Shop Tip: Thoughts on Woodshop Design

I’ve been thinking a lot about how my woodworking shop should be designed from a tool layout perspective. Like a chef in a well designed kitchen, a woodworker should move from station to station to get things done, and those stations should be oriented efficiently. Before I go off and figure this out, I need to understand the space I have to work with and the other design requirements:

My Garage Shop

  • The shop is in our three car garage, and wifey expects to be able to park there (and she can’t right now).
  • There are other things in the garage besides her car: a fridge, household storage, water heater, furnace, and a gas stove to heat it.
  • The shop needs to fit into about 320 square feet but can expand to fill the garage when I pull wifey’s car out, but at the end of the workday it needs to fit back into the 320 square feet.
  • I can’t move storage of household items to the ceiling, because of the garage door tracks.
  • I can’t add any more electrical, I have plenty of 110, and would like to convert some of it to 220 because I’m hoping to upgrade my planer to something better.
  • I’d like access to all sides of my bench I made sure I could get to all sides of the bench when working on the dresser and man that is awesome especially when you have a helper in the shop.
  • I’d like the bench near the window.
  • I’d like to accommodate helpers in the shop.
  • I need more clamp storage.

Types of Work Surfaces

I am convinced that my shop needs three (or two if I combine smartly) main horizontal work areas:

Materials Cart Storing the raw and rough materials for a project, including the hardware. This is different than my flat goods or lumber storage. These are the pieces that are specifically designated for the current project.
Workbench Reserved for working on single boards or sub assemblies. Nothing is stored on this surface.
Assembly table Flat and large area for the assembled piece. Designed for clamping, and storage underneath for gluing, nailing (including compressor), sanding, finishing.

Note: the materials storage could be underneath the assembly surface if needed.


So let’s talk about the workflow here so you can understand what I mean. Let’s say I get a contract for, oh I dunno, a Walnut dresser:

  1. I head to my flat goods and lumber storage and pull out what I need. These get set on the materials cart after rough dimensioning.
  2. The assembly table is clean, waiting for finished pieces. The workbench is probably covered in plans.
  3. After letting the rough dimensioned pieces figure out their twists, cups, and bows and dry out further I final dimension all pieces but leave them on the cart.
  4. I pick a subassembly to work on and move those pieces to the workbench for joinery and other tasks.
  5. When the pieces for the subassembly are done, they move to the assembly table where they may be glued and clamped, or they might wait for other pieces.
  6. Back to step 4 until all subassemblies are done.
  7. Now the cart is empty, the workbench is empty, and the assembly table is where the gluing and clamping action is.

Work Surface Design

Since the three surfaces serve three different purposes, they have different dimensions.

Workbench Mine is already done, it’s about 9’ long and 24” deep. It’s made for working on boards. No change here.
Assembly table Probably more rectangular than the workbench, which is long and narrow. 4’ x 6’ should accommodate most anything. The top needs to be flat, tolerant of glue and finish (or replaceable), and accommodate clamping (perhaps with large holes in the top). It will also need some storage below.
Materials cart This could really be anywhere. If I build the assembly table with a space between the top and the storage, materials could be stored there.

Of course the assembly table, cart, and tools need to be mobile so that my shop can expand for work and then contract back to 320 square feet. The workbench will be in a fixed position under the window.

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