I knew from the start that my shop had to have certain capabilities so that I could make the things I wanted. If you can answer these questions you have the basic strategic direction you need to move forward in designing your dream shop. The planes you use are shaped the way they are because someone asked what they want the tool to do, how people are going to use it, and how will they be able to maintain it.  If you think to yourself how you are going to use your shop in the next few weeks and how you imagine it’ll serve you in 5 years, you can design a shop with the layout, comfort features, and infrastructure that will do all those things in a convenient way. In this article, I’ll walk you through my thought process of how I arrived at my current layout. To do those things you’ll need certain tools, but maybe you don’t need a $4000 cabinet saw at the moment.  I only buy tools as I need them, but I reserve space in the shop design for the tools I know I will need as my work evolves. First you’ll want to let your mind wander for a bit to help you design your shop around your current needs and for the near future.  This will generate a list of requirements for you, and from there all you need to do is organize that list (mindmap and outline it) and just start designing by sketching.
I started with the shop layout, because one of my main issues was lack of good workflow in the past, which slowed me down and made for a tired afternoon in the shop.  I remember building  several picnic-table style benches out of redwood in my apartment, and it was a real pain, and it took four times as much time and effort as it would now with my current shop. I started with my first shop in my apartment bedroom, then moved to a one-car garage, and on to a 3-car garage.  Before I bought the house with the 3-car garage, I drew up a design assuming I would have a 2-car garage, which you can see below. See the posts Revolutionize Your Woodworking Enjoyment Part I, Part II, and Part III for a more detailed walk-through of each type of woodworking operation and the tools used for each. After cutting things to rough size, I take that stock and mill 4 sides square (S4S) or further dimension the plywood panels.  This involves my table saw, jointer, the planer, and sometimes my drum sander. After that, I start paying attention to the joinery and the final shape of each piece.  I’ll use the bandsaw, router table, bench tools, the oscillating spindle sander, mortiser, drill press, and the table saw. Once assembled, I often set it aside to dry and work on something else.  This is how I came up with the idea of leaving an open “blank” area in the shop for staging glue-ups and miscellaneous finished projects out of the way.
After I pull apart the clamps, there is always some final sanding and touch-ups to do before finishing.  Then I start the multiple-coat and sand-between-coats dance. After milling the parts, I spend most of my time at the workbench measuring and marking each piece, and tweaking joinery with hand tools. It’s important to have good workflow, but there are some other things to think about before you start placing outlets and dust collection ducts.


I found it frustrating to not have any place to plop glue-ups or partially finished projects besides on my table saw or workbench.  So now I made sure I set aside tow “open areas” in the shop (denoted by the circle on the plan you see in this article) that is out of the workflow. Don’t forget that the primary purpose of your shop is to make stuff, either for clients, yourself, or your friends, and even with your friends.
I want to make sure that I keep unnecessary things out of the shop, especially if I don’t need those things very often.  The bulk of my lumber will be stored in an outbuilding, the garden tools will go in a separate shed, and finishing (especially spray finishing) will be done in a separate small outbuilding.
I left room for future tools that I know I will eventually need, such as a 20” bandsaw, panel saw, and scroll saw.
I think you’ll have a lot of fun trying different layouts, and imagining yourself in the future doing a more advanced version of what you’re doing now.  If you have a shop that naturally fits an advanced level of woodworking, that’s what you’ll tend to do.
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How I went from a cluttered and disorganized shop to a super-productive layout with a convenient dust collection and electrical set-up.
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