I have the perfect workshop and you can too!

I have the perfect workshop.  It is set up in a way that promotes the best and most efficient use of the tools and space.  It looks like a balance between an idealistic 18th Century workshop familiar to the Dominy craftsmen (check out the recreated Dominy Workshop at Winterthur) and a place to collect and create family heirlooms.  When you are in the shop your work is inspired by the traditions of the centuries of woodworkers that have come before.  It makes me happy to be there. If only my perfect workshop actually existed……well, I guess it does, but only in my mind.  We all have a picture of our ideal workshop.  Some of us are closer to making it a reality than others.  So what does it take to create our dream workshop?  We all have to start somewhere.  This is where I am starting….

My Workshop:  Where am I starting?

If you were to walk into my shop as it exists now, you wouldn’t see much.  You would see that I have a lot of work to do before my dream workshop becomes a reality.  My shop is in the back corner of our attached two car garage.  The remainder of the garage is largely storage of things accumulated after two kids and years of moving, including a utility trailer and boxes filled with who knows what. When I decided to get back into woodworking a couple of months ago, the first step was to carve out a corner of my garage.  I took the first step towards building my perfect workshop – finding a dedicated space.  It could be a garage, a basement, a spare room, or an outbuilding.  Once you find a place, here are a few things to think about to make it your dream workshop.

Your Workshop:  What do I need?

Start by taking some time and evaluate your needs.  Put some thought into the following:

  • Power:  “I need more power!”  – If you plan on including many power tools in your shop, sufficient power and enough outlets will be a top priority.  The last thing you need to do is plug and unplug equipment, trip over extension cords or constantly pop circuit breakers.
  • Lighting:  “Lights! Camera! Action!” – Lighting is an important part of any shop.  If you can utilize daylight be sure to do it since it will brighten your shop.  Situate your workbench in a way, that the daylight can help with detail work.  Be sure to consider other lighting options to eliminate shadowing and help with precise work.
  • Layout:  “Where is my FitBit?  I sure am walking a lot!” – Layout is critical to the efficiency and your workflow in your shop.  Think about how projects start to finish when laying out your shop.  Generally speaking, you start with rough and square cutting your material to dimension, you then work on joinery and fitting and then move to smoothing and finishing.  While it is possible to do most of your work in the same place, especially if you are working with hand tools and not freestanding power tools, you can save yourself a lot of wasted steps if you think about your workflow patterns.  Also, think about what sort of projects you plan on doing.  If you predominantly build jewelry boxes and humidors  your layout may be significantly different from someone who spends most of their time building highboys and desks.  Remember that layout is more important than space.  You can accomplish a lot with a small space if you have taken some time to think through your layout
  • Storage:  “Am I a hoarder or a woodworker?” – Storage is also a critical part of the ideal workshop.  While it might not sound as sexy as that Roubo workbench you want to build, if you don’t put thought into storage all of your lumber, tools and projects can quickly overwhelm a shop making it inefficient, harder to keep clean and organized, and in some cases downright dangerous.  Remember you have a lot of storage options and I would recommend you consider building your own.  Making your own free-standing or wall-mounted shelves or cabinets can be a good opportunity to meet your specific needs and practice your joinery skills.
  • Creature Comforts:  “These concrete walls are so inspiring!” – It may sound a bit frivolous, but the creature comforts and aesthetic is important to shop set up as well.  After all, we are talking about a place where you hope to spend a good amount of time creating your masterpieces.  Here are a few things to consider:
    • Heating and Cooling – How are you going to keep your shop comfortable and at a temperature that won’t destroy your glues and finishes.
    • Ventilation/Dust Control – Depending on your finishes and if you plan on using any power tools, you can create a lot of dust and fumes.  There are complex dust collection and ventilation systems.  Planning it early on can help avoid a lot of retrofitting later.
    • Flooring/Wall Finish – Lighter colors will help with lighting, so don’t go too dark.  If you are starting with bare stud walls, instead of drywall, consider something like plywood or other hard surface.  It will save you from having to chase studs when hanging things to the wall later.  As for the floor, think about your options that easy to clean up and easy on your feet.
    • Insulation – Not only can this help with your heating and cooling, but also with sound.  If you are in a populated environment, your neighbors might appreciate a little less noise from your table saw.  For me, with two toddlers, nap time is important and I don’t want to stop working for fear of waking the kids.
    • Music – Okay, this might be a little frivolous, but hear me out.  In college, I worked for a custom wood shop.  The owner had speakers mounted all around the shop and always had the radio tuned to a classical station.  While not a necessity, it created a relaxing environment making it easier to focus.  If Eastern European Death Metal Rap gets your creative juices flowing, go for it, but you will probably hear some Handel or Mozart in my shop.

Final Thoughts:  Start Somewhere

Don’t get discouraged that your shop doesn’t yet look like the one in your head.  Remind yourself that first and foremost you should start with a space and a plan.  Begin working with what you have and it will evolve over time. Your vision of an ideal workshop may change a bit as you begin working and putting things in to practice.   Just remember that the Dominy Workshop wasn’t created in a weekend and it took a better part of a century and four generations of craftsmen to create that workshop.  The ideal shop is not just about filling a space with cool toys, it is about the story it will tell.  You have to start somewhere.

As my shop evolves, I hope to share my progress with you one story at a time.

What is your story?

Please feel free to leave a comment and tell me about your workshop!  What does it look like?  Tell me about your ideal shop!  How is it different from what you have now?