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Revolutionize Your Woodworking Enjoyment, Part II

After you figure out your milling workflow, look at your joinery and shaping operations and design a workflow to suit your most common procedures.

Many woodworkers get the milling workflow right in their shop layout (mostly because it’s so routine), but scatter the other machines and tools wherever there’s room, or in the order they bought them.  These shaping, joinery, finish prep, assembly, and finishing operations are also common processes that deserve design.

If you are running a woodworking business, it is worth the time to design a layout to your own unique workflow, then implement it even if it means some downtime in production.  If you’re a hobbyist, taking the time now will leave you with more time overall for actual woodworking!  Let’s continue with the workflow optimization from the last post.

Shaping/ Joinery Workflow

For many, after milling rough stock, it’s the shaping and joinery operations that are next.  Think about these shop operations in the way you most often perform them.

Suppose you now have a shop cart full of milled boards of the right sizes, marked and ready for shaping and joinery operations.  You might typically route edges, make mortises next, or make tenons.  So start by placing the router table and mortiser next to each other, or opposite each other.  Where in your process do you most often use your bandsaw, drill press, lathe, oscillating spindle sander, router/ router table, workbench, and handheld power tools?  Cluster these tools in a way that puts them in easy reach of each other.  Check your infeed/ outfeed zones, and leave room to maneuver yourself and a small mobile shop cart.

WoodChip Tip: Consider two bandsaws—one for resaw/ milling and one for shaping/ joinery tasks.  A 14” bandsaw is fine for most joinery and general wood sculpting, while an 18” or 20” bandsaw may be what is needed to hog through thick stock to make rough-sized boards or veneer.  This will do two things for you—allow each bandsaw to take its proper place in your workflow, and reduce your machine set-up time.

Artistic/ Decorative Detail Work

After your shaping and joinery operations are done, you may have some more detailed work to do on the scroll saw, lathe, or with hand tools such as paring or fine-tuning of joints.  Evaluate the placement of these tools near your workbench.  Remember to have your mobile shop cart to lean on as you move along.

Finish Prep/ Sanding

Prior to assembly, I like to prep all the parts for finishing.  It’s a lot easier to sand the inside of a box while it’s in pieces.  I have a cluster of stations all dedicated to sanding, hand scraping/ planing, and minor corrections to prep for finish.  Sometimes I even use a wood conditioner at this stage to prevent blotching or pre-raise the grain, then finish-sand.

To accommodate this, I planned a downdraft table integrated into my workbench, where power sanders, scrapers, chisels, planes, and my drum sander are all close by, to minimize walking across the shop.  If you have room, you could have a separate downdraft table station.


Now you’re nearing the “finish” line.  Assuming you’ve done some dry-fitting along the way, or are very brash, it’s assembly time.  I recommend a separate assembly table placed near your workbench (I wish I had two!).  Having a dedicated assembly table is beneficial for several reasons:

  • You don’t want to get glue on your workbench.
  • You can never have enough horizontal surface (off the floor)
  • The workbench becomes a cluttered storage area if you lack other horizontal table space to stage partially assembled furniture
  • It’s good for dry-fitting parts and leaves the workbench free for hand tool and handheld power tool operations
  • A torsion-box style assembly table is recommended because it gives you a flat datum to act as a fixture during assembly (a torsion box is basically two sheets separated by a grid-like structure—it’s light but extremely stiff.  The greater the distance between the two sheets the more rigid it will be)

Keep all things assembly-related right at the assembly station.  Glue, plastic wrap, masking tape, clamps, fasteners, nail guns, power drivers, drill press, and assembly fixtures should all have a home in this area.  An open slide-out shelf below the assembly tabletop would work well.  A few drawers for supplies are also good for keeping the top clear.  I also like to be at my assembly table and have the ability to turn around and have my workbench available, even if it’s the back side.  I’m even considering a second supplemental assembly table.


What type of finishing do you do?  Whether you wipe on oil, brew dye stains, or spray finish your masterpieces, doing it in a dusty environment isn’t ideal.  While things are drying in the shop, you can’t work on another project that kicks up dust.  This wastes a lot of shop time.  That’s why I’m a fan of physically separating the finishing area (sealed off) from the main shop.  This is your VIP pass right back to the front of the woodworking buffet.

Things to consider for your finishing area are:

  • Spill and overspray protection
  • Drying racks
  • A lazy-Susan turntable
  • Finish supply storage
  • Brushes and rags storage
  • Flammables cabinet/ trash
  • Exhaust fan
  • Side-lighting (to detect finishing flaws)
  • Buffing pads
  • Sanding supplies


Shop Support

Not enough is said about integrating shop support from the start.  It’s usually an after-thought.  Things to include in shop support are:

  • Sharpening Station
  • Measuring/ Marking/ Layout tools at each station
  • Information Station (Plans, Reference–heck even a computer)
  • Mobile Shop Cart
  • Lumber Storage
  • Safety Gear
  • Clean-up Tools & Supplies
  • Specialty Jigs
  • Storage Areas for your Completed Work
  • Entertainment/ Comfort Items (Radio, iPod Dock, Seating Area)
  • Anything that helps the shop function smoothly

WoodChip Tip: Sprinkle and duplicate these support elements throughout your shop.  For example, keep a dusting brush at most of your stations so you don’t have to hunt for one each time you need it.  Certain measuring and marking tools deserve to be in multiple locations for convenience.  You could carry some of these in a shop apron or tool belt, but there is a practical limit to this.  When listing your criteria for each station, feel free to list things several times in different stations.

In future posts, I’ll go through the design criteria I used for each of the shop support elements listed above, and list what related things I have or wish I had.

Dust Collection

This deserves its own station.  You may choose to have a single central system, or two dust collectors, depending on your shop size.  Using a shop vac for primary dust collection is better than nothing but is awfully loud and has limited capability.  Plan for one now so there is a spot for it, even if you temporarily use a shop vac.  I keep my collector in a particular corner, so I can branch ductwork in two directions to keep the run length from the collector to any machine shorter.  If you enclose it, make sure you provide discharge air openings at the enclosure (air in = air out!) or it will starve for air and not draw in dust from the machines.

Before you start fabricating ductwork, be very satisfied with your current and future layout design. Plan for future equipment by branching a duct nearby and capping it for now.

Your next step is to do a first-pass shop layout of each station on paper or in a computer drawing program, including all the elements noted in Part I and II of Revolutionize Your Woodworking Enjoyment. Take the time to physically move your tools according to your sketch.  Go through the motions (or actually build a common project and test it out before you commit to your dust collection and electrical layouts).  In the next post, I’ll provide additional considerations to use when reviewing the initial layout you come up with.

What does your typical workflow look like?  Leave me a comment and let me know!

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

Woodshop Station and Tool Organization.PDF

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2 Responses to “Revolutionize Your Woodworking Enjoyment, Part II”

  1. Anant says:

    Dude, your site is so rad! I love it! You’ve certainly piqued my interest in woodworking! You obviously know your stuff. Keep up the great work!

    • Bobby says:

      Thanks, Anant. Just starting so it’s pretty exciting to chronicle my shop development now that much of my woodshop design is done.
      Looks like we have a similar outlook on life vs. our passion, so I’ll definitely be keeping up with your blog.

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