My Benchtop Shop | Popular Woodworking Magazine

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My shop is located in a single car garage compartment that occupies approximately 10 feet x 20 feet (~ 3 mx 6 m). I designed my layout to be easy to move around, avoiding many of the limitations that often come with working in a small space.

I grew up working with wood and being an apprentice under my father. He was a workshop teacher for 33 years and a carpenter all his life. Some of our best memories were in the shop and in the yard. I am a lifelong student of the trade and love learning from others. I am a mechanical engineer by training, but a leader by trade. I have moved about six times in the past ten years for my work in the military. Along the way, I renovated several houses and built furniture for family, friends and clients. Making has always been my creative outlet and maintaining some form of workshop is important to me.

It is not easy to maintain a store that is fully capable and moves easily. I designed my layout to suit most of my needs and still fit into a single car garage compartment. I am absolutely obsessed with workflow, engineering design and process optimization. In 2012, while stationed in Alaska, I decided to design the most space-efficient garage store I could come up with. I spent several years planning and designing the layout of my current store on the last pages of my army notebooks. At the time we only had one car garage which forced me to push all my tools to the side and back to park in the garage.

When I decided to perfect my shop, I considered the following priorities. In the end, I decided to bring all my main instruments into one bank. My original intent was NOT to build an all-in-one type bench; in fact, I thought those types of layouts were short-sighted and imperfect. The first versions I saw on Pinterest etc. They always seemed to have interference that fundamentally limited the capabilities of one or more machines. Some designs had “smart” storage mechanisms, but I saw it impractical for quick transitions between machines … or just as time-consuming as rolling a cart off a wall.

Original design goals for the layout:
1. Occupying a single garage compartment for cars. I wanted to be able to park an attic vehicle in a two-car garage.
2. Minimize setup time. I wanted most of my tools and machines to be organized and ready to use. I needed to make the most of the free time I had working rather than tidying up and cleaning.
3. No artificial limitations. I didn’t want to have interference between any of the standard operations machines. I thought that working on each machine should feel like a dedicated workstation and also allow for the full potential use of each machine.
4. Mover friendly. I move … a lot. My shop has to break down for the move.
5. Integrated feeding and dust collection. All of my machines are plugged in and wired to my existing desk. I didn’t necessarily want everything mounted on a bench, but the transition of electrical and dust collection had to happen seamlessly.
6. Modular. Life happens, things change, machines break down or improve. I need my shop to fit. After deciding on a single cart, I felt that keeping the cart open and accessible preserved maximum flexibility.

As I pondered my goals of maintaining a functional store with shared power and dust collection, I couldn’t help but think there might be a provision for a mobile counter that could work. I wanted to house my full range of counter top machines without annoying interference or limitations. I realized there were also benefits to sharing the outfeed and space.

In early 2013, I started designing different layout versions and comparing the benefits and trade-offs of each. I quickly determined that keeping the primary runs of each machine in parallel was critical. Locating the machines on the perimeter of an eight foot table allowed me to maximize the capacity of each while minimizing interference. The shared central space allowed a long exit for each machine in the same shared footprint. Likewise, dust collection and power supply could be centralized and remain connected, similar to a full-size shop.

My next task was to determine the optimal position for each machine. I started drawing literally every possible layout I could come up with to integrate a table saw, jointer, planer, pillar drill, router, bandsaw, and miter saw with feeding and dust collection. I’ve tried to look at the full range of cuts for each machine and allow full-sized materials through each. I also scheduled the cart to break when moving. Over time, I also realized that many of the principles I had worked with were scalable to larger stores. They are also commonly seen in production workflows.

Large output space for the table saw.

Below is a list of key ways to maximize usable store space. I think these can be applied to most stores, regardless of the size of the store and the type of work. These concepts were fundamental to my project and I think that each of them is fundamental to preserve the usable workspace. I have observed them in use from workshops to commercial production lines:
1. Keep long axes of machine strokes and workflows parallel. Consider interference between machines.
2. Align the “dead space” or unusable parts of adjacent machines to each other.
3. Think “3-D”. Make sure you maximize the cubic space you have. Store or mount items under and above desks or work areas or high along walls.
4. Mobility is key. The more things are on wheels or mobile, the more flexible your workspace can be to accommodate specific project needs.
5. Plan space for mounting and storage of tools. Keep assembly areas and tables in the center of the workspace to allow parts to switch between operations efficiently.

In 2015, I was encouraged to share some of my experiences and passions for teaching, woodworking and doing it with a “small” footprint. It was then that I launched my business (aka advertised my hobby), Benchtop Woodworks via YouTube and my website. The “business” is all about designing solutions and plans to help other carpenters make the most of their space. I have developed a simple and freely available shop layout guide to help you create a digital diagram of your space or rearrange it virtually with scale models. I also write and produce educational materials to teach the fundamentals of in-store safety on my woodworking resource page. Selling some of my projects helps me keep my website running and justify the time I spend editing.

Thank you for taking the time to visit my shop. I hope you’ve gathered some tips to help you maximize your store space! I am extremely passionate about helping other carpenters as well as I can.

All of my links to my free guide to shop layout, videos and other resources can be found here.


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