Introduction to the Workshop

The first step in setting up a workshop is establishing your needs. A suitable location for the workshop must be determined. Workshops can be located in the home or garage, but ideally the basement or garage are very suitable locations. You should plan for future expansion prior to designing the shop, since you will at some point in the future, outgrow the present shop. Many factors are to be taken into consideration in designing a workshop. Storage, lighting, ventilation, power requirements, and noise reduction are important. The typical woodworking shop requires a workbench, tool storage, stationary machine area, and finishing area. Ample space should be provided to move between the bench and walls, and to provide the necessary clearance for long, wide boards and panels.

Efficient dust collection is a major consideration. Unless you are using only hand tools, most power tools and specifically, powered sanding operations create large amounts of airborne dust, which is easily inhaled. If a workshop is not feasible at this time, a small work area in a corner of the home is perfectly suitable. The minimum requirement of a workbench and hand tools is all that is necessary to begin woodworking. 

A general floor plan should be drawn up. All equipment should be positioned as to provide maximum flexibility and the ability to manoeuvre around the machines and bench. If you have a large space available to you, plan for future additional equipment. A lumber storage area is important, and can be either situated in the workshop or outside. Make sure the workshop has adequate electrical service and plenty of lighting.

Another consideration is the ease or difficulty in transporting materials into and out of the workshop. Ventilation is important, and sometimes a common household fan placed in a window of the shop or in the vicinity, can satisfy the ventilation requirement. Safety considerations include a non-slip floor, adequate lighting, and room to manoeuvre around equipment. Fluorescent lighting provides more light than incandescent lighting and is less expensive to operate. Some fixture come with wires to plug into a receptacle, other fixtures need to be permanently wired.

Grounded receptacles are of primary importance, and guard against shock. If the workshop is located in the basement, GFCI receptacles should be considered. GFCI's sense small changes in current flow, similar to a short circuit, and disable the power instantly. Portable clip-on spot lamps can be used in proximity of the workbench or stationary machines, to serve as task lighting.

Dust Collection In The Workshop 

Dust collection is becoming increasingly important in the workshop. Airborne dust generated when wood is machined or cut has been proven to be a contributing factor in lung ailments, etc. In light of this, the best method to prevent airborne dust from being generated is to collect it at the source or right at the woodworking machine. A modern dust collection system is composed of central ducts or pipes and flexible tubing leading to a central dust collector This system of pipes and flexible tubing originates from the heavy dust generators in the shop, typically the router table, tablesaw, thickness planer, jointer and bandsaw.

 The cost of centralized dust collection has been dropping over the past few years, and a decent system can now be installed for a few hundred dollars. The capacity of the system is directly related to whether one machine or multiple machines will be used at a time. The shop size and length of ducting is also a factor in determining dust collection capacity. Dust collectors typically work on moving high volumes of air at lower suction rather than a conventional vacuum cleaner with low volume and high suction. In light of this, the ductwork and flexible tubing has bee standardized at 4 inches for a average workshop dust collection system. The 4 inch diameter ducting is ample enough to move higher volumes of wood dust and chips to the central dust collector. 

The 4 inch diameter ductwork and tubing of workshop dust collection systems is in stark contrast to the 1.5 inch diameter size of conventional vacuum cleaners designed to have high suction. Dust collectors consist of a motor, an impeller blade, a shroud and a bag system. The motor size is the determining factor in the capacity of the dust collector. Dust collector motor sizes typically range from 1 HP to 2 HP for the average workshop. Although it is economical to select a 1 HP collector initially, you will find that your needs will quickly outgrow the unit. In our opinion, the 1.5 HP dust collector is the best compromise initially. The cost is not excessive, yet it provides enough capacity for unanticipated growth in shop size and number of machines in the shop. 

The 1 HP collectors are primarily designed to be wheeled around to whichever machine you are presently using. On the other hand, the 1.5 HP and above dust collectors can be set up centrally to be ducted to multiple machines. Each machine in turn has a blast gate which turns the vacuum on or off to the machine. There exist very large capacity systems from 5 HP and up which allow three or more machines to be used simultaneously. Blast gates are either made of metal or plastic and are sufficient for average use in the workshop. 

The Workbench   

A workbench should be comfortable and highly functional. The workbench can be placed in the middle of the shop, you can then work on four sides of the bench. This arrangement leaves plenty of space for maneuvering large workpieces around the bench. The workbench can also be placed against a wall or on the two sides of a corner. This arrangement leaves less room to maneuver large work pieces, but it offers accessible wall space for storing tools. It can also take advantage of natural light if the bench is placed under or near a window. A small compact bench is well suited to working with smaller workpieces. At the front and side of the workbench are located vises which in conjunction with bench dogs , hold work firmly down. The tool tray running lengthwise at the back of the workbench is visible. This bench does not include any shelving or drawers beneath the bench top, but it is straightforward to construct, and is the ideal first workbench for hand tool based operations. The "cabinetmaker"  workbench is much larger and has a tool drawer incorporated into the bench top. The side vise is a shoulder vise and offers more flexibility than the standard side vise. The length of the workbench offers the woodworker more flexibility in using longer workpieces. 

The workbench  is essentially a table for working on. It must be extremely reliable, strong and rigid. The top should be very flat, and deep enough (from front to back) to accommodate your work. The overall height of the workbench should be stressed, as it should be convenient for yourself. Workbenches can be purchased, but if you design and build one, it is best to follow an existing plan, as many sensible details have already been incorporated in. Common features of a workbench are a tool recess at the rear of the top running lengthwise along the tabletop. The tool recess is to ensure that tools do not protrude into the work piece above the level of the table top. Other common features of the typical woodworking workbench are drawers , or shelves, under the work area, and two vises. Vises are very important because holding the work piece firmly is essential to a good job. Often there is a vise at the front of the bench and another at the end of the bench. These vises work in conjunction with "bench-dogs" to hold long or wide material firmly to the work surface.

The bench dog is basically a square or round, wood or metal peg which is inserted at predefined holes in the surface of the workbench. Despite all this, ripping (sawing lumber along the grain) and working large boards is usually awkward on the workbench. A pair of sawhorses is invaluable in the shop, on which you can rest the work piece with plenty of overhang. A sawhorse is also handy in cross-cutting  (sawing across the grain). Storage is another essential requirement of the workshop. Storage is used for hand tools, portable power tools, finishing materials, and small hardware. The height of the workbench should be adjusted for your individual comfort, because it is most often used by yourself. Stand straight and rest the palms of your hands on a surface just high enough so that your elbows are slightly bent. This is your proper upper work height, the bench should measure this distance from the floor. Bench heights range from 30 to 36 inches high. Tools should be in close proximity to the bench, ideally the wall behind the bench.  

More information about workshops is available in the WoodSkills  Woodworking Course DVD