop, I have a fire extinguisher located at the entrance to each of the levels. The area directly around the fire extinguisher is kept tidy so the extinguisher can be quickly grabbed in the event of a fire. A wall-mounted fire extinguisher can be seen in the last photo.
Step 12: Storing and Processing Lumber
Often, you will purchase lumber or sheet goods in large sizes. It is much more economical to purchase lumber without any processing. Outsourcing of processing such as planning, jointing and cross-cutting down to size add considerable cost to a build or project. These processes can easily be accomplished in your shop environment through the use of a table saw and a miter saw station. The table saw with outfeed table can be used to cut sheet goods down to size assuming you have sufficient room surrounding the table saw to accomplish this.
A miter saw station is very effective at cutting long, thick boards down to size. These are typically boards which are too unwieldy or long to manoeuvre on a table saw. Below is a photo of a miter saw station. This particular miter saw station was designed and built for my own workshop utilizing a miter saw I had available to me.
The infeed and outfeed sections have adjustable stop blocks to be able to repeatedly cut large boards down to exact lengths. The miter saw in this photo is a sliding miter saw which enables me to saw very wide boards, up to 12 inches in width. This miter saw station is portable in the sense it can be folded away if necessary.
Shown is a portable miter station with compound sliding miter saw attached. The left and right fences have adjustable stop blocks for precision cuts. This particular station was a custom shop-built table adapted for the specific sliding miter saw shown.
Lumber storage is critical in a woodworking shop. The lumber needs to be easily accessible and there needs to be air circulating around the wood. The circulation of air around the wood is critical to maintain moisture equilibrium on all surfaces of the wood.
Air circulation prevents cupping, bowing and twisting of the wood. A straightforward lumber rack such as shown in the photo below can be assembled using standard lumber from a building store. This particular lumber rack has three levels with 14 inches of depth at each level. Each level can hold many planks of wood, but it is preferable to have fewer pieces in order to quickly remove them and replace them. Lumber racks can be either horizontal or vertical; the important aspect is to ensure plenty of air circulates around the boards. Vertically mounted racks keep boards on end and are typically arranged in bins. Shown in the next photo is a shop-made lumber rack. This particular lumber rack is bolted to the wall studs for reinforcement.
Probably the most used tool in a woodworking shop environment is the clamp. Clamps are used to hold wood together while gluing, used to dry fit furniture assemblies, etc. Clamps are invaluable and the amount of clamps in a typical workshop grows over time.
Clamps come in different sizes and lengths; typically the jaw opening is a determining factor as well as the length of the bar. Larger and longer clamps allow you to clamp large assemblies and panels for gluing.
There are more common clamps which are used fairly often. These more common clamps have a standard format and lend themselves well to a wall-mounted clamp rack. The wall-mounted clamp rack has a low profile and is out of the way of most woodworking operations in the workshop.
In the series of four photos, the more popular types of clamps are shown as well as shop-made wall-mounted clamp racks to hold a series of them. These clamp racks are fairly straightforward to make utilizing some cut-off pieces of high quality plywood.
When attaching the clamp racks to a shop wall, it is advisable to fasten them directly to wall studs, preferably through a layer of drywall. Other types of common clamps in the workshop are pipe clamps which are purchased as head and tail assemblies where you supply the black pipe.
Cabinet clamps, as shown in the second photo below, can be expensive but they last many years and maintain squareness and accuracy in a clamping operation. Shown are photos of a clamp rack for smaller hand clamps, a clamp rack for larger cabinet clamps, a clamp rack for long cabinet clamps, and a custom clamp rack for versatile, lightweight bar clamps used for assembly.
Step 13: Conclusion
This concludes this Setting Up a Workshop Instructable. Hopefully you will have gained an overview into the different aspects of a woodworking workshop. Most workshops are works in progress. In my own workshop over a period of ten years, I have added wall mounted cabinets, added additional workbenches and re-arranged components of the workshop to make more efficient use of the space. An important consideration is that the type of work and the processes you follow in your workshop will likely evolve and change over time. It is often better to have worked in the workshop for a period of time before finalizing a layout. For example, if you tend to use machinery most of the time, it would be better to create a work triangle of the machinery you use most often. If you use hand tools a great deal, the workbench and hand tool cabinets become more important and placement of the workbench is critical to be able to have full access around it. A better option is to place a workbench away from a wall for full access on both sides if you tend to use hand tools and handplaning operations in your work.
The photos show how I progressed from a basement workshop to a 2-level dedicated workshop. The considerable extra space allowed me to work with case goods and sheet goods. My projects were no longer limited to boxes and small furniture. I could now design and create larger pieces of furniture. Over the past 20 years, the use of hand tools in woodworking workshops has increased dramatically. Less reliance on machines allows a woodworker to effectively work in a smaller space. In light of this, a medium-sized basement workshop is more than sufficient for woodworking today.
I currently design+build furniture in this workshop. Over the years I have embraced hand tools and work in a hybrid environment of hand and power tools. The distinct advantage of using hand tools in your work is a relatively noise-free and dust-free environment. Hand tools also demand much less space than power tools and stationary machinery. For more of my woodworking plans, woodworking courses, books and tutorials, please visit WoodSkills