In The Shop #2: Shop Layout - Making do with a small/weird space

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Blog entry by live4ever posted 11-04-2011 10:33 AM 8592 reads 0 times favorited 1 comment Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: Dust is getting to be a problem Part 2 of In The Shop series no next part

My shop is in our musty 2-car garage, and while the space itself is quite a bit larger than your average 2 car garage, it is awkward due to the fact we park 2 cars in it (with a single garage door), the presence of some structural posts, an ancient and ginormous furnace, water heater, and laundry. Sometimes I drool at the space a new furnace and tankless water heater would afford me, but that’s another discussion for another day…

It has taken me 2 years to determine the optimum configuration and lay this shop out in a way that allows plenty of room, storage, and flexibility. To put things into perspective, when I was first considering putting a shop in our garage, I was pretty sure the only thing I could fit was a Bosch jobsite tablesaw and a few other basic implements, let alone a full-blown cabinet saw + outfeed, bandsaw, router cabinet, planer/jointer, drum sander, etc. With continuing optimization and re-organization, I’ve been able to squeeze all the major tools in without too many sacrifices, and the best part of it is most of the tools are workable exactly where they are (large workpieces require more shifting). Also, I’m able to use just about all of my tools even with both cars parked in the garage (we live in the city and don’t like parking outside or on the street).

I know the topics of small shops and setting up shop in a non-ideal space come up fairly often. So I decided to post a little bit about the various decisions I made and what I learned along the way. I’ve also posted a diagram of my shop.

The most helpful thing in all of this was a to-scale drawing of my shop space in Powerpoint. I know a lot of folks like to use Sketchup for this, but I actually found doing it in Powerpoint a little easier and faster. I can’t tell you how many times the layout changed as I shifted tools around to determine space constraints and workflow. If I showed you my first layout, you’d laugh – the bandsaw, jointer, miter saw station, and drill press were all grouped together in a weird way that made getting to any of them a feat, let alone even working on one! As I planned a new tool purchase, I was able to move things around and see where it might best fit.

Making sure all of my tools are on mobile bases and that all stands and cabinets have casters was really key in this process. I know this is oft-stated advice but it’s really important. I bet I have quite a bit invested in mobility – actually when I add up the cost of all mobile bases and casters, it’s probably several hundred dollars, maybe even $500. It’s one of those hidden costs that some of us small-shop folks forget to factor in when we’re budgeting for tools.

I tried to make sure that the infeed and outfeed side of each tool were as free as possible – this is what allows me to use each tool without having to move it. The exception to this is longer workpieces. The bandsaw, router table, drum sander, and planer are all able to be used where they are, even when both cars are parked in the garage. The hollow chisel mortiser needs to be wheeled forward a few feet for longer workpieces.

Given the awkwardness of my space, wheeling around the 2HP HF dust collector wasn’t going to be an option. So it just sits in the corner, waiting to be permanently plumbed. The permanent ductwork is something I haven’t gotten around to, so instead I’ve been using my Fein vac and connecting it to each tool. Since the vac is small and maneuverable (with its 6 wheels), it can get around the shop easily. And it actually does a decent job of collecting from just about every tool. I have a Jet air filter hanging above the workbench which is a really nice to pick up any fine stuff my shopvac doesn’t pull.

The other major restriction on my shop in addition to the weird space is noise – our home is attached on both sides to the neighbors’ houses. So the side walls – yeah those are common walls with my neighbors’ garages. And yes, their living rooms are above and to the side – basically my jointer is literally 5-6 feet from their living room baseboard (same for the drum sander on the other side). What this means is that I tried to position noisier tools towards the garage door (front). This is why the dust collector, router table, planer, are all that way, and the drill press, bandsaw, and jointer are where they are. I was very deliberate about this, even using an iPhone SPL app to gauge the relative noise levels of my tools. It’s also why I ended up with a Fein vac after having a Ridgid and a Shopvac – those things make a racket but the Fein is half as loud as my wife’s hair dryer.

I’m a scrap hoarder, which isn’t helpful for a small shop. I actually have several spaces for lumber storage. There are two horizontal lumber racks – one above the washer/dryer, and one on the wall above the router and assembly tables. For longer boards, they are stacked vertically against the wall. Long offcuts are stored in between studs (thank you exposed framing). And short offcuts are stored in the shelving unit by the furnace. Sheet goods are leaned against the wall by the front of car#1. Since the car comes in at an angle, there’s hardly a few feet of space at the front. I thought about making various sheet good storage systems, but at the end of the day, it seemed like they would just take up valuable space without adding much function.

I had a miter saw, and one of my first projects was building a station for it – you know, with the fold-out wings. Except I use my miter saw…never. So one of the difficult decisions was to retire the saw. It sits on a shelf awaiting the day when I need to cut molding and baseboards. I took the wings off of it and the cabinet is now my sharpening station, tucked nicely into the corner by the bandsaw. Since it’s much lower in height compared to the saw, it doesn’t interfere with bandsaw operations.

This was another huge, huge space saver. The planer and Ridgid sander occupy the same footprint thanks to this handy idea that is now becoming common in many shops.

Only having one workbench/assembly/outfeed table was becoming a problem, especially when I had multiple projects going and wanted a place to either put the parts or do the finishing. So I knew I needed a second assembly surface but how the heck was I going to fit it in? I modified the plans from Wood magazine (I think Oct. 2011) to make a folding assembly table with 4’x4’ torsion box top. When I don’t need it, it only takes up about 20” in width. The air hose from my compressor, which sits on the stand under the Jet drum sander, reaches the table. I’m actually still putting the finishing touches (trim, kraft paper roll) on this thing, but it has come together nicely.

So there you have it – a constant work-in-progress that makes me long for the day we buy a house with some land I can build a detached shop on (haha, I can dream!). Any suggestions on how I could better use the space are welcome!!

-- Optimists are usually disappointed. Pessimists are either right or pleasantly surprised. I tend to be a disappointed pessimist.

1 comment so far

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4380 posts in 3834 days

#1 posted 11-04-2011 01:10 PM

I really like how you’ve worked with this very strange space. Without any tools, it’s an awkward space, but you’ve managed to utilize the space very effectively. I’m in a one-car garage (though no cars park in it) and space is a difficult issue. I’ve been meaning to make a floorplan/diagram like the one you have to see if I can’t make better sense of the space.

-- "hold fast to that which is good"

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