A lot can be done in a small shop if you have the right mindset. Have at look at how West Coast studio furniture maker Jason Klager deals with his friendly confines.
I view the time I spend in my small shop as a relationship, realizing that compromises and creative thinking are essential for resolving daily issues and for remaining productive. With a little effort, I was able to produce an efficient space that was inviting; a place where I felt motivated and creative.
Be reasonable about what machines you purchase and how you use them. Sometimes too much machinery only gets in your way.
Very few things are as multi-purpose and handy to have around as a pair of carts; one low and one bench height cart suits Klager perfectly.
Low cart for taller projects
“I wanted to design a cabinet on a stand that would stretch me as a woodworker,” says Klager of the initial stages of design. It’s made of East Indian rosewood and pearwood with imbuya marquetry. (Photo by Ingeborg Suzanne)
With bubinga and wenge as primary woods and pearwood, East Indian rosewood and afromosia as secondary woods, Klager consciously chose species that were distinctly contrasting but harmonious. (Photo by Jayson Hencheroff)
When I began designing my small space, I first needed to consider the scale and type of pieces I build and the way I like to work. From here, I was able to decide what machines were necessary to bring into the space, where I would position them and how accessible I needed them to be. Before finding a permanent home for a specific machine, I considered how I would use that machine and, in a few cases, found ways to save space. For example, since I ask my local building center to cut my plywood to specific dimensions, I was able to designate my table saw primarily for small panel work and joinery. I could then situate my table saw closer to the wall without worrying about clearances, thereby providing valuable floor space. Smaller secondary machines are kept mobile and can be moved to create different clearance areas around primary machines when needed. As well, I keep my planer on wheels so it can be centrally located when in use and then moved off to the side for storage. The use of hand tools is an essential part of my woodworking, so it was important to create a space within the shop for my bench. When setting up this area, I ensured ease of access by utilizing the wall space around the bench for storing hand tools and other bench supplies, promoting efficiency with minimal clutter.
Though functioning in a small space can be difficult, it is important to keep areas of the shop open for working and storing the many parts of the piece under assembly. I am careful to bring into the shop only what is necessary for my woodworking. I find it helpful to store blades, drill bits, router bits and other machine accessories right next to or near their corresponding machines. Those who know me know that I love my wood and would prefer to have all the wood I desire on hand. In a small shop, however, it is wise to buy only what is required for your current piece, plus a little extra, so nothing is left taking up valuable space. I find it is more convenient to keep my piece on a mobile platform, allowing me to move it easily to my workspace or off to the side for safekeeping. I also make use of a mobile worktable, which can be moved from machine to machine or double as an outfeed surface for my tablesaw or bandsaw. In another corner of my shop I have a ‘multi-purpose’ table that I keep clear for tasks such as veneering, assembly, glue-ups and finishing.
Over time, I have discovered that staying one step ahead is essential for remaining productive in a small shop. When beginning a new piece, I like to prepare an ‘order of operations’; that is, a cut and procedures list for the upcoming piece. This list helps me manage the time I spend moving machines or setting up larger work surfaces. Understanding that my small space cannot house every machine I require, I often resort to building jigs, which increases the versatility of machines I already have. Machines that perform two or more functions, also known as combination machines, are a perfect space-saving solution when working in a small shop. A second way to reduce the number of machines is to think outside the shop by renting time on a machine in a larger shop.
The key to being productive in a small shop is conceding that you have a limited space to work in and therefore must make certain sacrifices and changes to your work habits. Every woodworker has a unique approach and style to the craft he or she enjoys. There is no fixed formula for setting up a small shop, but with patience, good organization and planning, your shop can become an inspiring and rewarding space.