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How to Draw Your Shop to Scale the Easy Way

You can either draw your machines and workstations by hand or on a computer CAD program. In either case, you can quickly see what works and what won’t work in your layout.

Will chicken scratch drawings be good enough to design your woodshop?  How will you know if stuff fits?

When you get a new tool, do you put it into the nearest clean area?  What if you could re-do your shop’s layout from scratch, knowing that it’s well thought out?

If you draw your shop and all its contents true to scale, then you can plan most things on paper first without having to drag your tools across the shop.  Of course, try it out in real life after you’ve worked out your basic design, but you can immediately see if you have room for a particular tool if everything is drawn proportional to each other.

Drawing it to scale means that if your shop is shown 30 ft. long by 20 ft. wide, you draw it at 15” x 10” on a piece of paper to keep the proportions the same.  Then you can see visually what you can fit in that space without having to add up measurements over and over again.

You’ll enjoy the ability to experiment, add to the design at your leisure, and to use your drawings to determine how much material you need by measuring directly from the paper.

Plus, it’s exciting to start with a clean slate and sculpt your dream shop that includes everything you want and solves your biggest frustrations.

The Hard Way

If you like math, you can draw every line like this:

Your shop is 30 ft. by 20 ft.  So, you say it’s 30 ft./20 ft. = 15”/10”, or

1” on paper = 2 ft. in real life.

If an object measures 17”, how big do you draw it on paper?  Knowing that 2 ft. = 1”, then

17” = X, where X = the length you draw on paper.  So, do the algebra (yuck):

24”/1” = 17”/X


24X = 1 (17), so X = 17/24

and you wind up with:

X = 0.708, which is about 11/16” on paper.

OMG do you really want to go through that algebra every time you draw a line?? Didn’t think so.

Here’s a Better Way

If you go to Staples or and buy some graph paper, where the grid has ¼” squares, you can decide that a ¼” square = 6” in real life.  So, 20 ft. would mean 40 squares on graph paper.  From the example above, if you want to draw a 17” line, then it would be just under 3 squares on the paper.  This keeps the math simple, and you can quickly tell if stuff will fit in your shop space, notice at a glance if you have enough clearance for yourself, or how much outfeed space you’re leaving.

If you make your drawings of each tool by hand, you can cut them out and move them around on a drawing of your shop space drawn to the same scale. When you think you have a good layout that fits and follows your shop design principles, use small pieces of tape to hold them in place and try it out in your shop by going through the motions of your most common processes. Tweak the design until you’re happy.

An Even Better Way

I like to use a computer drawing program, and you can too such as AutoCad or Google Sketchup.  These programs let you draw a line 30 ft. long but it automatically displays and prints your drawing to scale on a piece of paper or on your screen.  Nothing beats the accuracy of Computer Aided Drawing (CAD) for both your shop design and your furniture and cabinet design.  The real benefit to you is that you can keep adding to it and modify it easily. You can do trial and error and upgrade your plans as you have time and motivation.

I like working in AutoCad because I can change anything I want, move stuff around, and save different versions of my design. I can also dimension off of the drawing easily to find out how much material I need to get.

If you don’t think you can learn to draw using one of these programs, you might surprise yourself.  You taught yourself how to use a handplane, didn’t you? If you open up the program and start drawing and just goof around with it for a bit, you’ll pick up on how it works fairly quickly.  Most programs have a help index if you press the “F1” key to get you started or let you continue if you get stuck.

In the future, I’ll do some AutoCad video tutorials.  That’s what I use to do most of my design drawings.  I still do some by hand, but I eventually convert them to Cad drawings.

Measure from Your Drawings–Brainless Style

An easy way to draw stuff to scale by hand is to use an architectural scale, which is a ruler that has markings representing larger distances, such as feet.  The markings indicate the real-life measurements.  For example, you want to draw a 5 ft. line, you just find the “5” marking and that’s it.  On most scales, you can flip it around to use a different scale, such as 1/8” = 1 ft.

You should probably buy an architectural scale even if you draw your stuff on the computer. It will allow you to do quick sketches on paper and have everything at the same scale.

The main benefit of having a scale at your side is that you can measure things from your sketch and not have to convert any numbers.  If you used a regular ruler, you’d have to calculate—“How many feet is 4-3/4” again?”

WoodChip Tip: To make it easy to choose which scale you want to use, figure out the longest dimension of your shop.  Say it’s 30 ft.  Find the 30 ft. mark on the different sides of the architectural scale, and pick the one that fills up most of the paper but doesn’t go over the edge.  Leave a little bit of room for notes.

Bonus WoodChip Tip: Architectural scales have 3 sides for a total of 6 scales to choose from.  Once you select the scale you want (using the above WoodChip Tip), put a binder clip on top of the scale so that you don’t have to keep rotating it to find your scale every time you pick it up.  Medium size works best.

Warning:  Once You Start Your Drawing, It’s Hard to Stop

This is the idea; getting started is the hardest part.  So if you can get yourself to begin, you’ll naturally want to continue and you’ll be on your way to your dream shop.  When you start your drawing, you’ll inevitably want to keep tweaking it until it’s perfect.  Ideas will naturally start flowing, so write them on your sketch and begin organizing them.  You can use the Woodshop Design Outline (by signing in to the right) as a guide to ensure you’re considering everything you’ll want.  Just be careful of getting trapped in the design phase too long.  Think about the stopping points in your design where you can implement them in real life and test them out.  Having an overall design will help you know what things you have to do first and what comes next, and what things should wait.

Using Your Scale Drawings in Real Life

Once you draw your shop building, garage, or basement to scale, start doing the same thing for your workstations and machines.

Ok, using graph paper, say your jointer is 5 ft. long, or 10 squares total.  Then, say the jointer knives are located 2-1/2 ft. from the edge of the infeed, or 30”.  Since each square is 6”, you’ll be 5 squares from the edge.  Go into your shop and measure up your machines.  You can do just the basic dimensions or you can get more detailed, whatever you like.

If you want to test for proper clearance around each tool, draw 6 ft., 8 ft., and 10 ft. boards, as well as 4 ft. x 8 ft. plywood sheets and cut them out so you can test a variety of clearances.

By drawing your shop perimeter to scale, and all your machines to scale, you can tell right away if things fit within the space and you can start thinking about layout.  Photocopy scaled images of all the stuff in your shop and that you plan to put in your shop, cut them out, and move them around your empty shop drawing.  This will help you experiment with different scenarios.

Go back to the previous posts, especially Revolutionize Your Woodworking Enjoyment, Part I, for design principles to use as a guide in your layout.

Being able to use your scaled drawings to measure how much material you need for a project (ductwork, wiring, flooring) is super-handy. You can bring these sketches with you to the store as well so you don’t have to guess and then go back to buy the rest.

WoodChip Tip: Use an 18” or 24” circle to represent you walking around your shop, and go through the motions of your typical woodworking operations and angle the machines so that you minimize turning around or walking too much.  Might as well make it easy on yourself.

Another way you can use your scaled drawings is determining how much material you need to buy for your shop.  For example, I drew my dust collection ductwork on my plan, and showed two 5” diameter main ducts with a 4” branch duct to every machine. By measuring what I drew, I figured out how much ductwork I needed to buy.  The same would apply to flooring, drywall, framing lumber, shelves, and dozens of other shop projects.

Stuff To Do Today:
  • Buy some graph paper, a mechanical pencil, and an Architectural Scale
  • Go into your shop and measure each of your machines and workstations, and some boards and sheet goods
  • Measure your walls, door size and location, electrical outlet locations, and other major items in your shop
  • Sketch an empty shop on one paper, and the tools and machines and lumber on another paper
  • Photocopy them in case you mess up, then cut out all the items you want to move around
  • Use small pieces of tape when you’ve come up with a good layout, then walk it while in your shop.  Move stuff around as many times as you need until you’re happy
  • Go to Google and download a free copy of Sketchup or buy AutoCad, and start to draw your layout in your computer. If you do that, you can add to that drawing until you have a whole set of drawings, like a dust collection layout, storage plan, workbench design, and electrical plan.  You could draw it all by hand, but making changes is more tedious.
  • If you wind up buying a CAD program, you can use it for some of your furniture design; test proportions, see if things fit, and dimension your drawings easily.

If you’re not already using scaled drawings, I hope you can see the infinite possibilities and benefits.  If you are, what methods work for you?

Connect with me on Facebook, and follow me on Twitter for more ninja tips to Optimize Your Woodshop!


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4 Responses to “How to Draw Your Shop to Scale the Easy Way”

  1. Mike says:

    Do you know where to get machine symbols (Table Saw, Drill, Workbench, Planner) in CAD format?

    • Bobby says:


      I had to draw them from scratch. I just measured the plan-view of each machine, and drew simple squares/ rectangles. Then I added outfeed/ infeed zones using dashed lines such as “Hidden 2″ linetypes. I also drew lumber to scale, including a 6″ wide x 10 ft. board, some 8 ft. boards, and some 2 ft. x 4 ft., and 4 ft. x 8 ft. plywood. Using those, I moved those blocks around to make sure I had room to maneuver stock without bumping into adjacent machines. I also drew an 18″ and 24” circle to represent a person walking around a shop.


  2. Pat Evans says:

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