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Many woodworkers and craftsmen dream of having their own workshop. However, money, time, and lack of space seem to get in the way of most people actually achieving this dream. Setting up a workshop from scratch can easily seem like an insurmountable if you have never done it before. Unsurprisingly, setting up a garage workshop is a very popular option for anyone who does not have an extra room or empty shed lying around.
A garage is a great place to start a workshop. It is out of the way of the rest of your house, and there typically is not much you need to remodel to make a workable space. Speaking from experience setting up a workshop may not be “easy”, but it is simple. If you thoroughly plan out what you want to accomplish with your shop, a lot can be accomplished with a small budget and space. In this article we have outlined 6 straightforward steps to set up a workshop in a garage with as little hassle and money wasted as possible
Step #1 Clean Out Your Garage
Before you start building benches and buying tools, you need to make sure you are working with a clean, uncluttered space. In order to maximize shop effectiveness and safety you need clean out the junk that is probably sitting in your garage.
It is not efficient or safe if you are carrying 2x4s in between lawn mowers and bikes. That is an accident waiting to happen. At the very least you need to separate your garage into two spaces. One for the “junk” you do not want to throw away, and one for the tools and equipment you will be using to actually build and create projects. If you have to separate the garage into halves make sure to have physical boundaries. This can be as simple as putting tape on the floor. If you do not use some sort of marking or boundary setting your workshop will almost undoubtedly be overtaken by a bunch of junk.
Step #2 Plan Out The Workspace
Once you have a rough space picked out for your workshop it can be very easy to immediately start picking out equipment. However, it is essential to measure the exact dimensions of your work space before you begin buying clunky pieces of equipment. The key is to make sure you utilize your work space as efficiently as possible. With careful planning it is possible to have an 8×8 foot workshop that can fit both a bench and a table saw. There are also 24×24 foot workshops that are unable to do this because of lousy planning.
While this is definitely not super exciting it helps maximize your space, and also will allow you to plan on how to grow your workshop in the future. This can be accomplished in several ways. The first is with a very basic tape measure. You can take measurements in your garage to make sure whatever you buy will fit in the most efficient way possible. Use tape on the floor to plan out where the different pieces of equipment will go.
The second, and preferred way to do this is with the Amazon “View In Your Room” App on your smartphone. This is an extremely handy feature that allows you to position tools, workbenches, chairs, lights and much more in your shop without actually having to purchase anything. The app will simply record how much space it takes up. Even if you do not want to buy everything on Amazon, just find a product with similar dimensions to get a feel for how much space you are giving up.
Once you get a feel for how much equipment you will be able to fit in your shop you should also have a section devoted to bringing in wood. It is surprising how many people actually forget to account for this. You should try to keep this area in a dry place that is as close as possible to the door you bring it in from. Additionally, make sure there are clear logical walkways so anyone can enter and exit the shop with ease. In case of an emergency there needs to be a clear path to get in and out of your new workshop.
Step #3 The Workbench
There is no one “correct” type of workbench to use. The perfect workbench is safe, sturdy, and big enough to to accommodate all your projects without taking up unnecessary space. If you are an experienced woodworker you are probably capable of building a bench. However, if do not have the equipment to build a bench there are kinds of affordable models you can purchase. Depending on your budget, workbenches can get extremely expensive. If you are just starting out there are plenty of affordable, high quality tables you buy. If you can decide what kind of table is best suited for your needs, check out this article where we examine the best kinds of workbenches on the market
If you have some experience in woodworking and have available tools and lumber at your disposal you can always build your own workbench. If you decide to build a workbench it is extremely important to use high quality wood, and high quality tools to cut and join the wood. Your table should be rock solid, and as a standard rule of thumb it should be able to handle 3x-4x the amount of force you usually put on it. If you workbench cracks or breaks with anyone near it, you are in an extremely dangerous situation. If you take one thing out of this article, do not cut corners when it comes building your workbench.
Step #4 Tool Storage
If you are working with a small space buying a dedicated tool storage bin probably does not feel like a necessity. However, having a dedicated tool storage bin is much safer, protects your tools, and ends up saving a lot of space in the end. If you are working in a small space, or sharing joint custody of your garage with the rest of your family it can be extremely easy to rationalize leaving your tools on your workbench or just lying around.
Please Do Not Do This!
Leaving tools lying around your workshop is extremely dangerous. If you have small children it is extremely easy for them to get injure themselves or others. Additionally, leaving sharp objects lying around your workbench or shop is an easy way to inure yourself, especially if you are using power tools. In fact over 40,000 people are injured from power saws every year!
Additionally, a tool storage bin actually protects your tools. Leaving any type of blade or drill lying around will actually cause it to dull over time. Every time you move tools around on the table they are getting nicked and dulled. While this the standard wear and tear for virtually every tools never putting them in a stable holding place will cause this to happen much faster.
Finally tool storage bins end up saving space in the end. Getting a tool storage bin may seem extraneous when you are first starting out and only have a few tools. However, as your workshop expands and grows having a pace to hold your tools becomes much more important. Getting a tool storage bin right away will help keep you organized, safe, and save money in the long run.
Step #5 Power Sources and Lighting
If you are setting up your garage in the dark chances are the lighting is not great (see also ‘How To Take Down A Ceiling Fan‘) (see also ‘How To Take Down A Ceiling Fan‘) (see also ‘How To Take Down A Ceiling Fan‘). If you have a lot of windows on a sunny day you might be able to get away with no added lighting, but it ends up severely limiting the amount of time you are able to use your shop. Additionally, shops without lighting tend to have 3x as many accidents compared to shops with at least one work lamp or track light.
Work lamps are super easy to set up assuming you have easy access to electrical outlets. However, battery powered work lamps tend to function much better than lamps with cords. This allows you to adjust lighting whenever you want without having to worry about getting cords tangled up or damaged during your project.
While work lamps are a great addition to any workshop no lighting source can really compete with track lighting. This is by far the most practical, safe and expensive option. If you have the ability to install track lighting the only real drawback it that it can cast shadows. However, when paired with a small work lamp this is not an issue for 99% of woodworkers.
Lastly, many woodworkers fail to to plan their power sources when setting up their shop. The less cords and wires you have on your shop floor the happier you will be. Having wires and cords running through the floor of your shop is an easy way to trip or accidentally spark a fire. Additionally, if you have to constantly unplug large power tools like a jointer or table saw to charge random drills you will get very disorganized.
The best strategy is to completely eliminate power strips and have designated outlets for all of your tools. Have set outlets for large power tools that will never be unplugged. The have a separate charging station for handheld tools that can be switched in and out. The key is to keep charging extensions out of your workshop and keep everything above the floor level.
Step #6 Ventilation, Heating and Cooling
While setting up a workshop in your garage is an awesome idea the garage is not typically a place where you have a lot of temperature control. Because garages typically have little to no insulation your garage will be oppressively hot in the summer and freezing in the winter. If these issues are not addressed there are easily 6 months out of the year where you will never want to step foot in your shop. To combat this we recommend getting a small portable AC unit and a natural gas heater. Propane heaters are effective but extremely dangerous in in enclosed areas with lots of wood and electrical equipment. A small heater and AC Unit can be had for less than $200 and will make your workshop comfortable all year long.
Lastly you need to make sure your workshop is properly ventilated. Sawing, carving, and sanding all create wood dust and film. The dust can not only dirty your shop but also pose serious respiratory risks if you do not have proper ventilation system in place. This could potentially cause severe long term harm to you and anyone who spends serious time in the shop. If you are looking for a quick win you can always open windows or the garage door but that really is not a sustainable solution…
Instead we highly recommend you purchase a dust collection system with a central vacuum. This ensures the air in your workshop will be clean at all times and will also keep the dust and debris in your shop to a minimum.
After reading this article you may be feeling overwhelmed with all the steps needed to set up quality woodworking shop in your garage. While there is definitely work involved with setting up a workshop in your garage it is definitely possible to have everything set up in less than a week for under $1000. This may seem unrealistic, but we promise it is not. In fact, there are dozens of woodworkers who have built fully functional shops in their garage for under $1000 using the Ultimate Small Shop program. This program takes you through a step by step process of setting up a shop in a small space with a limited budget. If you are interested in setting up your own shop but want some professional expertise this program could be a life saver.Check out our review of the program here.