Apparently, my table saw posed the biggest challenge

I started last week’s column by saying, “Moving is rarely fun.” That was definitely the case with my workshop move nearly a year ago. Heavy, dusty machinery, and seemingly no room for all of it, stopped me from realizing the positive side of the move. And once the move was complete, the immediate need for some serious organization started. I got most of the larger items positioned over the next day or two, but a few were moved around after another week or two, once I was able to start using the space.

rob's new shop day 1
Day 0 – After moving everything into my shop, the area where my table saw was going to go was completely packed with a whole lot of everything. I really wasn’t sure everything was going to fit.

My table saw is central

My table saw gets used a fair bit. It’s my go-to machine for breaking down large pieces of material like long lengths of lumber and 4×8 sheets, in addition to all the joinery work I do on it. Breaking down large pieces of material with this saw meant that the area surrounding it needed to either be clear, or be easily and quickly cleared, when the need to slice into large materials came up. Sadly, having 8′ before and after the table saw blade wasn’t possible. I have a set of double doors just under 8′ from the saw on the infeed side, so I could open the doors if I need extra room. On the outfeed side of the saw a wall is about 7′ from the blade.

rob's new shop day 300
Day 300 – Everything fits, but I certainly don’t have a lot of extra room. There’s loads of room on the infeed side of my table saw if I have the double doors open, but in the winter I don’t like to spend loads of time with the doors open.

Weighing the pros and cons

In one respect, it would have made more sense to leave 8′ on the outfeed side and just open the double doors when needed, but the challenge with that is two-fold: 1) I also needed somewhere to store and use my jointer, and the only place for that was on the infeed side of the table saw so I needed a bit of extra room there; and 2) moving the saw towards the door would cause problems when crosscutting material, as a partition would then be in the way.

I’ve found most of my table saw usage isn’t with full-sized sheets or long lumber, it’s ripping and crosscutting solid wood and, even more often, machining joinery. When I have to cut into larger material I have three options: 1) use a track saw, jigsaw or circular saw to make the first couple of cuts on the workpiece to break it down; 2) open the double doors and rip a piece of lumber part way before end-for-ending the piece of lumber and cutting through the other half; or 3) moving the saw temporarily so I can open the doors and cut a full 8′ long piece. The second option only works when ripping solid wood and the third option is only for when I have a lot of machining to do, and generally when it’s not too cold outside.

All of these options have their pros and cons. In the perfect shop I wouldn’t have to consider any of them, as I’d have loads of space around my table saw, but that’s life in a small shop — making adjustments on the fly depending on what the materials, tools or projects call for.

It’s been close to a year and I’ve yet to need to temporarily move my table saw, though I’m sure it will eventually happen. I do love my track saw for breaking down large pieces of material though!

rob's shop blade storage
Saw Blade Storage – I keep most of my saw blades and table saw accessories close to my table saw in this blade holder. I wrote an article about how to make this blade holder in our June/July 2014 issue.

The other challenges were all the little things

Positioning the table saw took about 15 minutes. But all of the table saw accessories took a lot longer. Blades, featherboards, clamps, jigs, throat plates, push sticks, PPE, etc. all had to be located nearby so I could reach them easily when needed, but out of the way enough to not get in my way.

Luckily, I had already made a blade holder that houses about a dozen blades, so that got put in place quickly. Dado shims, a large wrench for changing blades and throat plates live in this blade holder, along with an assortment of blades. And most of my push sticks go on top of it. I mounted a small piece of particleboard near the on/off switch, and hung a few clamps, featherboards, etc there, all out of the way but still easy to grab. Jigs live on top of a shelf, just above head level, as most of them don’t get used too often. My miter jig and crosscut jig are the exceptions, as they get used often. They sit nearby, ready for action.

I also added a simple holder under my extension table to store my rip fence when it wasn’t in use. And attached to its underside is another cleat that holds my miter fence. Having an out-of-the-way place for these types of things proves handy when I’m not using them, as they otherwise are large and heavy and just get in the way. And if they were dropped or pushed off a surface, they would get damaged or maybe even hurt me.

Under the Surface – Near the on/off switch I have a few miscellaneous table saw accessories, and a bit farther away is where I keep my rip fence and miter gauge when not in use.

Every shop has a centerpiece

Apparently, there were many things to consider when it came to my table saw, and how to position and set it up in my new space. When I started this column I figured I’d be able to cover not only my table saw, but all my other tools and machines, as well as talk about how the layout worked and if, in hindsight, I’d do anything differently. I guess I underestimated how much thought went into setting up my shop workhorse.

I’m guessing most people have that one machine that’s central to the work they do in their shop. Maybe you’re a turner, and your lathe needs to be seriously considered. Or maybe you do a lot of hand-tool work, and your workbench needs to be positioned perfectly, with relation to natural lighting and nearby walls, yet also have all your hand tools stored nearby. I recommend you take the time to set up your area as best you can, but also don’t be afraid to re-consider the layout down the road. Things change, so always be on the lookout for improvements that can be made.

The bottom line is that everyone’s shop experience is different, but there are likely a lot of similarities in each of our situations. Room to move and work is key, as is having all the other bits and pieces that make that machine or operation efficient. The parts come together as a whole and are all critical to spending productive, enjoyable time in your shop.

Next week I’ll continue down the path of what’s in the rest of my shop. My clamps, workbench, router table and lumber breakout are all a big part of my workflow. But even little things like the cheap hammer I hung on the wall beside my tool chest and the scissors that hang, just waiting to be grabbed, are the little things that make a space more enjoyable to work in. I’ll go over these details, too.

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