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Thread: Shop organization, layout suggestions

  1. #1

    Default Shop organization, layout suggestions

    I have been a woodworker for years, and my interests have never really settled on one area. I've done woodturning (from pens to bowls to vases), built some pieces of furniture, done some carving, etc. But only recently since I started building my first mandolin have I thought I might like to focus primarily on lutherie.

    The problem is that I've organized and outfitted my shop at any given time to address whatever need I had at that time--i.e. ripping stock, planing boards, intense sanding, and so on.

    Thinking that I might settle in and build instruments, I realize I may need to reorganize my shop and also change the layout. Do you all have any tips, suggestions, experiences in this regard? I'm not looking for blueprints or anything specific. But suggestions like how many benches you have, where certain tools are placed in relatin to others, specific tools that are must-haves, etc. would be helpful.

    I will say that this first experience building a mandolin has caused me to seek out a few specialized tools like finger planes and the like and also to build a number of specific jigs. I think in those departments I am getting where I need to be.

    Thanks for any suggestions you might have.


  2. #2

    Default Re: Shop organization, layout suggestions

    I used to have a whole house (1500 sq ft or so) as a shop. It was cool, but each room was about 12x12 maximum, so each room kind of evolved into a specific use.

    Now, I have a single 20x25 foot garage, and I feel like I actually have more space. That's because everything is on wheels. Router table/chop saw/storage, clean workbench (never clean), dirty workbench (always dirty), CNC machine, downdraft spray box. Bandsaw, drum sander, jointer, planer, lathe, CNC machine, computer, buffer. Everything's on wheels or hand-carryable. When I'm building furniture, I put the workbenches together and I have a 4ftx8ft work area. When I'm doing lutherie, everything is spread out so I have a place to do milling, sanding, finishing, spraying, etc.

    Old shop (mojo, but not practical):
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    New Shop while rebuilding my CNC machine:
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    New shop while doing lutherie (actually not the layout I use now):
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    I may not have a method, but I do have the madness part nailed:
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  4. #3
    Registered User O. Apitius's Avatar
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    Oct 2017
    Ontario, Canada

    Default Re: Shop organization, layout suggestions

    I like to keep as many of my tools as possible on the walls above my benches. This way they are easily and quickly accessible and are also easy to put away. I learned this from guitarmaker Grit Laskin who would only have one tool on the bench at a time, the one he was using. This saved hours of time searching for that tool 'I just had out a minute ago' and an uncluttered bench greatly reduces the risk of accidentally marking up an instrument by coming in contact with a hard and/or sharp object.
    What is good Phaedrus? and what is not good? need we ask anyone to tell us these things?

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  6. #4
    I really look like that soliver's Avatar
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    Sep 2015
    Marietta, GA

    Default Re: Shop organization, layout suggestions

    While I do plan to get into luthiery in the near future, my shop is mostly dedicated to small furniture and cabinetry projects. ... I tend to function on a "piles" sorta system; as in "... I know that thing I need should be somewhere in this pile."

    In all seriousness though, I'm glad you posted this question because I love to see how other folks organize their shops. I mostly use drawers and find it works well for me. I really like Oliver's system above, but I unfortunately don't have that much wall space!
    aka: Spencer
    Silverangel Econo A #429
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    "You can never cross the ocean unless you have the courage
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  7. #5

    Default Re: Shop organization, layout suggestions

    Like anything, it depends.

    Budget and space available?
    Machining-how much will you do, how big will the rough stock be or will you be buying precut items and how will you manage the dust?
    -How many machines and how specialized?
    -How much wood storage space will you need?
    Construction-will you build in batches or single instruments? You'll obviously need more storage space for a batch.
    Finishing-will you spray and need a booth and fire protection?
    Hardware and parts-these need storage and an assembly area but that may be different than your workbench due to the state of the instrument (finished v in process).
    Efficiency of movement-knowing the build process very well should guide the location of items or you'll do a lot of unnecessary mileage.

    I prefer a workbench and a back bench for hand tools, power tool storage, and part prepping. I don't 'work' on that bench. I would have my layout there to check part production as I go along unless I had room for a large bench (4x8). I got very used to that setup when I was an apprentice and its quite efficient. I also store hand tools by function, ie, measuring tools, cutting tools, etc, rather than in a mix. I see Oliver's racks are done that way. But I'd rather turn around than reach over, although I did some of each for spindle turning.

    In my commercial shop experience, the machining, assembly and finishing were all done in separate areas to manage power, dust, noise and part movement.

    I think its fun laying out a shop. Time spent in the layout will be well repaid down the road.

    have a good time
    Play it like you mean it.

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  9. #6
    Registered User Timbofood's Avatar
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    Mar 2007
    Kalamazoo, MI.

    Default Re: Shop organization, layout suggestions

    Bill’s line “Time spent in the layout will be well repaid down the road” is a strong statement.
    I have to rethink my garage every time I clean it (three times in 27 years!) But, seriously folks, I do need to re think where I need things at the moment. My current grilling accoutrements need to be accessible but, I might need something on a lark and I still have to know where things are. Consequently, since that is MY shop, sometimes things are in a state of flux, but, it’s rather compartmentalized. Depending on what I need, I know where I need to find what I want, pizza system is still a little in disarray but rotisserie components are in one carpenters tote box (some of the old pizza tiles are there too, Time to update that) smoking tools are in a specific area, service and banquet things are in yet another.
    So, if I had space, or when I rethink the use of THIS space, my intent is to have everything along one side the “shop” instead of some here, some there as it is today. But, I will have to deal with storage of 400 pounds of charcoal in another week so, there is one more thing to screw up the mental picture of my shop!
    I must feel lousy, that has not one whit to do with the question at hand! I’m going to go stand in my corner then going to bed, summer colds can make a man strange for the rest of his life!
    Timothy F. Lewis
    "If brains was lard, that boy couldn't grease a very big skillet" J.D. Clampett

  10. #7

    Default Re: Shop organization, layout suggestions

    Wow, Marty and Oliver! You guys keep such a neat workspace! Mine looks more like World War III.......

  11. #8

    Default Re: Shop organization, layout suggestions

    This is all very helpful. Thank you.

    While most of my big tools are on wheels, my biggest piece--the workbench--is not. Also, I have only one half of a garage because my wife has a nice car that needs to be parked in a covered space. So right now my half of the garage is almost full with tools on wheels. I can squeeze in as needed, but to really open it up and move things around I have to back her car out.

    The suggestion about utilizing wall space is helpful. I will consider that. Much of my walls are used for clamps. I'm thinking of moving those to the ceiling in some way. Also, a big piece of wall is used for a lumber rack. But I really don't have that much in the way of lumber to deal with. I could remove most or all of that and use that wall space for tools and storage.

    My table saw, I think, is unnecessarily large for lutherie. But maybe I'm wrong. It's the Delta "contractor saw" sold at Lowe's. I like it a lot. But it does take up a considerable amount of space.

    Thanks again to everyone for your suggestions. This is really helpful.

  12. #9

    Default Re: Shop organization, layout suggestions

    If you want to see a fun workspace, check out TK Smith's website. He is a luthier making Bigsby inspired instruments (some electric mandolin content, actually) and he has a shop filled with vintage tools and he keeps it spotless. Cool website and his blog is good also....IMHO.

  13. #10
    Registered User
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    Jun 2003

    Default Re: Shop organization, layout suggestions

    organization??? mine looks like a bomb went off in the middle of Harber Freight....

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  15. #11
    Registered User John Bertotti's Avatar
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    Oct 2002

    Default Re: Shop organization, layout suggestions

    I have seen some very nice looking ideas out of Woodsmith and Fine Woodworking magazines about wall/hanging tool cabinets. One of them had a paperback book dedicated to this style of cabinet and another about shop layout and design. Both were interesting to read, but if a person just sits and puts a fair amount of thought into it you can come up with something useful. I have used inexpensive and homemade shelving to try and figure out what I want where. Once I get a permanent shop I will have a pretty good idea what I want where and can build something much nicer. Right now I am in a basement corner and it moves, it isn't permanent which makes things pretty hard to work with. What I have learned is the old style pegboard with the hooks is something I really want to stay clear of. It is certainly functional but I really want to create something much more unique and old school out of nice woods, preferably Black Walnut, Cherry and Maple! But will probably settle on pine which I like as well and is much less expensive.

    In this link, the hanging cabinets have doors that swing open but my goal is to make it like a roll-top desk. I dream that I can make it a touch deeper cover the whole are and put a roll top front on it. I suppose that might seem silly but hey, we need a goal.
    My avatar is of my OldWave Oval A

    Creativity is just doing something wierd and finding out others like it.

  16. #12

    Default Re: Shop organization, layout suggestions

    In your space, having everything on large, high quality casters will be a life saver as you really do need to put the car in the drive and move tools around for the operation at hand.
    •A table saw is a luxury in luthiery, but put a piece of 1/4" ply on top of it and you have a good sized assembly table.
    •A bandsaw is a necessity, 95% of what we do is curves.
    •For a bench, luthiers tend to use much smaller benches than cabinetmakers, not much bigger than the instruments you work on so you can clamp things down on several sides. Also, being able to walk around the bench to work on different parts is helpful. I would devise a casters-on-a-lever set up so you can move your bench out to the middle of your space to work, and then back against the wall for storage.
    •for tool storage, open racks on the wall looks good as long as your bench is going to be right under it. Over the years, I've built tons of drawers- each cabinet that supports a tool has drawers under it. I prefer lots of shallow drawers so each drawer only holds one class/set of tools. Also, small drawers like a machinist's chest are very handy- a lot of tools we use are more on the scale of jeweler's size and having an organized way to keep track of them really helps.
    •dust control is going to be your biggest challenge with your limited space, but really necessary if you value your lungs. It's the price of using power tools.
    •lighting is very critical for the fine, detailed work we do. Your typical garage lighting will not be sufficient. There are lots of new options now with LED technology. There still is no substitute for good quality natural light. There are a few operations I really prefer strong sunlight from a window for. In good weather you may enjoy rolling your bench over to the overhead door.
    •power- if you know where the surface will be that you're using hand-held power tools on, hang a drop from the ceiling at arm's reach above the bench. Tripping over or stepping on power cords is bad for your concentration.
    *enjoy the journey, instrument work can be very rewarding!

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