Setting up a workshop is one of the most daunting tasks we all face. I’ve had readers send me blueprints (yes, real blueprints) to seek my advice and approval. I’ve had people ask to hire me as a consultant. One guy wanted to fly me out to see his potential shop space and discuss his options.
This is not to boast. It is to point out how desperate new woodworkers are for real guidance.
I’ve had the great fortune to see a lot of bad shops – plus a few good ones. Even so, I don’t consider myself an expert on any shop except my own. During my last 20 years of woodworking I have developed a list of principles on workshops that are important to me. You might find them helpful or completely useless. I discuss my own journey in setting up my shop in some detail in “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest.”
In any case, here they are:
1. Your shop can be too large. Large shops turn woodworking into a “walking long distances from tool to tool” hobby.
2. Use work triangles: (jointer + planer + saw) (tool storage + workbench + assembly). It’s how efficient kitchens are set up. It works in woodworking, too.
3. The more complex the system, the more maintenance it requires. The fancier the dust collection system you have, the more time you will spend unclogging it.
4. The more tools/machines you have, the more time you will spend fiddling with tools instead of building.
5. Have dedicated stations for the core processes. Sharpening, for example. Surfacing wood. Ripping wood.
6. The right light is better than lots and lots of light. Having your bench under a north facing window is the best light. Texture is best seen in raking light.
7. Concrete floors + your feet + your sharp tools = sore back and chipped edges. Wooden floors — even CDX plywood floors — are heaven.
8. Try to keep the humidity and temperature level the same as the place where your projects will end up. This will result in fewer warped doors and lids in your finished pieces.
9. Wood collecting is a separate hobby. Your shop should have just enough wood storage for the two or three projects in the pipeline. If you collect wood (and that’s OK), get a shed. Or a barn.
10. Tool collecting is a separate hobby. If you haven’t used a tool in two years, you probably don’t need it.
11. Jig-making is a separate hobby. If your jigs have more than 10 parts (or an integral micrometer) then you probably are a hobbyist jig-builder (and there’s nothing wrong with that). If you cannot remember what a particular jig is used for then you probably don’t need it.
12. My favorite shops have nothing stacked on the floor. Don’t know why.
13. Light-colored walls allow you to use fewer light sources.
14. In the 18th century, shops were many times a room in the house where the family lived. If you think of your shop as a place where you live, you will construct and arrange it differently than if you think about it like a utility area — where your water heater and furnace are.
— Christopher Schwarz