Beginners Guide to Setting Up a Woodworking Shop

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Whether you’re a hobbyist, DIY-er, or beginner woodworker, planning ahead should be your second nature. That’s why setting up a woodworking shop no matter the size should be the number one thing on your list before you even start.

The way you do it depends mostly on the space you have available- be it a garage, a shed or basement, and your budget.

Whatever the size, below, you’ll find several tips on how to make your shop look bigger, be more organized, or how to plan the workflow to maximize the space you’ve got.

How to start woodworking in a basement or a garage

If you’ve always dreamed of having your own workspace for DIY, upcycling, or even woodworking, but thought you needed much more space. You may think again. 

A good place would be a garage(even small), basement, or a garden shed.

With some planning and preparation, you are definitely able to create a great space to release your creativity. So no excuses.

First of all, think about storage and essential power tools. And I mean essential tools that you won’t be able to get all your projects done without. Also, consider size like benchtop or handheld tools, not some huge piece of equipment that takes all the space and only collects dust most of the time. 

Storage has to be well thought out and flexible to accommodate all tools and materials. You can learn more about that later on in this article.

Speaking of materials. With a little room, you probably won’t be able to get full-sized materials in, so think about pre-cut ones. If you buy them then most of the places will cut them to size for you.

For upcycling, most of the projects are smaller in size so not much of the problem there. But if you want to do some big piece of furniture, then you’d have to think about if you’re going to be able to get it into your shop and how to do it.

Setting up a woodworking/upcycling shop in a small space

This can be tricky, but it can be done. With a small-sized shop, you have to think about how to use the space you’ve got the best way you can. With some helpful tips, I’m sure you’ll be able to do it without running into some bigger problems.

Preparing the space-clean out the garage, basement or shed

First of all, you have to clear out the space that meant to be your shop from all the unnecessary stuff. Most of the time, garages, basements, and sheds are just dumping sites for all the things that you might need someday or are used very rarely. 

You don’t want to go through all this clutter like suitcases or kids bikes while working on your next project. So you either need to fin them a new place to live or you have come up with an idea of space sharing storage. I definitely recommend separating your working stuff from your regular stuff. This way you’ll have all the necessary equipment in one, easily accessible place.

Tips to make a small shop feel bigger

Small spaces can feel cluttered and unorganized, and this isn’t a good creative working environment. Here are some tips on making your tiny space feel bigger.

Things to avoid:

  • Poor lighting, as well as dark-colored walls, make small spaces feel even smaller
  • Oversized furniture/storage that is not properly fitted to space
  • Unorganized, cluttered spaces tend to feel smaller and cramped. Keep your place organized, and it will feel much bigger

Make sure you do:

  • Paint your space

    There is no need for your shop to be dark, uninviting, and depressing. You’d probably going to spend a lot of time in there working, so make sure there the colors around you are bright. A great tip I’ve found on Saws on Skates blog was to paint it all-walls, cabinets, and doors with white gloss paint.

    Painting everything the same bright color tricks the eyes and makes it feel bigger. Also, the gloss paint will reflect light nicely, which is crucial if you take pictures of your projects.
  • Install bright lights

    Make sure you install bright lightning. The best choice would be LED light fixtures, not some fluorescent, old-style flickering lights. LED lights are much brighter and will save you dollars on energy bills. I’d recommend going for a warmer(more yellow) color temperature. 

    I find the blueish/full spectrum/daylight color too tiring for my eyes. But you have to assess what color of light would work best for you in your shop. While looking for the best option, you’d want to go for anything from 3500K to 4300K.

    The light above 4300K has a blueish tone the same as you find in offices or hospitals. Unless that’s what you want, I wouldn’t recommend it.
  • Make tools mobile

    Making tools mobile is crucial for small space workshops. It’ll allow you to quickly move the tools around whenever you need them, so you make the most of your limited space.

    You can attach casters or mobile bases to your tools. Make sure they have breaks, so don’t end up chasing them around your shop.
  • Build or buy a solid workbench

    Having a solid workbench is essential. This is the place where you’re going to spend a lot of time crafting your projects. Of course, where space is limited, you must be smart about it.

    Choose a space-saving workbench. Scot from saws on skates has a lot of ideas on how to approach limited space. Have a look below at the solutions he proposes.

    You can go with:
  • A folding DIY workbench which could also be an easy first project 
    or 
  • This flip-top workbench is also pretty easy to make. You can mount a tool to one side and flip it when more space is needed.
      or
  • If you’re a beginner and don’t have the skills yet to build one of those, I recommend going with a workstation like this one from  Worx.

    Building a space-saving table saw station or miter saw stand is yet another way to accommodate your needs in a small shop.
  • Buy or build tool storage and organize your tools

    For tool storage, you can go with bought tools storage systems, or you can build one yourself. While the former probably is going to be more expensive, the latter will require to have some woodworking skills. You can go with pegboard or custom shelves like the ones in the video below.

Or, if you don’t want to have all your tools exposed, you can DIY some workshop storage cabinets with these plans. Having all your tools hidden in the cabinets makes the shop feel bigger and a lot more organized.

Organize:

  • Your Tools

    You want to categorize your tools and sort them accordingly, like tools for cutting, sanding, drilling, measuring, Kreg jigs, hand tools, etc. You know the drill ;). Make labels and stick them somewhere visible. This way, you’ll be less likely to misplace the tools again after use. Check some excellent tips for organizing your tools in the video below
  • Your Clamps

    You want to make sure your clamps are easily accessible and all in one place. I’ve found this great article about clamp storage and this one, in particular, would be great for a small shop.

Image source: Woodmagazine

  • Your Sandpaper

    When I saw this solution, I was in awe. Why haven’t I thought about this earlier??!!! So simple and neat. Use a pocket accordion folder to store all your sanding sheets and disks. Make a label with a grid on top for each pocket, so you know which one is which. You could even make two separate ones – one for sanding disks and one for sheets.
  • Your scrap wood

    To stop scrap wood from overtaking the limited space in a small shop, you have to decide which bits you want to keep and which you can toss. I do realize that sometimes it’s easier said than done :) And I’m speaking from experience. I do have a weird relationship with things that I might someday use. 

What would be my advice? You can follow a few simple steps. 

  1. Toss everything that has defects-warped, cracked, twisted, etc.
  2. Keep all scraps that are longer than 8″-smaller ones are dangerous to cut. You want to keep all your fingers, don’t you?
  3. Chuck all ply sheets smaller than 12″ x12″
  4. Use a plastic bin to store all long pieces

    You can burn your scrap pieces if they’re a real wood like cherry, pine or oak. But make sure you don’t pressure-treated lumber, MDF, and plywood- they’re usually full of chemicals.

    One last thing you can do with your scrap wood is scrap wood projects. There are loads of great examples over at Pinterest, so I’m sure you’ll find something worth making. At the end of the day, I don’t like wasted wood and love upcycling, and I’m sure you do too.

12 Shop Layout Tips for bigger shops

What if you don’t suffer from a lack of space and you want to set up a woodworking shop? Well, there are some very helpful tips and advice that you can follow to optimize it for a better work environment.

Your Workflow

This is something you should think about regardless of shop size. Think about how a piece of wood goes through a process cycle once it gets to your shop. This will help you determine its layout.

Group Tools Sensibly

You want to put similar tools near each other like jointer/planer/table saw combo. If at some point you use it repeatedly, it will be handy to have them close together. It’ll save you time and leg work.

Store Tools Near the Workbench

This one, I think, is self-explanatory. A workbench is a place where you’ll be spending the most time using your tools so you’d want them close. 

Put Your Bench Near a Window

I’m a big fan of working in natural light whenever possible. It makes it easy to see what you’re working, and it’s a lot healthier. Especially to your eyes. Natural light makes the environment much more pleasant to work in as well. And since you’ll probably spend a lot of time in your shop, you should definitely consider plenty of natural light.

Store Wood Near the Entrance

No one wants to drag the stock across the whole shop to store it. The best way is to create a storage space near the entrance. 

Put the Miter Saw Near the Lumber Rack

Most people use the miter saw to cut down the rough stock. So keep it handy nearby the lumber rack to save time.

Locate the Assembly Table, and The Table Saw Centrally

The assembly table and table saw should be placed centrally for easy frequent access during any project.

Keep the Clamps Near the Assembly Table

Put all the clamps near the assembly table where you’d be using them the most. If you’re using a workbench for assembly, keep your clamps nearby the bench. Use a mobile clamp cart if you’re short of wall space.

Finish Near a Window

If you have a special place where you do all your staining, painting, and varnishing, it’s best to place it near the window. As you know, most of the finishes release toxic fumes, so it’s only sensible to place it near a window will allow for better ventilation. 

Another benefit is the natural light that will help you with color matching.

Stay Mobile

Same as with the small shop, you want to keep some of your tools mobile to have better access. It is especially helpful when you have several tools stored next to each other against the wall. You can easily pull it out to use it and move it back once finished.

Make sure to have enough electric power and your power outlets are in reach

This point is especially important since you’ll be using a lot of electric equipment. You don’t want extension leads everywhere-it’s dangerous, so make sure you have enough outlets in all the strategic places. You also want to have enough power supply to accommodate all the tools, ventilation system, and lights.

Think about Temperature And Ventilation Control

No matter the size, you need to think about temperature control and ventilation in your shop. These two are crucial for the comfort and healthy environment of your workspace. As you’ll be spending long hours in there, you don’t want it to be too hot or too cold. 

If your shop is a part of your house, then you don’t have to worry about it as you’ll most likely have heating and proper wall insulation in place. If it’s, however, a separate building or shed or an uninsulated basement, then you need to think about how to approach the changing outdoor temperature. 

While in moderate climates, that might not be a problem as the temperature stays the same more or less during the whole year, in places with changing seasons( winter and summer months), this has to be addressed.

There are several solutions. You can use a portable heater in cold months and extra layers of clothing. If temperature dips below zero, make sure you store all your finishes away from cold, so they don’t get ruined by cold weather.

During the warm months, a fan could be a solution or even a window-mounted swamp cooler or portable air conditioning unit if it gets too hot. 

Ventilation control is essential for maintaining adequate working conditions. It helps with keeping the humidity down and prevents overheating. But most importantly, it’s crucial while working with toxic chemicals like wood finishes and paints. 

While placing your finish station near the window could be a solution, it’s not always possible. And you definitely don’t want to work near an open window when the temperature outside is below freezing. 

Working outside could be an option for lack of proper ventilation, but this entirely depends on the weather conditions, and you can’t control the quality of air around you. Any flying particles can end up on your workpiece while it’s drying and ruin it.

Don’t forget the dust removal system

While beginning woodworker/DIY would do just fine with a good quality shop vac if you plan on getting serious with your woodworking/DIY, a dust removal system should be on your to-buy list. Keeping your workplace clean and dust-free is essential, especially in small shops.

Having a dust removal system will help you minimize the amount of dust particles in the air setting on everything around. This is crucial with sanding. Removing sand dust during sanding will prevent excessive surface scratching and smoother results.

It also means you have a smaller chance to inhale some of the dust or get it in your eyes. And while wearing protective glasses and a face mask/respirator will protect you during working on your projects, a proper air filter will make sure you and others won’t inhale the dust particles suspended in the air at any other time.

Choose Durable, Easy-Clean Flooring

Choosing a proper easy to clean and durable flooring will save you time and frustration. While a concrete garage floor may be good to start with, it will stain over time, and dust particles will get stuck to it, making it harder to clean up. You’ll end up tracking a lot of the dirt to your home.

Using epoxy to seal the floor is a great solution. It will give you an excellent finish that is easy to clean and provides long-lasting protection from stains and other chemicals. It’ll also give your floor an extra grip, and a gloss finish will reflect light. So important in small dark spaces.

You’ll spend a lot of time standing, which can reduce the blood flow in your joints and muscles. So I’d recommend investing in some anti-fatigue rubber mats that will reduce the strain on your joints and back muscles. 

Outsource Some Of The Work

If you have a small shop and little space, you may consider buying stock /lumber that is already cut to size. When buying from lumberyard or home center, you can usually ask for board /sheet stock to be cut to the size you want.

While handpicking the lumber is the best way to be sure you get what you want, it’s not always possible. In this case, you can order pre-cut stock online in the dimensions you want that is ready to work with.

Places like Bell Forest Products or Woodworkers Source offer custom cuts or board selection for an extra fee.

The place I’m using is a local wood recycle center where you can buy used pallet planks, scaffolding boards, or even old doors and any recycled timber. While they don’t offer delivery, you can ask them to make the cuts on site.

Outsourcing work to build your workshop is a good idea as well. Especially if you short on time or necessary skills like electric wiring or plumbing. But if you decide that you want to build your workshop from the ground up, you can check out this excellent tutorial on the Instructables website. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune, and it is possible to set a workshop on a budget as well.

Buy the necessary equipment

Once you have your basics ready and set, it’s time to buy the tools you need. The choice is enormous, and picking the right tools can turn into a bigger task than planned. 

When buying power tools for a small shop you should stick to ones that are necessary and compact/portable. Remember that good quality tools are an investment. And while cheap tools are suitable for occasional/hobby tasks, they just won’t cut it if you’re planning on more frequent projects.

Portable table saw

Table saw is one of the most used woodworking tools. It will let you do some more precise cuts not possible with other saws. While a full-size table saw is great for ripping large stock sheets, it’s not always possible to have one in a small shop. While more experienced woodworkers would look down on a compact table, saw it is worth getting one if you lack in space.

When choosing one, make sure the rip capacity is sufficient for the kind of projects you’ll be undertaking, and the saw has a reliable fence system.

Circular & Track Saws

If you don’t have a table saw, a circular/track saw could be an excellent supplement for making rip cuts. Many circular saw guides will help you make straight cuts, or you can even make your own. 

A track saw makes it even easier and gives you greater accuracy, but it’s costlier than a circular saw. While with a circular saw, you have to press the shoe against a guide and push the saw forward the track pops into its track and only needs to be pushed forward. The result- smoother and straighter edges.

Miter saw

It allows you to make straight and angled crosscuts. While a circular saw will let you do the same a miter saw is very handy when you have to make a lot of them and it will give you more accuracy. It’s a great tool to have to start building basic projects. 

Jigsaw or scroll saw

For cutting curves and various different shapes, a jigsaw or scroll saw would be your go-to tool. While a jigsaw is pretty easy to master, a scroll saw does require some practice.

Jigsaw is a pretty versatile tool and will let you do some straight cuts too. You can opt-in for a cordless version that you can use outdoors or in places without a power outlet.

Scroll saw, on the other hand, will let you make more precise and intricate cuts.

Drill Press or electric drill/impact driver

I don’t have to explain why a power drill and impact driver are a must in every woodworker/DIY-er’s shop/house. They take care of a lot of drilling tasks from holes in wood and masonry to assembling your projects and driving screws and bolts. 

While a drill press is not necessary while you are a beginner, it will save you time and allow for more control while making multiple holes. It’s also safer while using Forstner drill bits.

Sanders/planers

Every project will have to be smoothed out at some point and trust me, you don’t want to do it manually. This task is daunting enough, even using a sander or planer. Investing in a good quality random orbit sander will make it quicker and easier. 

While hand planer is not mandatory to have, it’s a small tool and can be helpful with achieving very smooth surfaces and sharp edges as well as consistent thickness.

Shop-Vac

A shop vacuum will let you keep your place clean and help with dust particles. While it’s not as effective as a dust collection or dust extraction system, it’s an excellent option for those on a budget or just starting out. 

Summary

Planning ahead will let you maximize the space you’ve got and improve the workflow. This, in turn, will make your job easier and your work environment more friendly. 

Choose your tools according to your needs/projects and make them mobile, if possible. Keep your tools and materials organized in easy to reach places. Use smart storage and bright lightning. Don’t forget about temperature control and air quality. Keep in mind you’ll be spending a lot of time in this space. The shop will be “growing” with you as you develop your skills and choose more advanced projects, so plan this growth ahead of time to avoid mess and clutter.

I hope you enjoyed this article and I could help answer some of the questions you had about setting a woodworking shop. If, however, there is something I’ve missed, let me know, and I’ll be happy to help.

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