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Online Tips Index / General Shop Tips / Small Woodworking Shop Layout

Small Woodworking Shop Layout

Layout

In an ideal shop, there's always room for one more tool. And nothing gets in the way. But in all the shops I've set up, space (or the lack of it) is often a factor. With all the tools and materials required for a project, a small shop can soon get crowded and cramped. Even so, there's no reason a small workshop can't work smoothly and efficiently. All it takes is a little planning.

Work Flow

The key to this planning is to think about how a typical project "flows" through the shop. Then establish an area for each part of the process. For instance, when I bring lumber into the shop, it's handy to have a separate area to break it down into manageable pieces, see drawing below. (This can be as simple as a pair of sawhorses and a circular saw.) And if possible, I position tools used for stock preparation (like the jointer, table saw, and thickness planer) right nearby. Once the stock is flat, straight, and square, the next step is to cut the joinery and shape the pieces. To make this go smoothly, I position the drill press, router table, and band saw near the workbench. By locating the workbench out in the open, there's access on all sides which makes it easy to assemble the project and apply the finish. Besides the way a project moves from one area to the next, there are a couple other things to keep in mind as you lay out a shop. Is there any benefit to grouping tools together? Or what type of space requirements does each tool have?

Paper Planning

Rather than find the answers to these questions after dragging heavy tools across the floor, I plan the shop on paper first. This is just a matter of drawing a floor plan of your shop to scale. Then cutting paper templates of your tools (also to scale) and positioning them around the "shop."

Efficiency when work flows from one area to another

Tool Groups

When sliding the templates around, one thing that can make a small shop work "big" is to organize tools by groups.

Job

One way of grouping that makes a lot of sense is to arrange tools by the job they do. For example, the table saw, jointer, and planer are all used during stock preparation. So it's convenient to cluster them together.

Support

Providing support to workpieces You can also use tool groups to provide support for large workpieces. To provide side support when crosscutting a long workpiece on the table saw for instance, you can set your jointer next to it, see photo. Or if your router table is the same height (or a bit shorter) than your table saw, the top can double as an outfeed support.

Storage

Tool cabinet near workbench Finally, don't overlook the need for storage when arranging groups of tools. One of the most important "tools" in the shop is my workbench. But it doesn't do me much good if I have to walk across the shop to get tools. So setting my tool cabinet near the bench to give me easy access to both hand and power tools is a must, see photo.

Space Requirements

While a group of tools may look alright on paper, don't start muscling them into place just yet. Remember, each tool has its own space requirements. This isn't just the visible "footprint" of the tool. But more importantly, it's the extra space that's needed so the workpiece that feeds in (or out) of one tool doesn't bump into another one.

Center Stage

Take the table saw for instance. Because of the clearance required in front, back, and at the sides when cutting large workpieces, it usually claims more than its fair share of space in the center of the shop. Even so, you can still work around these space requirements. Sometimes it's just a matter of positioning the table saw at an angle so workpieces feed into an open area of the shop. The table saw isn't the only tool that can gobble up space. When working with long pieces on a jointer, band saw, router table, or planer, you might also need a sizable "run" at each end of the tool.

Overlap

Overlap infeed/outfeed areas One way to provide this space is to overlap the infeed and outfeed areas of two tools. For example, position a planer so the outfeed passes in front of the table saw. Overlapping areas also works well with tools where the tables are at different heights. For instance, I park my band saw right next to the router table. This way, a workpiece that feeds off the table on the band saw passes above the shorter router table, see photo.

Doors and Windows

When planning infeed/outfeed requirements, don't overlook an opening provided by a door or window. Positioning a band saw or table saw near a door may be just the ticket for those extra-long pieces, see drawing above.

Corners

Drill press in the corner One last note. The corners of a shop often get filled with clutter. But tucking a tool like a drill press into a corner can take advantage of wasted space. Yet you can still drill holes in a long workpiece because of the distance between the adjoining walls, see photo.