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People often tell us they’re holding off on outfitting a shop until they can “do it right” — and their idea of doing it right is usually an almost unattainable goal that few people’s wallets could live up to. For the rest of us, making a go of it requires working with what we’ve got. Kevin Brady wrote an excellent article on setting up a small woodshop, and it might help get you off the fence and into your shop. He breaks it down like a fraction, with straight-up practical thinking.

Get a sheet of graph paper and sketch out to scale the boundaries of the space you will be using for your shop. Now take another sheet of graph paper and sketch (to the same scale) the footprint of each tool, bench, etc. Cut out the pieces with a scissors. You should now have a bunch of little paper shapes, representing all your stationary tools and fixtures.

Lay them out on top of your room sketch and see how they fit. Don’t forget to allow for infeed and outfeed spaces with your tools. You may find that these components don’t fit well in your space – or perhaps not at all. Time to get creative.

The daunting task of setting up your own shop often takes years to get right.  Kevin wisely suggests right off the bat that you figure out what type of work you’re going to be doing in the shop, be it wood furniture or blacksmithing –- we couldn’t agree more.

And don’t make the common mistake of waiting till you have every tool known to man before you get down to some projects.  A little planning and some creative thinking will take you a lot further than throwing money at every issue.  After all, tools aren’t much fun if you can’t find ways to use them.

Tips For Designing And Setting Up A Small Woodshop [Kevin S. Brady]


15 Responses to There Is No Perfect Shop

  1. 6StallsIsNotEnuf says:

    Just finishing up a new garage, this article interested me….

    The paper plan is quaint, but since dang near everybody has a pc and there several free or cheap home design packages, I’d suggest trying one. In my case it took about 10 mins with a $5 garage sale version of the sierra package.
    Most packages allow you to create an object of a specified size for placement in your plan and give it a name. Some even let you import pix, so they look realistic
    The one BIG plus is that most of them have a 3D viewer so you can get a real feel for what its gonna look like.
    Another bonus is it has the capability to add electrical and ohter items to the plan…

    Also, when clicking on the website……Am I the only one who gets annoyed by “Cute” backgrounds that make the text un-readable…….
    Not sure if its a good site or not…..

  2. Chris says:

    Good lord, that background really is horrid. Makes the text damn near impossible to read.

    I’ll second the recommendation to use a computer to assist you. Heck, even a basic paint program can do an electronic version of the graph paper idea.


  3. dlone says:

    I’d like to know where the illustration that accompanies the article came from.

  4. Sean O'Hara says:

    The image is a SketchUp drawing found on sawmillcreek.com from Contributor Todd Crow on his vision of his future shop.

  5. Chris Mankey says:

    Good article, and yeah some kind of CAD program would crank out a more polished schemo. OTOH, it only takes a few minutes to scribble a design on a sheet of paper–quaint or not. Whatever gets it done.

    And I don’t know why these other commenters are whining about the linked page. It looks just fine on my cheap 17″ flat panel. Maybe you guys should tweak the contrast on your monitors or get your eyes checked. 🙂

  6. aaron says:

    i just wonder what those pictures are that he’s linked to – like the router table attachment to table saw…. etc.

    also, i’ve got no problem reading that page, but it does lower the contrast and i dont see the point.

  7. Zathrus says:

    Pay money? For a design program? Why?

    Use Google Sketchup — it’s a free download, it’s really easy to use, and there’s a ton of built-in items, plus a scary amount of additional things you can download. And it does just about any scale you can think of. Oh, and it’s already 3D. I used it to plan out my garage, including a 16′ workbench, numerous free-standing shelves, pegboard, and various other bits and pieces. Worked great, and kept my waste to an absolute minimum.

    Seriously — if you have any kind of project that needs a diagram more elaborate than a sketch on a napkin, use Sketchup. No, it’s not a real CAD program, but it’s surprisingly close and doesn’t cost a penny.

  8. justsomeguy says:

    You can plan and plan and plan. You can pick the perfect tools. You can make your perfect shop.

    I guarantee that you will want to change it about 4 hours into use.

    Just get started and adapt your shop as needed. If you don’t, you’ll never get anything done. Well – you’ll spend a lot of time and money making a shop, but will you actually make anything besides your shop?

    Are you in a “cool shop” competition or do you want to make stuff?

  9. Dex says:

    I vote for the paper sketching version. I’ve done it with about 25,000 sq. ft. of floor space! But I will try this google sketch up as well! As to justsomeguy: I hear you about actually doing something (in my case, I have to to pay the bills), but I always like to hear guys talk about the “perfect” shop and can sympathize with that. Often times, for me, it’s catch as catch can, but I often think of how I can move saws, milling machines, drill presses, and other things around for ease of use.

  10. Michael W. says:

    I keep changing my perfect shop 😉

    I just scored a pre-owned (but unused) Rigid Jointer and am sliding it around my shop trying to find the “right” place for it. I reckon I’ll buy another tool and have to do the same thing later.

  11. Kurt Schwind says:

    Instead of paper, I used legos. Each stud was 4″ and that gave me a good aproximation of the room dimensions. Then I built just rectangular blocks of legos for the machines/benches etc… It worked really well, and … legos are fun anyway.

  12. 6StallsIsNotEnuf says:

    Hadn’t thought of using Sketchup, good idea…..But I like the Lego suggestion. Now thats a great idea…..I can see it now, a Color-coded Lego layout cut to the right scale and in a Nice Frame (that I made) Hangin on the wall longside the Bench….That would be True “Grodge Art”
    Course it’d have to go next to my Army man montage….

    Extra bonus, —that many fewer legos to step on in my stocking feet in the basement too…..I’d call that a win win

  13. Patrick says:

    I like the Lego idea too and if money isn’t an object you can buy the Lego version of your tools. I found them at my local Rockler store. They are cute but expensive.

  14. ImFeelinLucky says:

    Since some of us here seem to be taking the planning stage a bit too seriously, I might propose constructing a 1:10 scale model built from styrofoam or perhaps balsa wood. Then you would have an authentic, 3D scale model that would be more realistic than the CAD renderings on your screens. You might even find some little “shop worker” dolls to place inside to add that authentic touch.

    If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.

    However, I say the Lego design idea is worth bonus points for color and creativity. Perhaps I’ll try that one next year.

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