Know Your Workshop Needs

To begin assembling your workshop, first you must take stock of your requirements.

By Bob Vila | Updated Nov 10, 2013 7:22 PM


You may think you already know what you need. “Just a practical space, you know, enough for my table saw and to try out that antique combination plane Uncle Herb left me.” But how big is that, really?

The following are some of the major concerns to consider in planning your workshop.

The Workbench. The primary work surface is key in any workshop. For now, however, think about its size: How large is the bench to be? Will it be the only surface (aside from the tabletops on stationary tools) in the shop? Will you be standing when you work? Will your bench have storage shelves or drawers beneath? Do you want access to it from the front and back?

The Stationary Tools. First comes the workbench, but your next concern, very likely, is a stationary saw of some sort, probably a radial-arm or table saw. You may also want a band saw. In a luxuriously appointed shop, there may also be a drill press, jointer, shaper, planer, and so on. Make a list of what you really need; make a second one of what you’d like to have.

How big are those items that must remain stationary? How much do they weigh? Top-of-the-line table saws weigh hundreds of pounds, as do many production-line-quality freestanding machines. For most homeowner shops, this isn’t an issue, but keep it in mind if you’re considering moving your Delta Unisaw up to the rickety second floor of that old chicken house out back.

Material Size. What’s the longest piece of stock you’re likely to need? Sixteen-foot-long one-by and two-by stocks are usual, though shorter lengths can be bought, too.

What’s the widest sheet of rigid material you are likely to want to bring in? Virtually all plywood and other sheet stock is sold in four-foot-by-eight-foot sheets. You’ll need to make room for them, or plan for cutting them down first.

Think ahead a bit to the projects you are planning to take on. What’s the largest layout you’ll need to do? Will it be laying out the face plate for a ten-foot wall of cabinets or using tweezers to apply decorations to tiny Christmas ornaments?

Materials Access. Where will the stock and other materials be arriving? A second-floor space far from the staircase and at the end of a twisting hallway doesn’t make logistical sense. On the other hand, the front hall where unexpected guests may come knocking probably isn’t the best choice either.

If the work you’ll be taking on requires big machinery or produces finished products of large size, you may want to add a special door to accommodate the comings and goings of outsize items. Many professional shops have double, sliding, or garage doors.

Storage. How much stock are you likely to keep on hand? If you buy your wood rough cut and need to air-dry it on the premises, your demands are obviously much greater than the occasional workshop worker who buys what he (or she) needs on a Saturday morning with the expectation that the job will be done by sundown.

Material storage is divisible in most cases into three general categories: virgin boards or lumber, stackable on racks; oddball bits and pieces of stock, storable in bins or smaller racks; and miscellaneous hardware and other elements. Suitable racks, shelves, and cabinets belong in your plans, too.