Beginner Craftsman’s Guide to Setting Up a Home Woodworking Shop

Setting up a home woodworking shop can be an exciting and overwhelming time for any beginner craftsman. While you may already have a passion for learning and creating with your hands, there are likely several questions you may have about getting started.

Understanding the basic tools you’ll need to have a solid setup is essential, as is having enough space in your shop to do the kind of work you envision. Safety tips should also be included in your list of shop priorities. Keep reading to learn about the essentials that can turn your home woodworking shop into a functional and productive space.

Shop Size

The workshop itself is a space that will not only house your tools and work area, but also store wood, paint and other materials for past, current and future projects. When addressing size, you will find there is no simple answer. Different specialties require different amounts of space, which means the type of work you do should be considered when choosing or creating a workshop area.

If you plan to build sizeable furniture, such as dining sets, benches, cabinetry and so forth, then you must have a workshop capable of storing large boards, as well as space to accommodate multiple completed or in-process projects. If you tend to stick to one project at a time and don’t envision yourself tackling large-scale projects, then a smaller shop (or even a basement) will probably suit your needs.

Layout

The layout of a woodshop will hold a lot of personal preference. However, there are a few things every good woodworking shop requires. For instance, a sturdy worktop or a table at a comfortable height will provide you with an area you can use for planning and working on projects after the wood has been cut. The size of the worktop will depend on the type and scale of projects you intend to work on, but consider a worktop with a very sturdy surface that’s easy to clean and can hold up against some serious wear and tear.

Space for shelving will also be necessary, as boards can easily be stored and accessed this way. Wall-mounted cubbies can be an excellent way to safely store items like wood conditioner, primers and paints, along with tool attachments.

You may also consider mounting a pegboard so you can organize small hand tools and create a storage system for gadgets and easily misplaced items, such as screws, nails, nuts and bolts. A dedicated bin for scrap wood is another idea to consider working into your layout.

Basic Tools

There are basic tools every artisan needs to have in his/her arsenal of woodworking gear. Safety is the first concern. Always have safety glasses and protective gloves available.   Also, don’t forget to use a respirator or face mask when sanding and sawing, as the inhalation of sawdust can be extremely harmful.   As for tools, a standard hammer, a decent screwdriver set, a combination square, a marking gauge, measuring tape, a utility knife and colored pencils are some of the most basic things you need to do to get started. You will also need at least two sawhorses to assist in cutting wood with a circular saw. One often overlooked tool is the clamp. You’re going to need clamps of various sizes and styles when working with wood, so pick up a few different ones.  

Power Tools

If you are a newly budding craftsman, you might be a little overwhelmed by the selection of power tools available. There are a lot of tools for different purposes, but you can save money and storage space by starting with a selection of tools that you will get the most use out of, and that also serve multiple purposes.

Start your collection off with an electric drill. A corded drill limits mobility but will prevent frustration caused by an uncharged battery.

A circular saw offers a lot of freedom when working, but you should invest in a table saw if you have the budget, as this will serve as the backbone of your shop. A jigsaw is another really useful electric saw that can be used to “freehand” cut pieces of wood, particularly curves and shapes.

An orbital sander is a must-have for any wood shop, as it just isn’t practical to use a non-electric hand sander for large projects. You may also consider investing in a router if you would like the ability to create functional and decorative details, such as beveled edges, sunken shapes and engravings.

Hand Tools

While power tools are certainly convenient, you shouldn’t overlook the importance of good, old-fashioned hand tools. A bow saw wood chisels, file set, a smoothing plane and a block plane are worthwhile to have when breaking into woodworking.

These tools allow you to make precise adjustments to the wood, based on texture and how the wood feels against your hands. Sometimes it’s easier to gauge the necessary adjustments on a piece of wood, based on how it looks and feels as it’s working.  

Preparatory and Finishing Aids

Getting started in the woodworking field, you may not want to initially purchase expensive pieces of wood — at least not until you get the hang of your new tools. This is where a lot of newbies end up spending a lot of money on wood that ends up being thrown away or tossed in the scrap bucket.

Thankfully, we live in an age where a simple wood repair kit can turn substandard wood into a really nice, usable piece. Also use a kit like this to correct any accidents that might occur when working on, moving or storing wood.

It might also be worthwhile to invest in a wood conditioning product that makes the wood more accepting of paint, stains, polyurethane and other finishing products. A bucket, soft rags or scraps of old t-shirts, paint brushes and rollers are other items you should have in your workshop to assist in the process of prepping and finishing wood projects.

Helpful Pieces

If you’re looking to give your projects an extra measure of security, have a few different types of wood glue on hand for joining pieces of wood together (especially wherever screws and nails are being used). If you are going to build furniture, particularly cabinets or drawer pieces, using the dovetail method, you may choose to invest in a dovetail saw, and a coping saw, as they will make the delicate job of dovetailing much easier. Consider also purchasing a wooden mallet, which will allow you to drive wooden pieces together without leaving the tell-tale marks that often occur with a typical claw hammer.

Another wonderful tool is a pocket hole jig, like the Kreg Jig. This tool will allow you to drill screws on the less noticeable parts of a project and is especially handy for joining corners without having to countersink screws. This is a simple and highly effective way to attach pieces of wood without leaving visible screws.

Clean Up Tools

It’s easy to get carried away with a project, but it’s important to take the time to tidy up after a day of work. A shop broom and dustpan are essential. A ShopVac can seriously cut down the amount of time you spend cleaning up sawdust and debris.

Over time, you might also notice your tools could use a little TLC, which may include oiling moving parts, soaking pieces that have acquired residue and waxing wooden pieces, such as the handle of a plane or chisel.

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