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Workshop Design, Part 2- Work Zones

by Phil Rasmussen, The Mountain Woodworker
Hendersonville, NC

Click on any picture to see a larger version.

CLICK HERE to see Part 1 of Phil's Workshop Design Series: Different Design Approaches.

In many of the workshops that I have seen, the woodworker has created work zones. For example there is an area for the drill press, another for the lathe, one for the table saw, planner, joiner, etc. The problem is that these work zones often do not relate to the work flow that takes place in the shop. Once you have decided on a particular work triangle for the different types of woodworking you do, you will need to consider the work zones in those triangles and how they might relate to other triangles.

Zone design – Zone design is probably the most critical step toward the final layout of your workshop. As mentioned above it incorporates the various work triangles for your woodworking and arranges the triangle for efficiency. There are a couple of considerations in zone design that can make or break efficiency. The two primary considerations are the size of lumber you use or will be using and the size of your finished projects. In zone design, as in all of the work triangles you need to consider the general type of woodworking you do. For example if you generally make jewelry boxes and only in a great while you build a large bookcase or bureau, you may not want to include the space needed for that size of project. You may need to complete the project elsewhere. However you do need to keep such projects in mind.

The first step in zone design is to determine how much space is needed for each work triangle. There are three major questions to consider:

  • How much space does your body need?
  • What are the usual dimensions of your projects (length, width and height)?
  • What are the types, sizes and work area needs for your equipment?

In answering these questions you need to keep in mind your various skills. For example if you make furniture, will the mortises and tenons be machine or hand cut? If hand cut, what is the maximum length (final or near final length) board that you use – 6 ft, 8ft, 10ft? If you machine the mortises and tenons how will they be done: Table saw, hand-held router, table top router, mortising machine, portable mortising/tenon jig? If a mortising machine is used what is the width of your boards in relation to the maximum height that can be used on the machine? If using a mortising/tenon jig and router, what space is needed to clamp the board, mount the jig and make the cuts? If tenons are made on the table saw, what is the maximum length of board that can be cut vertically? If on a band saw, is there space to set up a support for the end of the board not being cut?

Getting back to our example, if the largest item you make regularly is a sofa (6-7.5 feet long) then you will need the following space needs.

  • Space behind and in front of the table saw blade - 8 feet.
  • A bench that is between 6 feet and 8 feet long and 32-36" wide.
  • Space around the bench - between 24-36 inches.
  • Space between the sides of the table saw blade to any object - 36 inches.
  • Space in front of your table saw - 36 inches.

Some of the space that is needed can overlap. For example you can have the end of your work bench be 36 inches from the front or back of your table saw. This way the bench can act as a support for your wood when cutting it on the table saw.

In making your sofa, assume that it will be 7 feet long by 32 inches deep. The arms will be flat and curved. Your work triangle can be bench– table saw – band saw. The work flow could be: cut boards to length, place on bench, mark up curves on arms, cut arms on band saw, place arms on bench. In this scenario your band saw needs to be "close" to the work bench but you need at least 24 inches around the workbench to move about. Thus the band saw needs to be 24 inches from the workbench, but how close to the table saw? This depends on your work flow in part and some standards (above). Assume that you take a length of board and mark it up to cut two arms and also mark the curves. Your work flow in this case can be bench – table saw – band saw – bench. In this case the band saw will need to be 36 inches from the table saw and 24 inches from the workbench.

Now take a look at the drill press. Assume that you do not have a mortising jig and you do not have the skills or desire to hand cut mortises. So you go out and purchase an add-on to your drill press to cut mortises. Your sofa is going to be mission style with vertical slats. Remember your sofa length is 7 feet. To cut the mortises for the vertical slats you will need a minimum of a 42 inch space on either side of the mortising bit. This will allow you to mortise the entire board. You will also need to support the board when mortising toward the end of the board (a maximum of 6 feet to one side).

Taking in all of these considerations how would you arrange a woodshop that is used for making pens and furniture? The following graphic shows how one woodworker did it in his 24x17 foot garage. Note the long green bar on the right. This is the garage door. If the woodworker has boards longer than six feet to cut or plane, he will open the door and put support rails outside. Once he makes his cuts, he will immediately close the door. During the winter he will open the door only enough for his wood to clear, thus keeping as much heat in the shop as possible.

Central to this woodworker's shop is the work bench. The sander is a belt/disk sander. The joiner is placed so that if need be, he can handle up to 9 foot boards. He rarely uses the scroll saw so it is out of the way along with the sharpening station which he uses after each project. The oscillating sander is usually used after he cuts curved pieces on the band saw, which is not often but enough times to place the sander close to the band saw.

Also important to the layout is the dust collector. There are essentially three lines that run out of the collector. One line runs from the collector to the table saw and planer. The second line runs from the collector to the drum sander (which is moveable). The router and miter saw also feed into this line. The third line runs over head with one leg that drops down behind the band saw (feeds band saw, joiner and sander) while the other leg drops down behind to oscillating sander to feed the sander, lathe and drill press. The collector has a 2 hp motor and is placed so that it is easy to remove the collection bag and take it immediately outside, reducing the chance of dust getting loose in the shop.

Be on the look out for our January issue of Wood News for Workshop Design-Part 3, where Phil discusses storage options within your workshop.


You can email Phil at Pmrii@aol.com. You can also visit his website at http://www.mountainwoodworker.com

Located in the beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina, Phil Rasmussen is the Mountain Woodworker. His woodworking experience and knowledge goes back to when he started learning woodworking from his grandfather, a European master woodworker. Working his way through college as a draftsman for architectural firms, Phil designed many homes and specialized in kitchen design. Today, as the Mountain Woodworker, Phil makes custom, hand-crafted shaker and mission style furniture and décor items, and turns pens. He has done work for clients throughout the US and abroad.

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