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Revolutionize Your Woodworking Enjoyment, Part III


Having a spot for everything, including the projects you’re working on, will promote a clear work path.

Of all the possible shop improvement projects that exist, a small percentage will make the biggest difference.  After your layout is optimized, you have the basic tools you know you need (don’t just buy a bunch of stuff you saw on TV or read about), and your shop is relatively comfortable, the remaining upgrades are mostly secondary.  If you focus on the critical few first, you can use your limited shop time more effectively.

When evaluating your total shop layout, knowing every major station you want to incorporate will help you see where it’s acceptable to make compromises, so you keep the important things at maximum convenience.  Think about your most common procedures and lock in those particular design solutions, making everything else bend to the primary goals.  Realize that you may not “need” every tool; you might’ve purchased something you rarely use.  So consider not including that in your primary workflow.  Of course, as you accumulate tools you discover you actually will need (the best way to do it), leave enough dust collection taps and electrical outlets so you can adjust and grow.

Consider the following when developing your shop layout:

  • Imagine multiple projects at different stages of construction going on at the same time.  How many projects do you typically have at once?  Allow enough room and storage for several simultaneous projects to keep the workflow path clear.
  • Keep at least two relatively large “open areas” within the shop for temporary set-ups, assemblies, etc. for a flexible and adaptable shop.  Don’t skip this.
  • Arrange for your most common, or “primary” workflow first, then go back and accommodate secondary processes without compromising your primary operations too much.
  • Some areas/ stations should be “out-of-workflow” such as the dust collector, sharpening station, off-site construction tools storage, information station, and seating/ TV area.  For example, if your woodworking rarely involves turning, the lathe can be isolated out of the workflow path.  If it’s central to what you do, by all means integrate it into your shaping/ joinery area.
  • Can you consider a separate outbuilding for finishing and mass lumber storage?  I think it’s worth the money to build one if you have the land space.  Plus, it’s an excuse for another project!
  • Figure a 24” diameter circle as a person walking a path around the shop, especially along your workflow patterns.  Use this on your plan to ensure you can walk anywhere you need to without stuff getting in your way.
  • Don’t hesitate to consider multiples of a tool, such as having two table saws, bandsaws, or router tables.  This will reduce the most time consuming task in the shop – machine set-upHint: You won’t miss the money once you see how effective this is.
  • For rare procedures, use fold-out or flip-up surfaces or slide-out tools.  That way you preserve your ideal positions for the frequently used tools.

Rotate your machines at angles until you are comfortable going from machine to machine. Having them square to the walls like this is not very efficient. After refining my layout, I’ve since arranged these machines in a cluster.

Now your layout is starting to come together.  While it’s still on paper, refine it a few times while actually walking around your shop, noting ideas.  I was surprised to discover that many things I thought were brilliant on the drawing board didn’t always work as expected in real life.  So I test and then mark up my sketch in red pen, and re-draw it several times.  At some point, though, it is good enough.  Don’t let that last 5% of your design take 95% of the design time.  You can tweak it as you experience the new layout in real life.  We’ll go through shop infrastructure next, which in part will be designed to accommodate your layout.

What design changes do you think will have the biggest impact in your shop?  Leave me a comment and let me know!

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Example Woodshop Layout.PDF

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

  1. Bobby says:

    Yep me too; I have yet to build my ultimate bench. My next post will be about my S4S tool cluster; I used to have the Jointer, Planer, and Table saw sort of in the middle of the shop but there was no thinking behind it until I dove head first into the whole design.

    My shop layout has evolved…I know I want a Panel Saw so I did leave room for it (same w/ a 20″ resaw bandsaw), but there may be something I didn’t anticipate. What’s tough is my Dust Collection and Electrical is kind of oriented toward the way I currently have things. I just have to be willing to retrofit those to accommodate any new changes in layout. Every so often, I step back and ask myself if what I’ve currently got is optimized.

    I thought hard about what I could possibly want in the future and did the best I could with that. It may indeed change; in fact I’m sure it will (or it wouldn’t be as fun!) There are a couple of posts in here that address changes in layout such as http://www.artofwoodshopdesign.com/fast-fixes-for-an-under-performing-workshop-layout/ , my famous “The 1 Way to Arrange Your Tools” article or the Musical Machines post.

    By the way your website images are stunning…really love that light fixture on the main page. Toy chest videos are well done too!

  2. Morton says:

    Love the shop layout thinking – one of my past-times, along with dreaming about my dream bench 😉

    Would love to see more of “I thought this would be great, but turns out…” like the mention about not having machines parallel to the walls.

    It also strikes me that just like tool purchase decisions – you don’t know what you need until you need it. I’m not sure one can lay out a shop apriori. I find I want to change things after each project and to incorporate my latest tools, additions, etc. How much do you think the shop layout changes over time – and therefore bake that into the thinking ahead of time (e.g. machines on wheels).

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