20+ Shop layout tips for the Hand Tool Woodworker(Download Included)

Shop layout creates the opportunity for a dream to come true for the future user. However, logistics can be a nightmare. For those in trouble, it is important to think about three things: the workshop flow, the necessary stations and the placement of the machinery and tools.

Here is a diagram of my shop. I have also included the graph paper below so you can do something similar. All you need to do is to go into paint and use the fill tool. I give more tips below!

Setting up a workshop begins with the main entryway. Which door to your workshop will be the best option for bringing in new wood for a project? Some workshops only have the main entry door. However, some are set up with a garage-style door, which has a wider opening. This allows more flexibility for transporting wood into the shop.

Once the preferred entry is determined, the organization of the shop layout can go into full effect.

(U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Joseph A. Pagán Jr.)(RELEASED)

Wood Storage Should Be Near Entrance

Unloading new pieces, particularly solid stock, or sheet goods, can be a frustrating task when the distance from the vehicle to storage location means a lot of lifting and hauling. The smarter play is to store these pieces near the entrance. This allows a quick unload from the back of the pickup.
Strategic wood storage is important during the shop layout. It means less hassle with pieces at various locations throughout the workspace. It also means a better method of storing pieces that were cut from previous projects. Finally, the right wood storage will allow you to find the piece you are thinking of when you are considering a new use for it.

Wood Pathway Through Workshop Should Flow

From the original wood storage location, it is logical to have a shorter trip to the initial stations. Try to imagine you are undertaking a common project and walk through the shop to determine the best flow. This will cut down on unnecessary backtracking and awkward transit.

Miter Saw Should Find A Home Near the Lumber Rack

For those with a miter saw or a Festool MFT, it is a wise choice to start out with the saw located near the lumber rack. This means a shorter distance to transport the rough stock, allowing you to cut it down faster and move on to the next step quickly.

Assembly Table Should be Centrally Located

The assembly table is a key location for various steps on the journey to project completion. It may hold various pieces of the project in states of assembly. Therefore, a central location provides easy access from the various other stations and machinery locations. It also provides a strong visual draw and helps you stay focused on the completion of the project because anywhere you are in the shop, you are easily able to see what has been completed and know what still needs to be done. This is an important element during shop layout and should be recognized as such.

Screw Clamp Storage Ferrule Craft Joinery Tool

Clamps Should be Located Near the Assembly Table

Clamps are important to hold pieces together during a drying stage or other step midway in the project. This means clamp storage near the entryway or across the room from the assembly table is going to make for a lot of walking, hassle and -ultimately- regret. Save yourself the struggle and ensure your clamp storage is close to the Assembly Table.

Table Saw Can be Close to Center as Well

The Table Saw is a popular component to various projects a woodworker might take on. Therefore, the logical placement – as with the Assembly Table – is going to be the center of the workshop.

Workbench Placement Should Involve the Best Light

Windows and natural lighting elements are the best options when working on an intricate project. Allowing yourself access to this light is doing yourself and any project you undertake the best advantage to handling each step effectively. You may have to install extra lighting if natural light is lacking.

By btwashburn - Everything in its place, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28496141

Workbench Storage is Key

Hand and power tools need their own storage area. Since they are most commonly used on the workbench, it makes sense to find them safe storage as close to the workbench as possible. This provides the best access when a project is in full swing and you need a different tool. Peace of mind and reduced steps when you are focused on the project at hand result, and the efficiency of the shop layout is not compromised. My central bench is against a wall which allowed me to place large pegboards behind it. These are a great option for storage and gives an ‘everything in its place’ vibe.

Finishing Should be Done by a Window

Windows provide both natural light and a source of ventilation – which comes in very handy when mixing and applying finishes. It helps to have the station for finishing near the window, allowing decreased exposure to the toxic chemicals involved. It also is an ideal way to make sure the product comes out looking as desired in a natural light source, as opposed to manmade lighting sources. If possible place a fan in the window that you can switch on and off to send those fumes packing.

Jointers

This is the second of the popular woodworking trifecta. The jointer should be near the table saw and along the long axis of the workshop. It is also important to consider the location of the next piece of machinery – the planer.

Planers

The Planer and Jointer in a workshop, as noted above, need to be located conveniently to the table saw. In a narrow workshop, against the opposite wall is a viable option. However, for a larger workspace, the next option is to work in the nearest doorway, allowing for more space to work when the door is open. Planers usually require room for lumber to be fed through. It may be wise to orient in such a way that you have plenty of room for a table or support sawhorse behind the tool. One way to do this is to make it so the planer can slide out away from the wall allowing space for catch area.

Airman 1st Class Bruce Ramsey from the 557th Expeditionary RED HORSE Squadron uses a chop saw to cut a 2/4 structure on Joint Base Balad, Iraq, Jan. 13, 2010. RED HORSE squadrons construct some of the structures needed by contingency and special operations worldwide. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Brittany Y. Bateman/Released)

Crosscut Saws

Saws that include the radial-arm saw and chop boxes, as well as the sliding compound miter saw, would ideally be located against the longest wall of the shop, providing plenty of room for fast and efficient cutting of long boards. For those who regularly cut both right and left-handed workpieces, it is logical and time-saving to create a long, narrow support bench where the fence can be shared between both.

Other Important Machinery Fits in Where It Makes Sense

In a continuation of the puzzle crafting that is shop layout, the remaining important machinery requires permanent spaces that provide sufficient lighting and work area for project completion. It is important to figure this out based on their proximity to the other machines in the most logical progression. Don’t be afraid to use corners or build some machines into other areas as extensions to save on the remaining available space.
If that storage location means the machinery requires movement for use, focus on the best location where it is a short distance to a viable work area.

Tools Need Their Own Homes/Needs

For the drill press, the router table, and the stationary sander, assess your projects and how you work. These can be more scattered (wherever there’s space). Make sure if you have a tool that needs feed space behind it make sure you can either pull it away from the wall or orient it so it feed way is clear.
It is also important to consider the effects of the air and humidity on tools that are left exposed. Tools on racks and stored in vertical storage solutions allow them to be accessed more easily. However, if you live in a wet climate and won’t be using your tools for a while, store them in drawers and sealed plastic containers to minimize exposure and thereby cut down on the amount of rust that accumulates.

Personal preference leads to the right answer to these questions. It is smart to sit down and weigh the costs and the hassles versus the benefits of both storage options. This way, you have considered all factors before making a potentially expensive decision that you have to re-do in the future – at great cost a second time.

This is Your Chance to Do You; Make the Flow Fit Your Specific Needs

Setting up a shop layout has some logical steps, but in the end, each woodworker will need to consider their own projects. It is important to remember how big your projects will be, any unique steps or factors that can influence where a bench or piece of machinery should be located for personal preferences.

This is the time to take advantage of the freedom and adjust as necessary to make each project a fun and easy endeavor – from inception to completion.

Also, consider some creature comforts that may not be necessities but are important to your comfort and enjoyment. Perhaps you require efficient heating and cooling to stay comfortable while crafting; if so that should be among your top priorities in organizing the workshop.

For those who enjoy some background noise, a decent sound system is a must. It was the first thing I put in my shop.

 Putting the Pen to Paper for Shop Layout Organization

While most people want to get down to it and get the heavy lifting out of the way, there are more logical steps to take before you start hefting and sliding machinery.

First, it is a good idea to draw out the shop layout on paper. Make sure measurements fall into place and the desired location for machinery meets up with the harsh reality of sharp corners and awkward heights.

Here is a shop layout tool(you can click on the picture) of some 1cmx1cm graph paper. Just color it in like I did for my shop above. This should help you get the placement right. I used 1 square = 1′. Just mark out the size of your shop and the size and placement of your tools. I would round the space down while rounding the size of tools up. That way you have plenty of wiggle room.

It may even be a smart idea to make scale replicas of the machinery that will be used and stored in the workshop. This can allow for easier adjustment when a proposed location does not live up to original expectations. The use of paper or cardboard scale replicas of the machinery reduces frustration when the layout is not coming together like you thought originally.

The ability to draw out the shop layout can help you address potential issues at the start. However, be prepared to run into other issues once you get to work physically moving the actual machinery and tools into place. Keep your eye on the prize and recognize the benefits you reap once the workshop design brings your plans to life.

Always check Power

Next, look at the available power in your shop and the different machinery that has specific and unique requirements. Having a piece of machinery too far from a viable power source means a lot of hassle you simply do not need.
For a workshop where the electrical outlets are not in ideal locations, invest in a retractable cord reel. This keeps the electricity at hand without causing hazards as they stretch across the floor and interfere with movement between stations.
Build a single location for charging power packs and batteries. Know where they are when they aren’t attached to the tool they power.

Watch Out for Kickback

Kickback is a big factor that not everyone considers. Make sure to keep the table saw away from doorways. If that is unavoidable or proximity is necessary for the workroom, then be sure to avoid having your back to the door while you work. A potential hazard for unexpected visitors comes to life, as they could be behind the door and be injured if kickback occurs unexpectedly.

Consider Ventilation

Ventilation is important. Be proactive in keeping the workshop air flowing and the exposure to chemicals minimal for optimal health and happiness. Ventilation, when handled properly, also helps with the cleanliness of the shop. Properly circulated air allows the dust has the chance to be carried out or to settle to the floor. This helps with cleanup at the end of the work session. If you are going all out, you can also install a dust removal system. This gives you a powerful vacuum that you can sweep debris into as you work. It should also have pipes for sawdust collection on your tools.

Compromise

Finally, be ready to compromise. You may come into this shop layout project with big ideas, but the available space just does not meet up with the desired results. Be ready and aware of the areas where you can compromise and those you will not negotiate – even if it’s with yourself.  For the most satisfaction in a completed project, the workshop layout needs to be a source of calm and efficient work time. Provide yourself with significant future satisfaction by embracing flexibility for the small stuff now.

Streamlining the Shop Layout for the Future

Once the shop layout has been created via a walkthrough and a drawn-out plan, the reality may not quite meet expectations. If the use of various tools and machinery are not smooth during the first few projects you complete in your workshop, consider the following tips to help further improve the flow of your work area and the efficiency of your time on project completion.

Tips:

  • Use a rolling cart to store similar tools. That way, if you start with one and realize you need the other, that tool will already conveniently be within reach.
  • When machinery holds a less than ideal spot and will need to be moved for optimal use, consider adding wheels or castors to the bottom to better facilitate the moving process.
  • Don’t forget the vertical space. It is easy to add storage along the walls toward the ceiling. For tools that are necessary but not as commonly used, these storage locations keep them within view.
  • Cleanliness keeps things moving smoothly. Make sure to create a routine where you clean up shavings and other detritus following the messier steps of the project. In fact, make sure that part of your wind-down after an intense work session involves cleaning the workshop.
  • Don’t be afraid to make open spaces your creative surface. Add chalkboard paint to a workbench space or a cupboard door and allow for notes and mathematical figuring without the stress of finding pen and paper.
  • Re-use storage cabinets and other furnishings in a cost-effective and creative problem resolution. This cuts down on the junk you need to get rid of and also allows for better storage through innovation. Re-using common cabinets like those for a microwave or a tv stand can make for easily renovated storage space. Areas where tools can be kept within and storage for the accessories can be attached to doors and surfaces makes for easier access.
  • Create a shelf space where you can keep nuts, bolts, and other necessities. Storing them in plain view, rather than tucked away in various drawers, means you can get ahead. Recognize something that needs to be replenished before you run out at a crucial project juncture.

Conclusion

It is important to keep in mind that no setup is going to be permanent. There will be a learning curve, and there will also be changes in the future in project management. Various factors that make re-arranging the elements of a workspace necessary will become relevant.

Take heart in the fact that you are creating this shop layout for yourself. The workflow will go more smoothly than it would if you were borrowing someone else’s workshop to complete a project. Your efforts will be a source of pride and facilitate many completed projects for years to come.

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