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- The Ideal Workshop Layout
The Ideal Workshop Layout
Make sure that your workshop is actually workable using these tips.
- Photo: Flickr
A landscape designer friend of mine tells a story about the college he went to. During his years there, the university embarked upon an ambitious building plan, adding several large structures around the main quad: a dorm, a chemistry lab, and a couple of others. The look of the place, which had remained unchanged for a century, was suddenly transformed, as glass-and-steel modernist structures were interspersed with the earlier ivy-covered stone Victorian-Gothic.
The streetscape wasn't the only thing that changed. The patterns of use of the quad itself were also affected, as more people were moving in more directions. The long-established roadways and paths no longer served the traffic.
The planners did an interesting thing, my friend recalls. Instead of commissioning a hugely expensive study to try to predict the new patterns that would result from the opening of the new buildings, rather than devising an anticipated program and laying out a new scheme, the university's brain trust decided to let the students and faculty, the lifeblood of the university, shape their own arterial flow.
Sure enough, the approach worked. A semester alter the buildings were completed, a definite crisscross of paths emerged. Only then were the landscapers hired to come in and memorialize. They paved the paths, then planted grass and shrubs, off the beaten paths. A pretty clever move, I thought.
Now, maybe you can do the same thing in your workshop. You can move your benches, tables and tools, and storage units around as you devise better work flows. But as is so often the case, what works in academe might not be the best approach in the workaday world, namely in your workshop.
For one thing, the rearrange-it-later approach may simply mean that once you're set up, the haphazard plan becomes the permanent plan, thanks to sheer inertia (it is a pain to move furniture, after all, especially when some of it is as heavy and awkward as workbenches and stationary tools). For another, too little advance planning may mean you buy a power tool that's too big for your space.
So I, for one, would recommend a certain amount of advance planning. Even if the layout you devise evolves over time (and it almost certainly will), you'll probably find the workshop a more efficient place to work right from the start if you think it through as thoroughly as you can beforehand.
I'm guessing you'll find it to your advantage to consider the issues that follow in your planning process.
Stationary Tool Space. Tools take up two kinds of space. First, there's the square footage required by the tool and its stand, whether it's in use or waiting patiently for its next opportunity to show its stuff. With a big table saw, that can represent a dozen or more square feet; a drill press requires roughly from three to five square feet.
Second is the operating space around the machine. When the table saw is used to cut a piece of four-by-eight-foot plywood, the tool space increases geometrically, as the thirty-two-square-foot sheet of stock is pushed and pulled through the blade. Even if you're not planning on using your table saw to cut plywood, you need to allow ripping and crosscutting space. This means that in front of and beyond the blade, you need distances at least as great as the length of the longest board you'll need to rip; and that you'll require space for cutoff work on either side of the saw.
The bottom line, then, is that in most cases the logical place for the table saw is at the hub of the workshop.
If you have a fixed-in-place cutoff saw (a radial-arm, miter saw, or sawbuck, for example), it can, unlike the table saw, be conveniently positioned against a wall. Don't set it in a corner, however, as you'll need space on either side of the blade. Figure into your plan a two-foot-deep, three-foot-wide space for the saw itself and tables or other supports flanking the tool. Allow enough space directly in front of the saw for the operator to be able to comfortably line up and operate the saw.
The band saw has spatial requirements similar to those for the radial-arm saw: the tool can be positioned with its back to the wall, with operator space at the front. The most area will be required on either side of the saw.
In many workshops, band saws and drill presses are not used constantly, so they can be set back out of the way. Jointers and shapers can also sometimes be set back out of the midway, but keep in mind that the more trouble they are to reposition, the less useful they'll be. Remember, too, that while jointers and shapers take up relatively little floor space, you need to allow space on either side that is at least the length of your longest workpiece: a four-foot workpiece needs about a ten-foot space (the tool, plus four feet on either side). The longer the pieces to be joined or shaped, the greater the space required on either side.
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