Coping: Design of the Perfect Shop

With the moving this week of my brother-in-law and his wife to their new home in town, I’m starting another adventure here.

The apartment they were in is due for a rework and I’m actually looking forward to it. There is something really enjoyable in working with your hands and creating something of value out of raw materials.

The first changes to the space will be simple, mainly caulking, a rework of the bathroom including releveling from some minor settling. A couple of beams in the living space will be framed in and power will be run inside the wall rather than on the surface. Mostly it is cosmetic work, except for the leveling and wiring.

After that, I’ll be digging into the bigger project which is rebuilding the shop.

There’s a real problem with laying out a shop – a problem you don’t run into for a lot of home/garage type shops where you can simply open a door. A sheet of plywood is obviously 8 feet long and single-handing it is a bear. I’ve got a fair assortment of rollers for the in-feed and roll-out, but unless you are very careful, one person with a sheet of ¾” plywood is an even match.

Since I like to use the rip fence when cutting big sheets, the idea footprint for serious cabinet-making would be a 14-foot wide by 24-foot long open area but that doesn’t leave much for the rest of the tool collection.

The answer, more practically, is to get as Kreg KMA2675 Kreg Rip-Cut Skil saw holder which is an easy way to cut down big sheets into the smaller widths for cabinets. Then, do the final trim to dimensions on the table saw.

Before you buy just the saw guide, consider getting the Kreg DIYKIT DIY Project Kit which includes the ripping guide and also some pin joint guides and such.  Especially if you’re looking into cabinets.  Anything with a frame will need more than a simple butt joint most times.  $85 bucks instead of $28, but depends what you plan on doing.

While this doesn’t sound too effective, since it’s twice as many cuts (or darn near), it lets me tussle the big sheets onto saw horses, clamp securely, and I can do with less than 10-feet of lineal space. Much of the time I’ll just lay the sheets up on the paint and assembly table which is 7 ½ feet and clamp the hell out of things there.

Again, the Kreg rip guide works well.

About 3-million years ago, when tool sluts first roamed the Earth, I bought a big dust collection system from Harbor Freight. It was a 1.5 horsepower monster and I picked up the saw and other pick-ups for it. That was about 2006. It is still in the box, but there’s a good chance it will be out of the box in the next month or three.

After all the work we have done rebuilding this place, I’ve come up with a list of the “right power tools” for doing serious home remodeling/rebuilding (which is what we’ve done here).

  • Lithium battery drill and impact driver with interchangeable batteries and spaces. I like Makita. They have been amazing. I think you could drop them from a balloon and they’d still work.
  • I bought the wrong table saw. I picked up a Sears unit that had adjustable wings on both sides for cabinet work, but the saw has enough shortcomings that even a goof like me can see them. First is the table is some alloy (not cast iron) which is fine for rust, but it had odd/non-standard miter slots. Next, all saws need lots of run-in space. That’s the distance from the front of the table to where the blade first bites. It measures about 8-inches. If you’re working material 16” or less, that’s fine. But it would be nice to have a foot, or more, of table space front-to-blade. Then there is blad wobble. It’s not a lot if you say 1/16th of an inch quickly, but that really matters. On many projects when grain allows it, I’ll cut a bit large and then run a pass (or five) through the jointer to get the right fit. That’s no good on end-grain, though, unless you tape or go through monkey motion with carrier pieces which gets into clamps and set-up time.

A couple of people have asked me about the StopSaw set-up. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but take a look at their video and it looks like an ideal tool…

The one problem with it (second if you count the price) is that you need to wear leather shoes for the ground-sensing to work. And THAT being the electrical guy, is something I can never bring myself to do.

  • I mentioned the Jointer. I might have mentioned that I picked up an old cast-iron long-bed unit off Craigslist for $200 some years back. This is after we tried to buy a shorter (*granite) bed unit that busted in shipping. When the old motor finally gave out, a $130 motor and a new Kevlar belt put things right as rain.


  • The next to last item is a 3-inch belt and 6” disk sander. This gets tons of use.
  • Saving the best for last, a good table-top drill press is worth its weight in gold. Get one with the laser crosshairs if you can but plan on more time than you think to set it up. The reason is the laser focus point is slightly different when you have short bits in.

Other other stuff – routers, scroll and band saws and such can come in time. A shop vac and a dust catcher system (like a Dust Deputy) will be worth acquiring first since they reduce clean up time.  Experience says the spousal unit will seldom object to cleaning supplies!

Besides, although I bought a scroll saw thinking I would do fine woodworking and it would be used, the fact is it is seldom used. Scrolly-frilly stuff is just more odd shapes to sand and less machine time.

A picture of two as I wander through this stuff, but before I buy another power tool, I’ll be topping off the hand tools. Much as we like to think the lights will be on forever, and we hedge that bet with solar, the fact is real disaster recovery could start with nothing more than a 10 point cross cut, an 8 point rip saw, a keg of nails and a couple of framing hammers.

The illusion that progress is forever simply ain’t true as anyone should be able to figure when they try to find the folks who built the pyramids.

Go by some tools and write when you get rich,

12 thoughts on “Coping: Design of the Perfect Shop”

  1. Hey George, when I worked for a modular home company, we had VERTICAL saws for ripping plywood. They would cut horizontally or vertically, and they were easy to load and operate, and best of all, took up almost NO room. I have never seen these anywhere else but they must be around, I am betting you could pick up a used one pretty reasonable-like.
    I see that there are lots of DIY plans for them online as well.

    • Yeah – damn fine idea, Scot. Called a Panel Saw and they use them at Lowes and Home Despots to cut down big sheets so people can put them in a fiat and such… just no where to put it which is why the Kreg rip guide works for me – hard to justify the cost of a panel saw for 40 cuts a year…

  2. Retired last year and finally reclaimed my wood shop, a 16 x 30 loft barn, by moving all my food storage preps to my 32′ gutted Airstream. First order of business, flatten my work Bench! Seeking advice from readers; I got this workbench kit from Lee Valley around 20 years ago and the top is made of laminated plywood. I know how to flatten the top but as it is a lamination not sure if it is worth doing. Has anybody attempted this? Results? Should I just build a new top?

    • I would smear it over with caulking tubes full of contractor adhesive and lay on a pre-finished plastic-coasted MDF surface.
      Mine still look great after 3 years or so
      Be sure to put in screrws and clamp like hell so no voids under. Drill for bench dogs if you want ’em

  3. Decades ago in the midwest I saw an old farm carpenter building cabinet work for a radio station control room. Built into an old building, the new drywall had a slight wave as the wall supports were old and not well aligned. When the long, low cabinet for the turntables was placed against the wall, there were gaps between it and the wall.

    I was thinking caulking, but the old man got out his pencil and put tick marks on the cabinet edge at key contact points and pulled the cabinet out from the wall a ways. Then, with only a circular saw, he ‘eyeballed’ a varying shave along the cabinet edge. When the cabinet was placed back against the wall, you couldn’t put a sheet of paper between the edge and the wall… anywhere.

    When one can do that with only a handheld circular saw, what more tools does one need?

    • Uh, brother engineer Hank, how about 900 years of experience?:
      I worry if I tried something that graceful I would be minus 2 fingers and a toe, lol

      Most of my warbles in the line are unintentional. The others from kick-back

  4. On the shop: keep in mind that as you age, your body will go downhill at an accelerating rate. Design your shop layout with the idea of having the floor clear (so as not to trip over things); place above floor items at an easy distance to grip/operate (don’t assume you will always have full extension/rotation of arms and legs); keep wall hanging items at a height that doesn’t require step ladders to access (someday ladders get to be a challenge); and do “good enough”, make it first rate or not at all. Enjoy while you

  5. Off Topic — But Appropriate for the Types Reading this Post

    Just ran across an ad for a DIY “Electricity Freedom” project. An aerobic generator using lawn waste. Blueprints, materials list and video are reasonably priced. The creator claims it can be constructed by an 8-yr old.

    The energy production claims are extremely high.
    I am not in a position to use this right now (live in apartment) but I may be in a house next year, and I would like to recommend this to friends now if it is viable.

    Does someone want to try this out and report on it?

  6. I tried to outsmart myself and do the new shop with everything on wheels. My first project is being worked on before I’m done with the benches and machine stations. Making a pedestal for a king size bed generates its own space problems in a small shop but a table saw on wheels is useless for large pieces. I’m going back to the table saw in an island in the middle of the shop more or less permanent with lots of runout and support area. That way, after cutting parts, I have a large flat, level assembly area.

    A panel saw can do about half of the work of a table saw but does a lot of things better while saving your back; and a vertical unit mostly just takes some wall space when not being used.

Comments are closed.