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Proven Ways to Enhance and Increase Your Shop Time

Ensuring moderate temperatures in your shop will result in increased shop time.

Workshop Environment

Controlling the ambient temperature within the shop can make or break your shop schedule.  I live in California, but around here it’s not the year-round sunny 75 degree weather they advertise.  Summers range from 85 to 110 deg. Fahrenheit, and winters can be as low as 27 degrees.  For those of you in Minnesota or Arizona I know you’re not overly sad for me, but these temperatures are a deterrent for shop activity for me.

To tackle the cold, I use ceiling-mounted electric radiant heaters.  These are good enough for now, and they don’t cause problems with dust hitting live flame, as with some gas-fired appliances.  The main benefit, however, is that they are cheap and effective, and I don’t use them very often.  I plan to install an AC unit with a heating mode accomplished by reversing the refrigerant cycle so no gas is involved, and it will be efficient enough.

When considering hot days, an AC unit, specifically a ‘mini-split’ system heat pump unit, is a good choice for a woodshop.  This type of unit uses electricity to run an outdoor compressor/ condensing unit, which cools (or heats) a coil in an interior wall-mounted unit with a fan.  You can also get a cooling-only version, commonly used for spaces with electronics or electrical equipment that you don’t want to heat.  If you live in a particularly cold climate, a heat pump isn’t as efficient at super-low temperatures, so you can get a cooling-only model, and use a different method for heat, such as a gas-fired closed-combustion heater, or radiant hot water floor tubing.

I like this system because:

  • The noisy part is outside (condensing unit w/ compressor)
  • It isn’t terribly expensive considering what it does
  • It can heat or cool a decent-sized shop

An HVAC contractor or engineer can help determine the size of the system you need, or whether you need two wall-mounted fan-coil units for better coverage.  Manufacturers include Fujitsu, Carrier, and Mitsubishi.

A radiant heater can be an inexpensive way to warm cold areas in your shop.

WoodChip Tip: Mount a mini-split type fan coil unit on an exterior wall, to facilitate easy condensate drainage piping and direct routing of refrigerant lines to the outdoor condenser.  The power is usually connected to the outdoor unit and delivered to the indoor unit along the same route as the refrigerant lines.  Use a separate breaker for your AC or other heating/ cooling system.

What works for you to control the temperature in your woodshop?

Humidity Control

It would be awesome to control humidity, both for comfort and to reduce wood movement during production.  You need to be careful here; the closer you simulate the environment the wood will live in, the better it will be for your sanity.  But it has to be somewhat consistent with the environment the project will eventually live in, which is hard to predict.  You still need to account for wood movement in your project design.  If your shop has greater swings of relative humidity than the project’s eventual environment, consider moderating this humidity fluctuation mechanically.

An AC unit in cooling mode will reduce the moisture content of the air, but when the cooling coil cycles off that dehumidification process slows and then stops.  Some mini-split AC systems do have a humidity control feature (ask the manufacturer), but usually only controls it by reducing it to maintain some maximum level.  It won’t “add” moisture to a dry environment.  However, computer/ data room type AC units (such as Liebert) will often have the capability to control humidity both ways, through humidity reduction via cooling coil and adding moisture to the air (steam) as needed to maintain a setpoint you input to the thermostat/ humidistat.

Alternatively, dehumidifiers are available if you live in a particularly humid climate, and wish to limit it.

There are utility costs to all this, but efficiency standards have increased quite a bit in the last few years.  Compare efficiency ratings vs. installed cost.


Think about the goal of your shop lighting as trying to kill shadows.  By doing this, you’ll always see what you’re doing and detect flaws to correct as you go instead of when you move to the next station.

You can divide the types of lighting for your shop like this:

  • Ambient Lighting: This is your overall general-purpose lighting, usually accomplished by fluorescent tube fixtures or recessed can-lights.  Your goal is to get light all over the shop, limiting it to few shadow areas.  I like to use “daylight color-temperature” lights, which simulate sunlight better than the standard fluorescent or incandescent fixtures.
  • Station/ Task Lighting:  The purpose of this lighting is to kill the remaining shadows at each station, to give light precisely where it’s needed.  You can use simple clip-on type flex lights, or ceiling/ wall-mounted mini-spot lights.  These should be switched individually.
  • Decorative Lighting:  I think that paying attention to aesthetics is key to an inspirational environment.  I plan on adding various LED pin-lights, color lights, hidden-source lighting for a nice glowing effect, and uplighting to highlight architectural features I add to the walls, or just behind machines.  I even have plans for a DVD projector displaying art films on a screen when I’m feeling weird or need inspiration.  This can be for your own enjoyment and that of your clients.
  • Specialty Lighting:  Include side-lighting to highlight surfaces to detect flaws as you’re sanding or applying finish.
  • Emergency Lighting:  As a safety precaution, include in your plans a plug-in style emergency light that remains off when the house power is working, but switches on upon a power failure.  This prevents the precarious situation of being in the middle of a cut and suddenly it’s lights-out!

WoodChip Tip: For obvious reasons, it’s recommended to have your lighting on its own circuit.  You don’t want to be left in the dark if a machine trips a breaker.  I think it’s a good idea to put your lighting on two circuits.  It’s also advisable to put your lights on separate zones, that is, control several groups of lights by multiple switches.  This gives you the option of less light when desired.

Getting used to your less-than desirable present environment (lighting, temperature, etc.) can cost you shop time and cause frustration and tiredness.  When prioritizing projects, include heating, air conditioning, and lighting on your list.  Upgrading these elements may not be exciting but will have a greater impact than buying the latest radial-arm drill press.

What would be your ideal shop environment upgrade project?  Join the conversation below!

Click on the link below for the free supplement to this post:

Woodshop Envelope & Environment Design.PDF

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3 Responses to “Proven Ways to Enhance and Increase Your Shop Time”

  1. Dear Sir,I would like to know more on “pre-cool” unit for energy saving. please recommend me where should I search for.Thanks,Email :

    • Bobby says:

      If you live in a dry climate, you can pre-cool the air before it enters into your condenser with an evaporative cooling unit. This will increase the efficiency of the outdoor condensing unit by allowing it to reject heat to cooler air. Here’s a link to that: Evaporative Pre-Cooling

      Are you using a refrigerant-based split system? What is your climate like?

  2. Laim says:

    I have a really small workshop. Maybe installing casters on all my equipment will help. Thanks for the tips.

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