How to enlarge your shop without increasing it's size

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Like many hobby woodworkers I have always felt that my shop was too small. It certainly isn’t large at 228 sq.ft. My growing dissatisfaction made me give the problem a rethink. I finally realised that my real problem had a lot to do with the lack of bench space. My first project to solve the problem was this assembly bench to be used for glue-ups, my veneer press and light table, and also to store my marquetry tools and supplies. This bench has been much used in the short time since it was finished and it made me realise that ‘shop’ space was not as big a problem as ‘bench’ space.

With my newfound knowledge I turned my attention to my workbench. I’ve never been happy with this small Sjoberg cabinet makers style bench because it was way to narrow at about 10", wobbly under hand planing and it had a tool well running along the back that was a debris catcher and hard to clean (many woodworkers like tool wells, I don’t). I had to attach it to the wall just to prevent it from racking!

A lucky find in the local thrift store became the solution. I found a beautiful solid pine trestle style dining table with 3" thick legs and a 2" thick solid top. I converted this fine old table into a very good workbench with quick release side and tail vises and a lot of other features to hold work. I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks and I feel that I can undertake about any size project within reason now.

Of course a good sized workbench can also perform the function of an assembly bench, so strictly speaking you really don’t need both to get the benefits. If you have only one bench It can be a good idea to make gluing up your last work of the day so it can sit on your bench overnight to dry without interfering with your work.

I hope this might be helpful for others struggling with small shops. Thanks for reading!

-- Mike, an American living in Norway

Thanks Mike. I would probably get lost in your shop/garage. Everything in my shop is on wheels too. It makes sweeping the floor a whole lot easier and One of my machines, a five function combination machine has to be turned around to use the jointer, planer and shaper and mortiser. It just takes a few seconds to do that. I have been grousing about the size of my shop for the last 13 years, the new bench has really changed my attitude.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway

Mike,
I really like your shop. You have obviously put lots of effort and thought into it. The new bench is awesome, what a great find in the trestle table. Yes your space is small, but it seems most of us have challenges with our spaces. My shop is big, 1100 sq ft. but we park our two vehicles in it, so I have to have everything on wheels. While you have worked to compact everything, I have worked to make everything mobile. We work with what we have, and try to make the best of it. Judging by your photos, you have done a great job!
Thanks for showing us….great blog!
Mike

-- Mike

It’s pretty obvious that most of the smaller shops are 1/2 of a double garage. That represents a big challenge when it comes to using the space in an optimal way. I know there are a lot ideas and inspiration on the net for those seeking smart solutions. Probably the biggest problem besides just size is the inevitable shop changes that are needed to accommodate a developing woodworker. I first bought a lathe and now I have a shop full of power tools.

The most elegant solution IMHO would be to go with high quality hand tools. Personally I think that unless a person is doing production work he can work just as efficiently with hand tools and just as quickly because he doesn’t need to set up the machines for each new part or project and also make a lot of jigs for his tools. The big hitch to this idea is that a person has know how to sharpen, maintain, adjust and use hand tools. On the other hand the same thing pretty much applies to power tools. With hand tools you don’t really have to worry so much about dust, so big savings all around, space, money, time and health.

I realise that this may sound hypocritical for a guy with a shop full of tools, but I have been buying and making hand tools lately and using them more and more with time, even though I’m 74 and have arthritis. I love doing hand work and I appreciate the quietness of it too. Maybe not for everyone, but worth giving a try.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway

Mike, your shop looks very well put together and organized! Nice job! I get to use about 160 sq ft in my one car garage. I have to split it with the laundry area. It can be cumbersome trying to fit everything in there. I’ve got two walls I can utilize, and one side holds the big power tools, while the other has the work surface and some storage. I need to redesign my storage. I built it while I was rebuilding a motorcycle, so its more set up for mechanic work, not so much for woodworking. One of these days, I’ll get organized! LOL.

I’m in about 300 sq ft as well. Getting really tired of having to move out the lawn mower and wheelbarrow every time I need to work. This will hopefully change soon!

My shop is even smaller. I have a redesign plan but I’m busy with life and stuff. I also realized that bench and counter space are critical but just for a convenient work space but also for storage underneath. I have so much stuff on the floor that could go to storage if I had it under a bench.

-- Losing fingers since 1969

Monty I’m sure those four daughters keep you pretty busy! At least with 1100 sq.ft. you have the potential to do whatever you want.

Ian Maybe you could make a bench with a hinged double top that could fold out when in use or maybe rest vertically against the wall. Probably not a good solution, but you might be able to come up with something. Maybe there are some good ideas on the net. I am probably luckier than many because my shop is a dedicated enclosed space and I can heat it in the winter.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway

I need space and I have been wanting to build a new bench. I can’t make it big though.
My wife parks the car inside…
I want to buy a lathe too. I don’t have the space for it.

-- Abbas, Castro Valley, CA

My shop is just over 1100 square feet so I don’t have the small shop space problem that you do…228 square feet? Wow! I have space I haven’t even used yet. My problem is storage. I have zero storage in my shop. I keep meaning to build some, but other projects get in the way. I have one special build going right now for my youngest daughter and another lined up for another daughter (I have four daughters by the way), then I’m putting everything on hold until I get some storage! My tools have no homes. Most everything sits on the floor and gets scattered about.
I applaud your ability to make use of your available space. Hats off to you!

-- Where are the band-aids?---Pro Libertate!

Thanks L/W and Ellen. Cut-offs are my biggest problem, sometimes I feel that the cutoffs are more voluminous than the project materials they come from. Since getting a bigger bench I find it a lot easier to clean up. I do have storage for all of my tools but I still have a problem with some of the oddball stuff that haven’t yet found storage place for. I also have all my stuff on wheels. Not just handy, but in my shop essential, especially for getting the floor clean .

-- Mike, an American living in Norway

Very interesting and creative blog. I love the pictures that show what you did.
To me, one of the most important rules of shop space use is putting everything in it’s place when you finish using it. I also have several smaller cabinets on wheels and use these as auxiliary work tables.
This is a pretty interesting blog… I’ll be curious to see what other people do.

-- Ellen

Mike,

It looks like you’ve made good use of your space. I have more space than you, but I never seem to have enough. My problem is with clutter. Sometimes more space gives us excuses to not work as efficiently. I’m working on the problem and trying to reorganize space — a place for everything, and everything in its place. Well, at least that’s my aim for now.

Thanks for sharing your solution.

L/W

-- “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Benjamin Franklin

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