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Workshop Design, Part 3: Storage Options, Electricity, and HVAC

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.

CLICK HERE to see Part 2 of Phil's Workshop Design Series: Work Zones.

Storage - Work flow and layout is not all there is to workshop design. Storage of tools, wood, and supplies is just as important. Oddly enough, most of the shops that I have seen do not have enough storage space or take advantage of possible storage space.

Fixed bench tops usually have cabinets underneath them. In some shops there are also wall cabinets spread around the shop. However, most of these wall cabinets are limited, small and do not go to the ceiling. This is a big mistake not only in kitchen design but even more so in the workshop. The open space above the cabinets is a dust accumulation paradise. Often, the top has molding around it and if things are placed on the cabinet top they are soon forgotten. When constructing wall cabinets make them tall enough to go to the ceiling, thus providing extra storage space and reducing dust accumulation.

It seems that in many shops, the space under the workbench and table saw extensions is not utilized. Open and closed storage shelves and drawers can be easily constructed to fit under the workbench. A moveable cabinet on wheels can be made to fit under the table saw extension. Under the bottom shelf of most bench cabinets there is storage space for all those plastic cases that your power tools come in.

When it comes to storage, most woodworkers feel they do not have enough, but with careful scrutiny of their workshop and thinking outside of the box, they can find a lot of unused space to store those little used items.

Electricity - Many workshops do not have proper lighting or enough of it. Ceiling fluorescents should provide good general coverage of your shop. Their on/off switches need to be at each entrance to the shop and at the sanding/finishing area. Drill presses, band saws, router tables and miter saws need "spot" lighting that highlights your cutting areas. There should be fluorescent lights over your table saw and work bench. Essentially any tool or piece of equipment that does not have adequate lighting is a safety hazard, so take a hard look at your lighting. Your lighting should also be on its own electrical circuit. On the same circuit you should have backup lighting and a fire/smoke alarm.

In addition to lighting, for most woodworkers it often seems that they do not have enough electrical outlets. In a well equipped workshop there needs to be a minimum of 3 separate electrical circuits – two 120 circuits and one 220 circuit. My personal preference is to have separate circuits for each wall that has a bench, one circuit for the workbench, and 1-2 circuits for 220 volt equipment (placed diagonally in the shop).

If you are building your workshop from the ground up, this would be the ideal time to make sure that you have enough circuits. Instead of the normal 10 feet between outlets as most electrical codes require, place your outlets 3-4 feet apart. Also you may find it helpful to have 2-3 ceiling outlets. Your 220 outlets should be near the equipment that requires them.

In many existing shops or garages, you can retrofit the electrical needs. Be sure that you have sufficient spaces in your breaker box for the extra circuits and that you will not be exceeding the breaker box rating. Even if you have a lot of knowledge about electrical repair and installation, contact a licensed electrician to make sure that your needs can be met with your current electrical system.

HVAC - Standalone shops usually have heating, ventilation and air conditioning while the garage shops do not. Of the three components of HVAC, ventilation is primary. You need good ventilation, especially when doing finishing work. Make sure that you have fans and ductwork that will move your air and keep it free of finishing vapors and woodworking dust. If you live in an area where the winters get below 65 degrees, you need to install a heating system to keep the shop temperature at least 60 degree or warmer. This is not for your comfort but to preserve your paints, finishes, oils, etc. During the summer months you need to try to work at a temperature between 70 to 75 degrees. If your shop gets hotter than this, and fans will not keep it cool, then an air conditioning system is needed. Again, it is not so much for your comfort but for your equipment, wood, and supplies. Humidity can be a factor in your shop as well. Air conditioning controls humidity to some extent, however you may need to supplement it further with a dehumidifier.

Get to Work - The final aspect to shop design is organization. You have determined what type of woodworker you are, the type of woodworking you do, and where you want to go with both of them. Additionally, you have taken the steps to organize your work flow, work triangles, and work zones. And you have analyzed your lighting, storage and hvac needs. Now is the time to organize your tools – both hand and power. This step goes back to analyzing the work you do. Determine what tools you use and where you generally use them. For example, if you hand cut your mortises, you will want your chisels nearby, not across the room. You can use pegboard, tool cabinets/chests, drawers, and homemade tool holders to keep those tools you frequently use near you. Tool and space organization will require you to go back to analyze the space behind the installed bench tops and the need for and placement of drawers below the bench tops.

Only when you have completed this final aspect of shop design do you start building or rearranging your workshop. It is important that you stick to your plan. You may also want to create a plan for future changes based on where you want to take your skill and type of woodworking. It is now up to you to reveal nature's hidden treasures through your woodworking.


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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