I have enough shop space, but only if I’m organized

Author: Rob Brown
Published: September 15, 2021
That's better
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Over my last couple of posts, I’ve talked about moving into my new shop and how my table saw is the centerpiece of my workflow. There’s a lot more than my table saw to my tool kit, though. Other large machinery, power tools, hand tools and a whole lot of accessories make building furniture efficient and enjoyable. I’ll briefly go over some of the more important items here.

Early Days
This was the scene that greeted me the morning after the big move. A bit more planning would have allowed me to more carefully place at least a few of the larger machines and fixtures the day of the move.

Early days

That’s Better
Virtually everything has a home, and I generally put things back when I’m done with them. In a small space this is critical. I currently have a large desk in the center of my work area. Thankfully it’s going to be distressed, as it’s doubling as a work surface until the day I apply a finish to it.

That's better

One Unwieldy Jointer
If an 8″ jointer has a perfect home it’s almost invisible until you need it. That’s sadly not the case with my shop layout. When I’m machining large materials on my table saw it sometimes has to be moved. It’s heavy, long and tall, but at least the four casters it sits on allow me to move it around without an army.

Jointer

A Busy Bandsaw
I usually have about 6′ on the infeed side of my bandsaw, but that’s currently not the case. A pair of bedside tables are tucked into that same space, and even impede my clamp access. Life in a small shop.

Busy bandsaw

Future Workbench Location
The only thing stopping you from seeing the boxes and miscellaneous junk is my 3/4″ thick plywood clamp board that’s laying on its side.

Future Workbench Location

Current Workbench Location
Although it’s in the same spot in my shop, things are much more organized now. Admittedly, I cleaned up my bench a bit for this photo. It works well for my purposes and allows me to fine tune joinery and even cut some joints with hand tools from time to time.

Current Workbench Location

Behind My Bench
On the wall directly behind my bench are a few small shelves and cleats that hold often used hand tools.

Behind My Bench

Clamps Are Heavy
Some of my clamp racks are homemade, while others are a hybrid of purchased items and shop-made wooden parts. They all got attached to a sheet of 3/4″ plywood that was securely fixed to one of my central shop walls.

Clamps Are Heavy

Main work area

The lower level is about 18’x20′, but it’s amazing how much room a stairwell can take up. The usable footprint is more like 18’x16′. In that space I have an 8″ jointer, 12″ lunchbox planer, bandsaw, router table, workbench, tool chest, scroll saw and a few storage cabinets. When I have a nearly completed large piece of furniture on the floor, it can get a bit tight. Right now, I have two pieces squeezed in, so things are quite cozy.

The jointer, router table and bandsaw are on wheels, so they can move around if needed. My lunchbox planer still doesn’t have a proper home. It moves between the floor and my table saw’s outfeed table. It’s too heavy for me to be constantly move it around, so I’ll eventually make a portable stand for it. It’s just another one of those “I’ll get to it eventually” shop jobs. All the other machines are stationary.

Router table

My router table does a fantastic job at so many routing operations, and it also doubles as a work surface very well. I’ve gone to the trouble of making a couple of removable surfaces that can easily be placed on top of the router table. A multicoloured and heavily textured finishing and assembly surface fits on it nicely, as does a smooth piece of 3/4″ particleboard. I use that surface when I need a smooth, clean surface for marquetry or other finer tasks. Both surfaces have just a few cleats on their underside to keep them centered on the router table’s top.

A quick note about router tables: I made mine quite heavy with a bunch of drawers and cubbies all loaded with bits and accessories. Although this might not sound like what you’d want in a moveable workstation, the weight helps greatly, not only when routing but when using the router table as a work surface in any way. The weight helps ensure the shop fixture stays put, critical for so many reasons.

To read more about my router table, check out this link to an article I wrote for CW&HI a few years ago. My router table has been in use for over 20 years. It’s a great shop fixture, but if I were to make it again I would make a few small changes. I talk about the router table and the changes in the article.

Jointer

My 8″ jointer is a bit of a beast in my shop, although woodworkers can certainly own larger versions. It’s very heavy and it’s long. It’s also just tall enough so that my shutters won’t pass over it when I open them every morning. But it’s a necessary piece of equipment so I make do. Unless I’m jointing a short board, I have to point it in the right direction to be able to use it. I can also open the double doors to my workshop if needed. There are some days I wish I had a 12″ jointer, but there are just as many when I wish I’d bought a 4″ benchtop version.

Bandsaw

My bandsaw almost always stays in place, but it’s on wheels if I need to pull it out a bit. The center dividing wall in my shop is about 6′ behind the bandsaw, so if I want to rip anything longer than 6′ the bandsaw heads west a few feet.

Workbench

I’m not a huge hand tool guy, but they definitely have their place in my workflow. To me, hand tools are largely about fine-tuning joints. Shaving a tenon that was machined on my table saw to fit perfectly into a mortise is a great example. I have a decent amount of open space in front of my bench, but not heaps beside my bench. It’s backed up to a wall, so there’s no space behind it.

I have all of my hand tools within about 3′ of my bench. Shelves on the wall behind the bench hold most of the tools I use regularly, such as a few hand planes, a host of Japanese saws, a few squares, a mallet and several other miscellaneous bits and pieces. The rest are either in my wall-hung tool cabinet or my tool chest. A few task lights shed lots of light on the fine work I do at my bench.

Clamps

The only time I’ve ever wished for fewer clamps was moving day, but now I’m happy to have the large selection I do. I likely have about 300 clamps in just about every shape and size. From 8′ long bar clamps to 1″ spring clamps, they all get used.

Assembly can be a nerve-wracking time. Even if you carefully plan your assembly and have glue, clamps and the necessary jigs around, things can go sideways quickly. Having extra clamps ready for action within a few feet is handy, especially if I’m rushing to grab even more clamps partway through an assembly. I made sure all of the clamps are easily accessible and all have a home, so when things get ugly I’m not scrambling any more than I have to. Brackets (mostly shop-made, but some store-bought) support my clamp collection on the wall. I attached the brackets to a large sheet of 3/4″ plywood so I didn’t need to look for studs when locating the brackets.

I also have a few bins of 4″ and 6″ C-clamps, not to mention an assortment of slightly less-used clamps on the upper level. I don’t have space to store all of them in one place, but they’re only a flight of stairs away if I need them.

The little things

As I mentioned last week, I have a cheap hammer hanging from two screws right beside my tool chest. I put it there because I found myself reaching for it often, and it always seemed to be buried in stuff. Because this hammer has a home, I always put it back. This way I can always find it when I need it. I’m not implying I’m brilliant for driving a pair of screws into a wall and hanging a tool from them. It’s a simple concept that has been used a million times, but it just points out how sometimes it’s the simple solutions that offer so much benefit, so don’t overlook them.

The rest of the main floor is taken up with storage. Upper and lower cabinets hold regularly used power tools, fasteners, adhesives and supplies nearby for when the need arises. And that section of empty space in the middle of my shop is critical for workflow. It’s only about 100 square feet, but it’s where all my work-in-progress goes. That might be the most important area in my entire shop.

Next week, I’ll finish things off by describing the upstairs. Although I spend 99% of my time downstairs, having a secondary space for storing all sorts of seldom-used tools, materials and a few machines is incredibly handy. It also doubles as a finishing area, as long as the piece isn’t too large to be carried up a flight of stairs.


Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.

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