The Shop – Construction


When we moved to our present house I was presented with a woodworker’s dream – the chance to build a shop from the ground up. Of course, it didn’t start that way.

Our house has a two-car garage and we have three cars and a bunch of lawn & garden equipment. The initial plan was that my woodshop would be in the (now much larger) basement and that we would build an out-building to house the little tractor, bikes and all the other household paraphenalia that always seems to accumulate in a garage. With children beginning to show up I knew this would be a growing problem. The area where the building would go was confined by the local zoning setback code. Our lot has a slight grade as well. After doing some initial engineering work it became obvious that this building was going to have to have footers on the back side that were 7 feet deep! I had a brainstorm and decided to put a basement in the building. Since it was on a grade it would be built like a bank-barn with the basement accessible from the downhill side and the top level accessible from the street level. I was able to double the square footage of the building with only a relatively small increase in cost. This also allowed me to move the woodshop out of the house. With young children this was a huge benefit since I didn’t have to worry about waking anyone up.

This was my concept:

The footprint of the building is 25′ wide by 30′ deep. For the foundation I used a pre-cast concrete wall system called Superior Walls. I couldn’t be more satisfied with that choice. The increase in cost of the actual walls was offset by the savings in labor of pouring footers (Superior Walls don’t use concrete footers). However, I ended up with a perfectly level, square and watertight foundation. In addition, I didn’t have to sweat about pouring concrete walls in the middle of the winter.

My goal was to make the shop look like it was built with the house, not an afterthought. I decided to go with a 12/12 roof to mimic the dormer on the front of the house. That and the same siding as the house tied it in pretty well.

Here are few shots of the construction:

For HVAC I decided to go with a mini-split ductless heat pump system. I also had a line run from my propane tank just in case. Amazingly, with todays petroleum prices it costs about half as much to heat the shop with the heat pump as it does to use the propane heater.

For electrical supply I had a second panel added to the house to bring it up to 400 amps and then I ran a 90 amp line to the shop (see Lessons Learned). I had all the receptacles placed at 42 inches from the floor.  I had the 110v wall receptacles run on two seperate circuits that leapfrog each receptacle. I ran 220v lines to the ceiling for the table saw, jointer and planer and in the walls for the band saw, dust collector and lathe.

For lighting I used ten T8 fixtures with four 4-foot blulbs each. I did a lot of research on the bulbs and ended up going with full spectrum daylight bulbs. They aren’t cheap, but they last a very long time and the light quality is fantastic. Just about anyone who visits my shop comments on the lighting. The high CRI (color rendering index) of these bulbs means that you won’t be surprised that the nice amber stain you used looks orange or red when you get it in the house. I really think it’s worth the extra money.

Since I built this as a garage for resale purposes it has a concrete floor – again, lessons learned.

I had the floor epoxy coated and then I painted, installed the sink and finished the trim work.

I spent a while with SketchUp laying out my shop in an effort to create a streamlined workflow and provide an efficient patch for my eventual dust collection system. This is what I settled on:

This setup allows me to take lumber from the rack, cut it to length, joint and edge and a face, plane it and rip it to width in one even work flow. I’m pretty happy with this setup. It also provided a very efficient setup when I installed the cylone.

I ended up changing the orientation of the workbench, but most everything else has worked out.

Here’s what the shop looked like shortly after I moved everything in:

I’m one lucky woodworker to have had the opportunity to build a shop like this. After many years of woodoworking in a basement it is incredibly nice to have a space that has only one purpose. I love every second that I spend in my shop. However, if I ever have a chance to do this again, there are a few things I would do differently.

Lessons Learned

1) Make it bigger – if at all possible. I know, this is probably being greedy. However, I would really love to have a finishing room.

2) Don’t use one big garage door. I thought having that big door would give me more flexibility but it has actually given me less. I would liked to have been able to have some machines with dust collection hooked up in front of one of the garage doors, if I had two. But with only one door this just isn’t possible without running the risk of someone opening the door and destroying either the door or the dust collection ductwork.

3) Break the space up with a wall. I was still stuck in the “garage” mode when I built it. Now I’m out of wall space. Space to hang stuff on, jigs, templates, clamps, bandsaw blades, you name it. Breaking up the space with a wall would add a lot of linear feet af wall space and give more places to put machines, benches outlets and everything else. A box is not the most efficient layout.

4) If at all possible get a wooden floor. I’ve heard this time and time again. However, having worked on a concrete floor in my basement shop for years and feeling no ill effects I disregarded it. I shouldn’t have. With a much nicer space to work in I am spending much more time in there. That combined with age, I guess, has left me with some sore feet after a long day in the shop. I have anti-fatigue mats down everywhere, but that only helps a little.

5) Even with a 90 amp line coming to the shop I am limited. I should have just run a separate 200amp service to the shop. When you add up the heat-pump (30 amps), cyclone (20 amps), planer (20 amps) – all at 240 volts – it doesn’t leave a whole lot left over for anything else that would run concurrently.  Another limitation of this setup is that I don’t have access to three-phase power.