I thought some of you might be interested in seeing my shop, so welcome: here's my tour.
Carleton Woodworking is located in the historic Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. The building I'm in is an old hat factory now filled with painters, sculptors, woodworkers, and other light manufacturing businesses. Every May the tenants have an open studio day to show our work. The public is invited, and the landlord throws a buffet lunch. Last year more than 500 people visited the building. Come next May, if you're in the area.
My shop has 1100 square feet in an "L" shape on the ground floor. I have 12-foot ceilings and southern exposure, so the light is terrific. I’m set up to work in both solid wood and veneer, and to handle sheet goods for cabinetry. I painted the floor white and put in lots of fluorescent lights to make it easy on the eyes. This drawing shows the floor plan of the shop and the placement of the equipment. The article I've included at the end of the tour explains why I arranged things the way I did.
Plan view of Carleton Woodworking
Two loading docks (Photo A) give access to the building. The one on the left opens into a common area and the one on the right opens into my shop. Most of the time I use the common dock, because there is a no-parking zone in front of it, but I open my door during the summer months because the light is so wonderful. The door just to the left of the loading dock is an elevator that goes from all the floors to street level - a great help when taking out the trash.
Once materials are delivered to the common area, I take them through the double doors (Photo B) and put them into the appropriate bins in my wood storage racks. As you can see, I don't have a lot of extra materials. I try to order just what I need for the job at hand and not tie up my cash in inventory I might never use.
Notice the dumpster on the right. When I first rented the shop, I debated about whether to have a dumpster, but I'm glad I got one-it's nice not having to worry about the trash. I have trash cans throughout the shop. When they get full I empty them into the dumpster, and when the dumpster get full I put it out on the street.
The "rough dimensioning" equipment is close to the wood storage area (Photo C). I crosscut solid lumber using a SCMS. The bandsaw, jointer, planer and table saw (out of picture further to the right) are close by to rip, resaw, joint and plane raw materials into dimensioned lumber.
Notice the blue "Panel Handler." This is a cart that flips from vertical to horizontal and then raises and lowers. I can unload panels directly off the delivery truck and then roll the panels to the table saw. Once there, the cart flips to horizontal and acts as an infeed table to the table saw. It allows one person to handle those heavy sheets of MDF easily and safely! The "parts cart" in the middle of the picture holds parts for my current project.
This second picture of the "rough dimension" area (Photo D) shows the spacing between the table saw and other tools. The pile of 5/4 poplar on the parts cart will be cut up for parts for an artist who works in the building.
Note also the big slabs of bubinga on the back wall. My web site shows a picture of a table I made out of part of one of the slabs (see members' web sites - Carleton Woodworking).
After I'm finished with rough dimensioning, I move on to parts creation. The corner of the shop shown in Photo E has a mortiser, drill press, lathe, grinder, router table, and my bench and hand tools (further to the right out of frame).
While this is a dark corner, task lighting over individual tools helps. The only dust collection I have is on the jointer, planer and router table, which can be hooked up to a ShopVac. While it would be nice to have a complete system, I've never been able to cost-justify doing it.
The table saw (Photo F) is placed in the center of the shop both to give it sufficient clearance and to make it available for both rough dimensioning and parts creation. There is a sliding table for panel processing. Jigs, the miter gauge, etc. are kept close by under the table on the right.
Note the plug next to the on/off switch. Having the plug at arm's reach allows me to unplug each time I change blades. Also note yet another "parts cart." I have four of them and could probably use five. Every project gets its own cart so I can roll parts from workstation to workstation while keeping different jobs separate.
The bench space (Photo G) contains all my hand and power tools. The tool chest was one of the first pieces of furniture I ever made. I made it years ago to teach myself dovetail and mortise and tenon joinery.
The table behind and to the right is a torsion box I made to use as a combination assembly table/base for my vacuum bag. It sits on adjustable sawhorses so I can raise and lower it as needed. If I have a large assembly, it leans up against the wall. Currently I'm pressing up a panel. The glue I'm using is urea resin, which doesn't cure at temperatures below 65 degrees. Since the weather just turned cold, I've put electric blankets over the assembly and put moving blankets over them to hold the heat in. Even though it's still 70 degrees in the shop, this arrangement helps the glue to cure.
Most of my clamps are kept on rolling carts (Photo H) so I can bring them around the shop easily. Smaller ones are kept in 5-gallon pails. Others are kept on a rolling cart or on the wall.
Photo I shows the office corner where the PC and phone are. Aside from word processing and accounting software, I have CAD (Autodesk's AutoSketch) on the machine. I use CAD for all my work - that's why I have the big monitor. The old dot-matrix printer uses continuous paper. With the CAD program, I can print out full-scale drawings onto the continuous paper and then glue them directly onto scrap. This lets me make patterns quickly and easily for pattern routing and other tasks.
Everyone asks me about the dust and the computer. I've had this arrangement for over four years and it's worked without a problem.
The computer is the only machine in the shop that stays on 24/7. I schedule an automated backup to an Internet backup service that runs every night. For those of you who keep real assets on your PC, I recommend that you check out this facility.
The only thing I don’t have that I wish I did, is a spray booth. Currently I rent a booth when I need one.
For more information about my shop, go to my website. Look for Carleton Woodworking on "member's websites." Hope you enjoyed the tour.
Kim Carleton Graves
The workshop is a tool - no less important than a table saw, jointer or drill press. It can work as well or as poorly as any other tool, and, like any good tool, it can be tuned. When I recently moved my shop into a larger space I had two goals:
- To be able to work on multiple projects simultaneously without different projects getting in the way of each other, and
- To increase the efficiency of the production process by:
- minimizing the distance between subsequent job steps; and
- keeping jobs separate and organized and yet easily available.
Achieving these goals was surprisingly easy. It didn't take a lot of money or time, just some thinking about the workflow in the shop. The lessons I learned are the subject of this article.
By workflow I mean the production sequence, from input of raw materials to output of finished product. Jim Toplin has a very good discussion about flowcharting the production sequence in his excellent book Working at Woodworking (Taunton 1997). By overlaying a Toplin-style flowchart (illustrated below) onto your shop space, you can make sure that the resources for each step in the production sequence are available where and when you need them.
I design and build custom furniture and cabinetry in my shop, restore and refinish existing work, and turn custom parts for other woodworkers: a little bit of everything. But the method I describe can be applied to all kinds of workshops. I've even used it to reorganize a friend’s sculpture studio.
My own workflow production process has five basic operations, which are shown in Figure 1.
- Taking in and storing raw materials - lumber, sheet goods, hardware, finishing supplies, etc.
- Rough-dimensioning lumber and sheet goods: cutting to length, jointing, planing, resawing, ripping to width.
- Creating parts: cutting to final dimension, making joinery, sanding, turning, carving, routing, milling, etc.
- Assembling: clamping, gluing, installing hardware.
- Finishing: painting, staining, topcoat, waxing and getting the finished product out the door.
My new shop is approximately 1100 square feet in the shape of an "L". The top of the "L" faces south and has windows and a loading dock door that opens onto the street. The bottom of the "L" has access to a second loading dock.
After overlaying my production sequence onto the space (Figure 2) I decided to do intake at the bottom of the shop, and send the completed projects out at the top. That way the finishing area was close to the windows and the best light, while materials were stored in the darkest part of the shop. I could take materials in at one end and output finished work at the other, and work would flow in only one direction.
Shops come in all shapes and sizes. In my shop the workflow can follow a “straight” path. Other workflow shapes are possible. For example, a long thin space with only one entrance might utilize a "U" shaped workflow. A large rectangular room lends itself to circular pattern. Small spaces are of course more difficult to map a work flow pattern on. One of the hardest issues is how to leave enough final construction space. You may need to merge one function space with another or even collapse all the functions into one space. What you want to avoid is placing the bandsaw on the opposite side of the room from the jointer/planer. These tools are used together and so should be grouped together. (More on this later.)
Many people argue that stationary power tools in a small shop should be placed on wheels in order to maximize options. I disagree with this advice. It is much easier to move wood than tools. Moving tools around takes lots of time because you have to disrupt the whole workstation. If you can place the tools where they are needed and leave enough space between them for the pieces you expect to work on, you are way ahead of the game. You can put power, dust collection, jigs, and maintenance tools where they are used and needed, so you don't have to take more than a couple of steps while using the tool.
In order to decide where to place my tools, I created a chart of tools versus workflow (see Figure 3).
For example, the first step in building a piece of furniture is to take raw lumber and "rough dimension" it. I cut it to rough length using the sliding compound miter saw (SCMS); then I joint and plane parts and rip and resaw to width. So in the rough dimension area I need access to the jointer, planer, SCMS, table saw and bandsaw. Next I take the roughly milled parts to the parts creation area. I need the SCMS, bandsaw, and table saw in that area too so that I can cut parts to final dimension and make joints. Thus, I need the jointer and planer in the rough dimension area but not in parts creation. The SCMS, bandsaw, table saw are needed in both and should be available from both areas. The lathe and router table are only used in the parts creation area and can live wholly in that area.
After deciding which tool belongs in each functional area, the next step is to group the tools efficiently. For this task, I borrowed the idea of "work triangles" from the field of kitchen design. In a kitchen, you remove food from the refrigerator, carry it to the stove and move pots back and forth to the sink. If the stove and the refrigerator are at opposite corners of a 20-by-20-foot room, you're in trouble. To work efficiently, you need the keep the refrigerator-stove-sink triangle small -- kitchen designers say the three legs of the triangle shouldn't add up to more than 25 feet.
In a woodshop, you also want to keep the important work triangles small. The task is more difficult than in the kitchen because the number of tools and work processes is greater. For example, there are five machines in rough-dimension and ten possible triangles. Some of these triangles will be heavily used, others hardly ever. The idea is to place the tools so that the most frequently-used triangle (in my shop, SCMS-jointer-bandsaw) is fairly small. Infrequently-used triangles (for example, tablesaw-bandsaw-planer) can be larger without sacrificing efficiency. (See Figure 4)
Remember that you are trying to maximize your efficiency, so don't make the triangles any larger than you need to provide clearance for your largest work piece. This may be larger than for kitchen work triangles, but it is not a lot larger.
Figure 5 shows the final map of the tool matrix shown in Figure 3 to the physical space.
One thing I've found working in a larger space is that I need a place to put workpieces as I go from workstation to workstation to move them quickly without carrying them. I've built four "part carts," 2' x 2' x 2' cabinets on casters. I put the workpieces on the carts and simply roll them around from station to station. The carts keep things organized: one project to a cart. I put the cut list, plans, hardware, and everything else a project needs on that project's cart so nothing gets lost.
Setting up the shop this way had several advantages. Multiple projects go on at the same time, at different stages. The "part carts" help organize the projects even when two projects both need the same tool at the same time. Since work flows in only one direction, I know I won't have to move large materials or finished products through the parts creation area. Tools in parts creation can therefore be closer together, utilizing the overall space to best advantage.
The best part of organizing the shop around workflow is that it provides you with a way to think about tuning the shop space. You tune the space the same way you would tune any tool. You look for bottlenecks - places where operations don't run smoothly - and then you fix them.
Here's a trivial example: let's say you find that you frequently need a screwdriver at the bandsaw. You shouldn't have to walk all the way across the shop to get it. I have four screwdrivers in my shop - next to the bandsaw, next to the lathe, with the hand tools and with the electric tools. This may seem like overkill, but by duplicating screwdrivers, I never have to look for one. The cost of the extra screwdrivers is small compared to the time saved. This is just as true for hobbyists as it is for professionals. For pros, time is money. But even hobbyists have limited time in the shop. Why spend time looking for a screwdriver when you can spend twenty bucks and solve the problem? Tune the shop instead.