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Your head is swimming with the challenges presented by the size of your machines, the limitations of the available space, and your numerous needs and desires: It’s time to translate it all to a floor plan. Preparing this piece of paper can prove to be an important discipline in thinking about your workshop.
The first plan you make may well change—indeed, you may revise the plans many times—but the discipline of putting it on paper will compel you to ask yourself questions, to search out information, and to make adjustments.
For laying out a workshop floor plan, this is what’s required: a couple of sharp pencils and some graph paper will do. And a tape measure to determine the sizes of the machines, etc.
Do it to scale. Take the largest dimension of the space and determine how to most efficiently fit it on your graph paper: inch to the foot will allow for a fourteen-by-twenty-foot shop, for example, on a standard 8.5 x 11-inch sheet. A scale of ¼ inch to the foot will accommodate larger spaces.
Outline the Area First. Begin with the perimeter of the space. Indicate the windows and doors (include the swing of the doors, too). If your space is to be shared (with the furnace in your cellar, for example), draw in the fixed elements around which you must work. These include plumbing lines, stairways, columns or piers that support the house, chimneys, appliances such as hot-water heaters, freezers, washers, and dryers. If your workshop space will double as a garage, be sure to identify the floor space that will, at least some of the time, be occupied by your vehicle. In a garage, you may also need to allow for garden tools, lawn mower, and other yard care equipment. And bicycles, perhaps?
Position the Tools. For purposes of discussion, let’s assume that your shop will be used primarily for woodworking. That being the case, you’ll likely try your hand at a bit of joinery, maybe make a cabinet or two, and almost certainly take on the kinds of projects that we all seem to confront now and again, like fixing toys or windows or chairs or other things from around the house.
You’ll certainly need a workbench, some kind of work surface on which to perform all kinds of tasks, starting with layout. You’ll need cutting tools: ideally, a cutoff saw (perhaps a radial-arm saw) and a table saw (for ripping and just about everything else). If you plan to fix or make objects larger than a breadbox, you will probably need another work surface, a work or assembly table with a broad top. Space for other tools and supplies is necessary, too, but the primary points of orientation will be the workbench, table saw, cutoff saw, and worktable.
The workbench will go against a wall, preferably in front of a window. The cutoff saw goes against a long wall, with enough space on either side of the blade to cut long pieces of stock to almost any length. The table saw and worktable are set in the middle of the room; the worktable may even do double duty, functioning as an extension table to the table saw, as well. The floor plan suddenly emerges.
Measure your workbench (if you have one; if not, decide how large a workbench you need). Measure the top of your table saw, too. Draw the outlines of the workbench and table saw to scale on a separate sheet of graph paper and cut them out. For tools or work surfaces you don’t yet own, use the dimensions given in tool catalogs to guide you through the planning process. You may find that your initial choices are too big, or, if you’re lucky, that more space is available than you thought.
Like checkers on a game board, these representations can be moved around. Put the table saw at center; put the oilier tool along the walls.
Go with the Flow. In considering where the tools should go, keep in mind that the arrangement of the workshop should be an organic one: The sequence of tools should follow the life of the process. Say you generally start with raw stock. The first step probably involves rough-cutting the large sheets or lengths of material from the lumberyard into workable pieces. Thus, your cutoff saw (the one you rely upon for cutting stock to length) probably belongs in a location that is convenient to your storage racks.
Perhaps more cutting follows: The table saw or the band saw are probably next. Perhaps a shaper, jigsaw, jointer, and drill press are involved in further station stops, followed, perhaps, by the sander. An assembly table follows. The workbench may be required at one or several points in the process, depending upon how much shaping is done by hand.
In your mind, walk through the operations involved in the work you will do in your workshop, and translate the logic to your plan. It may be a circle around the table saw at center; it may be U-shaped, or an in-and-out ell. Find an approach that works for your shop and your work, and you’ll find that you can save countless footsteps.
Don’t Forget the Elevations. Elevation drawings take time, but they, too, can help you think through the process. Draw each of the walls of your shop, incorporating windows and doors, benches and tables, bins racks, shelves, and anything else you want (or that you have to contend with, like the furnace, water heater, and the rest). Heating, cooling, and ventilation equipment, ducts, or pipes must also be drawn in.
Oh, and one other thing: Don’t get so involved in moving furniture (“The jointer will go here, the sanding station, er, over there …”) that you forget to leave yourself some empty space. You need areas where there aren’t any tools: Some floor space will be required not only for you to walk around, not only for operating the machines, but for assembling the objects you are making or working on.