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My Story

Welcome!  I’m Bobby, the person behind this site.  I’m 37, and a woodworker in Southern California who is lucky enough to own a 3-car garage workshop that happens to be attached to a house.

Struggling to find a better way to build the shop I envisioned in my head, I developed a design process and a set of principles to guide what I put down on paper.  From there, it’s the build process that made me realize what I needed to change about my design process.  By sharing my lessons-learned and my woodshop’s constant evolution I aim to help my fellow woodworkers (hobby people and woodworking businesses) do the same thing.  Plus, it keeps me accountable and extra-motivated.

Purpose of This Blog

My goal is to be as helpful as possible so you can have an awesome shop experience every day.  Your shop time should invigorate and inspire, not frustrate and disappoint.  Of course, we love to design, create, and build.  Now it’s time to focus some of that energy on your own space.

I will share as much as I know and learn through my blog articles, my actual designs you can use as an example, projects, photos, diagrams, checklists and tool reviews to give you valuable insight and guidance for your shop evolution.

My own experience of a cluttered, cramped, uncomfortable, and unorganized shop is obviously not unique, judging by both what I see and what people say in forums.  Even after a good “spring cleaning” the shop soon turned into a minefield again.  Why?  Poor design that leaves no place for each object, little room to maneuver, and hap-hazard workflow.   I’d be all over the shop in any given half-hour.  No wonder I wanted to take breaks so often!

Things that have no “home” in the shop get transferred from the floor to the bench to the top of the table saw and back on the floor again.  Crazy workflow patterns wear you out, and hot or cold temperatures can sap your desire to be there, which means you get less done.  Then you …siiiiiiiigh… immediately after opening your shop door.  Not good.  Stop what you’re doing and get this fixed!

Having gone through the design process myself, combined with my other experiences (like mechanical engineering) lets me offer you ways to totally transform your shop to naturally fit your needs and habits, yet remain flexible for future changes and growth.  Now you can learn The Art of Woodshop Design.


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My creative life may have started with strategically rearranging applesauce in my high-chair, but I don’t exactly remember that far back.  I do remember the first non-school project I did in 1st or 2nd grade.  I had a blue and white die-cast metal garbage truck that was awesome.  But, I noticed it lacked the pivoting arms and trash bin to dump garbage into the top hatch.  So I used cardboard, glue, tape, and a couple of brass brads to make one myself.  I did dozens of similar projects, from modifying toys to entirely new things, like cardboard and construction paper aircraft carriers and popsicle-stick bridges and stoplights.  I realized why we createwhat we envision doesn’t yet exist, and we enjoy making things that match the picture in our minds.

Fast-forward to high school, and you’d see me on Saturday afternoons watching the New Yankee Workshop.   Sounds sorta nerdy, I know.  But that’s what I liked, and you might as well pursue what makes you excited in life.  This is where I decided to take my desire to create to the next level in the World of Woodcraft.

I chose Mechanical Engineering as my major in college because it seemed to offer a decent living while involving design, which I really enjoy.  There I learned basic design skills, including:

  • How to think logically
  • How to begin to attack a problem
  • What are the right questions to ask
  • How to find information you need
  • How to solve complex problems in the right order
  • Manufacturing processes available, which influence design
  • Computer drafting
  • Welding and other machine processes

Several tons of calculations later I received my Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering, and a few years later my Professional Engineering license (P.E.) in California and Arizona.

Woodworking Beginnings

I took a position as a junior engineer at a consulting firm that designs air conditioning systems for commercial buildings.  It was then that I had to figure out what I wanted to do with my life and money.  To start, I rented a 2nd floor apartment and created a spreadsheet budget.  Within a month, I started calculating how long I would have to save up for some basic power tools.  I didn’t let the lack of a garage stop me.  I would scour the Rockler and Woodcraft catalogs looking for design ideas for the perfect jigs, and wait for one of the tools I wanted to go on sale.

Finally, my spreadsheet authorized me to buy a Delta benchtop saw.  That night, I visited a friend until about 11:00 at night in Torrance, CA.  I realized, as I walked to my car, that they had a 24-hour Home Depot nearby.  I rushed to the tool section to see if they had any in stock.  Nice! I put the box on the flatbed cart and proceeded to the cashier.

Humble beginnings in woodworking…Yes that’s my first dust collector on the wall behind the router table.

I had to wait until my lunch break at work to go home and read the instructions.  That evening I assembled it.  I realized I had no bench to put my benchtop saw on.  No problem, I had a metal nightstand to put a piece of soundboard on to use as a saw stand.  I begin to design my own saw-station cabinet and table using AutoCAD.

Ok now I was missing a router table.  Another two months and one more budget-spreadsheet “authorization” later, I found myself designing a router table cabinet.

With these two tools as the heart of my “shop” in my apartment (along with shoe boxes of hand tools) I began to make small furniture for myself and my closest friends.  In my bedroom.

Among my first projects were designing and constructing machine stations.

Yep, I had a shower curtain slung from the ceiling around my bed and a dust buster as my “dust collection”.

I had the neighbors’ schedules memorized to maximize my shop time.  Clearly I needed a real shop with a real dust collection system.

I got the opportunity for “garage privileges” at a house where I rented a room.  I had 1 bay of a split two-car garage.  That was an awesome development.  Now a new level of fun could begin.

First Design

I went to bookstores and coffee shops to design the layout in this limited space.  Once I arranged the few tools I had, the need for dust collection was very apparent.  The dust clouds were really slowing me down because I had to leave the room after sending a few boards through the saw.

So I bought a 1-1/2 hp Jet dust collector and ducted the table saw and router table to it.  Luckily I included provisions for dust extraction in the benchsaw and router table cabinets with 4″ ABS pipes.

The workshop design AutoCAD file was the basis for my future garage workshop designs.  A few apartments later I finally bought a new house, primarily for its 3-car garage.  The fact that a house came with it was good, too.

You would think that with new space, my productivity would skyrocket. The truth was that I didn’t take the time to properly design for this new space right away.  I was so anxious to get started that I arranged the machines in what I thought was a good layout, hooked up the messiest machines to the dust collector, and began making stuff without much planning.

After awhile I wondered why I had the tendency to avoid going into the shop as often as I wanted.  One day I realized that a lot of little frustrations added up to a general feeling of dread.  I looked around and thought “I know can design my way out of this”.  So I went back to that AutoCAD file and started an MS Word file to organize my ideal woodshop and the list of requirements.  This blog is the result of those efforts, and I continue today to build that dream woodshop…step by step, in the right order.

This shop layout went through many changes–I marked up and revised my first design attempt as I went through the actual workflow. Once I was happy, I began to design the dust collection, electrical, and other shop elements.

P.S. Visit me on my Facebook Page, and follow me on Twitter for more ninja tips, and to see what’s going on in my shop and that of your fellow woodworkers.






After your woodshop is functional, start a “clean slate” design incorporating your lessons learned and all your ideas you’ve collected so far.

In memory of Needles the Shop Cat

We met March 2011, forever remembered after January 30, 2013.

Needles the Shop Cat

Needles the Shop Cat supervising the build.

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11 Responses to “My Story”

  1. Jim Putnam says:

    I’m just completing my retirement home and beginning to plan a shop/garage. I’ll allocate a minimum of 1200 sq. ft. for the shop – depending on layout. The first question is type of building – pole, slab and stick built walls, foundation with crawl space… In NE Washington, we’ll see 100 degrees in the summer and zero in the winter. The site is next to the house, so similar architecture and colors outside are important. Thi site is fairly level and has a view side toward the lake. The shop will house almost a full cabinet shop set of tools and machines plus two lathes. In floor dust collection is my plan.

    I’m first interested in ideas on building type, considering cost and layout flexibility and your experience and considerations.

  2. Doug says:

    Hi Bobby;
    I really appreciate all your updates and information about how to build a shop. I took to heart your information to take the time for the design. We were moving and I couldn’t start design until we found a new home. But when we found our new place I began rereading all your emails which I had saved and it made my shop very efficient. I didn’t end up with a 20 X 30 space so I had to make my shop a portable shop. The main tool of course was my Sawstop. I then positioned the rest of the tools around the walls of the 21 X 14 garage with the door open to saw large pieces of wood. The band saw pulls out a couple of feet to do my resawing, etc. This is all done by reading your thoughts and experiences and taking my time. Forced on me due to the move. Thanks for all you emails and thoughts. Every woodworker should start with your information to make a successful shop the first time.

  3. Dennis says:

    Hey, thanks for the sound proofing notes. I’m retired (or just shifting gears) and moving from east coast to west. Also from home with lots distance between houses to one with not so much. I have read numerous other articles about this topic however yours was a more friendly read. Good luck with your blog it’s clear you put a lot of time and thoughtful energy into it.

  4. Adam Loucks says:


    I really enjoyed your site!
    I have a three car garage where one of the stalls has turned into my shop. Readily accessible Power outlets and Dust collection are two keys to have an efficient, safe shop. many of my shop tools are on wheels which helps me use the space that I have efficiently.
    I really want a Stop Saw, I am jealous.
    I will continue to read your blog.
    -Adam Loucks
    Fresno, CA

  5. Harry says:

    After a couple of projects are out of the way, I plan use your advice and remove everything from the shop and then put everyhing back in an organized way. It feels like it should work, where other tries failed. Also, buying the Ferris book now. Thanks again for making this site.

  6. Harry says:

    I am grateful that I found your site. The advice on reconfiguring a shop and organizing your thoughts is useful to me and perfectly timed. Consistent with Getting Things Done (David Allen) — were you influenced by it? My small basement shop is a few machines with piles of everything else in between after having to rip out most of it to have a french drain installed.
    Also, I read your story and it could have been mine (M.E., drawn to woodworking and designing), except you were better at finding a way over the hurdles.

    • Bobby says:

      Thanks, Harry,

      Yep, I’ve read Getting Things Done, and also The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss. Both have excellent strategies of dealing with time. I’m constantly applying the 80/20 rule to my designs and my shop time.

      A small shop is the toughest because when things are crammed in there it’s a deterrent to making the shop improvements, like using overhead space, walls, and drawers/ cabinets under machines to get things off the floor. That’s why it took me awhile to get my stuff together…

      PS don’t feel too bad; I had quite a few messy shops that didn’t meet my dream shop requirements. I still have quite a laundry list o’ things to do (like insulation…still)! Of course, it’ll never be perfect but I never want to stop working on it. It’s not just the end goal but I like the process too.

  7. Rick says:

    Hey Bobby
    Just starting to set up my shop and will use as much info from your experience as I can. I am starting with a large building (40×70), but want to be as efficient as possible. So far, I have a Sawstop PCS, Cyclone DC. lathe, chop saw, drill press, inadequate band saw, and some work tables. Hoping to add shaper, planer, real band saw, and jointer in the future.

  8. Lawrence says:

    Great site Bobby! This is an excellent resource for anyone who is looking to start his own wood shop or to improve the efficiency of an existing wood shop. Brings back memories of my 8th grade wood shop class.

    • Bobby says:

      Thanks, dude! I didn’t take woodshop in high school (I took art instead). I got into it because I wanted to make things that matched what I imagined. Mostly learned by making tons of mistakes…

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