A journey to define and create the ultimate workshop.
Over the first few months we have been open, several folks have asked questions around how or why we laid out the shop the way we did. My response takes more time typically than most have for a “simple” question. I thought I would share my answers here in order to capture some of the major considerations and choices that were in play. I brainstormed some basic tips that I think apply to nearly all wood workshops (at least the ones that serve multiple users). Of course, some considerations for our shop were due to the fact that it would be used as a coworking space and not as an individual workshop. Also, workshop layout is something that evolves over time and perhaps gets reimagined as use cases and work flows change. But here are some simple rules of thumb that came to mind; some more obvious than others.
1. Workflow – The path a piece of wood takes from the moment it enters the shop.
Although the operations necessary for a given project vary and every space is different, the starting point is how/where material enters the space and what is a typical starting scenario for most projects.
2. Grouping tools – Keep it together
Tools that perform similar functions or are typically used in succession should be located near one another. One of the most obvious groupings is the jointer/planer/table saw triad. During the milling process, these three tools will be used repeatedly so it’s a good idea to limit the distance between them. Another example might be keeping the grinder near the lathe. If you are turning projects, then keeping the tools sharp is an ongoing concern.
3. Organization – Storage and proximity
In a shared workshop environment, it is important to balance accessibility to tools with the need to monitor and maintain them. Storing some things at the benches or machines makes sense if there is not a need to constantly monitor the condition. Some of our sleds, jigs, or chuck keys are examples of what we keep on the floor at the tools or benches. However, for many items it may be necessary to collect and centrally store in order to ensure proper working condition for the next person. No matter what, it is a good idea to stay organized if only to eliminate the frustration of not being able to find the item you need now.
4. Where is the light? – Sunshine is king!
Natural light not only makes it easy to see what you’re working on, it makes for a more pleasant working environment. When choosing a location for our business this was a big consideration. Additionally, we put the workbenches in a place that takes advantage of all the natural light our space offers. When mother nature is not providing the light, it is very important to plan your lighting with the idea that you do not want shadows on work products. General lighting (preferably with LED fixtures) can take care of most of the need, but there will likely always be a need for specific task lighting as well.
5. Bench Tools – Accessibility and needs
A good friend of mine once told me, “tools like to be on islands.” This allows the greatest flexibility and accessibility to the tool for the operation you are trying to accomplish. While the island concept is great it is very challenging to realize given the other requirements tools have (power, dust collection, stability). Our compromise was to put them on peninsulas allowing 270 degrees of access and keeping the supporting mechanical stuff out of the way.
6. Miter Saw
This is a frequently used tool, but it does not need to be out in the middle of everything. It should be accessible for rough cutting lumber to more manageable sizes, and for finish cutting milled product. To me, creating the right space to the sides is key so that you can work with longer items, but dust collection is a must. This machine will really make a mess if you let it.
7. Open spaces – Room to move!
We had to put a great deal of thought into how material would move around the shop. With potentially multiple projects in the same general space we had to allow space so that everyone had the room they needed, and no one was crowding safe areas around the floor machines. We added carts to facilitate movement into and out of the milling areas so that staging and assembly/finishing could be separated. We even added casters that lock into place to all of our workbenches to provide even greater flexibility.
8. Clamp mobility – Clamps need to be where they need to be…
Gluing, assembly, setting stops, hold downs, or as an extra hand – there is no end to the uses for clamps. The key is that they just need to be where you need them when you need them. To that end we have chosen to keep them mobile. Clamp carts allow an assortment of clamp options to be conveniently moved around to where the work is happening.
9. Environment – Clean air – ahhh
Proper dust collection is critical to making sure your workshop environment is healthy and comfortable even when multiple projects are in process. Additionally, keeping sanding operations out of the mainstream areas will help immensely. We were careful to set aside space for sanding operations to localize the impact and allow for easier clean up.
10. Finishes – Booths are great and inexpensive
If you have a dedicated spot for preparing, mixing, and applying finishes, make sure there is good ventilation. Try to locate it away from other things. Spray on finishes can be particularly impacting to air quality. Isolating the operation and providing containment will help offset the impacts you can feel. A simple tent/booth will help keep the fumes contained and protect your project at the same time.
12. Evolve – Change is inevitable
No matter how much you plan ahead for your workshop, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll need to move your tools around, even if only temporarily for a particular operation. Of course moving the tool is only one piece of the equation. You will need to consider power, dust collection, and other support components. Mobile bases can make moving the tool straightforward. But, thinking ahead and locating the trunk lines for dust collection so that you can simply tee into it in the new location or using flex tubing could save a lot versus adding a whole new line. Power could also be a problem unless you consider future needs in distribution as well.
In all, a lot of thought went into selecting our space and setting up our workshop layout. We know it will evolve over time and are excited about what the future holds!