This is a section from A Beginners Guide to Woodworking: Helping New Woodworkers Make Better Projects, which is available on Amazon. Over the next couple months, you will be able to read the entire book, and I hope that you like it enough to get tour own copy. Enjoy.
If you have a really small space, then the bright side is that you can get away with fewer lights, and easier placements. If you have a bigger shop, that is more spread out, you may need more lights, and the placement is going to be more important too.
In the small shop, something about the size of half a two-car garage, you can get away with a few inexpensive LED lights and by just mounting them evenly over the top of the space.
This makes a blanket lighting effect, where you are intentionally lighting the entire space, rather than individual tools. If you are going for bigger lights, then you may want to start out with only two of them and see if that does it for your area.
You can always buy more, and move them around.
The only downfall of lighting above the work is that you can create shadows as you get in between the light and the surface that you are working on. This is where having lighting that is spread out a bit can help.
If all of the lights are condensed in the center of the room, you are going to be able to get in the way of all the beams when you are working on a bench or a tool. However, if you space the lights out, you are not going to be able to block them all, so some of the light will reach the surface unobstructed.
Another way to work in the small shop is to use portable lights for finer work, as the larger permanent lights provide the bulk. Find a shop light that you can move around and point. One that clamps to the bench is great too, because you don’t have to worry about balancing it.
This can be the answer to your smaller lighting needs, or when you need a really strong light in a smaller space. An inlay artist would use lights like this so they could see the tiny pieces they work with.
If you have a more spaced out shop, or you have a couple primary tools that you like to use, then spacing out the lights to certain areas is an option. This method will leave slightly dimmer areas in between the lights, but the areas that are commonly used will be well lit.
For example, if you are a lathe worker, and you have your lathe behind the bench. You can hang a light over the lathe, and then one more over the bench. The extra light is appreciated over the top of the lathe, and the bench light makes assembly easy to see.
You may not get nearly as much light between those two areas, but you are most likely only walking in between the tool and the bench anyway. It will still be well lit, just not as bright as the tool or the bench themselves.
You can do the same thing for a tool that is farther away, like a sander or a sand blasting cabinet that tends to get dust and media all over them place. If you want to keep them away from the rest of the shop, but still feel well lit and safe using the tools, simply hang a light over them.
It will be darker in between, but again that’s not where the work is performed.
It’s also ok to play around with the placement of your lighting. If you want to change it over time, then absolutely change it. You can add more lights, move existing lights, combine light types, or even open a curtain and let in some daylight if that’s an option.
As long as you can see what you are doing, and the area doesn’t have a dreary feeling, than you are doing the right thing.
If you spend some time getting your lighting set up well, you will have a far more enjoyable time in the shop. You will work better, get better results, and make fewer mistakes because you can see things clearly.
You will also find that your shop is far more inviting, and that you desire to work in the shop more often. These are all great for a beginning woodworker, because more shop time means faster learning and progressing.
Laying Out Your Tools
There are a number of great resources online that can help you lay out your shop.
The directions are similar, and they cover the basic tools that most woodworkers have, as well as some extras. If you are looking for a very specific plan, then you can find it online or in a book on laying out the shop.
These are some basics that you can follow if you just want to get up and going right away, but first a precaution about setting up the shop.
There are some woodworkers that really get into setting up their shops. They do so much setup that they hardly ever do any woodworking. I remember talking to a guy in a woodworking store, who just bought about $10,000 worth of tools.
I asked him what he was making, and he said he was getting his shop set up. A year later, I spoke to him at the same tool show, where he was buying another $10,000 worth of tools.
I asked the same question, and he replied again that he was still setting up his shop. He literally made nothing in the entire year, even though he was more equipped than most professionals.
Some people are woodworkers, and some are tool collectors. If you are into tool collecting, the tool companies will love you. Just remember that you got into woodworking to build things, and though your shop setup is important, it’s not the most important.
Making things and learning about woodworking is the most important, even if you have to relax on setup in order to do that.
Now that the dangers of setting up the shop are out of the way, lets get into a few basics. These big ideas will help you make good decisions about where to place things, and it will keep you from having to rearrange the shop over and over every time you need to use a different tool.
Shop tool placement comes down to what you use and what you make over anything else. If you are making lathe turned pens, and only lathe turned pens, then it really matters little where you place your table saw.
In a cabinet shop however, the table saw is going to be the centerpiece, and just about everything else will be details. Consider the tools that you use the most frequently, and put those on the top of the list for needing good placement.
Next, look at the area that each tool needs to perform the work. A full size table saw is designed to handle full sheets of plywood, which measure four by eight feet. This is about the upper size limit that you will need to consider when placing the table saw.
If you use large sheets, you are going to need to get them to the saw, get them on the saw, and have enough outfeed to catch the pieces that come off the saw after the cut is made. All of these considerations will help you place the table saw in an area that makes the most sense.
For the miter saw, the wall is a great place, because you are going to be cutting things that are long, but not wide in the saw. Placing the saw in the middle of a wall, with maybe eight to ten feet on each side is plenty of room for most projects.
You will have enough room to get a long board into the saw to trim the end square, and enough to send it all the way through to square the other end. If you can do that, then you will have more than enough room to handle any cuts from the center of the board.
A band saw is another example of a common shop tool that can benefit from the right placement. If you put the band saw against a wall, it restricts the area that you need to move around your work as you are cutting.
A band saw can need some space for swinging around pieces, and enough behind the blade so that you don’t hit anything with the exiting wood. It’s a bummer to try and cut something only to get stuck because you do not have enough room around the tool.
Also, think about where you are going to stand and operate the tool. You are going to need room to move around, room to get stock into the tool, and room to safely withdraw if something goes wrong.
Be sure to give yourself enough space so that you can safely operate the tool, and so you are comfortable too. If you are the type of person that feels confined easily, then you may need more room than others. That’s ok, just design it into your plan.
Next, you need to think about power. For most tools, a standard voltage outlet can be ran about anywhere, and extension cords can make up the difference. However, if you have a tool that requires special power or a special outlet, you may be more restricted.
If at all possible, hire someone to move the outlet if it’s not in a good or safe place. You are going to be spending a lot of time in the shop, and it will become exhausting if you are hitting a wall with the outfeed on your table saw.
It will also become dangerous, because over time people tend to take chances and do things that they know are unsafe to work around their layout. Don’t put yourself in that situation.
Look into moving the outlet, or rearranging the design of the space to suit the power for the one tool in question.
Once you have the big tools placed, find a home for your bench. If your bench is going to be an assembly area, then you can find a spot that does not interfere with the rest of the tools, and place your bench there.
If you are going to be doing a lot of work back and forth between tools and the bench, then you may want it closer. Either way, plan the bench just like you plan any other tool.
For smaller tools, and tools that are not used nearly as much, you can find out of the way places for them, or simply store them until you need to pull them out for their occasional use.
For example, a thickness planer is a great tool, but for making guitars it’s only used a few times and then not again for the rest of the build. There is no reason to give this tool a permanent spot in the shop, because it will lay dormant for the vast majority of the build.
In a case like this, you can store the tool under a bench until it’s needed. At that point, it can come out on the top of the clean bench, and be used without much time or effort in the setup and take down.
After use, the tool goes back into pseudo-storage and is well out of the way while you complete the build. Lots of woodworkers treat their router table, spindle sander, and small belt sander just like the thickness planer, and only bring them out when they are needed.
For the really small corded tools, these can be stored under benches and away from sight until they are needed for use.
If they are used all the time, they may take a more prominent location on the bench or in another area, but for the most part they will be stored away in their boxes or in a themed drawer with the rest of the pieces that go with the tool.
Most beginners will not have much in the line of dust collection, as this eventually becomes a purchase that is made later in the process. Even if you are thinking about dust collection, it’s worth at least looking at the placements of the tools for future plumbing.
You will need to run pipe to each tool, and then back to the collector. If you have a lot of tools in the middle of the shop, that can mean a lot of pipe running across the ceiling.
If you are building the dust collection system in the garage, make sure to account for the overhead door. It can be easy to forget how much space the overhead door can take up, and accidentally place pipes in an area that the door will hit.
Planning the layout of the shop can also happen more organically. It’s rare that someone walks into woodworking as a beginner and has a shop full of tools. If you are more like the average woodworker, you may only have a small tool box and a couple tools.
In a case like this, you will have a much easier time getting set up. You may only really need to account for the placement of the bench, and one or more power tools. Everything else will come with time, but in the beginning your shop will have a lot of looks as you make changes when you buy new tools.
Setting up once you have everything already can be easier depending on how you look at the task, but it can also be more difficult because you have more decisions to make.
A beginner with only a small selection of tools may not even worry about anything but good lighting in the beginning, because all of their tools fit in a box.
Wherever you fall when it comes to the amount of tools you have, put at least a pinch of effort into where they will live. It does not have to be anything more than a quick placement and plugging everything in.
Check for good lighting, and make sure that all of your tools can be used the way you will use them without hitting anything or being unsafe. Do some dry runs with pieces of wood to be sure that you are going to have a successful time when you finally start making sawdust.
Once you have it all in place, you can rearrange it as many times as you like. I would resist the urge to play around with the shop too much though. After all, you became a woodworker to build things, and to make people happy with the things you build.
Rearranging the shop may make you happy, but you are not going to have as many opportunities to share your woodworking with others, or share the happiness.
Placing Tools at Comfortable Heights
One of the best things you can do for yourself is look at the recommendations from users and the tool manual itself on the height that the tool should be placed while in operation.
Sometimes, you can have a tool that is much more comfortable to use in a higher or lower position, and it’s a simple matter of moving where the tool is used, or altering the base to the correct height.
The correct height can vary from person to person, because it will be based on your height, and based on what you feel to be comfortable. Also, if you are using primarily bench top tools, your bench is going to have a major effect on the tool height.
Bench top table saws in particular are interesting, because on a high bench, it can put the table top sometimes near the upper chest or throat.
This is dangerous, and can result in a piece of wood being thrown back at your face. As a man if you go too low, I can think of another sensitive area that would not take a hit very well either.
Placing a tool like this comes down to safety, and comfort. Look at the recommendations from the manufacturer, and use the tool in the recommended safe range. Anything too high or too low can cause problems, and that will put you at a greater risk for injury.
Another tool that can benefit from some ergonomics is the lathe. A bench top lathe can be placed too low, and you will end up bending over at the back the entire time you are turning.
This will create pain and fatigue, and can lead to injury, or not wanting to work on the lathe long enough to become proficient. Both are bad outcomes, but both can be prevented by placing the lathe at a comfortable height, where you can work safely and without additional strain on your body.
Most bench top tools are designed with the average bench in mind, so you will typically have a good experience as long as you follow the recommendations that come with the tool.
If you find that you are having a hard time using a tool, or that the use makes your body feel tired or unsafe, stop using the tool and look for a better way.
Sometimes, the height of the tool will be the issue, and you can fix it by lowering or raising the tool to a height that is more comfortable. As you use your tools, you will quickly learn what you like and what you don’t, and you can adjust the heights to be more comfortable.
If you look online, you can typically find some good recommendations for what most users are comfortable with on specific tools. Using this information, try out the tool at the recommended height.
Also, you may even find information on what moving the tool up or down will do for your body.
Over time, you will develop a system that works for the tools that you have, and you will have them placed at the right heights to be safe. Don’t worry too much about it in the beginning, just know that you should never feel unsafe or fatigued while operating a tool correctly.
Part 23 – Wrap Up
I hope you liked Part 23 of A Beginners Guide to Woodworking: Helping New Woodworkers Make Better Projects. As you can see, this is a different kind of beginner woodworking book, and I encourage you to get a copy for yourself so you have it all in one place.
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