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Woodshop Order of Construction: The Ultimate Guide to Prioritizing Your Shop Build

To the extent possible I biased the order of things to promote the ability to make stuff. Don’t forget that you can set up temporary things such as the sawhorses for the planer you see here. I’ve since made a more formal planer cart, but I used this until I got around to that. Note the old Delta bench saw cabinet to the left. It did its job until I got my SawStop.

You’ve got page after page listing all the things you want for your shop redesign.  But how do you know what you’ll work on first?

Do you buy that router table fence first?  Nope, it probably won’t be used until you build your router table. Insulate my walls since it’s hot out today?  Probably should run my electrical wiring beforehand.

I didn’t find it too hard, but it does take a session of thinking and writing, just like how you’d approach any creative project.

Below is my strategy for prioritizing and organizing your Order of Construction for the woodshop.  Now that I have my design criteria totally organized, plus my drawings of major things like the wall/ roof layers, tool layout, electrical design, and dust collection system, I’m left with deciding what order I should build things in.

If I start on the wrong thing first, I’ll have to re-do it later if I forget something.

So I sat down and went through my entire woodshop design:  I edited, redmarked, scrawled arrows, added notes in the margins, went into the shop and made more notes, and even doodled things on notepads from hotels until I had one clean list in the exact order that things should be done.  That also included a bit of timing–spacing out things as I can fund them, and pushing things up front that would give me the highest payback in shop upgrade and comfort.

Note: By signing in at the right, you can get a peak at my shop design outline; this will help you get a jump on your list of things to consider.

Phase I involves upgrading your existing conditions to a new standard. For me it’s caulking and sealing all gaps, fixing substandard structural elements, and getting control of the shop envelope.

Why Writing Your Order of Construction Helps Awesomize Your Design

By starting to write the Order of Construction during my design phase, it forced me to consider how I’m actually going to build this beast.

How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.

My visualization of the perfect shop (for me) has been solidified and largely decided now that I’ve gone through most of the design process.  I have drawings, lists, and descriptions of almost every aspect of what I want in my oasis of a creative studio.

But by carefully considering how I’m going to build it, I have to think through things in more detail.  This will prevent repeated trips to the store for supplies, and running into major problems that mean backtracking in my progress.

My biggest fear is having to tear up already-done-work because I neglected to consider what should go before what.

Thinking about the order of things in advance basically planned my shopping trips. I tried to avoid buying everything at once, but knowing what I’d need for the next few steps helps a lot when the day to work comes and you don’t feel like going to a store.

Do Your Thinking in a Quiet Setting and Your Building in the Shop

Your Order of Construction will serve as a tasklist for you to follow, much like a recipe. No one wants to figure out how to cook a complicated meal on the fly; it’s much easier to follow a recipe where the thinking has been done prior.  While your workshop design tells you what you build, a big part of it is when you’ll do those things.  In other words a list of criteria and a drawing aren’t really enough.

When I build a piece of furniture, I find myself taking the design and writing a list of instructions to myself.

A recent frame project I did looked like this:

1.       Mill all boards to rough dimension.

2.       Mill within 1/16” of final thickness to allow drum sanding.

3.       Cut all miters and test fit.

4.       Cut rabbets in each piece to accept photo and glass.

5.       Align and glue frame, clamp.

6.       Run glue-up (once dry) through drum sander to final thickness.

7.       Use Forstner bit to cut circular inlays.

8.       Clamp to router table sled to cut straight inlays.

9.       Cut and fit inlay pieces and test-fit.

10.     Glue inlays.

11.     Use rasp and files to carve 3D shape.

12.     Sand to 180 grit.

13.     Apply first coat of Sam Maloof Poly-Oil blend; let dry a few days.

14.     Apply 4 or 5 coats.

15.     Insert clips to hold glass, matte, and photo artwork.

16.     Attach mounting hardware.

The above tasklist, which can get as detailed as you want, will serve as a checklist that will allow me to start and stop this particular project and not worry about where I left off.

As part of your envelope upgrade, don’t forget to seal exterior wall penetrations.

With your woodshop improvements you’ll be starting dozens of projects and stopping at various points.

Sometimes you have a few hours to work on it, other times you have the whole weekend.  In either case, you can’t work on it continuously.  So, having a list that’s well thought out to go by is a huge help.  I can just refer to the list, knowing that it’s not likely I forgot something major.

WoodChip Tip: After your first pass listing the Order of Construction, take a second pass at it and find things that have a higher return on investment or ROI that could be done first.  For example, I determined (by measuring the temperature of my shop’s wall and roof sheathing) that adding radiant barriers to my roof truss bays has a much higher ROI than insulating my wall.  This is because it’ll be summer when I’m doing the insulation.  I can enjoy the benefit of blocking all that radiant heat from the roof right away, then go back to wall insulation.  Doing the roof first doesn’t have any negative impact on the other tasks so I changed the order.


Phasing:  Organizing Your Tasks Like an Outline

Most home improvement tasks, including your woodshop renovations, can be divided into major phases that can serve as milestones.  I define mine like this:

Phase I

  • Demolition and Cleanup
    • This is where I do all the cleaning of surfaces to prep for sealant/ caulking, getting rid of junk, spider webs, dirt/ dust.
    • Anything that I don’t need to keep using will get demolished and removed to prepare for the next steps in construction.
    • But keep things like the lights as long as you can.  For example, if I won’t get around to replacing the door for a few months, I’ll leave it in place as long as possible.
  • Upgrade of Existing Conditions
    • For the portions of the project that will remain after demolition, I’ll upgrade them to my standards.  This includes patching, adding waterproofing and caulking, fixing structure, caulking around utility penetrations, & replacing old worn out accessories and mechanisms.
    • Inadequate louvers, fixing broken or damaged structural members, compromised exterior waterproofing and flashing, loose fixtures, and old utility accessories are all on my list of things to fix during this phase.
  • Envelope Construction (Walls, Roof, Ceiling, Doors, Windows)
    • This is really the start of major construction for my workshop.  Once all of the walls and roof sheathing was clean, sprayed with fire retardant, and sealed, I began installing radiant barriers in preparation for insulation.  But I realized before insulation I needed to take care of electrical and plumbing first.
    • If you want, you can take care of door frames, doors, and windows first, but I’m doing those a bit later.  I’ll just leave the stud bays around them open for now.  The reason?  I think the bulk of the insulation and radiant barriers installed now will benefit me more.
    • You may also want to prep your floors for a finish, whether tile, wood, sealed or stained concrete, epoxy coatings, or cork tiles.  But you could wait on this as well.  I’m waiting a bit to preserve the $ for more important things first.
    • All of the above items are where you implement your sound control, thermal control, and acoustical strategies figured out in your design.

As part of my envelope upgrade, I’m increasing the attic ventilation by drilling for soffit vents. Then I’ll staple 1/8” screen on the inside, caulk around it from the inside, and paint the screen white. These vents will draw cooler air in and expel the hot attic air out of the gable vent.

  • Utilities and Infrastructure Rough-in
    • Having a design in-hand, I know where I’ll be running wires and pipes inside walls.  So before I insulate, I’ll need to run the Romex wiring throughout the shop, which means drilling through studs and sealing the penetrations with fire caulk.  Once I do that, I can fill the stud bays and ceilings with foam or batt insulation.
    • If you need to upgrade your existing electrical service, or add a subpanel, now’s the time to get that done.  It’s easiest to get to it at this point.  Then, when you’re insulating and dealing with drywall or interior sheathing, you can create an access panel.
    • I also include Dust Collection and Plumbing in the utilities.  I make provisions to anchor ductwork mains and branches, & route any plumbing (shop sink and/or bathroom).  I put the tools and workstations in their approximate locations here so I could see where to route the branch ductwork to the major tools.
    • Rough-ins for Ventilation, Air Conditioning, and Compressed Air also are done in this phase.  Sleeves for refrigerant piping penetrations, outlet boxes, junction boxes, can lights, and anything else to support your Dust Collection, HVAC, Plumbing, and Electrical systems need to happen here.
  • Exterior Upgrades
    • This is important to get done early (or it may be tempting to ignore it)—sealing of exterior utility penetrations, proper grading to shed water away from the first 5 ft. of your structure, and landscaping.

The utilities portion, which includes electrical, dust collection, and provisions for future AC and heating, take quite a long time. This and the shop envelope upgrades are the most labor-intensive, but they have a HUGE impact on my day-to-day woodworking.

Phase II

  • Function–Shop Operations
    • Things like arranging the shop layout, hooking up flex hose from the dust collection system, and plugging everything in results in a usable woodshop.
    • I arranged my approximate layout before this so I would know exactly where to route ductwork and locate outlets and cord drops, but here you should really solidify your workflow and arrange everything more precisely.
    • Final lighting connections are also part of making the shop functional.
  • Workshop Stations–Optimizing Them One by One
    • Each station in my shop has its own design to incorporate storage, lighting, mobility, sound attenuation, jigs and fixtures specific to tool stations, dust control, etc.  All of those things require building shelves, cabinets, drawers, fence systems, and a bunch of other mini-projects.  I pick the most important stations first.
  • General Storage and Shop Support
    • The remaining portions of the shop (outside of the work stations) will become optimized and functional in this phase.  Lumber racks, storage for things you need right when you walk into the shop (dust collection remote control, safety glasses, pencil/ measuring tape), and dust collection floor sweep and vacuum hose that support general shop operations get done in this phase.

Phase III

  • Aesthetics (This is the funnest part for me)
    • Wall treatments, ceiling decorative panels, LED lights, uplighting of textured and sculptural walls, and workstation elements are all done for artistic reasons.  This has two benefits:  Inspiration for you while in the shop, and as a marketing tool to showcase who you are as a craftsman.

Where would you start? Sometimes a complete demo is in order; but be prepared for a temporary set-up if you need it, and how you’ll phase in the new.

I hope you see the benefit in creating a list of projects and tasks in a certain order.  Just like furniture or your artwork, there is a sequence of operations that will minimize mistakes and going back and doing things twice.  It’s so much easier to be able to work towards my dream shop anytime, whether I’m in “thinking mode” or not.  I can just follow the recipe I already wrote.

You can print the PDF of my Order of Construction that I have handy as I’m working on my shop; click on the link to the file below.

Order of Construction PDF

For more guidance in assembling your Woodshop Design, click on the Starting? Go Here! category and read those first.

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


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2 Responses to “Woodshop Order of Construction: The Ultimate Guide to Prioritizing Your Shop Build”

  1. Joe Wappel says:

    I love your website and it is a great to a beginner like me. I just bought a Powermatic PM1300TX-CK dust cfollection system. It has 2 – 4 inch and 1 – 6 inch ports comming off it. I noticed that you connected to the main duct with a flexable 6 inch but your main ducts are 5 inches then reduce to 4 inches. Would it be better to use all 6 inch pipe then reduce to 4 inch at the machine?
    Please help!! I don’t know much.

    • Bobby says:


      Generally, it’s better to have a single-sized duct from the collector all the way to the machine, if you use one machine at a time. But, if you don’t have enough airflow (CFM), then having too large of a duct will mean there’s not enough airspeed (velocity) to carry the chips back to the bag, and that’s a fire risk to have dust accumulated in your ducts.

      My “ultimate” plan is to calculate the static pressure drop for each duct run (from collector to each tool, one at a time), then determine the ideal duct size for each. I’ll try to keep the velocity at a minimum of 4,000 feet per minute. You can take your CFM and divide that by the duct cross-sectional area to get your velocity, i.e. CFM divided by (Pi x the radius squared), being careful to have the radius in feet.

      Dust won’t settle in the vertical riser from the collector, so I don’t mind that being 6″, but the horizontal duct runs may wind up at all 5″ to make sure I have enough velocity. I do know that the 4″ duct to my closest machines is too small and choking off airflow. They’ll likely be 5″. I bought an anemometer so I can measure my CFM directly to check that I am ok. It was only a hundred-something for it, and I’m glad I got it. I used to check my AC airflow in my house too.

      If some of your duct runs are really far, try to arrange your main horizontal duct such that the distance to each machine is closest to the same as possible. I did this by having 2 mains, one goes to the West side of the shop and the other goes along the East wall.

      I’m almost done with a spreadsheet to calculate static pressure drop using real engineering-based equations, but there are some online that are pretty good approximations. But I think you really should measure the airflow so you’re putting in real numbers. The dust collector manufacturers give you the CFM assuming no ductwork, so you’re probably less than 70% of that when you hook up the duct network.

      If you have other questions, just let me know!


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