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I get my house back and gain a new building!
January 1, 2009 10:17 AM   Subscribe

Woodworkers I need you! A dream fulfilled: We are being given a new workshop! I need help ensuring we plan correctly.

I asked a similar question almost a year ago, but finances have not allowed us to actually build our workshop. However my bf's grandmother (98) is unfortunately going to pass very soon. His father has volunteered to finance and help construct an outbuilding for us.

I can not express how much this will affect my life. I will have my own office back, I will have my dining room table back, there will not be sawdust on everything and most importantly it will probably save our relationship!

We would like to build the building to be around 20 x 20 or larger, but the plan we are working on right now is16 x 24 and because of tree ordinances we might have to go even more narrow and a little longer. I need advice on how to set up a narrow shop, what innovations or shop built contraptions storage you love, what advice you might have about installing plumbing even though we don't plan to actually connect it, lighting issues, heating issues, access issues, etc. I don't even know what all to plan for, but it would suck to finally get our thing built and then realize later we could have done a much better job of laying out the space. Any good advice on how to deal with the permit department and hand drawing plans would be awesome. I can do measured drawings by hand somewhat, but am not comfortable using the computer to do it yet, but if anyone highly recommends Sketchup I might be conviced to learn it.

Oh, btw it will be wood,shingled, with a concrete slab. It will need to house lots of lumber, table saw, drill press, scroll saw, a couple of lathes, grinders, air compressors, dust collectors, and lots and lots of handtools like planes, chisels, and probably lots of other random tools and finishing things.

So shoppies, what kind of windows do you like? What kind of door makes you smile? Where do you store and dry your lumber that makes your grin? Let us I am so happy I think I am going to sing my Scooba song and get to work!
posted by stormygrey to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Not a woodworker myself, but you need a whiteboard in the shop. You really do.
posted by Harald74 at 10:28 AM on January 1, 2009

Ooh. Exciting!

Check back issues of Fine Homebuilding (and similar publications) in your library -- every few years they do a "design your dream shop" article that runs through a lot of planning tips (allowing clearance for feeding 8' boards through various stationary tools, ideas on how to store wood efficiently, etc)

As far as building permit and plans, it varies widely with your jurisdiction. It will be worth a phone call or visit to your permit department -- they may have handouts for homeowners -- checklists for what information you need to show on your drawings. As far as drawings, you can probably get by with some graph paper for your permit drawings -- they require less information than you will need to build the thing. They will want it to be to scale, but it doesn't need to be a thing of beauty

Sketchup will be more useful if you are curious about how the shop building looks from the street, whether it looks too bulky/wide/whatever relative to your main house -- stuff that need to see in 3D. But it sounds like the shop itself is pretty simple, so learning sketchup just to create permit drawings may not be worth it
posted by misterbrandt at 10:50 AM on January 1, 2009

You can adjust layouts and tool placement at any time, as long as you don't screw up the most important element during the construction: wiring.

You want multiple circuits, at least 20 amps each. You want at least one 220v, 3-phase circuit. Put outlets at waist level, at least every 48 inches. Put outlets in the floor if possible, and in the cieling down the center of the room to accomodate rolling/portable tools.

And lighting…ah, lighting. When I designed my shop I told the electrician I wanted to stand in the door to the shop, flip one switch, and go blind. I've never been sorry. And those outlets in the ceiling? They'll accomodate hanging fluorescent work lights for all those places you'll find you need them.

One last thought: double doors. They make getting materials in, and finished projects out, so much easier.
posted by dinger at 10:57 AM on January 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Layout is key. A floor plan will go a long way.

I would start by measuring all your equipment. You're going to want overall length and width dimensions.

Since you're not comfortable using cad software grab a few sheets of paper, a ruler, pencils and a pair of scissors.

Formulate a scale (ie. 1 foot in world is 1 inch on paper). Go ahead and sketch walls to scale. On another piece of paper, in an arbitrary location, draw a box that's to scale for a piece of equipment. Let all your equipment be represented by boxes. Now cut out all these boxes, and go nuts with your floor plan. Once you have a clear idea of where the larger equipment is going to go, feel free to glue them down, or draw them in place.

Finally, once you do start working in the shop, don't forget to practice 5S.
posted by FusiveResonance at 11:07 AM on January 1, 2009

If permitting (and budget) will allow, put in both a man-door and a roll-up garage door so you can back a truck up to the building (or even into it) and move big stuff (machinery, furniture, prefabbed sections) in and out easily.

Add the capacity for overhead lifting -- some sort of beam or channel track and a chain hoist. Ideally, this would run out the door a few feet, so you could lift something off the bed of a truck, bring it in, and set it down in place.

Consider a closet or an outside enclosure for the air compressor (because they are loud) and pipe air lines and quick fittings around the space, either along the walls or dropped down from the ceiling.

If allowed, a floor drain makes clean-up a lot easier. Otherwise, just slope the floor out the big door.
posted by Forktine at 11:10 AM on January 1, 2009

This would be easier if we had a clearer idea about the sorts of work you intend to do, the machinery you expect to have. Keep in mind that drying wood to a moisture content useful for interior woodwork generally requires some heat. If you design your building with a gable roof and an attic, summer sun will heat the attic enough to make it function as a kiln.

I'm not familiar with the climate where you are, but you should set up the heating system so that you can easily keep the shop temperature at least 15 degrees above the morning low outside temperature at all times; this keeps the relative humidity low enough that your stored wood won't pick up moisture from the air. Also, many glues and finishes don't work well (or at all) below the mid-fifties. Letting the shop get cold and then heating it up just before starting work doesn't work well because the materials take much longer to heat up than the air does.
posted by jon1270 at 12:09 PM on January 1, 2009

The tools listed are all the biggies I can think of, but we do everything from arty turned bowls, to big furniture like tables or chest of drawers, and anything in between. We usually use exotic lumber not big box stuff for big pieces, so we have a ton of lumber hanging out, but we also have a lot of green blanks from native trees that we get from tree services.

We live in Atlanta, its pretty warm most of the time.
posted by stormygrey at 12:12 PM on January 1, 2009

Put fluorescent lights, not just on the joists (horizontal parts of the roof triangle) but up on the rafters (which support the actual roof sheathing) as well. My bro-in-law did that when we ran an auto repair shop out of his garage, and it was great.

What we did: each outlet that serviced the ceiling area was a four-by. One duplex was regular power. The other had a double-switched outlet for a plug-in fluo light and a switch. Besides the lower (joist) light switch, there was a rafter light switch, which spread out to the switch at each flourescent. That way, we could configure the fluos in the way that suited each project (pulled a lot of motors, sometimes with the car backed in, sometimes face in), and then turn that whole bank of lights off from the entry, as well.
posted by notsnot at 12:23 PM on January 1, 2009

Fine Woodworking did a "tools and shops" special issue a couple of years ago that had a lot of step by step info on doing exactly this. It included everything including but not limited to wiring diagrams and figuring out how to set the roof pitch so you get direct sunlight in the winter and indirect sunlight in the summer. If you go to their website you can probably search through the catalog and find the issue I'm thinking of.

The nicest piece of advice is to create a mockup on paper (or in 3d using SketchUp) so you can visualize how all the tools are going to fit in there. It's nice to visualize your workflow (say, jointer -> planer -> chopsaw -> tablesaw), figure out where dust collection is going to happen, and so on.

I also remember seeing a workshop that included a small bathroom/office space in the back. Definitely a nice idea if you plan on spending some serious time in the shop each day!
posted by drmarcj at 1:31 PM on January 1, 2009

Oh, and if your garage will be out back of the house, and you have an alley with the sanitary sewer in it, might be a good time to dig down and replace the lateral and tie in a few floor drains. While you're at it, put in two sinks (at opposite ends) and a toilet. One sink = slop sink; one by the toilet for *cough* before and after use.
posted by notsnot at 2:50 PM on January 1, 2009

Lots and lots of power. If you can afford it, run power everywhere you can think of, so you're not stuck with your original floor plan (or if you decide to upgrade from a single phase to a 3-phase bandsaw, or whatever). I'm a big fan of ceiling drops, and the basic setup (box in ceiling, heavy cord, strain relief) isn't too expensive. Retractable drops are a lot more expensive and also have a way of catching on fire if you use them coiled, so I like simple drops more.

I'm assuming from the list of tools that you've got 3 phase stuff already, though that can be hard to come by in residential neighborhoods. If you don't want to run spare wire, at least run a ton of conduit around the place. If you've got 3-phase, run 5 wires: 3 phases + neutral + ground, so you can mix & match to get whatever you need at the outlet (eg, it can be set up at the breaker as normal four-wire 3 phase, or single phase 110, or single phase 220). It's a million times easier to run 5 wires at the start than to try to come back in a few years and stuff a neutral wire into the conduit to convert an outlet from three to single phase.
posted by range at 4:27 PM on January 1, 2009

We built a shop that was the equivalent of a car-and-a-half garage. There is one garage style door (cheap, easy to maintain) and two windows for some natural light. We'd intended to build it two car with both garage doors framed but only one installed - didn't happen due to cost of the foundation. Things we insisted on: After the space was finished, we put a professional grade concrete paint on the floor. It makes it much easier to work with the surface. It's a hassle because of dealing with HCl to strip off mineral deposits in the cured concrete, but it worked out for the best, I think.

I'd like to have a dust collection system, but I usually work with the door open and sweep dust right out the door. I keep separate trash bins for non-toxic sawdust and all else. Non toxic sawdust gets used as mulch around trees. Sawdust and waste from painted wood or plywood or PT lumber goes in the trash.

We eventually put up some dry wall and insulation, but haven't finished it completely yet (yay, kids!). I'd like to remove the large folding table and replace it with surplus counters and cabinets for task work.

It's important that the shop can accommodate the largest stock you intent to work with, otherwise you have to pull machinery outside or reconfigure. We designed the space to be large enough to cut a full sheet of plywood in any orientation on the table saw. There's a jointer along the back wall, but I have to move it for anything longer than 6'. I used to have two routers (I need to fix one (yay, kids!)), one for hand work and one in a router table. I build the router table from a counter top snagged from a Dunkin' Donuts that was remodeling. They looked at me funny when I asked if I could just grab one of the old counter sections, but free is free, and nicely laminated counter top makes a good router table surface.

First jig I build is a table saw cut off sled. Mine is simpler - I cut some maple to slide tightly but easily in the slot on my saw then screwed it to a half sheet of plywood so that it would overlap the blade by a bit. Then I ran the jig through with the saw running so that the maple jig had perfect alignment by default. Then I clamped a framing square onto the cut edge and screwed a stop onto the the trailing edge of the plywood so it was reasonably square to the blade. E-Z.

I built large shelving on one side using 3/4" plywood. I think I used the full 4 foot width, but I can't remember. There are two shelves, one at three feet and one at six feet. I like this because the lawn mower, snow tires, and shop vac roll under the lower shelf. I use the upper shelf at one end to hold bar clamps and C-Clamps. Adjacent to it at the back is the drill press on a table that raises the press so the chuck is chin height. The table under it was made from scrap ply and I store hand tools in it (biscuit cutter, sabre saw, etc). On the side, I pounded an 8 penny nail in at an angle to hold saw blades. On the front edge, I keep all my squeeze clamps. I want storage for drill bits at eye level - like a shelf or cabinet behind the press.
posted by plinth at 4:51 PM on January 1, 2009

I was in almost exactly the same situation last winter. During planning I was further hampered by local regulation limiting accessory building size (both foot print and height) and the fact that I was personally building the shop without contracting out anything.

Some thoughts first (and all of this IMO, shop theory varies alot I've found): Here is what I ended up doing: I found the local building depatment very easy to work with. The inspectors were understanding of the DIY nature of my build. The paper work they required was quite a bit less than what was actually required to build the building as they were mostly concerned with setbacks and compliance with bylaw restrictions rather than building code compliance. Definitely visit the local inspection office early, mine had a package geared towards DIYers outlining what was required and when including sample drawings and fill in the blank worksheets. Ask questions about anything you're unsure of as it's way cheaper to change things at the planning stage than after they already been done wrong.

dinger writes "You want multiple circuits, at least 20 amps each. You want at least one 220v, 3-phase circuit. Put outlets at waist level, at least every 48 inches. Put outlets in the floor if possible, and in the ceiling down the centre of the room to accomodate rolling/portable tools."

In a residential area it's going to be difficult if not impossible to get three phase power, nice as it would be. Floor outlets are very expensive and a pain in the butt in slab on grade construction; I'd avoid them personally.

Finally a word of wisdom. You may hear contractors commenting/whining/refusing to do things that exceed code. Often with a variant of "building to code doesn't require that" Just keep in mind that a building built strictly to code is the worst building the law will allow you to build. Don't be swayed by this argument to skip an upgrade just because code doesn't require it.
posted by Mitheral at 6:53 PM on January 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

Make your slab have a rim coming up at least a few inches. This keeps the bottom of the building from rotting as easily and makes it harder for rodents to get in, at least a little bit.
posted by d4nj450n at 8:54 AM on January 2, 2009

I'd second the Fine Woodworking Tool and Shop special. I'm not sure if it's a yearly thing but it's seperate from the magazine and they've been excellent.

Good luck!
posted by sully75 at 3:58 PM on January 2, 2009

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