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Setting Up a Small Woodworking Shop in a Garage

It’s pretty exciting to set up a woodworking shop right in your garage. You have to prep the space, make sure everything is safe, and you need your woodworking tools as well. You may have a long to-do list on this one, so it can be frustrating if you don’t know where to start.

So, we’ve created this guide to get your new woodworking shop all set up – the easy way, of course.

General Wood Shop Layout

Whether you’re setting up your small woodwork shop in your garage or in a rental space, there are a few key tips you need to remember in terms of layout. Here’s our advice to help you get started.

Don't Disrupt the Flow

The idea here is to create a smooth flow inside your woodshop. From the first cut you make all the way to finishing, you want to have a well-organized process.

Think of it like this: the journey of the wood from shaping to polishing should be a smooth path. As such, you don’t want to place the first tool you need at the center of your workshop and the last tool right at the door. You should create a flow where you can move from one machine to another without hassle.

Another thing you should think about is the space you have. You need to store a variety of tools and wood pieces in your shop. Also take into account the finished products, whether they’re small projects or large furniture pieces.

With respect to the flow you intend to create, consider where you’ll be putting all your woodworking paraphernalia.

a white car parked outside a garage

Tool Storage

To create a fully functional woodworking shop, you need different tools such as hand tools and power tools. As mentioned, larger power tools such as big power saws should be placed in the order you need them for a smooth flow. But how about smaller hand tools?

Well, you need a specific area to store them. Ideally, it should be somewhere near your workbench so they’re always within reach. Remember that a workbench isn’t always a bench, though. It can be a small table or whatever you see fit.

Let There Be Light

It’s crucial for woodworking shops to have good lighting. If you’re going to work through the night, a well-illuminated area would prevent you from accidentally making a cut where one isn’t needed. That’s just the perfect way to restart a project – which is something you obviously don’t want.

Make sure there are overhead lights and lamps to provide sufficient lighting as you work. If possible, place your workbench near a window to get natural light during the day. After all, we could all use a nice view when working, so why not make your woodworking shop relaxing?

Wood Storage

We talked about storage for your hand tools and power tools, now we’re going to discuss where to place your wood pieces.

In our experience, the best place to store wood pieces is near the front of the woodshop or near your workbench. This is solely for convenience since you’d want to grab a piece of wood right when you walk in. Another good option is a having a dedicated cabinet for raw pieces of wood, and maybe another one for your unfinished pieces. 

Some pieces of wood can be very heavy as well, so it would be an ordeal to have to drag it around your woodworking shop. However, if you follow our tips for placement of all the tools, you wouldn’t have to lug it too far.

different tools displayed in a garage

Have a Middle Ground

By a middle ground, we actually mean a table or an island in the middle of everything. This is also called an assembly table, and it holds all the parts you need such as pieces of lumber, a saw, a hand tool or two, and some power tools. Your screws and nuts can go on here for easy access as well.

The main purpose of an assembly table is to have your essentials within reach while being close to machinery. Not everything can fit into your work belt, so having a place where you can plunk things down whenever you need to will help.

End at the Window

After our lumber pieces become beautiful furniture, we need to coat it with finishes and paint. That’s why the area where you apply finishes should be located near a window. It helps let all the fumes out so you don’t breathe everything in.

If you have a full-on respirator mask, then that’s good practice to save your lungs from toxic chemicals. However, many of us forgo the masks altogether, and this could cause health issues if you’re always working on a ton of wood projects.

So, to emphasize, finishing jobs must be done near the window for proper ventilation.

Try to Keep Things Moving

Setting up can be tricky and you may never know what works for you until you actually get down to business, so it’s important to be prepared for any adjustments with the placement of your tools.

Thankfully, most large tools today have mobile bases so you can roll and push your machinery around your workspace. This gives you the freedom to move things so you can adjust the machines when necessary.
paint and other stuff stored on shelves

Setting Up Your Garage Workshop

If you’re just starting out, you might want to begin in the comfort of your own home – in your garage. This saves you money on rent and also allows you to customize the space as you see fit.

Spending time alone in your little woodshop and crafting something by hand sounds heavenly. So, to set up your woodworking shop, here’s what you need to do.

The Space

Determine how much space you have to work with. Not all garages are the same size, so they won’t be able to accommodate the same amount of tools. But before you set up shop, clear out the space and give it a good clean. Garages often double as storage spaces, so decluttering would give you an idea just how much space you have.

If you’re still shopping for larger power tools, aim for mobile ones for more flexibility. Don’t go crazy with the big tools though, you might end up having to choose between which ones should stay and which ones should go.

For instance, a larger power tool such as a table saw could take up a lot of space. A workbench is also necessary, but if you don’t have room for an assembly table, it could be easily replaced by an assembly stool.

Aside from floor space, consider storage as well. If you use a lot of hand tools, your tool storage will need to be easily accessible. For our experts, the best place for tool storage would be against the wall. You just need a few hooks, clamps, and shelves to secure these tools. 

Finally, wood storage is something you should keep in mind, too. You need a place to hold all your precious lumber before you make them into furniture. Make sure wood is stored in a dry place and that it’s not lying around.

blue car parked inside a garage

The Equipment

The equipment others would need in a small woodworking shop may not be what you need. Every wood worker is different, so some people might prefer power tools over hand tools. Whatever you choose, just make sure your equipment is of high quality. We’ll talk more about tools later. 

Organization

Making sure everything is neat and tidy is extremely important. It not only makes your small woodworking shop more efficient, it also puts you in a good state of mind. Plus, a well-organized workspace is a safe one.

Other than proper placement of heavy machinery, having a few organizers like a toolbox, workbench, assembly table, and work belt can help you have a neater area. Hangers, hooks, clamps, shelves, pegs, rungs are all great for keeping tools out of your way as well.

Whatever organization technique you have in place, it’s always best to do what works for you. You can always switch it up if you find a better setup.

Power It Up!

You need plenty of power to get your beginner woodshop working and functional. If you’re looking at a traditional hand tool workshop, though, then this may not apply to you.

Make sure you have outlets working at both 110 and 220 volts. Larger equipment will need more voltage while smaller ones will do well with the 110. 

These outlets should be placed in optimal positions for the layout of your garage workshop. It’s nice to be able to plan the outlets around your machines rather than vice versa, but we can’t all have that luxury. 

Remember to not have your outlets too low because it can be annoying if you need to bend down to plug or unplug your device. Extension cords might make your life easier, but they could also pose as a safety hazard. You can easily trip over the long cord and it just adds so much clutter.

It's All About Lighting

We mentioned why lighting is important, but there is more to it than just having one bright lamp in your workshop. You want to place lights, bulbs, and lamps in such a way so there are no shadows cast on your work. 

Generally, what helps is having light from two separate sources. For example, if you have a row of overhead lights, you might cast a shadow on your lumber. Use another lamp to offset the overhead lights and eliminate the shadows.

We find flashlights useful as well, especially if you have one on your helmet. But although LED lights are bright and economical, traditional bulbs have a warm glow that makes your whole workshop seem homier.

a drill and other equipment on wood table

Dust Collection

A miter saw, table saw, sanding paper, jigsaw, and almost every other tool can accumulate dust in your new woodworking shop. Airborne dust can really do a number on your airways especially after long term exposure, so dust is a problem that must be solved. 

However, it’s not enough to clean your workshop regularly after every project. The duration in which the dust stays in the area before cleanup is enough to infiltrate your lungs. Furthermore, they could even become a fire hazard if not properly cleaned up.

A way to combat this is by using a dust collection system. It might sound discouraging when you think about the price tag, but it’s actually not as expensive as you think. Prices for these crucial gadgets have dropped over the years, and it’s a worthy investment considering that your health is on the line. 

Different from your run-of-the-mill shop vacuum cleaners, dust collectors operate with lower suction and move higher volumes of air. They effectively gather dust from your wood shop to prevent health risks, fires, and safety issues. When it comes to giving yourself a safe woodworking environment, a modern dust collector does the job.

Give It A Try

When you finally start building your projects, that’s the only time you’ll figure out what you need to modify. You can plan your setup all you want, but sometimes, nothing really goes as planned.

Start off by trying some simpler projects such as picture frames, wine holders, address signs and more. If you need more suggestions, we have articles that are packed with beginner woodworking project ideas.

You can also sign up for services that will provide you with tips and woodworking projects, like the Woodworkers Guild of America. After you’ve attempted the easy tasks, move on to a more complex project. This will help you get a better idea of what works and what doesn’t in your new garage workshop.

It takes time (sometimes months) to get the final setting for your small woodworking shop. It also takes a lot of patience so don’t feel the need to get everything done all at once.

hand tools attached on the wall

Small Basement Woodworking Shop

Since a basement woodworking shop is attached to your home, unlike your garage which is most likely a separate entity, it brings certain benefits. Heating and air conditioning should be built in and connected to the rest of your house, and this could be used to create the right ambient temperature and humidity. 

However, there are certain problems that come with a basement workshop. As you probably know, basements are a source of mold, leaks and moisture issues. So before you even go ahead and set up shop, you need to get down there and see to what extent you need to renovate your basement. 

Moisture is a killer of all your heavy machinery because dampness could lead to shocks and wet lumber. When assessing the condition of the basement, also make sure that the plugs and clean and in ideal positions. 

When it comes to lights, you could run into issues as well. A basement isn’t usually known for adequate lighting, so you may need to enlarge the windows and even install a door for easy access to the outside. 

All the other considerations in setting up a basement workshop is quite similar to a small beginner garage workshop. As such, you can refer to our previous list for more instructions.

The Tools

Let’s get to the heart of setting up your beginner workshop – populating it with the right tools.

A lot of beginner woodworkers are concerned about overspending, buying the “wrong” tools, and just not knowing where to start. After all, it’s hard to just take advice off text on a page or from people who love building projects that are a far cry from what you want.

In this quick guide, we’re going to help you weed out the “good” from the “bad”. Read on to find out how.

What Not To Do When You Buy New Tools

Instead of reading off of untrustworthy sites, we suggest looking into proper reviews.

Try not to buy second-hand tools (you can give it a try if they are still under warranty). At the same time, don’t go for tools that seem too good to be true. And by that, we mean the price tag.

Some tools boast a variety of capabilities but come at about half or a quarter of the price. Most of the time, these products break down easily and aren’t even worth the price you paid for. A good way to combat this risk is to go for brands that are established, well-known and reliable. 

Then again, it’s important to remember that price doesn’t always equate to quality. So when you look for products, it’s not necessary to buy the most expensive one either. Again, reading reviews is good practice so you know exactly what you’re getting. 

a Dewalt power tool on top of a plywood

Good Tools to Invest In

Power Tools

Table Saw – You might have seen this one on many of the lists you’ve come across. Whether it’s a large table saw or a portable design, it’s great for cutting angles and cutting through surfaces. A larger table saw is of course more expensive, but it’s more diverse and powerful as well. It will be able to do more jobs, so if you’re thinking about engaging in larger projects, you may need a table saw with a blade that exceeds 10 inches. 

Miter Saw – This one has a circular saw and can be adjusted to accommodate the angle you want. You can also tilt this device as needed. The miter saw is a great tool that is often needed to cut rounded corners. The standard blade is about 8-15 inches, and anything in between will do the trick for most jobs.

Drill Press – This is perhaps our favorite choice in larger machinery for small woodworking shops. Similar to a hand drill, this tool has excellent precision and is easy to use. It’s capable of drilling holes, sanding, and producing grooves as well.

Planer – Also known as a thickness planer, these tools are used to trim lumber into consistent sizes and thicknesses.

Sanders – This does the job that sandpaper does, but much more quickly and effectively. The abrasive surface smooths down your wood surfaces upon contact. This is often used as a finishing touch on most projects, including these fun plywood projects.

Band Saw – A band saw is a machine that sports a thinner vertical blade that moves up and down when it’s powered on. It can also cut through metal and is a common fixture in small woodshops. You may have even used it in your high school shop class.

Router – These handy devices can be handheld and are used to hollow out wood pieces. The best part is their amazing versatility, since they can also work on certain types of metal and plastic.

Circular Saw – An enjoyable piece used by many professional woodworkers, the circular saw is for crosscutting wood. Since they can do many of the jobs other saws can, having this portable piece in your arsenal will make cutting wood even more efficient.

Power Drill – A lot of you may be wondering why it took so long for this tool to pop up. While we didn’t list the tools in any specific order, we figured we would get the larger tools off the list first. 

A power drill is a great tool because it’s portable, comes in cordless options, and comes in three different types. Most of the time, these fancy gadgets include different bits for you to switch out at your convenience. As such, you can convert your power drill into a different tool, such as an electric screwdriver.

Jigsaw – No, this is not the scary mascot of the Saw movie series (although it would be pretty cool to have him as a prop), but another trusty saw. It’s a power tool that offers a ton of versatility. Since it’s handheld, it’s ergonomic and gives you a lot of control.

Hand Tools

Measuring tape – How do you know if you have the right sized lumber? What if you cut just an inch off and your chair is no longer sitting even? These are preventable circumstances if you have a measuring tape in your tool box.

Hammer – This is one of the most trusted tools not only in the woodshop, but also in the household. It’s essential for securing your nails or whenever you need excessive force.

Chisels – Chisels are used for chiseling wood surfaces and are ideal tools for beginner woodcarvers. These hand tools come in many different sizes as well.

Speed Square – Another must-have in your small woodworking shop, this tool is used for measuring the right angles.

Screwdrivers – If you bought an essential tool kit, you may already have screwdrivers in your home. Even if you have an electric power drill that can double as a screwdriver, having one you can operate with your hands is still useful. It gives you more control and won’t cost you a lot.

Wrench – Screwing in the nuts and doing so tightly would require a handy wrench. 

Workshop Safety

Even a small workshop can be an accident-prone site. To make sure that nothing terrible happens, workshop safety knowledge is imperative. 

Always make sure you read the instructions carefully and have all the safety equipment such as a helmet, goggles, and gloves when needed. Never jump into a job without proper preparation. If you’re using a new tool, remember to ease into it slowly to minimize accidents.

It’s also important to concentrate on the task at hand and don’t let yourself get distracted. A simple slide of the hand could result in detrimental repercussions. 

Cleaning up and keeping your new workshop neat and tidy minimizes the chance of fires and also keeps your lungs clean. This is crucial especially if you let your kids work on the shop from time to time using their own wood kits to build.

A fire extinguisher is also something that’s handy to have in your workshop. It could save you from a total loss if a fire breaks out, even if you don’t believe you will ever need one (say if you only operate with hand tools).

Lastly, remember to always turn off your tools when they are not in use, even if you’ll come back to it in the next few minutes. When you are concentrating on your project, it’s easy to forget which tool you left on.

a smiing man holding a power tool

Conclusion

We hope our guide helps you in your endeavor to set up a small woodworking shop. The basics are all pretty much the same, whether you’re renting out a space, setting up in your garage, or in your basement.

Keep in mind that safety comes first and convenience comes second. Never sacrifice safety for anything. Remember all the safety equipment and measures when operating heavy machinery to reduce accidents.

We do wish you luck setting up your small woodworking shop and we look forward to all the amazing projects that will come to fruition in your new space.

If you’re thinking about starting your own small woodworking business from your garage, ensure your success with some of these resources:

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