Choosing your Space
In an ideal world a shop would be its own separate building with plenty of space for maneuverability, a storage area for wood and supplies, an enclosed room for finishing, as well as plumbing, heating, cooling, and everything else your heart desires... but for many of us this ideal woodworking universe is outside the realm of possibility so let’s consider the two most typical shop locations, the basement or the garage.
For the home woodworker the basement shop offers many advantages, it’s easy to get to (right under your feet in fact), and the essential systems your shop requires such as electricity, heating, and cooling are already there. However, the drawbacks of the basement shop tend to be poor headroom, poor ventilation, poor access, little or no natural light, poor sound insulation from adjacent inhabited spaces and concrete floors which can cause fatigue if working for long periods of time.
The garage shop offers many if not all of the advantages of the basement shop while having fewer of the disadvantages. Large doors provide good access into and out of the shop as well as excellent ventilation, and there is typically good headroom as well as better light, however, garages are typically the home of cars and other household goods so mounting your tools on casters allowing them to be easily moved about when your spouse wants to move the car may be a good idea. Whatever area you chose to set up shop in carefully consider the following:
When working in the shop you’ll need enough space to maneuver sheet goods and boards which can be up to 8 feet long or longer. Ideally you would be able to have clearance to maneuver these goods on both the infeed and outfeed sides of your tools. A good rule of thumb is at least 4’ of clearance to each side of your table saw and 8’ on front and back.
You will want to have the ability to easily move materials, tools, and projects both into and out of your shop.
While the home woodworker is unlikely to have more than one tool and perhaps a shop vacuum or dust collector operating at any one time it’s a good idea to have several accessible outlets around the shop to meet your various needs. Since you’re probably not setting up a professional woodworking shop you will most likely not be going to the extremes of putting each of your stationary tools on a separate circuit but it’s wise to avoid putting larger tools such as a planer or a dust collector on a shared circuit. Some tips would be to separate lighting circuits from those that power outlets so that you won’t be left in the dark if you trip a breaker and to alternate circuits from one outlet to the other. That way, for example, if you were to run a shop vacuum and a stationary tool at the same time you would be drawing power from two circuits instead of only one. There are limits to the number of outlets or lighting receptacles which can be powered off of one circuit so its a good idea to check with the city or county in which you live for local codes. Also, unless you have experience doing electrical work it’s not a bad idea to hire a professional for the job.
Having enough light is crucial for performing quality, accurate, and above all, safe work. A combination of natural and artificial light is best but not always possible. A good way to make up for less than ideal lighting is by keeping clean and painting the shop with a light color to maximize the reflecting surfaces. A good rule of thumb is to have one-half watt of fluorescent light or two watts of incandescent light per square foot of shop space and then to have task lighting to meet the specific needs of your shop.
Dust and fumes can be dangerous to your health so you need to have a source of fresh air as well as a means of dust collection. Sawing, sanding, and the numerous other tasks of the woodworker and his craft can quickly fill the air with fine dust particles as well as accumulating large quantities of sawdust. Fresh air can be as simple as a box fan that moves dusty air out of the shop but if it moves that air into a place where you don’t want dust (like the rest of the basement) it isn’t a viable solution. A good idea is to have a system that deals with both the larger chips and sawdust through the use of a stationary dust collector or shop vacuum and fine airborne particles or fumes through the use of an ambient air cleaner which circulates the air through a filter.
Ventilating a shop isn’t just dust control it’s climate control as well. Heating your shop is more than just comfort in the winter because some of your woodworking activities such as gluing and finishing are sensitive to temperature as well. The basement or garage shop may have access to your central heating system but if not a number of other systems such as radiant heating, in wall, or portable space heaters are available. Remember never to use a heater with an open electric coil or flame as they may ignite flammables in the shop. The use of a humidifier or dehumidifier depending on the season is also a good idea to control shop humidity and wood movement.
In the upcoming articles we’ll discuss shop furnishings such as worksurfaces and storage as well as the tools and safety equipment you may consider while setting up your shop, but until then may your cuts be straight and your wood never buckle.